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Forecast Frosty for U.S.-Canadian Ties

Cultural Gap Between Neighbors Widens Even as Economies Grow Closer

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 27, 2004; Page A24

TORONTO -- The weather won't be the only thing that's cool when President Bush visits neighboring Canada next week.

Longtime observers here say the societies in Canada and the United States are drifting further apart in values and outlook even as their economies become more closely intertwined. Politically, they say, the two countries' populations are more estranged than at any time in recent memory, and Canadians are becoming increasingly critical of their southern neighbors.


Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, left, met with President Bush at the White House in April. Bush is scheduled to meet with the Canadian leader in Ottawa next week. (Jason Reed -- Reuters)

"In 1981 only 8 percent of Canadians had an unfavorable view of the United States. Now 45 percent have an unfavorable view," said Michael Adams, a veteran pollster and philosophical proponent of the view that the two societies are diverging. "There has never been that kind of lopsided skew."

Much of the antipathy here is focused on Bush. He will be met by demonstrations in Ottawa over issues ranging from U.S. involvement in Iraq to gay marriage, and the White House has declined an invitation to address Parliament, where Bush might be heckled.

Canadians, proudly polite and intensely politically correct, would be shocked to be described as anti-American. Yet the chill toward Washington often slips into general derision of Americans.

When Carolyn Parrish, a Liberal Party member of Parliament, said last year, "Damn Americans, I hate those bastards," she evoked cheers from many supporters. When she carried her anti-American tirade further this month, stomping on a Bush doll in a nationally televised satire show, she was ousted from the Liberals' parliamentary caucus as an embarrassment to the ruling party and Prime Minister Paul Martin. But radio talk shows and Web sites suggest that as many applauded her actions as condemned them.

"I say nice going. The U.S.A. has been walking over Canada and treating it like an annoying baby brother for too many years," wrote G.J. Davis, of Winnipeg, in a typical comment to the National Post's Web site.

Examples of those feelings are commonplace, as when a Toronto matron sniffs over fruit -- "Not bad, for American strawberries" -- or an audience full of Canadian dignitaries applauds the opening of an America-bashing opera by Canada's best-known author, Margaret Atwood.

The Canadian government is usually wary of offending its powerful neighbor, and official relations are likely to improve with Bush's visit. His administration is moving to eliminate a major irritant to relations with Canada: the 18-month-old ban imposed on Canadian beef because of mad cow disease. Martin will offer, in return, to send Canadian observers to help oversee the planned Jan. 30 Iraqi election, an olive branch intended to salve Washington's annoyance at Canada's rejection of the Iraq invasion.

But the public reaction to Bush is likely to be less accommodating.

"This is a nadir in terms of how the Canadian people view a president. George W. Bush probably ranks lowest on the scale in Canadian history, since the birth of Canada in 1867," said Lawrence Martin, author of the history, "The Presidents and Prime Ministers." He reconsidered: "Well, maybe just lowest in the last century. Ulysses Grant wanted to take over the country."

As the writer Martin documents, personal differences between U.S. and Canadian leaders have sometimes been profound -- and profane. But he and other analysts contend that the more fundamental shift among the publics of the two countries holds more importance. "Until the 1960s there was a great commonality of spirit. That is no longer the case. . . . Our values are going in a different direction than yours," he said.

That is evident in social issues. Canada's federal government is moving to decriminalize use of marijuana. Gay marriage is legal in three provinces, and gay partners of Canadian servicemen get spousal benefits. Abortion is considered a private issue. Capital punishment is banned. Religion is largely absent from politics here.

Adams argues that his long-term polling shows a growing alienation between Canadians and Americans on such basic matters as their approaches to life, their attitudes toward government, religion and authority, their standards of living and their resolution of conflicts.

"The divergence is not at the elite level. It's in the social values that motivate people in their everyday life," Adams, who laid out his findings in "Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values," said in an interview.

Those differences were exacerbated by the Iraq war, which Canada balked at, and by the unilateralist streak in the Bush administration's foreign policy that offended Canadian preferences for working with other countries, said Reginald Stuart, an expert on U.S.-Canada relations at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. "Canadians have an almost genetic instinct for multinationalism and distrust the U.S. government."

In an opinion survey in April, 82 percent of Canadians said Bush "doesn't really know anything when it comes to Canadian issues." With the approach of the U.S. election, polls showed Canadians preferring John F. Kerry overwhelmingly. Dismay at the outcome was palpable.

Some Canadians think it has gone too far. "Canadians demonstrate a remarkable conviction of moral superiority," concluded the research firm EKOS, which conducted a recent poll and found that "Bushwhacking is emerging as our new national sport." Historian Michael Ignatieff, a Harvard professor and a Canadian favorite son, returned to Toronto last week and scolded Canadians for their condescending dismissal of Bush.

Canadian businessmen fret that strains in the relationship will disrupt U.S. trade, the lifeblood of Canada's economy. Canada sells 84 percent of its exports to the United States and buys 71 percent of its imports there.

"Canadians take for granted the continued access for goods and products in the United States," said Nelson Wiseman, a specialist in Canadian politics at the University of Toronto. "But on the cultural side, they can strut around proudly and smugly in the belief that Americans are culturally inferior. To be popular in this country, you can't be seen as a lackey of Americans."


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