Even though we are neighbours, Americans do not tend to think of Canada much. As a Canadian, I’ve been treated like a discovered distant relative with whom you have more in common than you could possibly imagine. Often I am told that I am, for all intents and purposes, one of you. Yet in spite of all the goodwill between our two countries, there is also much that divides us bitterly. Anti-Americanism is endemic in Canada: Some of it is pure pettiness, and some of it stems from legitimate grievances. Just think about that for a second: The United States’ most dependable political ally and one of its largest trading partners is full of people who cannot stand the United States! If Americans could understand why this negative feeling is so strong among their best friends, maybe they would understand why they are hated so much more in the rest of the world.
Part of Canada’s anti-Americanism stems from an inferiority complex. Let’s face it: your country is richer, stronger, more populous, and, most importantly, warmer. The common Canadian stereotypes a typical American as an obnoxious, ignorant, but somehow, unbelievably successful person. One former Canadian prime minister dreamed the 20th century would be Canada’s century, only for the United States to rise to superpower status instead. Maybe we were being a little overambitious, but we continue to ask ourselves: How did the United States advance so much faster than we did? Petty as it may sound, base jealousy is a major source of Canadian anti-Americanism. Unfortunately, we have many more legitimate reasons for feeling a little petulant toward the United States.
Because of their phenomenal success, Americans tend to conduct themselves a little too arrogantly toward other countries. Canada and the United States are definitely friends, but the relationship is hardly equal or reciprocal. America frequently calls on Canada for favours, as it did when Canadians hosted thousands of stranded passengers in the aftermath of September 11, or when Canada joined the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan. However, gracious thanks for such actions almost never come our way. President Bush did not visit Canada until the beginning of his second term, and it took even longer for the U.S. government to acknowledge Canada’s offer of hospitality on 9/11.
The United States also seldom returns the favour for Canadians when we need them to. One of the longest standing disputes between the United States and Canada is over softwood lumber. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry; Canada–U.S. relations never seems to be a big deal in American news. The dispute has done immeasurable harm to one of Canada’s largest industries and, despite numerous NAFTA rulings in favour of Canada, the U.S. government continued to unilaterally impose import tariffs on us. The latest “negotiation” was basically a Canadian surrender with almost no guarantee that the U.S. lumber industry wouldn’t try to cripple Canadian lumber producers again. This is after more than a decade of “free trade” in NAFTA. Instead of being recognized as the greatest source of Canadian prosperity in recent years, NAFTA is increasingly being seen as a raw deal because of the Canadian impression that the U.S. does not respect the treaty anymore.
Condemnation also comes quickly when Canada dares to defy the United States. When former Prime Minister Chretien decided Canada would stay out of Iraq, the U.S. ambassador was apoplectic. When Prime Minister Paul Martin decided the ballistic missile defence shield was unfeasible, the U.S. ambassador not only expressed disappointment, but also subtly declared that Canada would not be consulted if its safety were to be compromised in missile defence.
Perhaps now you can begin to understand why anti-Americanism is so rampant, indeed popular, in Canada and the world at large: It’s a David versus Goliath, a Rocky versus Apollo, dare I say a colonial militia versus an unrepresentative tyranny, situation. If a country such as Canada, which enjoys free trade and participation in the North American Aerospace Defense Command with the United States, can bear the United States so much ill-will, what happens when U.S. policy has genuinely wronged the people of a certain nation, state, or territory? If the U.S. has any hope of recovering its international standing as a champion of liberty, democracy, and human rights, as it declared at the end of the Second World War, it needs to carefully re-examine its fundamental attitude toward the rest of the world. Pride in one’s accomplishments is one thing; unabashed arrogance is another. The United States is treated with respect because it has, for the most part, been a force for good in the world, not simply because it is number one!
As American hard power declines, the United States needs to act less like a bullying world policeman and more like the charismatic leader it can and should be. If it can recognize what people find admirable about it and cultivate that goodwill rather than squander or exploit it, both Americans and the world’s citizens would be much better off.