Jewish World Review Dec. 7, 2004 / 24 Kislev, 5765

Peter A. Brown

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U.S., Canada: Joined at hip if not heart | President Bush's frosty reception in the Great White North underscores the reality that Canada may be close to America physically, but its mentality is strictly European.

On issue after issue, the views and values in Montreal and Toronto are much closer to those in Paris than in Philadelphia, Berlin than in Bakersfield. About 45 percent of Canadians tell pollsters they view the United States unfavorably, although political relations probably are not as bad as when President Ulysses S. Grant wanted to annex the country.

Yet Bush declined a chance to speak to the Canadian Parliament because of the expectation lawmakers might heckle him. To limit demonstrations, his itinerary minimized exposure to the Canadian public.

The differences, vast though they are, don't threaten the basic U.S.-Canadian relationship, however. Money and security make the world go 'round, and each needs the other for those reasons.

Canadians get rich from Uncle Sam, which consumes 80 percent of their exports. The U.S. defense umbrella protects them, and even if issues such as beef and timber imports are flash points, a rift with potentially serious consequences (like the one between the United States and France) is not in the cards. The United States prospers from the ready market for its goods and not having to defend its longest border.

The U.S.-Canadian relationship is like an old-style Catholic marriage; partners may fight, or may not even like each other, but understand that, in the end, they are in it together.

Not the same, however, can be said about the Western Europeans, sans Great Britain. They must decide whether they want to compete with the United States or cooperate with us.

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Obviously, we're not talking about economic competition, which in a global economy is a fact of life. The EU folks are faced with deciding whether they want to become an independent political force.

The Canadians have no such identity crisis. They may not love everything about America - in fact, up north these days it is fashionable to define themselves by the differences - yet they happily accept being joined at the hip with us.

Canada saves enough money on defense costs to bankroll a European-style welfare state without going down the financial black hole that threatens the many EU nations' economic futures.

Canadians have always been less confrontational than Americans, perhaps stemming from the differing national histories. Canada evolved from an English colony into an independent nation, which is still part of the British Commonwealth. The United States, you might remember, broke its ties with England violently.

Compromise is a basic Canadian value, and that nation's history is based on the belief that peace, order and government are paramount.

By comparison, here in the States, individuality, freedom and distrust of bureaucrats are the celebrated societal virtues.

Maybe that's why Canadians have always more strongly believed in international cooperation than Americans. Or perhaps it's because they just don't have the economic and military muscle to go it alone.

The contrasting values have come under scrutiny as the folks up north have seemed to be defining themselves by their differences with majority American attitudes, although their views might fit in quite well on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Canada sided with the French and Germans against the U.S. war in Iraq; it appears to be on the way to embracing gay marriage and decriminalizing marijuana - all of which fly in the face of the current U.S. governing political ethic.

But it's been that way forever. Canada has a European-style, nation-to-grave, government-run health-care system that is almost as inefficient as those on the Continent. Like European nations, it recognizes and trades with Cuba and features a much more secular mentality than here in the States.

Gun control is much stronger there, the death penalty doesn't exist, and political candidates get elected backing tax increases to finance larger government programs.

Canada has signed the Kyoto global-warming treaty, which the United States has spurned.

All this has led a small, unquantifiable movement of self-identified U.S. liberals across the border to take up residence in the land of ice and snow.

Bush's re-election ginned up much publicity about a new migration north, but this notion has the trappings of an urban legend.

In the end, Canada and the United States are stuck with each other. One assumes that both rational beings will make the best of it.

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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