By Dr. James Christie, Ambassador-at-Large, Canadian Multifaith Federation
Dear Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris,
We have followed the 2020 electoral campaign with much interest and not a little anxiety. The tension was heightened through the nail-biter days following November 3rd. We believe that we have earned the presumption of wishing you heartfelt congratulations on your election to office, and our very best wishes for the future.
I expect you will recall Canada, although the world’s longest undefended border has been rather less porous of late, what with the pandemic and all. We like to style ourselves as “Foreign, Familiar, Friendly, and Near”. You might remember us more as the large blank space on your weather map just north of the 45th Parallel, whence your wicked winter weather derives.
Nevertheless, we are here, and we pay close attention to you as our nearest neighbour and largest trading partner. How could it be otherwise? As our current Prime Minister’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, observed when he was PM, “…living next to the United States is like sleeping with an elephant; no matter how benign the beast, one feels every toss and turn in the night.”
Happily, we mostly get along, you and us. Not that our relationship has been without its rocky moments. There was that regrettable unpleasantness between 1812-1814. It was really rather unsporting of you to burn Toronto. But then again, our lads burned the White House, so perhaps we can settle for a draw and move on. Sometimes you puzzle us. What has ice hockey to do with Florida or California? We can’t grasp the point of American beer. Reality TV is beyond us. And your Electoral College? Well, really!
All that aside, we really are glad that you will be taking the helm of your truly great nation. We aren’t as emotional as our European friends, ringing church bells and such. We are a tad too reserved for that. But save for our lunatic fringe, you should anticipate a good deal of support from your northern neighbour.
There are a few things that you might want to consider from our perspective going forward. I just happen to have some thoughts here: purely suggestions, you understand.
With much of the rest of the world, we welcomed your words, and Ms. Harris’ from the stage in Delaware on November 7th. To borrow from your Mr. Jefferson, some of your intentions we “hold to be self-evident.” Your determination to address COVID 19 is shared with the whole human community. It will be good to welcome The United States back to the global arena, taking these great challenges seriously. We’ve missed you.
As to the Paris Accords and the World Health Organization, let’s just agree to overlook those embarrassing lapses, shall we?
We are very hopeful that you intend to rebuild your pandemic-ravaged economy by “green means”. Transitioning from fossil fuels to new technologies should provide unimagined benefits and new opportunities, leaving no one behind.
Other challenges are nuanced: racism being among the greatest and most terrible, certainly the most ubiquitous. Canadians have no stones to throw in this conversation, nor much advice to offer. Our own systemic racism is all too prevalent. On the other hand, we have been in the business of multicultural nation-building for over half a century. (Again, credit to Trudeau I.) We claim the Canadian Mosaic as a good one. Perhaps we might learn from one another.
Then there’s healthcare. Your aversion, as a wealthy nation, to socialized medicine is another curious trait that puzzles us. Your fears about costs, communal and individual, are just… specious. The numbers continue to indicate that our system is more financially viable than either your free enterprise model, or that of the pioneering National Health in the United Kingdom.
So, here’s a thought. Prime Minister Trudeau (II) will no doubt invite you (and Ms. Harris, I hope) to dinner. Do, by all means, accept. The PM and Ms. Gregoire will prove charming hosts. (And the menu, forgive me, will be superior to that of Buckingham Palace.) But don’t stop there; try and get out into a few Canadian communities – it will endear you to your northern neighbours. And visit a few healthcare facilities and chat with a few folks who, like me, owe our lives and quality of life to our public healthcare system.
On the global stage, request a briefing on the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and the 2017 Treaty that proceeded from it. Canadians were integral to the process that established the Treaty and the Nobel Peace Prize conferred on ICAN in consequence of it. Your predecessor convinced our PM that the Treaty is an exercise in futility; contrary to NATO policies. But with respect, Mr. Biden, The United States is NATO. Please take some of this international goodwill out for a spin. And permit me to remind you that aspirational pacts and treaties do have an impact. Your Mr. Kellogg and France’s M. Briand constructed a 1928 Pact to outlaw war. It was mocked then. And it is still mocked today. And yet war between nation states is today almost non-existent. Just saying …
And please, please return to, or at the least, revisit, multinationalism.
Whether in the G8, the G20, or most importantly, The United Nations, we do need you. Whether you puzzle us at times and infuriate us at others, you are who you are, and we cannot build the world we want without you.
So, congratulations again, best wishes – and let’s get going, shall we?
James Taylor Christie
Canadian Multifaith Federation
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Dr. James Christie is the inaugural Ambassador-at-Large for the Canadian Multifaith Federation and part of the G20 Interfaith Forum Board of Directors. For 15 years, Christie served at the University of Winnipeg as Dean of Theology, Dean of the Global College, and Director of the Ridd Institute for Religion and Global Policy.