Canada: The New Mexico?

While hosting Mexico’s President Vincente Fox last night as the guest of honor at his first state dinner, President George W. Bush announced that “the United States has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico.”

Mexico. Not Israel, not Great Britain, not Russia … and not Canada?

Until now, the United States’ relationship with Canada has always been treated as its most cherished relationship–the favorite wife; keeper of the harem. After all, the two countries share the world’s longest undefended border and are each other’s largest trading partner (amounting to approximately $1.3 billion in trade per day). Quietly, and with dignity, Canada has presided at the head of North America’s table, and the obligatory visit to Ottawa has been the first foreign visit for the last three U.S. presidents. Canada should have seen the writing on the wall back in January, when Bush made his first foreign visit to Fox’s sprawling ranch in San Cristobal, Mexico.

They say the wife is always the last to know.

Canadians are in a snit. Last night the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation warned viewers that Bush described his new partnership with “words he’s never used to describe his northern neighbor.” And yesterday’s Toronto Star fretted, “Where is the third amigo, [Prime Minister Jean] Chrétien?” And while Bush and Fox seem to be enjoying these regular play dates, the relationship between Bush and Chrétien becomes chillier than Whitehorse in December.

Chrétien, for his part, might have tried to woo Bush back when he saw him slipping away by inviting him to the sprawling Chrétien family penguin ranch on Baffin Bay. Or, perhaps, he should have married off Pamela Anderson-Lee or Anne Murray to some Bush cousin in order to compete with the president’s Mexican-American sister-in-law. Or he could have put in a little time with Bush to perfect their respective commands of English as a second language.

Instead, in late August, Chrétien crowed to the Canadian press that he “gave Bush hell” in a telephone call over U.S. protectionism in the softwood lumber trade, threatening to turn off the oil if Bush didn’t stop screwing with free trade. Then he launched an opening salvo in what will soon be the Canadian equivalent of the Mexican drug wars by legalizing medical marijuana. Bush has not taken the bait, signaling to Canada and other lesser world powers that he will honor no international treaty, and attend no international event, unless it comes with a mariachi band and he gets to sit next to Vincente.

What it comes down to–what it always comes down to–is sex. Yesterday’s Toronto Star quotes “Canada-watcher” Chris Sands of the Center for Strategic and International Studies as saying that “the problem with Canada is that right now, it’s just not sexy.”

Canada? Not sexy? Are you out of your mind, man? Canada wrote the book on sexy. Canada was sexy before sex was even invented! If improved Canada-U.S. relations turn on the hope of an aging Canada regaining its former dazzling sexiness, we may have a real cold war on our hands. And if Bush expects Mexico to be the new Canada–all quiet and affable and willing to be taken for granted–he’s got a lot to learn.