The Canadian government, sending quick offers of oil, warships, airplanes and other humanitarian aid to the United States to deal with Hurricane Katrina, hopes those measures will help improve testy relations and remind Americans that Canada is their main supplier of oil.
"Neighbors helping neighbors," Prime Minister Paul Martin said Tuesday, describing the decision to send three navy ships to the Gulf Coast to assist U.S. forces.
Meanwhile, Canada's cabinet officials have urged citizens to conserve energy use, and Alberta has removed production limits at its oil fields to help overcome fuel shortages caused by the storm's impact on U.S. production and refineries. Canada produces an average of 3.14 million barrels of oil daily, and it ships more than 2 million barrels of oil and petroleum products a day to the United States.
Canadian producers already are near capacity, and the increase is partly symbolic, according to Derek Burleton, a senior economist with TD Bank Financial Group. Most of the Gulf Coast's loss in oil production will be made up by the release of U.S. strategic reserves and increased exports from the European Union, according to analysts. But Canadian producers say they are doing all they can.
"There is a profit incentive, obviously, to do this, but there is a real thought around Alberta from top levels of government to real citizens to help the people hit by the hurricane," said Darin Barter, a spokesman for the Alberta regulatory board that on Saturday approved the production increase.
Concern about the hurricane damage deflated a controversy in Canada over the Bush administration's decision last month to ignore successive tribunal rulings under the North American Free Trade Agreement requiring the United States to return $5 billion in improper softwood lumber tariffs. The administration's stance had brought shrill condemnation -- with newspapers using terms such as "schoolyard bully" and "outlaw" -- and rising calls for retaliatory measures.
But Canada was quick to offer aid after the storm, dispatching navy divers in addition to the ships, a Coast Guard cutter and aircraft to help the rescue efforts. It opened its stock of emergency relief supplies, British Columbia sent a 46-member urban rescue team and Quebec provincial officials have announced the shipment of 20,000 beds.
Those offers "certainly won't hurt" relations, Burleton said. "Given some of the knocks there have been in the relationship between Canada and the U.S., this is a step in the right direction."
The Canadian oil boost also is a reminder that Canada is the largest and most stable supplier of energy to the United States. Because of the storm, Vice President Cheney postponed a scheduled tour this week of Alberta's giant oil sand fields, which have estimated reserves greater than Saudi Arabia's.
"We're a good neighbor, a good business partner, and a good nation to be beside," said Murray Smith, an Alberta government minister who works in Washington.
But the effects of the storm hurt Canada, too. Gasoline prices spiked Monday in Canada to an average of about $4 a gallon.
Bernard Etzinger, a spokesman for the Canadian Embassy in Washington, said of the Canadian offers of help: "When something like this happens, what you see is a spontaneous response. What we are doing is a response to a very human situation."