Back in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was U. S. president and even in the 1990s when Bill Clinton occupied the White House, some Canadians were regularly apoplectic at any suggestion we imitate American policy, even if it arguably served our interests.
And in the Bush years? The rhetoric was nakedly anti-American.
Favour a cut in taxes to unleash a little dynamism and leave a few more shekels in people’s pockets? That would be “American,” argued the U. S. critics. Think competition is preferable to government ownership of airlines, railways, airports and liquor stores? Some said that would be very un-Canadian.
Similarly, on foreign policy, that notion Canada might act in her own interest– we’re a liberal Western nation with an interest in thumping Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait in 1991 and lest we replay Neville Chamberlain’s Munich episode; that too was dismissed as America me-tooism. So, in 1992, then opposition foreign affairs critic Lloyd Axworthy decried Canada’s involvement in the Gulf War (despite the UN’s endorsement). He argued that instead of “saluting and snapping to attention,” (i. e., to the U. S.), Canada should have opposed force and supported further negotiations.
Some in the media were similarly dismissive of any supposed move that might smack, or be construed to smack, of American imitation. Probably no one was more predictable here than Lawrence Martin, a columnist with the Globe and Mail. But over the decades, Martin’s version of Canadian nationalism made him do policy pirouettes. He is emblematic of how a love affair can make the head a bit clouded.
Go back to 1984. Back then, the fear of American influence was obvious in Martin’s endorsement of economic nationalism through government intervention. Martin opposed an end to the National Energy Program and argued the NEP brought “short-term economic pain for the long-term gain of Canadian control of Canadian energy resources.” Six years later, Martin sensibly reversed course and opined there might be virtue in free trade and the dismantling of the Foreign Review Investment Agency and the NEP.
But in 1993, Martin again changed his mind, possessed perhaps of some disdain for our southern neighbour, Brian Mulroney, or both; he complained in the Montreal Gazette that the Prime Minister “opened Canada’s energy vault to the Americans” while the “American deregulation bug swept Mulroney’s Ottawa in major areas such as transportation and telecommunications.”
Martin alleged such an approach was in “the small-government tradition of the Republican party.” However, he glimpsed some salvation for Canada if the U. S. one day turned protectionist and thus forced Canada “out of the American grip”.
Well, we’ve arrived at just such a day. Many in the U. S. government and large chunks of its populace are now protectionist. But the love many Canadians have for Obama continues. So, the other day, Martin exulted in the American president on the justification that Obama is more liberal, say, like we Canadians.
Martin admitted that Obama and U. S. Democrats are protectionist, show little interest in Canada, and have handled the U. S.-Canada border issue badly. Those are three bad omens which will make life more difficult for Canadians. But Martin glided over such dangers to our national interest. Instead, because Obama comes across as multicultural and multilateralist, Martin thinks we should all swoon before the new White House occupant.
Sorry, but I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. Obama is obviously multicultural in his very genes, but beyond that, the U. S. president talks a good game but too often doesn’t deliver. Obama’s protectionist impulse is obvious in his “Buy America” rhetoric and the willingness to spend tens of billions of American tax dollars to preserve a few extra union automaker jobs in Detroit (and thus upping the ante for Canada’s government on that issue). Then there was Obama’s pathetic remark back in May that jobs be preserved in Buffalo over Bangalore. There’s nothing multilateral about any of that; it is rank provincialism and it hurts not only India but Canada.
I’ve praised Obama for his personal accomplishment– winning the White House, and his recent Cairo speech which surreptitiously scolded Arab regimes for ignoring homegrown brutality and discrimination. Also, Obama will serve the U. S. well on a few issues–relations with the Arab world and race relations at home, but that’s about it. Obama’s deficits will bankrupt the U. S. and his health care plans will make American medical care worse, not better. And on trade, Obama and the Democrats in Congress are a disaster.
Given that reality, the transformation of a few central Canadian liberals such as Lawrence Martin from mostly reflexive anti-Americans into Obama worshippers is almost miraculous. But such mystical worship of Obama is not in our national interest.