Is Canada a foreign country?
Technically, yes. But that's not how I saw it growing up a mile from the Detroit River that separates the U.S. and Canada.
Windsor, Ontario on the other side seemed like just another town. My dad and his buddies fished on the Canadian side because the water was cleaner, then headed to a pub in Amherstburg to swap fishing lies. It was Amherstburg to me, not Canada. I watched Hockey Night in Canada and a major radio station for Detroiters was CKLW in Windsor. You get the picture.
Maybe that's why a 2019 quote from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel jumped off the page when I read it. Michigan, Nessel said, "will not rely on a foreign corporation to protect and preserve our state's most precious resource, its Great Lakes," the Detroit News reported. Nessel was referring to the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline that she wants to shut down and has taken legal action in an attempt to do so.
Wanting to shut down Line 5 is one thing. A lot of people are on her side. But given that oil is the issue, interjecting "foreign corporation" into the discussion is another. Since Nessel didn't mention that Enbridge is a Canadian company, I assume she's implying that the foreign company could be from the Middle East. Perhaps a convenient bogeyman?
I'll give Nessel a pass. Politicians make a lot of public statements and some inevitably will be misguided. And from what I've seen as I've followed Nessel, she's usually trying to do the right thing though she could benefit with a less bare-knuckle approach.
But the faux pas brings up another issue beyond Line 5. The U.S. and Canada, Michigan and Canada are neighbors. And the Great Lakes, don't belong to Michigan as the state sometimes implies. They're a shared responsibility with decades of history in protecting them, peacefully and with collaboration. There's no need to demonize Canada.
Look at recent history. After the 9/11 attacks Canada received countless U.S. flights that suddenly had to divert to a safe airport. Closer to home, Canada is paying for the new multi-billion dollar Gordie Howe Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. And that "foreign country" company, Enbridge, is paying $500 million to construct a pipeline in a tunnel to replace the existing Line 5.
That's a lot of capital spent by Canada and Michigan is the beneficiary.
Closer to the Great Lakes, when former conservative-leaning Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder revived meetings between U.S. governors and Canadian premiers on Great Lakes issues, he made sure Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, a Liberal, had a prominent role.
Canadians including Premier Justin Trudeau are concerned about a shut down of Line 5, with justification. There are practical issues of supply and economic issues in play for Canada. Climate change and maybe pipelines are on the agenda for this week's meeting between Trudeau and President Joe Biden. I have no idea if they'll discuss Line 5. Both are climate hawks but they differ on pipelines. Trudeau has given the green light to new pipe construction and Biden is trying to shut them down.
One thing I suspect to be true at the meeting is that Canada will be treated more like a neighbor than a "foreign country." Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and AG Nessel should take note.
Chicago-based environmental journalist