Trade usually comes up when U.S. presidents come to town

Economic policy has traditionally been a talking point between Canada and its closest neighbour.

Cordial or not, Canada's relationship with our closest neighbour has always been complicated

PM Trudeau tells the Washington Press Club in 1969 that having the U.S. as a neighbour is like "sleeping with an elephant." 0:55

Back in 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau fielded questions from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., following a meeting with President Richard Nixon.

He fielded questions on the issues of Canadian relations with China, trade with Cuba, discussions regarding oil policy, U.S. draft dodgers in Canada, federalism, and pricing policies on wheat.   

And he's remembered for aptly summing up what being the United States' closest and friendliest neighbour means to Canada.

"Living next to you is, in some ways, like sleeping with an is affected by every twitch and grunt," Trudeau said.

Talking trade

From the time of Franklin Roosevelt, many U.S. presidents have been given the honour of addressing Canada's Parliament.  Over time, each presidential message has been an important indicator of the goodwill — and the problems — facing such closely-tied neighbours. 

And for countries in such a close geographic and economic relationship, trade and the economy — problematic or not — are often a topic for discussion.

Sixty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a speech in Parliament which focused on the defence of the United States' policies on trade — policies which were considered problematic by the Canadian government.  Some of it has a ring of similarity to discussions between the two countries in 2018.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks on U.S. trade policy in his address to the Parliament in 1958. 1:48

Standing in the House of Commons on July 9, 1958, Eisenhower cut straight to the matter of a topic that is "troublesome between us" — zeroing in on U.S. trade policy. 

With acknowledged frankness, he stated that the U.S. and Canada operate as "two private enterprise economies, working side by side and trading with each other," and that it was his conviction that "for all our present problems we will find acceptable solutions."

Trouble in the continental neighbourhood

When John F. Kennedy paid a state visit to Ottawa in 1961, huge crowds attended public appearances, in hopes of a glimpse of Jacqueline, the very glamorous wife of the president.

John and Jacqueline Kennedy visited Canada in 1961. (Canadian Press)

Kennedy, too, spoke of friendship in the House of Commons.  Much of his speech centred on the "sombre threat" posed to "the whole neighbourhood of this continent," referring to the deepening cold war.
The U.S. president speaks to the House of Commons on the subject of U.S. - Canada relations. 1:07
But he also spoke of the existence of "issues and irritants that inevitably affect all neighbours."

'No better friend than Canada'

Moving forward to March 1981, Ronald Reagan made his first state visit of his presidency to Canada. Opening with a brief salutation in French, he spoke of the border between us as one which "joins us." 

President Reagan makes his first official visit to Canada, speaking before a joint session of Parliament. 1:13

Summing up the trade network America shares with "no better friend than Canada," Reagan would go on to give a "blunt" accounting for recent U.S. policies which may have been a matter of irritation to Canadians. 

"The economic actions that we take affect not just us alone but the relationships across our borders as well," he said. 

In 1985, he famously met with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at what became known as The Shamrock Summit, where the door was opened for future talks for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement which was signed in 1988, and the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1992.