Why aren't Australia and Canada closer?
January 16, 2020 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Australia and Canada share a huge number of similarities, particularly in terms of international relations, comparable I think for example to the Scandinavians. So why don't we see the two countries standing closer together internationally and engaging more bilaterally? Is it simple distance? Is it that they're too similar, and therefore competitors? Or are we just too different on a few prominent aspects of our culture (for example, lacking a prominent sporting event; winter vs summer).
posted by jjderooy to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Distance, and no common international sporting event (besides the Commonwealth games) would be my expert opinion based only on being an Australian (ie not very expert). Where as we have the Ashes with the UK, Cricket, Netball & Rugby with other Commonwealth countries, which give us a bit of a cultural touchstone with other countries. Also Canada until recently was kind of considered US light by many Australians, though the current political changes have shaken that up and I see a lot more embracing of the things we have in common with Canada not the differences, though the current Australian Prime Minister is trying to make us the US light country now a days so make of it what you will. Again not an expert on politics of the Commonwealth countries, just a POV on the matter.
posted by wwax at 3:14 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I was about to say travel costs, but I just checked and a return flight from Edmonton to Sydney is at cheapest, just over the same it costs us to travel to Halifax and back. I'd wager this is not well known!
posted by kitcat at 3:27 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

You build the strongest trading relationships with your geographical neighbours rather than your ideological neighbours.
posted by pipeski at 3:55 PM on January 16, 2020 [11 favorites]

The first three factors are location, location and location.

Not only the absolute distance, but also the relative distance. From Australia, all the other major Anglosphere countries (except NZ) are distant, whereas from Canada the US is both huge and close by. Australia seems to me to have more links with South Africa than Canada even though the distances are broadly similar (at least to the west coast - Sydney is 11000 km from Johannesburg, 12500 from Vancouver).

The classic model for these relationships is the 'gravity model' where the attraction is proportional to size and inversely proportional to distance.

I also suspect this has evolved over time as the US has become relatively more powerful and the UK less powerful; Canada and Australia seem to have closer ties in older (eg pre 1900} aspects, developed when the UK was dominant rather than newer (eg post 1950) ones when the US dominated Canada. For instance, not just political systems but political vocabulary like "table"; university vs college, Boxing day. Versus newer terms like lift/elevator, boot/trunk, as well as professional sports and most mass popular culture.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:33 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

We do have a fair number of International arrangements even aside from the ones everyone is a part of. We're both part of the Commonwealth, Five Eyes, CPTPP, G20. We have a reciprocal working holiday visa arrangement, tax treaties, a film co-pro agreement, we back each other up on consular services in some parts of the world. They aren't in NATO for obvious reasons but they do often support NATO-lead military actions and we jointly participate in a variety of peace-keeping missions.

I mean, we're not each other's biggest trading partners -- we're both resource driven economies producing somewhat similar products, so we don't actually have that much to trade and we are very far apart -- but we get along just fine on an international scale.

What sorts of activities would you expect to see that you don't if Canada and Australia were too cooperate more fully?
posted by jacquilynne at 4:42 PM on January 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Something that is, for me, an aussie, a bit galling: the realisation that the antipodean equivalent of Canada is New Zealand, not Australia. Australia, with it's boorish tourists, climate change denialism (at least current govt, not the entire populace) and military deployments, is really more like the USA than Canada.

However, with the recent plane disaster in Iran, the Australian embassy was assisting as Canada doesn't have one in Iran.
posted by freethefeet at 5:01 PM on January 16, 2020 [17 favorites]

I’m Canadian and it’s never remotely occurred to me that being Canadian was in any way like being Australian until reading this question.

I see your reasoning, but iconographically, to me all the superficial aspects of the two countries feel more like opposites than sisters- cold / hot, introverts / extroverts, skiing / surfing, Great Barrier Reef / Arctic, on and on. I mean our national motto of “Oh sorry!” is a pretty far cry from “G’day!”

As a Canadian I feel our culture more like a “lite” version of the US or Britain, or a hybrid of the two, rather than a sibling to any other member of the Commonwealth.

Although as Freethefeet points out, yes, what I know of New Zealand does seem more aligned with my experience of Canada.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:13 PM on January 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

I wonder if there's an Albion's Seed-type explanation. I haven't actually read the book, and I don't know much about immigration to either country, but it'd be interesting to think about.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:26 PM on January 16, 2020

Can't speak for Canada, but there's a cultural cringe in the Australian political psyche that gravitates toward not wanting to bond with another maybe similar-ish status nation on the other side of the world. I remember hearing an Australian comedian for an Australian audience at a big mainstream comedy festival do a bit about this years ago. Picturing the G20 as people at a party and how Australia would be like the boorish uncool kid at a party who ignores the other kids of their social rank to maintain the illusion they can do better or at least are better off doing their own thing rogue. The punch line actually was "Who are they going to sit us next to at dinner? Canada??" which got laughs (i.e. the other confused colonial country seen as being far away which people only really know cringely as a vague cartoonish sterotype of bears and mounted police)

There also hasn't been a huge amount of overlap between prime ministers with the same attitudes, and so much churn in Australian PMs recently that there hasn't been time to bond. The Canadian Liberal party (centre-left) that led through most of the 90s until 2006 is actually on the other side of the isle politically to the Australian Liberal Party (a centre-right conservative party) that led for almost 12 year from 1996.
posted by hotcoroner at 5:27 PM on January 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

As diverse as (parts of) Canada can be, Canada is an inherently parochial place. People come here and never leave; if they do it's to the States. When I talk to my country men about how similar Australia is to us, most talk about the killer wild life, the heat, and the distance. We're comfortable in our big North American bubble and see no reason to look beyond the continent. Airfare to anywhere is also ridiculously expensive.
posted by sid at 5:45 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

When I talk to my country men about how similar Australia is to us, most talk about the killer wild life, the heat, and the distance

Haha, you guys are the ones with actual killer wildlife (itty bitty poisonous spiders are no big deal and you don't see snakes more often than anywhere else). If you get bitten by a snake (usually requires you to act like an idiot first) then immobilize it and get medical treatment. They don't rip your limbs off you like bears/polar bears can. Canadian weather extremes are amazing, I was shocked how hideously hot and humid Toronto and Ottawa were in summer, and no mitigating sea breezes. It seemed crazy somewhere so cold could be so hot too (seeing -35 degrees and +35 degrees in the same location). Our cities (except Canberra which is more a big town) are coastal and don't have the huge fluctuation between winter and summer (e.g coastal Sydney day time highs in winter are about 15degrees Celsius (Sydneysiders consider 15C bloody freezing) and 35 degrees celcisus at the higher end. Higher than that is not common (though would be inland)

I think Canadians are more openly friendlier than Australians which makes sense with the US as neighbours. Being able to drive between the two countries helps. I can't just drop in to NZ whereas relatives in Canada are back and forth to the US constantly. Our sports are all quite different so little crossover which wouldn't help.

So overall I think we're quite similar but Canada has the US and so doesn't bother to make strong ties with Australia, there's no need. We're like distant cousins; makes more sense to be friendly with others locally than to stress the ties to the grandparents.

Australia is also very much an 'oh sorry' place, Bill Bryson's book about Australia has hilarious examples.
posted by kitten magic at 7:45 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I’m a horrible American, but I have a theory about this, and I’m going to state it in the most offensive way possible (sorry).

Canada is USA’s hat, and Scotland is England’s hat, and New Zealand is Australia’s hat.

Each smaller, more progressive country has to define itself against its much larger, more conservative neighbor.

So maybe Canada might have more in common with New Zealand?

Again, sorry.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:30 PM on January 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

I don't claim any particular expertise, but Canada and Australia's similarities have always seemed more because of their shared descent and similar relationships with the UK rather than from any lateral relationship. Like, if the Scandinavian countries are siblings who grew up in the same house, Canada and Australia would be cousins who get on well enough but only really get together when Grandpa's in town. Geography helps but it's not everything, Australians and Canadians are both far more likely to end up in the UK than in each other's countries. I think having that movement of people back and forth is a big part of feeling like you have a shared present-day, which sorta sets the tone for bigger geopolitical issues.
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:08 PM on January 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Canadian, grew up in Canada, living in America now. When I was a teenager my best friend used to travel to Australia a lot to visit family. She always used to complain about how important Australians thought they, and their country, were. Unlike us Canadians, they weren't humble at all.

This also happens to be my experience of Americans, even though I love many of them.

Oh, and Canadians are smug as hell, too.

The NZ comparison seems apt. I identify strongly with the crumbling NZ consulate in Flight of the Conchords.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:21 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

As a Canadian-born woman whose family moved to the USA (where I resided for decades) where I became a naturalised ciitizen, and who now lives in New Zealand with permanent residency, I agree with others who have said:

USA <> Australia
Canada <> New Zealand

My British boyfriend concurs.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:16 AM on January 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

(kitten magic- our wildlife is sneaky deadly, rather than polar bear "yep avoid avoid" - think redbacks on the toilet seat. Or this bird. or lovely cuddly kangaroos. (at least one human death recorded.)
Also- while the bulk of Australia do live by the coast, some of us do live inland. *waves* )

The hat analogy is apt- and adding Scotland/England to it works well (speaking with the authority of someone who isn't Scottish, but who's Scottish grandfather brought their family to Australia). I wonder if there are any other pairs like this? I think I've heard that Sweden is the USA/Australia/England equivalent in Scandinavia, with everyone else being Canada/NZ/Scotland

I also really like the siblings/cousins analogy.
posted by freethefeet at 2:26 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Canada and Australia actually engage bilaterally quite regularly. Bilateral relationships are sprawling, massive things, especially for Five Eyes partners, much of which takes place at the working level, unseen by the public.
posted by fso at 9:07 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Britain sent large numbers of criminals to American colonies then to Australia after the American Revolution but fewer to Canada. Perhaps something cultural got baked into American and Australian populations as a result of the large-scale deportations.

Between 1788 and 1868, about 162,000 convicts were transported from Britain and Ireland to various penal colonies in Australia.[1]

The British Government began transporting convicts overseas to American colonies in the early 17th century. When transportation ended with the start of the American Revolution, an alternative site was needed to relieve further overcrowding of British prisons and hulks. Earlier in 1770, James Cook charted and claimed possession of the east coast of Australia for Britain. Seeking to pre-empt the French colonial empire from expanding into the region, Britain chose Australia as the site of a penal colony, and in 1787, the First Fleet of eleven convict ships set sail for Botany Bay, arriving on 20 January 1788 to found Sydney, New South Wales, the first European settlement on the continent. Other penal colonies were later established in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1803 and Queensland in 1824, while Western Australia, founded in 1829 as a free colony, received convicts from 1850. South Australia and Victoria, established in 1836 and 1850 respectively, remained free colonies. Penal transportation to Australia peaked in the 1830s and dropped off significantly the following decade as protests against the convict system intensified throughout the colonies. In 1868, almost two decades after transportation to the eastern colonies had ceased, the last convict ship arrived in Western Australia.
posted by Elsie at 11:10 AM on January 17, 2020

Freethefeet, *waves* I didn't mean to ignore those inland but I found it fascinating traveling in North America and seeing all those huge cities inland. Even living in London (UK one) it was weird to me having a river but still being far from the sea.

Good point about Cassowarries. And of course even magpies are evil as heck in spring but people just mock us for that. I don't like spiders but I've never worried about red backs or funnel webs because I can manage them with a shoe or a rolled up newspaper. Not so much a bear. Also there are more terrifying written accounts of experiences with bears and I've fallen down that rabbit hole...

Elsie, I'm sure it did effect our culture. But I'm also really uncormfortwble with referring to them as criminals; most were just people trying to survive and crimes were things like stealing bread or a blanket. They had overcrowded prisons because they had no social safety net.

Actually thinking back to L.M. Montgomery's books, a lot of the immigrants to eastern Canada came from Scotland and were Presbyterian. Quite different culturally to the Irish Catholics sent out to NSW. And then also the bulk of our immigration has occurred since WWII. Not sure how that compares to Canada.
posted by kitten magic at 4:43 PM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

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