Peaceful and picturesque, Canada is proof that God exists. But Canadian politics proves that He also has a sense of humor. How else does one explain a campaign dominated by Paul Martin’s calculated insults towards the United States, as simultaneously Stephen Harper seeks absolution for his fondness for America? In power for nearly 13 years, but perhaps five weeks from opposition status, the Liberals have pinned their hopes on nationalistic flag-waving. In a replay of the last election, Liberal fortunes will rest upon the party’s ability to exploit anti-Americanism.
This sorry state of affairs is both politically sad and culturally tragic. On a political level, it reflects the Liberals’ precarious position. Philosophically spent and ethically challenged, they are left to plummet the political depths with a perverse brand of statesmanship.
The party’s only hope is to cast itself as Mother Canada, protecting her vulnerable and insecure children huddled for warmth along the American border. Which makes one wonder what ever happened to Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s 1904 forecast that, “The 20th century shall be the century of Canada.” Laurier must be turning over in his grave. A century later, his countrymen remain so culturally insecure and politically adolescent that they may once again fall prey to such crass politicking. Canadians need to grow up. And they need to do so quickly.
Canadians are perfectly entitled to disagree with President Bush on any issue, as increasing numbers of Americans are want to do. Legitimate complaints, such as those over softwood lumber, are one thing. But incessant finger-in-the-eye poking from Canada’s political elite is not only patronizing but also clearly masochistic.
A foreign policy that plays exclusively to domestic ears does considerable, if not yet irreparable, harm to Canada-U.S. relations. The darts directed at Washington are morphing into a political boomerang threatening to damage Canada, herself.
Speaking earlier this year at the Washington-based Canada Institute, Carleton University’s Michael Hart underscored the costs associated with America-baiting. According to Mr. Hart, Canada’s preference for a multilateralist foreign policy is unrealistic because the urge to differentiate Canadian from American policy leads to policies that are at odds with Canada’s national interest.
Under successive Liberal governments, Canada became a nagging liability to American policymakers over everything from Kyoto to the International Criminal Court, from missile defense to military intervention. This approach directly undermines Canadian prosperity because it harms Canada’s relationship with the United States.
An alternative approach is the model artfully practiced by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s. Mr. Mulroney grasped the nettle: Closer relations with the U.S., the most powerful nation in history, must be a Canadian priority. Active accommodation with her southern neighbor was pragmatic because that is where Canada’s interests lie. The 1988 Free Trade Agreement that underpinned the past decade of Canadian economic growth epitomized this approach.
Mr. Harper should explain to Canadians that bilateralism reinforces multilateralism. If Americans saw Canada as a more reliable partner, Canada would be more influential around the world because she would be more influential in Washington.
Charles Doran, director of Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, observes that Canada does foreign policy on the cheap. Canada has been free riding on the American taxpayer for defense and security for 60 years. This free-rider status is starting to grate on American policymakers.
America’s political class is belatedly waking up to the fact that their Canadian neighbors are trash-talking them on a regular basis. Thanks to the Chretien and Martin governments, Canadians’ valid complaint that Americans do not know or think about Canada may no longer apply.
Canadians need to get over themselves. They need to accept the asymmetry of the U.S.-Canada relationship, one deeply beneficial to both countries.
Rewarding their political leaders’ anti-American prejudices is an immature response. A mature electorate, with the worldliness and self-confidence that Laurier foresaw, would appreciate that anti-Americanism is really anti-Canadian, for it hurts Canada most of all.
Patrick Basham is senior fellow in the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute.