Look who’s paranoid now

William S. Burroughs,Brian Bethune August 2 1999

Look who’s paranoid now

William S. Burroughs,Brian Bethune August 2 1999

A liberal’s debt to Canadians

Books Essay

Although John Kenneth Galbraith has been a U.S. citizen since 1937, he keeps a close watch on—and retains his admiration for—the country ofhis birth. He wrote the following exclusively for Macleans:

No subject, Quebec of course apart, is more discussed in Canada, and with recurrent periods of silence also in the United States, than relations between the two neighbours. One matter, however, is neglected, even ignored: that is the debt that American liberals, whom I rightly regard as the responsible and compassionate part of the American polity, owe to Canada—to the Canadian initiative on a wide range of international and social issues. As a onetime Canadian with continuing association north of the border, I could be more aware of this than others. But one has only to cite the leading examples to make the case.

Thus, in foreign policy there is the consistent Canadian support of the United Nations, including, as compared with Washington, the far from unimportant matter of paying the dues. Canada also led the United States in recognizing the inevitability of China—Washington delayed for no known reason.

Canada long ago separated itself from our medieval policy on Castro and Cuba. Again, a welcome precedent, even though Fidel still causes trouble. There was Canadian leadership on land mines, for which not only liberals, but all Americans of good sense were—and continue to be—grateful. Canada has set a good and welcome example on the matter of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear extinction. Canada did go along in the 1950s with that insane enterprise of an early warning system in the Arctic. This, one trusts, is now regarded as an aberration.

Most of all for American liberals there was the Canadian/Pearson position on Vietnam. Fiere was the greatest, most cosdy—for participants the crudest—misadventure in modern foreign and military policy. Those of us who were politically opposed were deeply grateful for the sensible Canadian policy and even that Canada served as a shelter for those who, not surprisingly, did not choose to go. Canada today has far better control of its military establishment, keeps it at a far more sensible size and cost, than does the United States. Again, a needed example.

So much for foreign and military policy. The case continues. We rejoice as much or more in the Canadian model on domestic social issues. The principal matter, mentioned every

week in Washington and elsewhere, is, of course, health care, now known to all knowledgeable citizens of the Republic as Canadian single-payer medical care. This is known also to have its problems, but the Canadian design is far ahead of our incomprehensible hodgepodge.

The much-discussed Ontario regression notwithstanding, Canada has a generally stronger commitment to the concerned and compassionate state than do we. Toronto is not perfect, but no part of it is quite so insufferable and so suffered as the South Bronx or the Chicago West Side. Canada has shown that life in the modern large city can even be pleasant.

Then there is the matter of sex. Ffere Canada too has its problems; we have read of the sexual aggression in the Canadian Armed Forces and the resulting press and public response. But this last has been more restrained, less given to journalistic and

Americans of good sense, says Galbraith, are grateful for Canada’s role on land mines

television enjoyment, than the Monica disgrace. That was truly a wonderful opportunity for those politicians, journalists and television commentators who, being unqualified on any serious matter, made the wonderful discovery that they had an equal start on sex. (Perhaps, along with criticism, some compassion for those so mentally disabled is called for.) The Canadian experience, if not perfect, was clearly better.

I end on a slightly extravagant note. As a lifelong Democrat of the liberal faith, I naturally view conservative Republicans with distaste—and especially our Righteous Right. The latter are damaging to both religion and the general wellbeing. Many Canadians in the past have had the same reaction to traditional conservatives—to the Conservative party. A few years back, they all but abolished the latter in the House of Commons. Let this, my American friends said, be our hope. I was more moderate. I accept the two-party system. Some Republicans, notably neighbours from Maine and Vermont, I like. There are also Republican conservatives in the Congress I would keep for political diversity and entertainment and as museum pieces. Still, the Canadian housecleaning was impressive. EH]