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Events seem to have conspired during these past few months to strain the harmonious relationship between my country, Canada, and the United States. My husband and I regret this unfortunate situation.

Our government chose not to participate actively in the war against Saddam Hussein's repressive regime. However, Canada sent three ships to the gulf area to search for contraband materials and help maintain control of shipping lanes. This, perhaps, could be termed as passive assistance.

In our country, as in yours, there have been many demonstrations and rallies both in support of and in opposition to our government's position. The letters to the editor in our local newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard, have clearly presented the case for both sides of the issue. In our country, as in yours, the party in power at any given time has the responsibility for setting foreign policy. The majority of citizens may or may not agree with the government's position.

To add to this unhappy state of affairs, several addle-brained, bad-mannered federal politicians made unflattering remarks about President Bush. Please believe that most of your neighbors in Canada cringed in shame and embarrassment when these were reported in the press. There will be a federal election early next year, and we are hoping desperately for a better class of public servant to represent us.

Recently, there has been fear about the SARS outbreak in Toronto. Viruses, like the weather, don't recognize national boundary lines. We in Niagara share your worry about having this dangerous disease spread into our area. And we regret that you have yet another circumstance at which to feel irritated with your neighbors.

As in families, those to whom you are the closest have the greatest power to hurt you. There are disagreements in every family, some may even be healthy, as long as they do not get out of hand. Sincere differences of opinion may force each side to examine its position more closely, resulting in clearer perspectives for each. I hope the next time there is a crisis in international affairs, our two governments can reach a consensus of opinion on the matter and on the best course of action. There is strength in unity, and if we present a united front on the issue to the world community, our arguments would be both noteworthy and compelling.

The apparent front-runner in the next federal election in Canada is Paul Martin of the Liberal Party. He has stated that one of his first priorities will be to repair our damaged relations with the United States. He is expected, in many quarters, to win by a landslide. Let's hope these predictions come true. Our North American family could use a little peace and harmony after this period of uneasiness.

Americans and Canadians, for the most part, share a common ancestry, language and culture. We also share the distinction of having welcomed people from other lands, inviting them to share in the abundant advantages of our democratic societies and to contribute to our cultures.

Because we are human, we will probably always disagree on some matters, but our similarities far outweigh our differences. As we contemplate our neighbors across the border, we must be ready to extend the hand of friendship and, when the situation is confusing or discouraging, to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Isn't that what good neighbors do?

CAROLYN TYTLER lives in St. Catharines, Ont.
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