The Back Page

OUR ONLY BEST FRIENDS

Anti-Americanism is on the rise here. It’s unworthy of Canadians—and unfair.

L. IAN MACDONALD March 3 2003
The Back Page

OUR ONLY BEST FRIENDS

Anti-Americanism is on the rise here. It’s unworthy of Canadians—and unfair.

L. IAN MACDONALD March 3 2003

OUR ONLY BEST FRIENDS

The Back Page

Anti-Americanism is on the rise here. It’s unworthy of Canadians—and unfair.

L. IAN MACDONALD

THERE’S A RISING WAVE of anti-Americanism in Canada. It’s partly about anti-war sentiment, which runs deep in this country. It’s partly about the perception of George W. Bush as a cowboy. But it’s largely about America’s wealth and power. And in that sense, anti-Americanism is as pernicious as anti-Semitism, rooted in envy rather than grievance.

Anti-Semitism is defined by the AntiDefamation League as “simply a hostility directed at Jews solely because they are Jews.” Similarly, anti-Americanism is aimed at Americans largely because they are Americans. It’s not because of anything they’ve done to us; it’s because of who they are and what they have: money and might.

It’s also because their government, unilateralist most of the time, marches as to war with or without the support of the UN. It’s because their trigger-happy pilots kill Canadian soldiers on the ground. It’s because we take in their planes on a day of infamy and their president forgets to thank us even as he thanks everyone else. It’s because they think the terrorist problem is at our border, when it demonstrably isn’t— not one of the terrorist hijackers entered the U.S. through Canada, and every alert since has proven to be a false alarm, unless crossing the border to gas up is now considered terrorism. It’s because Washington harasses Canadian softwood lumber. But these are issues between our two governments, not between our two peoples.

In a fashionable Montreal restaurant the other night, one man’s loud table talk included frequent references to “les maudits Américainsin the same contemptuous tone some Quebecers once spoke of “les maudits Juifs.” In Toronto, in Ottawa, and everywhere in our English media, we constantly refer to “the Americans,” the way the Americans might talk about their inlaws—a bother in their lives.

This should be very troubling to Canadians, not just because of negative implications for our relations with the U.S., but because

it is revealing of a flaw in our national character—an insufferable air of moral superiority.

Bring back the Canadian inferiority complex. It suited us much better than the sanctimonious sense that we are better than Americans, a better people living in a better land.

“Canada is a country without enemies,” one woman said loftily at a recent Montreal lunch, organized by the Institute for Research on Public Policy for a briefing on counterterrorism measures by a colonel from West Point. The anti-American sentiment in the room was as clear as the scepticism greeting Russ Howard’s message that new-age terrorists “don’t want a seat at the table, they want to destroy the table, and everyone sitting at it.”

Canadians don’t get it because they don’t feel threatened as a target of terrorism. Well, at least Canadians know they’ve been named as a target of terror on Osama bin Laden’s hit list. At any rate, given our notorious sensibilities, we would have been offended if we’d been left out.

Canadians don’t get it because they would

rather have a debate about the root cause of terrorism than do anything about it. They would rather view the world in terms of moral equivalency between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein. This is a country, after all, where a pre-Christmas poll found that 38 per cent of Canadians thought Dubya was a bigger threat to world peace than Saddam. When the Prime Minister’s communications director carelessly let slip that the President of the United States was “a moron,” far too many Canadians agreed with her. As if, as a matter of routine, Harvard gives out M.B.A. degrees to morons.

And Canadians don’t get it because even as we live under the protection of the American shield, and live off the profits of our trade with them, we resent Americans. We see ourselves as the “kinder, gentler” place of which the first George Bush spoke. A nation of peacekeepers—but we don’t even do as much of that any more. The impoverished nation of Bangladesh leads the world in peacekeeping, while Canada’s contribution has slipped to 34th place. The Prime Minister keeps icing the puck on Iraq, hoping the UN will pass a second resolution authorizing force before the U.S. goes in on its own. And then what?

At a conference organized by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, in a plenary on responsibilities of the media, there was a question from the floor about the U.S. being on orange terror alert while Canada was on “baby-blue alert.” An American panellist, Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government, touchingly replied that he hoped Canadians “will be spared” what Americans have been put through.

But there is little sympathy for the U.S., even on that account any more. On the same afternoon, the coldest day of a bitter winter, 100,000 people marched through downtown Montreal as part of the impressive global protest against the looming invasion of Iraq. But it wasn’t just about that, or even about the chants of “Bush Sucks.” It was about anti-Americanism, as bonechilling as the day.

It’s in the air, all right. It’s unworthy of Canadians. And it’s time to speak up for our friendship with “the Americans,” who are, for their abundant failings, the only best friends we have. Iffl

Journalist L. Ian MacDonald is a former head of public affairs at Canada’s U.S. embassy

Journalist L. Ian MacDonaic