Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

America’s image problem in Canada

America’s continuing ability to rally its allies depends, in large part, on their confidence in America’s future.  Canada does not appear to have enough confidence in the future of the US economy—or its democracy— to take any new chances, to invest any further in their friendship. 

The Canadian government can slap with impunity the colonial “royal” back on the signage of its armed forces. At the same time, it must lock the doors and all the windows to the possibility of any diminution of Canadian sovereignty in securing greater continental economic integration and security.

Unlike post-war Europeans and South Americans today, Canada and the US—the two most inter-dependent big economies in the West—mustn’t even talk to each other about better aligning their governing institutions with their shared interests.  

As prominent members of the same western civilization, there is no fancy conflict of values between them. Yet, the United States is not respected in Canada today.

This negative assessment is monitored daily and seldom challenged. Here’s a sample of Canadian unfriendliness that doesn’t even make the front pages anymore.

Two weeks ago, Les Perreaux reported in a story entitled “Canadians see the American Dream as a bit of a nightmare” that Nanos Research recently found that nearly 86 per cent of Canadians would bet that Canada holds more promise for prosperity. Furthermore, 53.7%—a clear majority of Canadians—disagreed with the statement: “our close ties with the US help Canada’s reputation around the world.”

Being condescending but, of course, not nasty, two-thirds of Canadians think Obama is doing his best. Yet, Obama isn’t any longer an American asset. Mr. Nanos suggested that when you factor in the rise of the intransigent and destabilizing Tea Party, Canadians “give US politics a rather poor rating.”

This week, a Canadian Press/Harris Decima poll found that 42% of Canadians believe that information about 9-11is being “intentionally hidden.” Scepticism was higher in Quebec, British Columbia and amongst those under 35. Almost everything written in Canada about the 9-11 Decade included a regretful shaking of the head:  America’s security posture is excessive and paranoid; America has somehow become an overextended fortress.

Clearly, Canadians no longer merely dislike George Bush and his War on Terror. A wary majority of Canadians accept, as fact, that the US is fading economically, is incompetent politically and less respectful of legal and democratic rights of its citizens.

In short, it is safe to be anti-American in Canada; it sounds less reckless and even progressive to look for new friends rather than invest further in the US relationship.

There are two aspects of this climate of opinion that undermine our separate and shared futures on this continent.

First, Canada’s negative misconceptions about contemporary America nourish a disinclination amongst Canadians to do anything significant about Canada’s own problems.

When you feel superior about Canada, it’s easier to do little to improve innovation and competitiveness, to address demographic cost pressures, global competition, declining levels of Canadian political participation and the continuance of undemocratic institutions embedded in Canada’s quasi-colonial constitution. It would be harder to stand pat, if Canadians really appreciated that the US is, in fact, responding rigorously to its competitive problems, is beating Canada in business productivity, innovation and international trade, and that its political sphere is being reborn with new energy and talent.

Second, Canadian anti-Americanism limits America’s chances to make the best of its North American circumstances.

Winning the hearts and minds of the Middle East is an ambitious idea that might be of some future use to the US. However, losing the affection and confidence of Canadians could be very expensive.

The status quo obstructs the best expression and deployment of North American ingenuity, resources and, yes, collective wisdom. Yet, the status quo will remain locked in place as long as opinion makers in Canada and the United States bow to the miserable opinion that so many Canadians now hold toward their neighbour.

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