Attitudes

HEDGING OUR BETS

ROBERT SHEPPARD September 9 2002
Attitudes

HEDGING OUR BETS

ROBERT SHEPPARD September 9 2002

HEDGING OUR BETS

Attitudes

ROBERT SHEPPARD

A Maclean’s-L’actualité poll finds that while we value sovereignty, we could live with less

LOOK CLOSELY at your neighbours today, my fellow Canadians. There are disbelievers among us. In fact, according to a CROP poll for Maclean’s and its sister publication L’actualité in Quebec, only 30 per cent of Canadians are certain we will have an independent country 25 years from now. That means two out of every three people lining up for their Tim Hortons this morning are hedging their bets, pretty well right across the land. Who would have thought such an innocent, well-behaved nation, revelling as it is right now in the riches of the world, would see itself balancing so precariously on the knife-edge of history.

True, when you add in the, oh yeah, there will probably be an independent Canada in 2027, the level of affirmation rises to 72 per cent—noticeably higher in the Maritimes, lower in Quebec. Still, can you imagine a similar proportion of Germans or Brits or Japanese with such

low confidence in their national existence? Are we Canadians suddenly in the vanguard of those countries eager for international amalgamation? Or is what’s being measured here simply another take on our crabbed crofters’ fatalism, that comes perhaps from living in the shadow of the giant empire to the south.

Consider the American greenback. Fully 63 per cent of Canadians are against the adoption of the American dollar, most of them very strongly opposed (yet 70 per cent of respondents seem reconciled to the notion that the U.S. dollar will be Canada’s primary currency within 30 years). The same with the border, that other great symbol of sovereignty. There is no appetite to erase it. And not much stomach either for North American integration along the lines of the European Union (59 per cent say, no thanks).

Yet a surprising 54 per cent of Canadians—the figure is higher in Quebec —are

open to the novel idea of a continental parliament with the U.S. and Mexico, at least for such common concerns as the environment or security. The response is a little contradictory, acknowledges CROP vice-president Claude Gauthier. “But what people seem to be looking for here is a kind of counterweight,” he adds. “Canada alone against the United States, that’s dangerous. But if we can rope others in, be the intermediary, we have a better chance of survival.”

Respondents were not asked to consider the full powers of such an international parliament. But the population advantages of our southern neighbours— 281 million Americans and 97 million Mexicans versus 31 million Canucks— means we would have the electoral clout of an Atlantic Canada. That can always be offset, of course, by schemes like Triple E senates. And maybe that is our sneaky attempt in backing such a notion: to foist a decade or so of constitutional argybargy on our southern neighbours, in retaliation perhaps for the softwood lumber dispute or other mistreatment.

Another surprise in this national sounding of how Canadians feel about their own sovereignty: 22 per cent say they actually think about it a great deal; 35 per cent say, well, somewhat. And, of course, all this has to be seen in the aftershock of Sept. 11. This CROP poll of 1,003 Canadians was taken mostly in June, when attitudes toward the terrorist attacks had begun to settle. In December, Maclean’s published a much larger survey taking the Canadian pulse on the emerging war against terrorism and the broader relationship with the U.S. A different pollster, different questions. Still, certain broad strokes can be discerned.

At year-end, Canadians seemed more willing to trade off individual freedoms— fingerprinting and personal record-keeping, for example—but not so much the keys to the kingdom. Maintaining control over national defence, an independent foreign policy, and our health system were all important manifestations of Canada’s independence. Today, large elements of that still survive. But there is flexibility, too, just below the surface.

About 60 per cent of Canadians would like to see a unified North American military command; a common security

perimeter with harmonized immigration policies; and easier border crossing even if it means handing over more information about Canadian citizens to American authorities. At the same time, controlling some of the traditional levers of sovereignty seems to be up for negotiation.

Canadians feel very strongly that to be a nation you have to control your own natural resources, health care and social security system. Large numbers also want domestic control over the economy and immigration. But only modest majorities feel an independent foreign policy and equalization policies among regions are key ingredients of sovereignty, while less than 50 per cent feel it is very important to protect the arts, culture, radio and TV. “It’s a little odd,” says Gauthier, “but only in Quebec does a majority want the Canadian government to continue controlling access to American television programs.” After 30 years of cultural nationalism, some 61 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec want federal regulators to lay off the tube.

The politics of TV aside, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals appear to be striking the right Goldilocks balance in managing Canada’s relationship with the United States. The federal Liberals are far and away perceived as the best defenders of Canadian sovereignty. Asked directly whether Ottawa has given in to American demands too much in the wake of the terrorist attacks, 26 per cent say yes, too much, but a majority (51 per cent) says —with a sigh?—no, just what was necessary.

Still, despite the chill of Sept. 11, even the hedging over the future of the national experiment, Canadians do seem to be feeling a tiny bit self-contented. A majority is happy with the run of the economy and 56 per cent even feels Canada is acting independently of the U.S. in such areas as the economy, culture, international politics and national security. That number would be higher, except Quebec feels exactly the reverse—64 per cent of respondents there see Canada operating totally in the American orbit.

Regional differences in this poll are not superabundant. But they are intriguing. Western Canada, surprisingly, is the most fearful of economic integration with the U.S., an attitude that seems to fly in the face of elite business and political opinion in the West, judging by Canadian Alliance

MEASURING NATIONALISM Our giant neighbour continues to colour Canadian attitudes

Would you say it is very important that Canada remain sovereign in the following areas? Canada West Ontario Quebec Atlantic Natural resources 83% 88% 86% 71% 85% Health system_81_83_87_67_86 Economy_66_67_73_51_70 Immigration_64_67_71_52_56 Defence_61_66_68_40_67 Money_58_62_64_43_56 Equalization_52_48_53_56_51 Arts and culture 49 44 54 50 46

Considering various areas such as economy, culture, international politics and national security, would you say Canada is independent from the United States?

Very independent_11%M_ Somewhat independent 45 — Not very independent 30 —_ Not at all independent 10 ■

How favourable or unfavourable would you be to Canada abandoning its currency to adopt the American dollar?

Very favourable_14% M_ Somewhat favourable 19 W_ Somewhat unfavourable 18 HI Very unfavourable

In matters of security, how would you say the Chrétien government has given in to American demands since Sept. 11?

Sept. Too much 26%■■ Just enough Not enough 15

Indicate your level of agreement with the following proposal: North America should have a continental parliament on the model of the European Parliament, where elected members from Canada, the United States and Mexico would legislate in areas affecting the entire I continent, such as environment or security.

Agree: Canada_54% West_49 Ontario_52 Quebec 62 Atlantic 52

utterances at least. Quebec is the most in favour of economic integration—it seems to look on America as a cozy sweater. Quebecers also seem less concerned about domestic control over the big ticket

As you know, the United States is Canada’s most important trading partner and buys 82 per cent of all Canadian exports. In your opinion, does this level of economic integration with the United States threaten Canadian sovereignty?

Threatens a lot 27% ■■■ Threatens somewhat 40 ■■■■

Do you believe that Canada will be an independent country 25 years from now?

Certainly_30% — Probably 42 ■■■■

Some experts predict that within a few years, Canada, the United States and Mexico will follow the European model and move toward political and economic integration. Do you think that such a North American integration is desirable for Canada?

Yes_31%— No 59 ■■■■■■

Which of the following federal parties defends Canadian sovereignty best?

Liberal_37% Canadian Alliance_9 Progressive Conservative_8_ NDP_7_ Bloc Québécois_4_ Don’t know/other 34

The Maclean’s-L’actualité poll is based on telephone interviews with 1,003 Canadians, 18 and older, selected randomly to reflect the population of the country. Montreal-based CROP, which conducted the poll, says the results are accurate within 3.2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

items like health care, monetary policy and foreign affairs. Of course, all these differences would have greater import if we Canadians were more certain of having a country at the end of the road. fil