Dec. 7, 2002. 12:24 PM
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Poll: Canadians sour on U.S.
Majority thinks relations have deteriorated over past year


OTTAWA—A majority of Canadians believe relations between Ottawa and Washington have deteriorated over the past year.

The Toronto Star/CBC/La Presse poll done by EKOS Research found 52 per cent of respondents agreed that Canada-U.S. relations are worse than they were a year ago, while 38 per cent felt they had stayed the same and only 7 per cent felt they had improved.

The poll was released as Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and Tom Ridge, head of the homeland security department in the U.S., met yesterday in Washington to discuss Canadian concerns about immigration controls south of the border, which Ottawa believes unfairly target some Canadian citizens.

Almost two-thirds of respondents, 65 per cent, also told EKOS they believed the U.S. had "no business" telling Canadians to increase defence spending or pushing Ottawa to back Washington's hawkish foreign policy, both of which are matters for Canadians to decide themselves. Thirty-one per cent said they felt it "reasonable" for Washington to request Canada's military support, backed by a more robust military.

They believe Canadian interests could be put at risk by ignoring the requests from Washington.

"There is a great deal of ambivalence and ambiguity in Canadians minds," EKOS President Frank Graves said. "It appears having something less than the most idyllic relations with the United States is not necessarily seen as a bad thing."

EKOS interviewed 1,205 Canadians 18 years and older between Monday and Wednesday this week and said the results are accurate within plus-or-minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Canadian views of U.S. President George W. Bush were distilled in a single question posed by EKOS, which asked whether Bush or Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein posed a bigger threat to world peace.

While 56 per cent of respondents said it was the Iraqi leader, 38 per cent said it was Bush.

Graves said the numbers did not necessarily indicate Canadians felt the U.S. president was "evil," but it was a perception that, as the leader of the world's only "hyper-power," the American leader has more firepower at his disposal than ever before.

"His missteps or miscalculations can have far more catastrophic calculations than nutty or evil Saddam Hussein," Graves said.

"A good portion of Canadians wouldn't agree with the characterization that he is a moron, but they do think he is dangerous."

There have been an unusual number of flare-ups between the outgoing Jean Chrétien regime and the Bush White House, a relationship which began coolly and has turned only more frigid.

Last April, four Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan when hit by bombs dropped by U.S. pilots. Bush was slow to apologize, offering condolences to the Canadian families only after prodding from a Canadian reporter.

There were also major Canadian concerns over the targeting of Canadians from Middle East countries who were being photographed and fingerprinted upon arrival in the U.S. Immigration Minister Denis Coderre said he thought Washington was making up policy on the run.

The softwood lumber trade dispute remains unresolved and Chrétien has always been seen south of the border as a reluctant partner in any multilateral, American-led military move on Saddam.

U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci also "ticked off" Canadians, according to Defence Minister John McCallum, by calling for more defence spending in this country, a theme repeated by Bush at last month's NATO summit in Prague.

At that same summit, Chrétien's communications chief, Françoise Ducros, was overheard calling Bush "a moron," a move which further damaged relations between the two nations and led to her resignation.

EKOS also found a split among Canadians regarding this country's participation in a military campaign in Iraq, with 41 per cent saying they cannot back a move and 40 per cent supporting such action.

The remainder were undecided or said they had no opinion.

Support for Canadian participation in an attack is highest in Alberta (57 per cent) and among Canadian Alliance supporters (60 per cent).

Support is lowest in Quebec (23 per cent) and British Columbia (34 per cent) and among those who say they back the NDP (25 per cent). In Ontario, 48 per cent support Canadian participation in an attack.

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