UPFRONT

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN

While Canadians favour stronger economic ties with the U.S., they want to stay distinct

MaryJanigan November 24 2003
UPFRONT

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN

While Canadians favour stronger economic ties with the U.S., they want to stay distinct

MaryJanigan November 24 2003

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN

While Canadians favour stronger economic ties with the U.S., they want to stay distinct

UPFRONT

MaryJanigan

WHEN new Liberal leader Paul Martin sets out to mend our prickly relationship with the Bush administration over the next few months, he will have the blessing of most Canadians. In the 15 years since a divisive federal election effectively approved free trade with the Americans, we have come to value that treaty—and those economic ties. But heaven help the Canadian politician who mistakes that sensible businesslike approach to neighbourly relations for permission to integrate such areas as cultural or energy policy. As new poll data shows, we have adopted a pragmatic approach to our powerful southern neighbour: we thoroughly approve of deeper economic ties with the U.S.—but we see our values as distinct and worth preserving. We simply cannot picture ourselves as North Americans in a continental union.

The private poll from Ekos Research Associates Inc., shared with Maclean’s, is the third installment in a striking multi-year project to measure attitudes among the three partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement. In a total sampling of 5,000 people this fall, two-thirds of the respondents in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico agreed that the existing free trade agreement should be strengthened. There was

even approval of an economic union like the European Union:

57 per cent in Canada,

44 per cent in the U.S. and 59 per cent in Mexico.

U Heaven help the Canadian politician who mistakes a positive approach on free trade for approval to integrate cultural or energy policy

But here comes the tricky part. Fully 42 per cent of Canadians want to become less like the U.S. in future— and 48 per cent want no change in the relationship. Our attitudes are pragmatic:

65 per cent would like to see integrated environmental policies. But only 35 per cent would meld energy policies—and a mere 27 per cent would merge banking. Ekos president Frank Graves detects a new pattern. “Unlike Europe, where higher levels of economic integration result in a subordination of national identity,” he says, “in North America, where there is probably stronger economic interdependence, we are seeing a clearer sense of what it means to be Canadian.”

This has profound implications for Martin. At a recent Carleton University conference, Michael Hart, distinguished fellow at the school’s Centre for Trade Policy and Law, summarized the breathtaking number of integration proposals churned out by Canadian academics and business groups, mosdy in the wake of Sept. 11. They cover everything from the legal system to labour markets. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, for one, is proposing new political institutions for a deeper partnership, streamlined but more secure borders, and a comprehensive resource security pact.

These are all worthwhile endeavours, but it is now clear that many will not be acceptable. Groups that would do whatever it takes to foster economic advantage are as out of step with Canadian voters as nationalistic groups fulminating against trade pacts. What happens if economic proposals run contrary to values? Graves speculates that values will come first. So plans to integrate energy policies, no matter how attractive to the U.S., are likely anathema here. But any move to secure the border or work together on the environment is welcome. “The emerging model seems to be a common marketplace with a societal mosaic,” says Graves. Martin should woo the U.S. administration with honeyed conciliation—but be very wary of its embrace.

Mary Janigan is a political and policy writer. mary.janigan@macleans.rogers.com