The Vanishing Border

Half of Canadians say we are becoming more American; one in four wants a U.S. passport

Chris Wood December 20 1999

The Vanishing Border

Half of Canadians say we are becoming more American; one in four wants a U.S. passport

Chris Wood December 20 1999

The Vanishing Border


Neighbourly Attitudes

Chris Wood

Once a week, the silver and blue 18-wheeler pulls away from the Canada-U.S. border at Blaine, Wash., south of Vancouver. Often, as 53-year-old Robert Brooks of Crofton, B.C., shifts the Kenworth up through the gears and points it towards Interstate 5, his 48-year-old wife, Donna, sits beside him, ready to spell him off at the wheel. And every time the big rig rolls over the border, she gets the same sensation. “You know you’re in a foreign country,” Brooks says. “And as soon as we come back across the border into Canada, it’s a sigh of relief.”

Brooks, one of 1,200 Canadians who participated in the 1999 Macleans/CBC survey, admits to an anti-American

streak. Asked to describe our continental neighbours in one word, she said “arrogant”—the word most often used by all Canadians surveyed. But ask Donna Brooks if she would be willing to become one of those Americans and the answer comes just as quickly: “Yes.” That view is also widely shared—one Canadian poll respondent in four would willingly take up American citizenship. And nearly one in five say it would be a good idea for Canada to simply lower the flag and join the United States as a single nation.

The 16th annual Macleans year-end poll issue looks back over the previous findings (page 26) and examines our sense of identity (page 32), the state of entrepreneur-

Half of Canadians say we are becoming more American; one in four wants a U.S. passport

ship (page 40) and, as always, the sex lives of Canadians. But it also poses the question: are Canadians giving up on the Maple Leaf?

Always elusive, the national identity has arguably never been more under attack. Globalization is eroding our leaders’ power to manage the Canadian economy. The 500-channel TV universe and the World Wide Web have breached the cultural levees put in place by decades of federal policy. And 10 years into free trade, Canada and the United States act more than ever like a single market. Mississauga, Ont., electronics technician Victor De Oliveira speaks for many poll respondents who believe it is only a matter of time before the border vanishes entirely. “We’ve given up so much already, we consider ourselves the 51st state,” the 34year-old father of one says. “Political union just seems like an inevitability.”

Much in the poll seems to justify that prediction. Fully half of Canadian respondents believe Canadians have become more like Americans in the past decade. On some issues, Canadians already differ less from their American neighbours than they often imagine. In all, nearly one Canadian in three surveyed agrees, like De Oliveira, that within the next 25 years Canada and the United States will become one country—even if they oppose the idea.

But don’t count Canada out. Beneath the surface, the responses from either side of the border point to deep differences of outlook and values. More than that, they suggest that the core virtues that Canadians have traditionally embraced—openminded tolerance for other points of view; belief in a measure of equity between the advantaged and the less-so; a history built on negotiation rather than coercion—are still very much alive above the 49th parallel. So, too, is the determination of the great majority not to throw in the towel on what scholars have dubbed the “Canadian experiment.”

Our differences from Americans are not always the ones we expect, however. It may not be surprising that almost as many Canadian respondents consider “the preservation of traditional family values” very important (93 per cent) as do Americans (96 per cent), although the phrase may carry a more overdy political burden in the United States. It is more starding to discover that, despite

what many Canadians deplore as an out-of-control U.S. gun culture, American respondents are almost as likely to favour gun registration (78 per cent) as Canadians (80 per cent). And Canadians (especially women) feel no safer on their streets than Americans: 32 per cent of Canadians surveyed say they “would not walk at night alone” in their community, virtually a tie with the 33 per cent of Americans who say the same thing.

Another key question suggests Canadians are far readier to entertain the idea of adopting the U.S. dollar as our currency than are the Liberals in Ottawa. Canadians surveyed are evenly split over a common North American currency—44 per cent in favour, 42 per cent against. Donna Brooks, the long-distance trucker, is one who backs the idea. As it stands, she says, “we’re paid in Canadian dollars but all our expenses are in U.S. dollars. I think we would be better off with one dollar.”

The proportion of Canadians who say they would accept an opportunity to become a U.S. citizen is consistent—between 23 and 26 per cent in every region except Quebec, where it rises to nearly one in three. But the question reveals a dramatic gender gap: men are nearly twice as likely as women (34 per cent to 18 per cent) to want U.S. citizenship. Quebec, meanwhile, is also where support for political union with the United States, erasing the border entirely, finds the most support among Canadians surveyed: 28 per cent compared with the national average of 19 per cent.

But will we one day merge with a larger neighbour? Possibly, but to judge from the overall results, that day is some way off. Even in Quebec, nearly two-thirds of respondents consider a political union a bad idea. Elsewhere, close to half (between 41 and 47 per cent) call it a “very poor” notion; another quarter, merely a “poor” one.

Shared values, conflicting values Percentage who agree: Canada U.S. The preservation of traditional family values is very important 93 96 All guns should be registered 80 78 No one has the right to impose their morality on others 80 78 It is acceptable for gays to teach school 68 56 We are allowing too many immigrants in 49 58 There is a hell 49 73 Marijuana use should be legalized 45 29 I would not walk alone at night in my community 32 33

And here is a paradox. Half of all Canadians surveyed believe they have become more like Americans over the past decade. When asked whether they feel the same as or different from Americans, they are evenly divided: 49 per cent say “the same”; 49 per cent “different.” But look at what Canadians were saying a decade earlier. In a Macleans poll conducted in late 1989, 56 per cent of respondents described Canadians and Americans as “essentially” or “mainly” the same. Only 43 per cent said they were different. So Canadians, it appears, now feel

more different from Americans than they did a decade ago. Interestingly, Americans also feel our differences are growing. In 1989, 78 per cent of U.S. respondents described the two cultures as “mainly” or “essentially the same.” In 1999, that has slipped to 71 per cent.

In the huge shadow of America, it may seem inappropriate to apply the word “patriotism” to a Canadian emotion. But it seems most Canadians know exacdy what Donna Brooks means about crossing the border. Ninety per cent of Canadian respondents assert that their country has “a unique identity, separate and different from all other countries in the world.” Seventyseven per cent dispute the idea that the national identity is “nothing more than a desire not to be Americans.” In fact, they say, it is made up of many ingredients, including the nations history, the accomplishments of its people and, at least as much as any other factor, the Canadian flag.

And we are still a more accepting society. It shows modestly in our attitude to newcomers, with Canadians surveyed being significantly less likely than Americans to say their country lets in too many immigrants (49 per cent compared with 58).

Only in British Columbia, where

last summers boadoads of illegal migrants may lie behind the strongest anti-immigrant sentiment in Canada, does the level (at 54 per cent) approach the U.S. average.

On other issues, the shift in perspective at the 49th parallel is even more striking. While 68 per cent of Canadian respondents consider it “acceptable” for gay people to be teachers, only 56 per cent of Americans agree. The gap is greater on the question of whether marijuana should be legalized: 45 per cent of Canadian respondents say it should; just 29 per cent of the Americans agree.

But the most dramatic difference is revealed by what some might consider a larger issue. In Canada, 29 per cent say they believe “strongly” in the existence of hell. Among Americans, that conviction is nearly twice as common, at 57 per cent. The cross-border difference is the largest on any question dealing with personal values. It goes hand in hand with another religious response. Asked how often they attend religious services, Americans are almost twice as likely to say at least once a week (42 per cent) as Canadians (22 per cent).

Another question, which asked respondents to identify the most important issue facing their country, sheds further light on our respective national characters. In both countries,

Coming together...

Percentage of Canadians saying:

Canadians are becoming more like Americans

Canadians are becoming less like Americans

...or going our separate ways?

Percentage of Canadians saying Canadians and Amencans are mainly the same:



Constant craving

Percentage of Canadians saying they would take an opportunity to become a U.S. citizen:



Americans don’t expect union...

Percentage responses in both countries on the likelihood of Canada and the United States becoming one nation in the next 25 years:

Likely Not likely Canada

... but like the idea better than Canadians do

Percentage responses in both countries on the wisdom of becoming one:

Good idea Poor idea Canada

the largest number of respondents (31 per cent of Canadians,

39 per cent of Americans) identify social or moral issues as their most pressing concern. But close examination reveals telling differences in how respondents define those issues. Among Americans in that group, 11 per cent identify their country’s biggest problem as “moral decline” or “permissiveness.” A further six per cent say the biggest problem facing the United States is either a shortage of religion (“We need Jesus back in America,” says Leslea Harrison, a 33year-old homemaker from Broken Arrow, Okla.), or abortion, homosexuality or adultery—all issues which preoccupy conservative Christians.

In Canada, moral decline, religious erosion, adultery, abortion and gay rights are barely mentioned: combined, they are the top issue for less than one per cent. Instead, nearly half of

respondents who identify social or moral concerns as this country’s most pressing issue cite health care. Another fifth point to services for the poor, the young and the elderly.

One thing has changed over the decade. Americans who participated in the latest Macleans poll are far less interested in taking Canadian citizenship than the Americans in a similar poll 10 years earlier. Then, 42 per cent expressed a willingness to become Canadian. This time, the figure falls to 25 per cent (equalling the number of Canadians interested in U.S. citizenship). Canadians should probably not take it personally: it likely reflects U.S. satisfaction with a robust economy and world stature, rather than aversion to Canadians.

And there are exceptions. Mary Knackstedt, an environmental educator in Pierce County, Wash., west of Seattle, says she might be persuaded to take a Canadian passport. Having travelled to British Columbia, she says she likes Canadian gun controls, medical care and the fact that there are “fewer people up there.” But Knackstedt says she never gave much thought to the two nations merging until she participated in the poll. “It is not something Americans talk about—ever,” she says. “We assume Canadians would not want to do that. You do have a kinder, gender identity. I wouldn’t want to lose it, if I were you.”

For Donna Brooks, there is only one reason to accept an American passport: to participate in a stronger economy. “We drive to California every week,” she says, “because that’s where the trucking jobs take us.” At heart, Brooks calls herself “a very loyal Canadian” who would much rather stay one. If the last Macleans poll of the 1900s offers any guide, there will be a Canada to claim her loyalty for many years to come, as well as a border maintained by the stubborn differences between two very similar peoples. E3

Americans say we are friendly. We think they ’re arrogant.

To know, know, know you, in the Canadian-American relationship, is not necessarily to love, love, love you. This year’s poll asked Canadians and Americans to describe each other in one word. Canadians had more negative than positive descriptives for Americans. Americans were more often positive than negative about Canadians—when they felt confident enough of their knowledge of Canada to associate any attribute at all with their northern neighbours. Some descriptions from both sides of the line, showing percentage of responses in their category

Canadians on Americans: Americans on Canadians: Canadians on Canadians: Americans on Americans: Arrogant or snobs........16 Friendly.....................29 Friendly or good...........12 Friendly......................12 Aggressive...................8 Peaceful......................1 Helpful or caring............5 Free............................ MO 00 CNI H H 00 Greedy or selfish...........3 Polite..........................1 Laid-back or easygoing.....4 Great........................... Ignorant......................1 Helpful........................1 Proud or patriotic ..........3 Hardworking.................. But also: But also: But also: But also: Ambitious....................2 People or human...........4 Spineless or weak.........6 Greedy or money-oriented ... Confident....................2 OK.............................2 Passive or compliant......6 Arrogant...................... Innovative or smart........1 Arrogant.....................1 Complacent .................2 Aggressive or pushy ....... Hardworking.................1 Cold or unfriendly..........1 Naïve..........................1 Rude or abrasive........... Overall negative ..........36 Overall positive...........40 Overall negative ..........13 Overall positive............36 Overall positive ...........24 Overall negative............3 Overall positive...........41 Overall negative...........23 Neutral .....................13 Neutral .....................19 Neutral......................21 Neutral......................12