Canada growing stronger, poll says
Peter Calamai
Canada Day celebrations took place on Parliament Hill.
OTTAWA Canadians celebrate their country's birthday today with a stronger sense of identity and greater national confidence than at any time in the past decade.

At the same time, our rejection of American values and culture appears to have soared dramatically, up by a third from a low ebb after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

This portrait of self-assured Canadians embracing an economic community for North America while rebuffing social and cultural assimilation emerges from a new national poll for The Star by EKOS Research Associates, combined with longer term opinion tracking by EKOS and others.

"Canadians feel more poised and confident today than any time in the past 10 years about our identity, about the economy, about our ability to handle change," said EKOS president Frank Graves.

Graves said the findings contradict widespread predictions that growing economic interdependence would inevitably suck Canada into the American cultural, social and political orbit.

"The empirical evidence is that this isn't happening. Canadians feel the global economic challenge can be met while also preserving and enhancing our own identity," Graves said.

University of Toronto political scientist Neil Nevitte said that a separate global survey also found no evidence that American values were going to swamp Canadian ones.

"In social and moral outlook, the change in U.S. values is actually following Canada and the rest of the Western industrialized world in becoming less parochial and more secular," he said.

The most recent polling by EKOS was a telephone survey of 1,217 adult Canadians at the end of May which had a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points 19 times out of 20. Graves cautioned other factors, such as the refusal rate, wording of questions and processing mistakes, can increase the margin of error of any opinion survey.

A clear majority of Canadians (58 per cent) said they thought Canada had become more like the U.S. over the past 10 years, a level relatively constant in five other surveys since January, 1997.

But a majority (52 per cent) also said they wanted Canada to become less like the U.S., a jump of 13 percentage points since the previous survey in February and a reversal in a steady five-year downward trend in this category.

This rejection of the American dream was led by B.C., where 61 per cent of residents said they wanted Canada to become less like the U.S. Ontario was at 53 per cent.

Nationally, 12 per cent favoured becoming more like the U.S., with nearly double that level among Canadian Alliance adherents. Other demographic variables had minimal effect on opinions.

Graves said Canadians appear to have experienced a revival of natural wariness toward Americans after the post-Sept. 11 outpouring of neighbourly empathy. The friendly fire deaths in Afghanistan, softwood lumber penalties and the recent huge hike in U.S. farm subsidies all reminded Canadians that they have good reasons to be guarded about Americans, Graves said. "We like Americans and we even trust them but we can't assume they'll ever take much notice of our concerns," he said.

Yet EKOS polling, focus groups and studies of consumer behaviour indicate that our growing confidence in a distinct Canadian identity goes well beyond simply not being Americans.

While Canadians and Americans are close in many personal and society values especially economic ones differences that do exist are becoming more pronounced, said Graves.

He cited results from an EKOS survey earlier this year that asked people to say what being a Canadian or American meant to them by choosing from varying pairs of a dozen competing values.

While nearly half of all Canadians selected having universal social and health programs, fewer than one third of Americans did.

Twice as many Canadians opted for paying taxes, although still only 31 per cent compared to 14 per cent among Americans the lowest category in both countries

With constitutional enshrinement of the pursuit of happiness, it was no surprise that 73 per cent of Americans thought a chance for the good life trumped everything else.

Yet the good life ranked only fourth for Canadians, slightly below a legacy of a healthy environment, a tolerant multicultural country and individual liberty. Graves said Canadians "put much more emphasis on collective rights and the role of government."

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