University of Manitoba political studies students will open their 21st annual conference on Thursday, this year tackling the very timely issue of Canada’s relationship with the United States.
The three-day event is called A Relationship at the Crossroads, and experts and observers from both sides of the border will examine Canada’s rapport with the U.S. at a time the countries are perhaps further apart on major issues than at any other point in recent history.
Conference co-chair Joseph Ahorro said exploring the Canada-U.S. relationship now is especially relevant in light of recent federal elections in both countries. And a wide gap over high-profile issues like BSE, the softwood lumber dispute, missile defense and public opinion of the reelection of George W. Bush have left it unclear just where the relationship between the two countries is at.
“Many Canadians have uncertainty over the state of Canada’s relationship with the U.S.,” Ahorro said. “Likewise with Americans and where they stand with Canada.
“During Paul Martin’s campaign he said he wanted to rebuild the relationship with the Americans. But what does that entail exactly? That’s what we’re getting at with this conference.”
The conference is built around exploring six themes: identity, security, defence, trade, resources and local issues. The students organizing the event have been careful to bring in a range of speakers and panelists, both American and Canadian, from all over the political spectrum.
Many of the presenters carry a high profile. Ministers from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and the Canadian Embassy in Washington are both scheduled to speak on Thursday, the conference’s opening day. Respected academics from Duke, Queen’s, York, Dalhousie and other universities will join their University of Manitoba colleagues in taking on the conference’s six themes.
Although the conference is organized by political studies students, Ahorro said the affair is open to anyone interested, and he’s encouraging students and faculty from any discipline to take in the panels. He said opening up the debate is key to better understanding Canada’s relationship with its southern neighbour.
“We want to increase debate on campus on the relationship we have with the Americans. Should we build closer ties or should we maintain our sovereignty by any means necessary? It takes a very broad discussion to answer these questions.”
The conference opens on Thursday, Feb. 3 and runs through Saturday, Feb. 5. A conference itinerary and speakers’ biographies are available on the event’s web site, www.umpssc.ca.