PREDICTIONS OF CANADA'S precipitous slide into
the waiting, welcoming arms of Uncle Sam are as exaggerated as they are
pessimistic. Despite galloping economic integration and the security
pressures of the post-Sept. 11 period, the flag, the national rodent and
our infamously ambiguous identity are surprisingly secure.
"Those people who think we are becoming part of a North American
community, or are headed fast in that direction, are packing their bags
for a trip we may never take," says Frank Graves, president of
Ottawa-based Ekos Research Associates.
Graves has good reason to be optimistic. Now deep into a continuing
cross-border study of continental relationships, Graves is quantifying
opinions and qualifying trends that require Canada to radically rethink
its traditional approach to safeguarding sovereignty.
Those opinions and trends effortlessly blow away many of the myths
now shaping political policy. Graves' research has found that Americans
are confident that Canada will adequately protect U.S. homeland security.
Unlike the European Community, increasing North American economic
co-operation is not promoting cultural blending. Support for a common
currency, particularly in the United States and Mexico, is weak. And
nationalism is thriving among Gen-Xers.
There are, of course, striking similarities between Canadians and
their southern neighbours. From Tijuana to Toronto, core values are
commonly held close to the collective heart. National identities are
strengthening across the continent. There is a broad consensus that free
trade, while most beneficial to the United States, is generally positive
for everyone and has great potential. And Canadians are still
stereotypically seen as hewers of wood and drawers of maple syrup.
As important as those similarities are, it is the emerging North
American mosaic that is most intriguing. Not only are there significant
differences among the three amigos, those differences, particularly
between Canadian and U.S. citizens, are growing.
Since 1999, when Ekos last looked at these issues, the world's
largest trading partners have drawn closer economically but are
reinforcing key attitudinal disparities.
Painted with the broadest brush, Americans take on the primary
colours associated here with the minority that supports the Canadian
Alliance. They are more religious, individualistic, materialistic and
shaped by family and conservative values than mainstream Canadians. In
contrast, there is much more support north of the 49th parallel for
secularism, state intervention, collective social policies and a
cosmopolitan, less insular, less ideological, world view.
Those distinctive values manifest themselves in the issues that top
national priority lists. Not surprisingly, freedom is pre-eminent
everywhere but after that, Canadians and Americans order their worlds
differently. In the United States, those familiar family values,
integrity, ethics, security and the all-inclusive need for respect fill
out the next five spots in a list of 17 possible national goals. Here,
health and a clean environment are the ultimate objectives for a country
that also puts greater value on tolerance and less —— oh blush —— on hard
It is equally interesting that issues that have dominated
Canada-U.S. relations in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade
Center and Pentagon slip into a second tier of concerns. As important as
continental defence and cross-border transport clearly are, they fall into
the far less sensitive category of essentially logistical accommodations
between friends linked by the common interests of prosperity and security.
For Graves, the growing ability to distinguish between what is
defining and what is transactional offers a sneak preview of the future.
Instead of building defensive firewalls around culture and identity ——
culture and identity that are alive and well —— the federal government now
has the option to strengthen what is best about a country that thinks of
itself, but is not always, the envy of the world.
"It opens up some very bold opportunities, it opens new horizons
for the 21st century," he says. " More and more, I think Canadians are
focused on how you invest in people and quality-of-life issues."
That will require the federal government to find the fine balance
between sharing economic space with a superpower and making the social
policy choices that will reinforce the emerging sense of what is important
about being Canadian. Inevitably, economic decisions, particularly those
touching taxation, productivity and competitiveness will shape social
programs that are now as much a part of Canada as the maple leaf, the
beaver and the sanctity of hockey.
What is encouraging is that those critical decisions can be made
with the confidence that comes with knowing who we are and what is
important. Most of all, those decisions can be reached without the fear of
"We are not about to see the nation-state swept away by
globalization or North American integration," Graves says.
For now and the foreseeable future, Uncle Sam, like heaven, can