PARTNERS WITH MIXED OPINIONS
SOME WOULD ERASE THE BORDER
PORTRAIT OF TWO NATIONS
The movies, the fast-food restaurants, even many of the brand names on grocery store shelves were familiar. But when Molly Elliott moved to small-town Ontario from Dallas four years ago, she quickly discovered that the obvious similarities between American and Canadian life masked an array of important differences. “I thought Canada would be just like America,” says Elliott, 30, a professional racecar driver who teaches at a racing school just outside Belleville, Ont. “It took me a while to come to grips with the fact that the two countries are extremely different.” Elliott now spends six months a year in Canada, returning each winter to Dallas. And although she enjoys Canada—“everything seems cleaner here, and people care more about what goes on around them”—on balance she still prefers the American way of life. “In the States, you can go for Chinese food at two in the morning or get a steak delivered to your door. Here, people are more laid-back—they’re prepared to wait for what they want. I have a lot of trouble dealing with that.”
The contrast between Elliott’s previous impressions of Canada and her firsthand experiences is mirrored in the differing views of
The Two Nations poll is based on telephone interviews between May 1 and 6 with 1,000 people in each country (page 50). Separately, Maclean’s reporters and writers interviewed more than 100 other Canadians and Americans in almost equal numbers, posing questions similar to those in the poll. Reporters: Bill Lowther in Washington, Larry Black in New York City, Anne Gregor in Los Angeles, Tim Johnson in Miami, Reto Pieth in Grafton, Vt., Dan Baum in Missoula, Mont., Hal Quinn in Vancouver, John Howse in Calgary, Victor Dwyer in Windsor-Detroit, David Hatter in Ottawa, George Ferzoco in Montreal, Glen Allen in Halifax and Anna Prodanou in Toronto. American and Canadian respondents to the second annual Maclean’s /Decima Two Nations poll. Sixty-nine per cent of Americans surveyed describe citizens of the two countries as either “essentially the same” or “mainly the same but with some small differences.” By contrast, only 49 per cent of Canadians agree with either of those descriptions. At the same time, although an overwhelming majority of poll respondents in Canada oppose the notion of the two populations merging as one country, a significant minority—more than one in six—favors that idea.
On the question of transborder similarity, there has been a shift in the attitudes of Canadian respondents since the first Two Nations poll. A year ago, 43 per cent of Canadians said that Americans and Canadians were mainly or essentially different. Now, the figure has grown to 51 per cent. “There is no question that Canadians’ sense of differentness has grown over the past 12 months,” says Allan Gregg, chairman of Toronto’s Decima Research Ltd. Gregg adds that the change appears to reflect Canadian nationalist sentiments towards the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, a deal that 57 per cent of Canadian respondents now say has hurt their country economically since it came into force in January, 1989. “It suggests that, in terms of understanding, the two countries have grown further apart,” said Gregg. “As Americans move a little closer, Canadians are pushing back and saying, ‘No, no. You stay away.’ ”
That sense of distinctiveness among Canadians appears to have increased at a time when some analysts have begun to predict the eventual demise of Canada—and the absorption of all or part of it by the United States. American conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan, for one, wrote recently that Canada “may be about to break apart” as a result of tensions aroused over proposed changes to Canada’s Constitution in the controversial Meech Lake package of amendments. He added, “There is nothing wrong with Americans dreaming of a republic which, by the year 2000, encompasses the Maritime and western provinces of Canada [and] the Yukon and Northwest Territories all the way to the Pole.”
In fact, the poll suggests that Canadians value their independence and overwhelmingly reject the concept of North American political union. Eighty-one per cent told Decima’s researchers that they oppose or strongly oppose “Canada and the United States becoming one country.” Against the majority trend, 18 per cent are in favor, with the greatest regional strength for a merger centred in Quebec. Overall, Canadian respondents are even less likely to favor the idea of their home province becoming part of the United States “with full congressional representation and rights of American citizenship.” Sixteen per cent welcome the prospect of their province becoming a U.S. state. Albertans (23 per cent) are most likely to favor statehood for their province, followed by Newfoundlanders and Quebecers (20 per cent each). At the other end of the spectrum, only nine per cent of British Columbians advocate joining the United States.
The widespread opposition among Canadians to closer political ties with the United States appears to arise in part from a belief that Canada is a more peaceful, compassionate country than its southern neighbor. Halifax accountant Florence Trillo, one of scores of Canadians and Americans interviewed by Maclean ’s correspondents to supplement the poll’s findings, says that she enjoys yearly visits to her son, a hardware-store manager in West Palm Beach, Fla., and finds Americans to be more outgoing than Canadians. “But there is a tremendous amount of poverty in the United States, and the racial situation is not good,”
Trillo adds. “And my son’s medical bills are
astronomically high.” For William Caldwell, 61, a semi-retired plastic-products manufacturer in Barrie, Ont., who sold one of his
companies to American buyers last year and has a winter home in Boca Raton, Fla., “Canadians and Americans are different.” Opposed to the two countries merging, Caldwell says that opposition has nothing to do with free trade. “Because we have free trade, we worry that we’ll become part of the States, but we have chosen not to do so,” he says. “Nationality is a frame of mind.”
Perhaps because American poll respondents see few differences between themselves and Canadians, Americans are more likely to favor political union. Forty-seven per cent of American respondents approve of the two countries becoming one, while 43 per cent are opposed and 10 per cent express no opinion. “Frankly, it surprises me that support in the United States for political union was not even higher,”
says Seymour Martin Lipset, a sociologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and the author of a recent book on the differing values and institutions of the United States and Canada, Continental Divide. “The American perception of Canadians is generally that Canadians are not really foreigners—they are Americans who, for some puzzling reason, want to live in another house,” adds Lipset.
Even so, there are signs that at least some Americans have had second thoughts about the desirability of political union. In last year’s survey, respondents were asked whether Canada should become “the 51st state.” At the time, 66 per cent of Americans welcomed the idea, and only 31 per cent were opposed. Says Gregg: “It appears that there has been at least a modest realignment in American attitudes towards
At the same time, some analysts suggest that the results could reflect an increasing awareness on the part of Americans of the difficulties that would arise in attempting to integrate the two countries. “When people talk about Canada becoming the 51st state, it implies that Canada would join the United States on our terms,” says Charles Doran, director of
Canada. Americans may regard us as similar, but they are less enthusiastic about wanting to embrace us than before.” Canadian studies at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington. “But when Americans begin to reflect on Canada in a more realistic way, they realize that the two countries have different political institutions and different lifestyles. In any serious negotiations, there would be real problems and there might have to be conces-
sions on the part of the United States.” Although support for political union is higher in Quebec than in other regions of Canada, there is overwhelming agreement on both sides of the border that the French language and culture would stand a better chance of surviving if that province remained part of Canada. Nine out of 10 Canadians concur with that view, as do 82 per cent of Quebecers. “In the United States, there is pressure to conform,” said Marie-Claude Deprez, 50, who was bom in Paris but moved to Montreal with her husband in 1979. “Quebec stands a much better chance of cultural survival within Canada,” she added.
For the most part, American respondents take the same view. Only 13 per cent say that the French-speaking majority in Quebec would be more likely to retain its language and cul-
ture if the province was part of the United States. The majority, 75 per cent, say that French-speaking Quebecers would be better off within Canada, while 12 per cent express no opinion.
Despite that, French-Canadians both in and outside Quebec are more likely than their anglophone counterparts to show a willingness to become citizens of the United States, and to live and work there, if given the opportunity. Thirty-five per cent of francophones say that they would accept such an offer, compared with 28 per cent of English-speaking respondents. Nationally, while 30 per cent of all Canadians polled say that they would accept a chance to move to the United States, 38 per cent of Canadian men say that—almost double the proportion of women who do so (22 per cent).
But Canadians’ willingness to move south is matched by Americans’ interest in migrating north. Thirty per cent of American respondents say that they would live and work in Canada, and take out Canadian citizenship, if given the chance. The poll indicates that nonwhite Americans are slightly more likely than whites to respond affirmatively to that suggestion, perhaps because their perception of Cana-
tion, perhaps da is of a country that is more tolerant and less racially troubled. “Underprivileged groups in the United States clearly think that they would have better opportunities for jobs and economic success in Canada,” said Clark Cahow, director of Canadian studies at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “For them, the United States represents high crime rates, slums and no job guarantees.”
Florence Borsos, a 34year-old elementary-school teacher in Ottawa, who lived in the United States before moving to Canada a decade ago, can sympathize with the desire of many black Americans to move north. “Being black, we did not feel a part of society in the United States,” said Borsos, who was born in Haiti. “It has not been like that for us in Canada.”
Despite those differences, the poll suggests that a remarkably high number of people on both sides of the border would happily exchange their citizenship for that of the other country. “It is the magic quality of North America,” says Doran. “My guess is that if you asked Americans to give up their citizenship and go to any other country in the world, even Britain or Australia, that percentage would drop off very quickly.” For his part, political scientist John Meisel of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., says that he was surprised that so many American respondents reacted positively to the idea of becoming Canadians. “Normally, Americans cling to their citizenship much more than we do,” he says.
Neither do Americans appear to have many qualms about Canada as a place to do business. Respondents were asked to imagine a situation in which they came into a large sum of money that had to be invested abroad. Japan is the number 1 choice of those questioned in the United States, at 37 per cent, but Canada is close behind as a place to invest, with 31 per cent. Only 24 per cent name Europe. Said Gregg: “The notion that Canada is a basket case economically is certainly not overwhelmingly supported in the United States.” Among Canadians, the United States and Japan tie as a place to invest money, at 34 per cent each, while 29 per cent choose Europe.
At the same time, Americans are much more likely than Canadians to admit that they have had relatively little contact with their neighbors across the border. Asked whether they would prefer to deal socially or in a business relationship with someone from Canada or someone from the United States, 69 per cent of American respondents say that they have “really not had enough contact to tell.” By a margin of more than two to one (18 per cent compared with 8 per cent), the remainder say that they would rather deal with an American than a Canadian.
In contrast, only 44 per cent of Canadians say that they have not had sufficient contact with Americans to state a preference. The rest are even more likely to favor a fellow citizen than are Americans: 39 per cent say that they would prefer to deal with a Canadian, while only 11 per cent would rather deal with someone from the United States. “I would be more leery of buying a used car in the United States than I would in Canada,” said Dobbin. “You have got to cover your ass.”
For others, the prospect of doing business with an American stirs mixed feelings. “I think I would get faster answers from an American, and I think they would be more likely to stick their necks out a little bit, than a Canadian,” says Peter Liszt, 63, an architect who moved to Saltair, B.C., from San Diego five years ago and is now a landed immigrant. “On the other hand, I would keep my eyes open a little bit more if I was working with an American. Canadians are not as aggressive as Americans in business ways.”
Clearly, the perception of Canadians as less aggressive than Americans is widely shared on both sides of the border. But it is evidence of the differences between the two societies that what one group of citizens appears to regard as a shortcoming, the other prizes as a virtue. It is notable that a significant minority of Canadians declare their readiness to bridge that gap and see their country form a political union with the much larger neighbor. But, in a poll conducted during a time of widespread doubt, even despair, over the capacity of Canada to survive, the responses of the great majority reflect a firm desire to maintain a separate and different, if neighborly, way of life.