So when the U.S. ambassador publicly rebuked Paul Martin for firing off cheap anti-American rhetoric during the campaign, it is an indication of just how badly relations with our next-door neighbour and largest mutual trading partners have deteriorated under his watch:
"It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner constantly," Wilkins said in a speech to the Canadian Club at the historic Chateau Laurier Hotel, next door to Parliament Hill.
"But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on the relationship."
With Jonathan Fried, Martin's chief foreign policy advisor, and Peter Harder, the powerful deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, seated to his right, Wilkins took issue with the barrage of criticism that has been directed at U.S. policy by Martin and his Liberal cabinet.
"What if one of your best friends criticized you directly and indirectly almost relentlessly?" asked Wilkins.
"What if that friend demanded respect, but offered little in return?"
The United States may be an easy target for "political expediency," he said.
"But the last time I looked, the United States was not on the ballot for the Jan. 23 election," Wilkins added to scattered applause.
Ambassadors don't make this sort of condemnation publicly unless their government wants them to. Not if they want to remain ambassadors, anyway.
Greg Staples , among others, fears that Paul Martin might have won piles of votes by appearing to have stood up to the Americans so effectively that George Bush's envoy had to take notice. "If he's pissed them off, he must be doing something right" might sum up the public response Tory strategists fear.
But it also will underscore a potentially fatal weaknesses in this country brought forth by the movement of extreme anti-American sentiment from the periphery to the centre of acceptable Canadian political discourse.
Canada has never been safer from the 200-year old bogeyman of American annexation than it is now. The United States has no more desire to add Canada to the American union than it does to admit Iraq to statehood. If anything, few nations have ever enjoyed such a long and smooth free ride as we have under the aegis of American defence and free trade.
Yet at the same time, our own sense of national identity has never been weaker in English-speaking Canada. Only a few vestiges of the old connection to Britain and the old British Empire remain, to which we once clung tenaciously in the face of genuine American expansionist threats.
But manifest destiny and the British Empire exist only today in history books. The United States has moved on, but English-speaking Canada has not.
We have tried to realize the myth of a bilingual, multicultural nation, only to see it fail, yet our governing classes and a good portion of the people deny its failure more loudly when faced with mounting evidence thereof.
We have denied and denigrated our heritage in favour of a myth: all that we have left as a national identity is the vague sense of being "not American."
Whatever goals we pursue as a society, we pursue not as an expression of a self-confident nation, but out of a contrary nature to be "not American", regardless of whether the example we strive to avoid is, in fact, actually American.
A moribund welfare state that generates ever more poverty? "Not American!"
A public health monopoly that inflicts needless pain and suffering on the ailing? "Not American!"
Endless ill-conceived social engineering experiments? "Not American!"
A hypocritical foreign policy that invokes international law and human rights while prostrating before tyrants and ignoring our own treaty obligations? "Not American!"
Our governing classes shout "Not American!" to hide the fact that they don't know what being Canadian means.
We can't stand up for ourselves against anyone, not just the United States if we don't know who we are and what we stand for. Defining ourselves continually in terms of the Other is no way to build a national identity.
What happens if the Other is no longer there?
What would be left Canadian identity, if the United States were not there to define ourselves against?
The fear of the void that lies at the heart of our identity has led our governing classes to cause long-lasting, perhaps irreparable damage to our most profitable and harmonious foreign relationship.
It's as though the only way to know that we exist is to hurt ourselves and get others to hurt us.