Wayne O'Leary

Making Friends and Influencing People

An interesting item recently came across my desk concerning Canada, our neighbor to the north. Canadians, it seems, no longer like us. An opinion poll taken in late November by Environics, a Toronto market-research firm, indicated that anti-American sentiment throughout the Dominion had reached nearly 50%, the highest in a century, with roughly half of all Canadians registering an "unfavorable" view of the US.

This was Canada, mind you, America's leading trade partner, our self-effacing friend and ally in good times and bad, the "peaceable kingdom" that has shared with us the longest undefended border in the world. (You don't want to know what Europeans think.) The adverse response to pollsters was notable in two respects.

First, it followed a generation of consistently favorable opinions of America: From 1980 to 2000, positive impressions of this country north of the border hovered around 80%. Second, it was due almost entirely to the unpopularity of George W. Bush; Canadian polling data turned negative toward the US a year into the first Bush term, and the trend has been steadily downward ever since.

The causes of the startling change in attitude are several, but they all arise from one aspect or another of Bush administration policy. The immediate source of antagonism is the softwood lumber controversy, a matter of small moment to Americans but of major importance to Canadians. In brief, it concerns the question of whether Canada's lumber exports to the US, consisting of timber harvested on publicly owned lands, are unfairly subsidized.

The dispute was supposedly resolved last summer in Canada's favor by a NAFTA arbitration panel, which ruled American producers were not disadvantaged and instructed the US to drop punitive import duties imposed on Canadian wood three years ago. The Bush administration, however, thumbed its nose at the NAFTA decision and has taken the matter to the WTO, even though that body has no direct jurisdiction. Canada was justifiably outraged by this cavalier disregard for the adjudication provisions of a trade agreement the US had pressured it to sign in the first place.

That's the Bush style -- in spades: Win or take your ball and go home. It's a unilateral approach to the world that Canadians, being the ultimate multilateralists with a well-deserved reputation for peacekeeping and mediation, find appalling. Their more inclusive stance was on display at December's international climate conference in Montreal, where Prime Minister Paul Martin pointedly chastised the White House for its failure to support a renewal of the Kyoto treaty.

Said Martin, "There is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it." The go-it-alone Bush disregard for the opinions of other nations, whether applied to environmental treaties, international courts of law or simple trade disputes, means that Martin's words will almost certainly go unheeded, driving a further wedge between the two countries.

It's the Iraq war, however, which Canada refused to endorse, that has drawn the clearest, most unambiguous line between American unilateralism and Canadian multilateralism; it remains the chief source of irritation in the historic North American relationship. Canadians see the Bush Middle East policy as warmongering imperialism; the US administration, despite Canada's aid in policing Afghanistan (which has cost Canadian lives), looks north and sees this hemisphere's version of France.

The general war on terrorism, as opposed to the Iraq occupation, has produced a greater degree of Canadian cooperation with the US, but has nevertheless soured relations in the process. Because of 9/11, the Bush administration has concerns about internal security that sometimes verge on paranoia. For reasons that are not entirely clear (perhaps merely pique), those concerns focus inordinately on the US-Canada border. Ignoring a problematic southern boundary with Mexico that leaks like the proverbial sieve, the administration has determined to seal northern access to this country by making Canada's border harder to cross.

This policy has produced selective harassment of Canadian visitors, longer waits at border crossings and a pending requirement that travelers between the two nations carry passports. The result: a major reduction in cross-border traffic. A spokesman for the Canadian Tourism Research Institute, quoted in The Economist, characterized the changed atmosphere this way: "Both sides feel less welcome in the other country."

The Canadian-American chasm extends beyond foreign-policy and security matters. In domestic politics, Canada has become far more liberal than the US during the Bush era, legalizing gay marriage, considering decriminalized marijuana use and holding fast to its system of universal national health insurance in the face of suggestions from south of the border that it "Americanize" services through market-oriented reforms. It has also resisted the American trend toward tying church and state more closely together; right-wing fundamentalism remains a marginal movement in Canada's secularized political life. The differences have led many Canadian leaders to feel estranged from a conservative government in Washington that neither understands nor appreciates their country and its political culture.

What official Washington does appear to appreciate is Canada's resource-based economy and the desirability of integrating it into the larger, corporate-dominated US economy. In early 2005, the Council on foreign Relations proposed creating a "North American economic and security community" encompassing the two countries and Mexico that would establish within five years a common external tariff and security perimeter. The process could lead, some think, to an eventual "harmonizing" of Canadian and American safety, health and environmental standards based on the more corporate-friendly US model. This would come on top of NAFTA's already existing restrictions on Canadian social and energy policy. Proponents of such "integration by stealth," as northern critics call it, even envision a future unified labor market and a single currency.

Canadian nationalists and progressives can't be blamed for seeing this tentative economic assault as more evidence of the need to keep America at arm's length. If globalizing US interests were to prevail, the Canadian-American border would, for all practical purposes, disappear, and Canada would be subsumed in a greater America.

Some Canadians, mainly members of the business community, approve of this grand design; they want the economic integration of the two countries carried to fruition. But many more of our northern neighbors see it as a threat to their nation's very existence. Is it any wonder we've lost their admiration and good will?

Wayne O'Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine.

For more details on current US-Canadian relations, see Peter David's survey, "Peace, Order and Rocky Government," in the Dec. 1, 2005 issue of *The Economist* (economist.com).

From The Progressive Populist, Feb. 1, 2006

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