This month’s thematic, a full issue on the relationship between Canada and the United States, is our contribution to a major conference, ”œConversations & Relations,” organized by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). The conference was held in Montreal on March 24-25, and featured leading voices on bilateral relations, including former prime minister Brian Mulroney (who sat for a Q&A with us), Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

This issue marks the fourth such collaboration between Policy Options and the MISC during the decade of Antonia Maioni’s outstanding leadership of the institute founded by Charles Bronfman. Our previous partnerships were on ”œChallenging Cities in Canada” in 2004, ”œCanada in the World” in 2005, and ”œThe Charter @ 25” in 2007. (For information on the program of ”œConversations & Relations” go to http://www.mcgill.ca/can-us2011/)

This thematic covers a wide range of Canada-US issues, from management of the border to airport security, from innovation to clean energy, and from cultural differences between Canadians and Americans to the differences in our television news.

Our pollster, Nik Nanos, has been working both sides of the Canada-US border. In his annual survey for the State University of New York at Buffalo, he found that Canadians and Americans ”œhave the same concerns about a smart and secure border,” and largely see no diminution of sovereignty resulting from bilateral cooperation. And in a poll of Canadians conducted for Policy Options, he finds that, by a wide margin, they rank relations with the US as Canada’s most important partnership in every respect.

In our Verbatim, McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum outlines an ambitious agenda for Canada-US cooperation in higher education and innovation. In the Q&A, Brian Mulroney tells us that leveraging the relationship between the prime minister and the president is key ”œto getting big things done.”

Speaking of that relationship, presidential historian Gil Troy and I take a look at relations between prime ministers and presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt and Mackenzie King down to Barack Obama and Stephen Harper. FDR and King set the template for consequential relations, being the longest-serving president and prime minister in history, and being in office through the Great Depression and the Second World War. The Mulroney-Reagan/Bush years were clearly an era of exceptional achievement. And on this month’s 20th anniversary of the Acid Rain Accord, Environment Minister Peter Kent sees that accord as a template for addressing climate change and clean energy.

Andrew Cohen of the Historica-Dominion Institute considers some of the identity issues that Canadians have worked their way through in relation to the US. And CBC television news executive Catherine Cano weighs in with an assessment of how the news is presented and packaged differently in the two countries. When is the news not news? When it’s presented as opinion on US TV networks and cable channels. Don Lenihan of the Public Policy Forum shares some illuminating thoughts on the comparative roles of think tanks in the United States (where they are big, well-funded and generally have a partisan outlook) and Canada (where we are small, funding is an issue, and we often don’t take sides).

Our own IRPP economist Jeremy Leonard, himself a US native, looks at ”œthe shifting sands” of the Canada-US economic relationship. On fiscal frameworks, employment, the value of the housing market and numerous other important metrics, Canada is in much sounder shape than the US. Yvan Allaire examines the fallout from the global financial crisis and the new rules governing financial services in the US, notably the Dodd-Frank Act.

Derek Burney writes that it’s time for Canada to think big again, to boldly engage the US in a big idea. He should know, as one of the architects of free trade. He believes the ”œBeyond the Borders” initiative launched by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper could be one such big idea.

David Emerson, the former industry and trade minister, writes of a ”œNorth American platform” in the global economy, putting the bilateral relationship in a larger context. We live in a broader world, he writes, one in which ”œpreservation of the status quo has become something of an outlier scenario.”

Toby Lennox of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority considers the issues of moving people and goods through Canadian airports to US destinations. There are special challenges and opportunities, he writes, for Canada’s three ”œgateway airports” in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Dan Gagnier, chair of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, examines some of the innovation opportunities around a clean energy agenda. If the US is going to ”œwin the future,” the goal set by Barack Obama in his 2011 State of the Union Address, it will first have to fund the future.

And finally, Michael Hart writes a lovely appreciation of Bill Dymond, his friend of 35 years. Among countless other collaborations, they shared a byline in 14 pieces on trade and economic policy for Policy Options. Bill was simply the leading trade policy authority of his generation. His role in negotiating the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement is well known among trade experts; less so perhaps among a wider public. It’s appropriate that Mike’s tribute to Bill appears in this issue, devoted to the Canada-US relationship, about which he cared so much.