"Strained Relations with Neighbor to North," by Donald Barry (a contributor from Calgary) - the Baltimore Sun, 18 Jan 2006. Barry is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
Not surprisingly, the United States has become an issue in Canada's national election campaign in which voters will choose a new government Monday.
Recent public opinion polls show Prime Minister Paul Martin's ruling Liberal Party trailing opposition leader Stephen Harper's Conservatives. They also show that President Bush is highly unpopular in Canada and that Canadians believe the Liberals are the best party to deal with Washington.
At a U.N. conference in Montreal last month, Mr. Martin accused the Bush administration of lacking a "global conscience" on climate change because of its refusal to recommend ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.
U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins noted that the United States has a better record than Canada of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and warned that continued Canadian carping would put the two countries on a "slippery slope" that could damage their relations. But his comments had the opposite effect.
Mr. Martin retorted that he would "not be dictated to" by Washington. And Mr. Harper, seeking to shed his pro-American image, called Mr. Wilkins' intervention "inappropriate."
Mr. Martin's current stance is a departure from his promise to establish a "more sophisticated relationship" with the United States than his predecessor, Jean Chrétien. Although Mr. Chrétien had been a close ally of Mr. Bush in the war on terror, his government was deeply skeptical of the administration's claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and opted not to participate in the Iraq war. The decision, which was widely supported in Canada, was accompanied by an escalating war of words between Canadian critics and U.S. defenders of Mr. Bush's policies.
By the time Mr. Martin took power in December 2003, Canadian public disapproval of the war had hardened into opposition to Mr. Bush's foreign policy.
Mr. Martin was weakened by the June 2004 election that reduced his government to minority status, making its survival a day-to-day issue.
Adding to Mr. Martin's difficulties was the failure of the Bush administration to honor North American Free Trade Agreement dispute panel decisions requiring an end to penalties on Canadian softwood lumber imports.
The cumulative effect of these developments undermined Mr. Martin's efforts to forge better relations with Mr. Bush. A case in point was Mr. Martin's plan to take part in the administration's ballistic missile defense program, which foundered because of domestic and parliamentary opposition, and Mr. Bush's poorly timed public intervention in the debate during his visit to Canada in late 2004.
These developments have been accompanied by significant changes in the international outlooks of the two countries. In the United States, the shift in demographic and political power from the Northeast to the Southwest has caused decision-makers to focus on Mexico rather than Canada. By contrast, Canadians remain overwhelmingly preoccupied with the United States.
Also, the Bush administration's resort to unilateral action in international affairs has clashed with the Martin government's preference for multilateralism. This has put the two sides at odds over issues ranging from the Kyoto Protocol to the International Criminal Court.
Yet Canada and the United States remain inextricably linked. With a shared border of more than 5,000 miles, each is crucial in the other's security calculations. The two countries are each other's principal trading partners, with about 85 percent of Canadian exports destined for the United States and about 20 percent of U.S. exports going to Canada.
Canada is the largest foreign exporter of energy to the U.S. market, supplying 88 percent of U.S. natural gas imports and 17 percent of its imports of oil. Thirty-seven states count Canada as their biggest customer. On top of this, 300,000 people cross the border every day.
The vast majority of these transactions are managed amicably by Canadian and U.S. officials despite discord at the top. However, it is at the highest levels of government that the overall tone and approaches to the relationship are set. Unless those in power in Ottawa and Washington can find ways to cooperate when they can, and to manage differences when they can't, more strains are bound to result.
Added 21 Jan 2006:
"Anti-US Track Backfires on Canada's Liberals," by Doug Struck - the Washington Post, 21 Jan 2006
BURLINGTON, Canada -- Rob Hlohinec, 58, doesn't see what's so bad about Americans. He even admits to knowing some.
"I've talked to Americans. They want the same things we want," Hlohinec said as he watched a Conservative Party campaign rally in this Ontario town last week.
At his side, Irene Heller, 82, agreed. She said that was one reason she would vote to replace the government headed by the Liberal Party's Paul Martin in Canadian national elections on Monday. Martin, she said, uses anti-Americanism to try to win votes.
"He gets votes when he knocks America, and I don't approve of that," said Heller, who braved a sleet storm to attend the rally.
Heller's and Hlohinec's candidate, Conservative leader Stephen Harper, holds a strong lead in public opinion polls, fueled largely by dissatisfaction with 12 years of Liberal rule. Among the dissatisfied are voters unhappy with the growing divide between Canada and the United States.
Polls show a deep antipathy among Canadians toward the Bush administration, made more acute by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. That has carried over to a more general anti-Americanism, and academics here have made a cottage industry of talking about the divergence of values between Canadians and Americans.
Martin sought to corral that sentiment by portraying Harper as dangerously pro-American. But the strategy appeared to backfire in this campaign, exacerbating his slide in the polls.
"In the last campaign, those attack ads worked. This time they won't. People are just fed up," said Peter Bryce, 46, a financial manager who said the political rally in this town west of Toronto was the first he had attended.
The Conservative Party's lead in the polls hovers at about 10 percentage points, putting the party in position to lead a coalition government that would probably be more in tune with the Bush administration....
The situation in Canada invites a comparison with Germany's recent national elections. Incumbent Chancellor Schroeder's abrasive relations with Washington contributed to Angela Merkel's win, although, as with Canada, there was (is) widespread disapproval of US policies among German voters. However, Merkel has turned out to be anything but the get-along girl in her dealings with Washington. She has persistently called the US to account on questions of detention and torture -- showing, I think, how national interests usually trump sentiment in international relations. I also think that Merkel's stand is admirable, demonstrating both vision and decency and true friendship for the United States (I'm one of those people who believes that your real friends don't allow you to drive drunk). For more on this, see Merkel, Backed by Skeptical Public, Seeks Closer US Ties.