Anti-U.S. Tack Backfires On Canada's Liberals
Saturday, January 21, 2006
BURLINGTON, Canada -- Rob Hlohinec, 58, doesn't see what's so bad about Americans. He even admits to knowing some.
"I've talked to Americans. They want the same things we want," Hlohinec said as he watched a Conservative Party campaign rally in this Ontario town last week.
At his side, Irene Heller, 82, agreed. She said that was one reason she would vote to replace the government headed by the Liberal Party's Paul Martin in Canadian national elections on Monday. Martin, she said, uses anti-Americanism to try to win votes.
"He gets votes when he knocks America, and I don't approve of that," said Heller, who braved a sleet storm to attend the rally.
Heller's and Hlohinec's candidate, Conservative leader Stephen Harper, holds a strong lead in public opinion polls, fueled largely by dissatisfaction with 12 years of Liberal rule. Among the dissatisfied are voters unhappy with the growing divide between Canada and the United States.
Polls show a deep antipathy among Canadians toward the Bush administration, made more acute by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That has carried over to a more general anti-Americanism, and academics here have made a cottage industry of talking about the divergence of values between Canadians and Americans.
Martin sought to corral that sentiment by portraying Harper as dangerously pro-American. But the strategy appeared to backfire in this campaign, exacerbating his slide in the polls.
"In the last campaign, those attack ads worked. This time they won't. People are just fed up," said Peter Bryce, 46, a financial manager who said the political rally in this town west of Toronto was the first he had attended.
The Conservative Party's lead in the polls hovers at about 10 percentage points, putting the party in position to lead a coalition government that would probably be more in tune with the Bush administration.
The Liberal Party's attack on Harper's American sympathies was mostly political posturing; Martin himself has sought good relations with the United States. But his party has a mixed history on the issue. The prime minister had to expel one member of Parliament who stomped on a Bush doll on television, and a spokeswoman for his Liberal Party predecessor, Jean Chretien, referred to the American president as a "moron."
The Liberals were resorting to a campaign tactic that had worked before; they successfully erased Harper's lead in the polls in the last election, in 2004, by painting him as too pro-American. But this time, some Canadians say they feel the anti-Americanism has gone too far.
"You would think that issue would be more fertile ground because there has been an erosion" in the relationship between Canadians and Americans since the last election, said Frank Graves, president of Ekos, an Ottawa polling company. "Both countries look at each other with less regard than before."