Open season on the US in Canadian elections

The default setting in Canadian politics is "anti-American," which rears its adolescent head during crises - and elections. A particularly heartbreaking example of the former happened on Dec. 26, when Jane Creba, a Toronto teenager out shopping, got caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting. She died.

Toronto's mayor, David Miller, had this to say: "It's a sign that the lack of gun laws in the US is allowing guns to flood across the border that are literally being used to kill people in the streets of Toronto."

In case we missed the point, he added, "The US is exporting its problem of violence to the streets of Toronto." No one knows whether the gun that killed Jane Creba came from the United States, but if it did, Canadian security measures are in part responsible for allowing it in. And the two men accused in the shootout are Canadian. Though Mr. Miller won't face an election until November, he immediately turned to the default setting. As Jean Chrétien, Canada's former prime minister, and a shrewd reader of the Canadian public said in 1998, "I like to stand up to Americans. It's popular."

With a federal election to be held Jan. 23, that observation plays out each day. And it hasn't gone unnoticed by US ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins. Unlike his predecessors, he has commented publicly on the phenomenon. Shortly before Christmas, speaking at a luncheon in Ottawa, he said, "It may be smart election politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner. But ... all of us should hope it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship." He was specifically referring to comments made by Paul Martin, Canada's prime minister, referring to American unwillingness to sign on to the Kyoto treaty.

Mr. Martin accused the US of lacking a "global conscience." (This, in spite of the well-documented fact that in the past 10 years greenhouse gas emissions have risen more rapidly in Canada than in the US.) Martin responded to Mr. Wilkins with, well, a little chest thumping: "I am not going to be dictated to as to the subjects I should raise." Unless it's by a desire to win votes. Martin's Liberal Party has tailored at least four of its televised campaign commercials to Canada's relationship with the US. One concerns the disagreement between the two countries over the tariffs the US imposes on Canadian softwood lumber exports. It features "ordinary Canadians" telling viewers that Martin will "stand up" to George Bush. As though the US were threatening Canada, rather than disagreeing over policy.

Another liberal ad focuses on Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, Martin's chief rival and his purported fondness for the US. It quotes a December Washington Times column by Patrick Basham, in which Mr. Harper is described as "the poster boy for his [George Bush's] ideal foreign leader," and "the most pro-American leader in the Western world." The ad concludes - over the steady sound of a military drumbeat - with this: "A Harper victory will put a smile on George W. Bush's face." Heaven forbid.

It isn't just party leaders who deal with default settings. Former Harvard Professor, Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian, left his job at the university to run as a Liberal candidate in suburban Toronto. At his nomination meeting, he attempted to address the crowd, while people shouted, "American!" It probably wasn't a compliment.

Nationwide, the race is tight. And if the Liberals lose, as polls suggest they will, it won't be from serving Canada too big a dose of anti-Americanism, but because of kickback scandals and their own hubris. It will also be because Harper distanced himself from his supposed ties to the US. He even wrote a letter to the Washington Times regarding Mr. Basham's column, emphasizing that he's no American lackey. As Harper surely knows, the anti-American card is hard to overplay in Canada.

Rondi Adamson is a Canadian writer.

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