This book is better than we anticipated but not as good as it could have been. Over the course of some 300 pages, David Jones and David Kilgour seek to delineate in considerable detail what they see as the similarities and differences between Canada’s and the United States’ policies and politics, and their attitudes toward these issues. The opening chapter appears to be a joint- ly crafted overview setting out their motivation in undertaking this proj- ect, and the closing chapter a joint conclusion on what their journey of discovery yielded. In between are eight pairs of essays by the two authors, each crafted without much regard for the other half, with each author setting out his impressions of the following eight issues:
National identity and self-image
Democratic culture and practices
Economic and resource management
Culture, education and religion
Human rights and development
The result is a book of essays that range from the interesting and occa- sionally insightful to the pedestrian and even boring. Generally, Jones pro- vides a compelling, well-thought- through counterpoint to the humdrum essays contributed by Kilgour. One could even conclude that Jones’s essays provide sobering insight into what well-informed Americans in the US capital think about Canada and its approach to relations with its giant neighbour: sometimes such Americans know and understand more than we Canadians think, and often their judg- ments place us in a much less flattering light than we would like. Jones illus- trates well one of the leading chal- lenges in managing Canada-US relations: Canadians’ exaggerated sense of self-importance and self-worth, par- ticularly in comparison with Americans.
Most of Kilgour’s essays provide a conventional overview of mainstream social and political attitudes in Canada toward a range of major policy issues and experiences and how they con- trast with those in the United States –– conventional in the sense that each chapter reflects what a reasonably well-read and aware Canadian proba- bly thinks about these matters. They are more balanced and better informed than we expected from the pen of the often eccentric Kilgour. It is not every politician who has tried the Conservative and Liberal parties and ended up sitting as an independent. Perhaps, since he was an Albertan with liberal leanings representing an Edmonton riding, his political peregri- nations were not all that strange. His career, as filtered through the media, however, suggests not only that he found the Liberal and Conservative caucuses on Parliament Hill unconge- nial company, but also that many members of said caucuses shared that view. He exhibited a decidedly contrar- ian and unconventional approach to many issues. Therefore it is pleasantly surprising that his essays reveal a gen- erally well-informed parliamentarian with a balanced, if not terribly adven- turous, appreciation of many issues. Perhaps we can conclude that the political discipline that holds parlia- mentary caucuses together does not offer much to other people except to the sheep Pierre Trudeau so easily dis- missed and abused.
Nevertheless, the essays also sug- gest that no matter how independent Kilgour is in spirit, the knowledge he acquired as a parliamentarian is not sufficient to allow him to contribute with any memorable insight to a better understanding of the leading issues of the day. The first sections in every chapter that set out the Canadian per- spective, while not wrong, are not inspiring or particularly informative. They are ”” well, conventional, made of the stuff that fills newspapers and magazines.
With more research into and more attention paid to the weak foundations upon which some of the less successful Canadian policies are based, the essays would have risen to a higher level. The comparisons with the US policies are particularly superficial.
Arguably the weakest essay is the one on recent Canadian foreign policy. Despite having been minister of state for Latin America, Kilgour offers no better than a rehash of a five-year- old report by Robert Greenhill, which sets out a number of foreigners’ impres- sions of the state of Canadian foreign policy. The original essay was not very good, intimating as it does that Canadian foreign policy should be tai- lored to meet the expectations of for- eign observers. It does not improve in Kilgour’s retelling, but it does accurate- ly reflect the views of some activist par- liamentarians. It is totally innocent of any appreciation of Canadian interests, global realities or institutional context.
In contrast, the second half of each chapter, by former US foreign service officer David T. Jones, is a well- thought-through essay on the limits and possibilities of US policies and how they differ from or are similar to Canadian policies and preferences. Since his retirement, Jones has been a frequent contributor of thoughtful op- eds and journal articles on Canada-US issues, and he is part of a small but hardy breed of the more adept Canada-watchers in the United States.
For example, his descriptions of the gridlock that is the basis of US politics, the smorgasbord of choices that under- pin US culture and education, the strengths and weaknesses of the US approach to health care and the com- plex factors that shape US foreign and defence policy are the result of careful observation and research. To the well- read observer of the American scene there may be little that is new or surpris- ing, but each of Jones’ essays is well- crafted and balanced. Unlike Kilgour’s observations, Jones’ assessments of the differences between Canada and the United States are often spot on.
For those who are not well versed in Canada-US relations and the differences between our two countries, this is not a bad place to gain some information and insight.
For those whose knowl- edge and interests are beyond that which can be found in any quality newspaper, save your money and wait for some- thing better.