Building a fence between the U.S. and Mexico is a familiar topic in our presidential politics. But what about the Canadian border?
On Meet the Press this weekend, Republican candidate and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker made comments that raised concerns among northern border interests. As WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, people near the border say the comments are evidence of general lack of knowledge about our northern neighbor.
Walker and NBC’s Chuck Todd discussed border security on Sunday:
[Walker] “I think we should make sure we have a secure border.”
[Todd] “But why are we always talking about the southern border and building a fence there? We don’t about our northern border where if this is about securing the border from potentially terrorists coming over. Do you want to build a wall north of the border too?”
[Walker] “Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire. They’ve raised some very good, legitimate concerns including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at.”
Walker’s comments were immediately derided. Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said election season always brings out "crazy" ideas and a wall is one of the craziest. Mike Murphy, who heads Right to Rise, the superPAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, tweeted that Walker was distracted and ended with the hashtag “NotReady." Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, another Republican presidential candidate, called it a "pretty dumb idea".
Walker campaign spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Monday that Walker's comments on the issue had been misinterpreted and he not advocating building a wall to separate Canada and the United States.
Regardless, many feel it points to a lack of knowledge many people south of the border have about the importance of their northern neighbor.
SUNY Plattsburgh’s Center for the Study of Canada and Institute on Quebec Studies is a U.S. Department of Education National Resource Center on Canada. Director Chris Kirkey finds the comments from a governor from a state that borders Canada inappropriate and naive. Kirkey says it’s sad that more people in the U.S don’t comprehend the deep relationship between the two countries. “The relationship focuses on so many things: at the federal to federal level; at the state to provincial level; at the region to region level. Everything that touches an important component of everyday American life has some kind of connection to Canada. I think a lot of people just don’t see it because the relationship is so seamless.”
Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tom Torti notes that many Vermont businesses have parent or supply chain companies based in Canada. “It’s so important to our economic future that the Vermont Legislature this past year they funded with new money the Lake Champlain Chamber to lead a statewide marketing and outreach effort looking into Quebec looking to increase trade going both ways. And Vermont in particular has a very long cultural history connected to Quebec. So we have this huge, huge relationship that goes back forever and Governor Walker’s comments were somewhat perplexing.”
Retired Montreal Gazette Business and Economics columnist Jay Bryan notes that while U.S.-Canadian trade is vital, Walker’s comments illustrate that many people do not realize how tight the northern border has become. “The old days when you could just stroll across the border, there’s this famous set of towns in Quebec and Vermont where you can walk from one room in the town library in Stanstead, Quebec to another room which is in Derby Line, Vermont. It was a symbol of how open the border was. These days if you walk into a door on the Canadian side and you walk out of a door on the American side, you’re at risk of being detained. Things just are not as free flowing as they used to be. So I don’t think Mr. Walker really does need to worry about putting up that wall. There already is enough of a wall to make the border pretty secure. It’s certainly about as secure as it can be made without cutting off the economies of both countries.”
Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures from June, Canada accounted for $52 billion and 15.9 percent of trade with the U.S.