If there was any running theme to the Liberals' big summer gatherings in the West, it revolved around what seems to be a simmering antipathy to the U.S. Are Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals becoming anti-American?
Of course, much of the current invective stems from the incendiary U.S. decision this month to flout the NAFTA panel ruling in favour of Canada in the ongoing softwood lumber dispute. This has Liberals' blood boiling and there was no mistaking the anger radiating from all quarters and all levels in the government.
By yesterday, in fact, in reaction to provocative comments on the issue by U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, Liberal cabinet ministers were using words such as "bully" and "hypocrite" to talk about Canada's neighbour to the south.
But it's also true that the undercurrent of antipathy toward Americans appears to be rippling beyond trade and bubbling under other issues, too.
Liberal MPs who were seized with this summer's gun violence in Toronto, for instance, were murmuring darkly about the U.S. gun culture, not to mention its guns, finding its way into the peaceable Canadian kingdom.
Even the very domestic concern of the CBC labour dispute, which has thrown 5,500 journalists and technicians off the job, provoked a jab or two at the Americans. Heritage Minister Liza Frulla and Ottawa MP Marlene Catterall were talking about the need to protect the public broadcaster's future as a way to ensure that this country didn't end up with the broadcasting culture we see in the U.S.
There's always been a streak of anti-Americanism in Canadian politics. One might say English Canada exists because of the original anti-Americans, the United Empire Loyalists. Or rather, anti-American Revolutionaries. Confederation might never have come to pass had it not been for fears that the U.S. Army, fresh off its victory over the rebellious Confederacy, might train its guns on British North America to establish American hegemony from the Far North to the Rio Grande.
But the days of manifest destiny and the anti-British sentiment which fuelled American annexationist rhetoric are more than a century past. The United States is no more interested in adding additional states to the Union than it is in restoring Saddam Hussein's regime.
Current anti-American rhetoric springs from the more poisonous wells of envy and resentment; envy towards its position in the world and resentment of its strength and self-confidence.
The United States enjoys a self-confidence about its national identity that has been forged in the crucible of revolution, civil war and wars fought in the defence of its ideals, even when it falls short of living up to them.
Canada, stripped by decades of social engineering of pride in its history and accomplishments prior to about 1965, now seems less than the sum of its parts, a collection of squabbling provinces whose collective self-interest in some sort of unity is only slightly stronger than its resentments towards each other.
All that is left to unite it is opposition to the Other, the need to be not American. It matters not whether America is on the side of the angels or the devils, as long as Canada is not on its side.
One cannot continually identify oneself as not the Other. What happens if the Other is not there?
If the United States were to disappear tomorrow, wherewith would Canada derive its identity?
Source: Toronto Star