January 09, 2006

Will the Real Canada Please Stand Up?

I admit it: I'm one of the three Americans who take an interest in Canada. Maybe it's because I'm from a border state (Maine) or because I have quite a few relatives north of the border (all from the Dutch side of my family, not the French-Canadian side) and visited there many times when I was growing up. Heck, lately I've even been reading policy studies on Canada in the evening (mainly from the excellent C.D. Howe Institute), so you know I have an abnormally high interest in Canada for a Yank.

Our friends up north are having an election soon, but that's not what has triggered this blog entry. No, it's a post entitled Hockey and America by Tim Bray. Now, I have the utmost respect for Tim Bray as a technologist (e.g., he is one of the founding fathers of XML), but I must disagree with his thoughts on Canada and America. Reflecting on the World Junior Hockey Championship just concluded in the Great White North, he writes:

[O]nce you got past Canada and Russia, the other really good team in the tournament was the USA. And here's what's weird and disturbing: the mostly-Canadian audiences were actively cheering for anyone playing against the US, and occasionally booing the Americans. Granted, economically-literate Canadians are mad at the US for egregious NAFTA abuse, and we're terrified of the consequences of our neighbor's lunatic fiscal and trade deficits. And of course, from the mushy Canadian cultural centre, Dubya and the neotheocons seem like beings from an alien planet. While, like most Canadians, I disapprove of many actions of the current US administration, like most Canadians I also like most Americans. And it's just moronic to take out political gripes on a bunch of eager, dedicated, young athletes. But having said that, if there were any doubt that the USA has a major public-relations problem, booing hockey fans a half-hour over the border should dispel it.

The problem of Canadian anti-Americanism goes way beyond public relations. Instead it is, to put the matter bluntly, a childish indulgence on the part of Canadians. Canada is, for better or worse, joined at the hip to the United States -- economically, militarily, geopolitically, even culturally. Last I checked, 85% of Canadian exports (representing 40% of Canadian GDP) go to America, and that percentage has only increased since NAFTA took effect 12 years ago (preceded by the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1989). The United States is a geopolitical hyperpower without precedent in world history, and it's not always fun to be neighbors with such a behemoth, but with what world power would Canadians prefer to be neighbors? China? Russia? India? Germany? France? Brazil? America is the locomotive pulling the world economy and Canada, as a middling regional power, is pulled along for the ride. Granted it gets a bit hot being near the locomotive, but would Canadians prefer to be in the caboose?

Further, when you get right down to it, Canadians and Americans are distinctly similar, not different. Canadians share a number of core values with Americans: freedom, consensual government, open discourse, market economics, and much else besides. Both nations are fundamentally parts of the Anglosphere (well, Canada is "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" as Lord Durham put it in 1839, but I'm talking about Anglo-Canada here). Despite the fact that Canadians like to emphasize the softer side of these values (as do, for that matter, lots of people from places like Massachusetts and Minnesota), they still share them with Americans. Demonizing America (not Americans, since most Canadians like American people and vice-versa) doesn't help anything, even if it feels good (I believe the social psychologists might be able to shed some light on the phenomenon, using their insights into "in groups" and "out groups").

Then we have what I like to call "Canada's dirty little secret": massive and continuing emigration from Canada to the United States. Even official Canadian documents recognize the problem:

Immigration plays a determining role in shaping future population and language trends in Canada, since without immigration, the Canadian population faces long-term decline. (Since the early 1970s, fertility rates have fallen below replacement. But even in the unlikely event that fertility rates rose to the theoretical replacement level, the historical pattern of emigration from Canada to the United States would still mean that the population would decline if immigration were halted.)

If America is such a horrible society, why have so many Canadians (including, by the way, my French-Canadian ancestors) been drawn south over the years, and at an ever-increasing rate since free trade was inaugurated in 1989? Traditional free trade theory posits that if goods are not allowed to cross borders, people will -- but in this case, both people and goods are crossing. Would it not behoove Canadians to ask why?

And let us not forget the ever-more-pressing issue of regionalism. One of the little-acknowledged implications of free trade between Canada and America is that Canada's provinces increasingly exchange goods, services, people, and ideas with their near neighbors across the US-Canadian border rather than with each other (B.C. with Washington and Oregon, Alberta with Colorado and the mountain west, Manitoba with Minnesota, Ontario with Michigan, Ohio, and New York, the Maritimes with New England, etc.). The result is a much more pronounced north-south orientation, superseding the traditional east-west orientation of Canadian society. And the result of that is greater regionalism. As Dan Dunsky points out in an article from today's Toronto Star, Canada is already three "solitudes" -- Quebec, the West, and the multicultural cities. (We might divide the country still further, since, for example, Alberta is quite different from its neighbors in B.C. or Saskatchewan, thus giving the lie to the idea of a monolithic Canadian West.) Indeed, I wonder how long Canada can last as a coherent political entity given the forces pulling it apart.

Anti-Americanism is a convenient hobbyhorse, which Canadian elites ride for all it's worth to inculcate a false sense of unity. Yet it strikes me that Canadians would do better to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think seriously about their true values, their economic and strategic interests, and their future rather than rail against America. It won't feel as good, but in the long run it will be a lot more productive.

(Cross-posted at one small voice.)

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at January 9, 2006 10:28 PM

This goes back a long way. The American War of Independence and its sequel, the War of 1812, created not just one country, the USA, but three. Sooner or later, had the first Empire remained united, the American colonies would have had to been granted representation in an Imperial Parliament, or be given independence. Had the Americans been given parliamentary representation, they would gave gained overall control of the empire by the 1850s if not sooner, as both Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith had predicted. So Independence gave the UK leave to remain the UK, and in control of its separate political fate. And of course Canada was the third nation created thereby -- the War of 1812 could be called the Canadian War of Independence. Had the Canadian militias not fought as well as they had, the British would probably have written Canada off as indefensible. As it was they fairly quickly wrote off Canada as indefensible, in the sense that they stopped investing in anything like an adequate defense for Canada against the US and relied on diplomatic conciliation with the US. Not that when the Canadians got the power to tax themselves, they ever spent anything like enough of their own money on defense against the US either. So the US-Canadian border is not only "the world's longest undefended border", it is also the world's longest indefensible border, in the sense that so much of both nations' infrastructure has been built along the border that it would be economically catastrophic to actually fight across it.

Having such an accidental and precarious independence from the US, intellectual Canadians have always had a hair-trigger sense of defensiveness about their nationhood (quite pointlessly, actually). So anti-Americanism has always been an available appeal in Canadian politics. The more visibly bankrupt the current intellectual and political establishment becomes the more anti-Americanism becomes the only tool available to them. And, as they say, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 9, 2006 11:43 PM

Very good post, Peter, highlighting many of the elements that strain the country and place most of the population in "denial." Jim's earlier post on the "big brother-little brother" sets (UK-Eire, US-Canada, Oz-NZ) is helpful in this regard. Consider the behaviour indeed as profoundly childish, deeply unserious, and regularly passive-aggressive. As for the future, that will depend a great deal, I feel, on whatever deeper global crisis occurs in the coming decades. If it is one that is fundamentally fragmenting for Canada (e.g., quarantining due to biological hazards) then the north-south ties may take over for the long haul. If it is a crisis of political legitimacy (e.g., coddling of a terror cell in Canada that lights off a Big One in the US), then an Anglo/French or Quebec/Ontario/The West split becomes more possible.

In any event, don't expect anything serious from the current leadership of the "world's biggest hotel." If Harper and the Conservatives form a minority government, they've got a long hard slug to create a vision of the country that's not wrapped around health care and anti-Americanism.

James in Calgary

Posted by: james mccormick at January 9, 2006 11:46 PM

As a Canadian immigrant to the United States who has become a US citizen (and in the course of swearing my US Oath of Allegiance, stated that "I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen") I wholeheartedly agree with the post. The viciousness, the resentment, the sheer pettiness, about the United States that I encounter when I travel (infrequently, now) to Canada simply confirm to me that I made the right choice. Furthermore, it has become clear to me that Canadians, when speaking with or of Americans, can exhibit levels of tactlessness that startle even other Canadians. But so what? So Canadians don't like NAFTA (or its predecessor, the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement)? Those treaties were freely entered into by the elected Canadian government of the time, not forced down unwilling Canadian throats by wallet-clutching Republican bagmen in Texas. Withdraw, if it offends you so much. So Canadians resent US television? Watch the visual goo on the CBC. And so on.

Frankly, the best course for the United States with regard to Canada is to maintain its attitude of polite indifference. However, if you really want to see some anti-US fireworks, just have the US authorities make some positive (even if very oblique) comments about the virtues (or even possibility) of an independent Quebec. You think there is anti-US hysteria now in Canada? Well ...

Posted by: David Fleming at January 10, 2006 05:54 AM

Hi all.
As the resident Canadian living in Quebec, there's a subtle change of attitude- not so much the anti-Americanism...not yet but a growing realization that Trudeausim hasn't worked and it was a mistake to federalize the conflict between the Quebec nationalists and the liberals (in the original 19th century understanding of the word)
Everyone is slowly coming to realize Ottawa can't treat the provinces as overglorifed municipalities and that federalism is a reality of this country.
Harper appears to have grasped the insight that Canada will do better if Ottawa lays off the provinces and concentrates onits own comptencies.
Trudeau,s biggest problems was that he never accepted the JCPC rulings that established Canadian federalism and allowed Quebec to develop in a different path from the rest of Canada. Trudeau was a centralist and his reading of the constitution convinced him that original intent was for a strong unitary state.

Canadian anti-Americanism is really mask that hides our own sense of deep unease tht's something really wrong but we don't have the guts to talk frankly about who we are and what we want to make of ourselves. Hence the revolting anti-Americanism.


Posted by: xavier at January 10, 2006 06:22 AM


The reason you are one of three Americans who take an interest in Canada is because we all recognize their childish indulgence. The haughty, holier than thou attitude currently in style amoung public Canadians is an instant turn-off to 99% of Americans. I cannot turn the channel fast enough if one of them starts talking down to me on television.

I was in PEI Canada last summer - most regular Canadians don't have this attitude and recognize the foolishness of it - particularly there, where American (and Japanese) tourism is the life-blood of the local economy.

Posted by: Bram at January 10, 2006 11:00 AM

When I was in college in the late-70's and early-80's, we had a number of Canadians enrolled at our mostly engineering and liberal arts private college. Despite their endless bitching about "America", and their overtly-hostile reactions everytime we teased them about an impending North American Re-unification; not a single one of them had any intention of returning to Canada after graduation.

And every hotel and motel at the New Jersey shore has flown the Maple Leaf next to the Stars and Stripes for decades.

And how many "American" screen and television personalities are actually from Canada?

Posted by: Ted B. (Charging Rhino) at January 10, 2006 11:07 AM

Canadian verbal anti-americanism is irrelevant. It is like a 13 year old girl saying "I hate you, Mom!" It's nothing. Canada benefits from having a huge, wealthy neighbor that has no interest in invading them. We benefit from having a peaceful neighbor that doesn't harbor terrorists and has enough money to buy our stuff. And the most enterprising Canadians end up here, anyway, as it is. And no matter what crap they verbalize, it is just words and will never lead to anything actually harmful.

When dealing with Canada, just turn the sound off. The noise doesn't matter.

Posted by: Lex at January 10, 2006 11:34 AM

I made my first visit to Canada, in 1981. This was to the HMCS Provider, based at Esquimalt, Victoria.

In the Fleet Club, over beers, the host sailors were having fun with me, at my expense. (I had never traveled outside the US!)

One memorable joke began, "You know that you Yanks had first choice between the French and the "darkies", eh? You chose correctly!" This led to the Canadian side of the table to hoot and snort with hilarity.

My USN comrades and myself were red-faced and stunned by this pronouncement.

Over time, I started to see a sort of bitter divide between the so called "French" of Quebec, and the rest of the country. However, as a USN sailor who was a guest, I was treated with warm friendliness by all Canadian Sailors!

I can see the Canadian citizen there might feel a "public" need to attack the U.S. Jabborwock, who lives south of "our border". Especially when it feels good to do so.

I spent three more years, off and on, aboard that ship. I have many great memories of my voyages in the Canadian Navy, and more importantly, a better view of the nice folks who happen to live up north.

Canada isn't just about SCTV and Rush!

Stay Warm, up there!

Posted by: dc at January 10, 2006 01:45 PM

As another Yank who is at least following the Canadian election, I feel that a Harper victory will be good not only for Canada, but for the US and the greater Anglosphere (though David Cameron worries me).

The Canadians need to wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to their national identity in the world. They can choose to be more like Western Europe, and embrace the Welfare State as a whole, consequentially suffering the wrathe of slower economic growth and development, or they can choose to remain in the Anglosphere, stepping far and away from Western Europe culturally.

I hope Harper is a herald for the latter, as I have found someone in politics whom I agree with more than most others right now.

Posted by: Ryan S. at January 10, 2006 02:39 PM

In light of the growing north-south ties between the provinces and the US, seemingly at the expense of east-west ties with the rest of Canada, I have to wonder if someday Canada will break apart. The old slogan, "Fifty-four forty, or fight!" may turn out to be prophetic, with the Canadian West breaking off from Canada and maybe seeking admission to the Union. And if the West does join the Union, the East may not be far behind.

Though I'm not sure I'd want to boost the Democrats' base by 35 million new voters....

Posted by: Hale Adams at January 10, 2006 06:58 PM

Why does everyone assume the Canadians would vote Democrat. Atlantic Canada probably would, but Alberta and the West could probably help libertarian-conservatives wrangle GOP control from the Religious Right.

Posted by: Ryan S. at January 10, 2006 07:14 PM

I am not sure the votes would be there to admit Canadian provinces to the Union. I'd be against it. I don't want a bunch of new Blue states. I think there is no doubt that Canada as a whole is far to the left of the American average. They would move the political center in the new North American Union far to the Left.

Canada is going to have to carry on as it is, or in pieces, but not as part of the USA. Or so I fervently hope.

I like Canada fine. I just like it when it keeps its socialistic ideas north of the 49th Parallel.

That is probably the best thing about Canadian anti-Americanism -- it presents a psychological barrier to political union. Long may it stay that way.

Posted by: Lex at January 10, 2006 07:49 PM

I've always wondered why the most rabidly anti-Bush anglo-Canadians are not willing to take the truly courageous step and offering themselves up to save the world from the Texas yaboos. If they just quit treating Quebec like a harp seal and added a few more Blue States to the Union the center of gravity would move in their direction. And don't think the average Red State voter would turn down the oil, water, and timber that would come with that transaction.

Posted by: wks at January 10, 2006 08:20 PM

It's beyond me why the Albertans, if they left behind the taxation and regulation of Ottawa, would want to take on the burdens of Washington, when they would make a very pleasant Dominion of their own. As a member of NAFTA and NORAD, they would enjoy most of the prosperity and protection they would have as an American state, while getting to run things to their liking at home.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 10, 2006 10:43 PM

Lex, you wrote: "Canadian verbal anti-americanism is irrelevant... it is just words and will never lead to anything actually harmful."

But it *is* harmful to our Canadian friends. If their self-image is bound up anti-Americanism rather than something positive, they are selling themselves short and wasting precious intellectual energy that could be better devoted to improving their society and constructively engaging with the rest of the Anglosphere. As I see it, one of the tremendous benefits of the Anglosphere perspective is that it gives what Jim called the "little brothers" (Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, etc.) a framework in which they can conceptualize their place in a large whole rather than obsessing about the "big brother" next door (America, Australia, England).

Posted by: Peter Saint-Andre at January 11, 2006 01:10 PM

Anglo-Canadians are indoctrinated to hate Americans instead of hating the French Canadians by the Liberal ruling party as a way of holding this unnatural two nations under one state together. Split Canada up into the two nation-states it ought to be and this kind of silliness would be avoided.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at January 14, 2006 12:36 AM

As a Scot I understand, though I do not agree with, the Canadian point of view. We have a long tradition of supporting any team playing England for pretty much the same reason.

Since we recently got our own parliament (effectively federal status) that has become considerably less so. Canada should set themselves some national goal (other than having fewer murders & more politeness) to beat the yanks at. Electing leaders who suppport freedom as much & brains more than in the US would be a good start.

Posted by: Neil Craig at January 14, 2006 12:15 PM

It is hard for Americans to understand Canada because they don't have the psychological experience of living their whole lives as part of a peripheral nation that stands in the shadow of a massive and dominating one. It's as though one of the most active regions of the Canadian psyche has no real counterpart in the American mind. That, in part, is why you find us confusing.

No one here is (or, perhaps more accurately, needs to be) "indoctrinated" into "hatred" for Americans. What is occurring is a natural human response that has its parallels in Scotland, New Zealand, Portugal, Finland, etc., and conceivably also in adolescent psychology.

I'm generally regarded as an insanely pro-American Canadian and yet even I can't resist smiling a bit inside when the big kid on the block gets his comeuppance now and then. Particularly where hockey's involved.

All of this having been said, Canada's anti-American urges are unhealthy and unproductive. They need to be suppressed, not encouraged. I would expect that there will be less support for them from the new government that appears likely after the upcoming elections. But any change will be measured and subtle: being overtly pro-American is a career-ending move in Canadian politics.

Posted by: Andy at January 14, 2006 06:12 PM

Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America divided up the continent by culture instead of by political boundaries. Quebec remained intact, isolate, defined by its boundaries nonetheless. The other parts of Canada associated culturally with their cross-border counterparts: the Maritimes with New England, Saskatchewan with Montana/Idaho/Wyoming, etc. As a New Hampshireman, this made intuitve sense to me. New Brunswick is Maine, Maine is New Brunswick. Nantucket and PEI bear some cultural similarities, and so on.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at January 14, 2006 06:39 PM

As an Englishman living in Scotland this seems very familiar to me. I don't believe it when some Scots would have me believe that everything that is negative in the UK/world is English or England's fault. I also don't believe that the English are deliberately arrogant, selfish, devious, rude, stupid, ill-educated, loud, aggressive, oversexed, undersexed, imperialistic and otherwise genetically inferior beings and we are universally hated even by people who haven't heard of England. However, many of my new fellow countrymen are of this opinion it would seem that this phenomenon is entirely natural.

Posted by: Jim at January 16, 2006 10:30 AM