THE selection of Kim Campbell as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada to replace Brian Mulroney as Canadian Prime Minister deserves far more attention in the United States than it is likely to get. True, national media reported Ms. Campbell's election, and in view of the recent election of Tansu Ciller as Turkey's first female prime minister, numerous editorials maintained that the election of women as leaders of government has become so common as scarcely to warrant comment - after Gol da Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, and others.
But a June 16 editorial in The New York Times noted that "Canada already has a woman as its figurehead chief of state, Governor General Jeanne Sauve." This notation is relevant and well-intended, but as a Times correction noted soon after, it's wrong. Sauve hasn't been governor general since 1990 and, besides, she died earlier this year.
Such a gaffe would be funny if it weren't so typical. Prime Minister Mulroney made a farewell visit to the US recently, seeing President Clinton and making the rounds of the media. His critics in Canada, a sizable chunk of the electorate, often charge that his real spiritual home is America. It's not a compliment, since Mulroney has made much of his personal relationships with Presidents Reagan and Bush.
Among his stops was "Larry King Live," where the host cut to the commercial by telling his audience they would be back with "Prime Minister Brian Mahoney." Mahoney? On national television? Larry King can't even get the prime minister's name right, even when he's leader of America's largest foreign customer partner, its closest neighbor and, arguably, its most important external relation.
For his part, Mulroney is probably used to such treatment by now. Some years ago, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was considering US trade with Canada, committee chairman Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island emerged from a meeting with the prime minister and called him "Muldoon."
Sadly, American "thought leaders" don't care. Compared to the breakup of the Soviet Union, the threat from Iraq, and the troubles in the Balkans, staid young Canada is just up there by itself - boring, mounties and moose. But for occasional noises of separation in Quebec, Canada scarcely scratches our self-absorbed psyches; we just don't think of Canadians as sufficiently "foreign," even though they are. The American Revolution created two new countries, "us" and "them."
SO when their ruling party chooses a woman as its leader and, late in June, prime minister, Americans should sit up and take careful notice. Yes, Campbell is the first woman prime minister, but not the first woman to lead a national party. She is also the first prime minister from British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province.
Campbell inherits a crushing national debt - more than $60,000 for every Canadian - at a time of deep recession and fundamental restructuring in the economy. Because times are troubled, Canada's social programs, including health care, are under considerable pressure. And, like Mr. Clinton, she is 46 and so represents a younger generation.
In short, her problems are our problems. Campbell is a person to watch; Canada is a country to watch. As a Canadian commentator remarked at the height of Watergate, Americans are the most Canadian-like people on earth.