Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Worst... president... ever...! -- or thereabouts...

From Environics...

10/20/2005 5:05:31 PM

Bash Thy Neighbour

The last time Canadians so disliked a U.S. president, the Americans were shooting at us, says pollster-author MICHAEL ADAMS.

by: Micheal Adams

Globe and Mail, October 19, 2005

The last time Canadians so disliked a U.S. president, the Americans were shooting at us, says pollster-author MICHAEL ADAMS. But we feel antagonism at our own peril.

Canada and its best friend and ally are going through a rough patch. This patch could get rougher - a lot rougher.

Our Prime Minister, in a speech at the Economic Club of New York on Oct. 6, told the American business community that in not adhering to the North American free-trade agreement's dispute settlement process on softwood lumber, America was jeopardizing the treaty that guarantees the United States unfettered access to Canadian energy resources. He did not threaten to tax Canadian oil and gas exports going into the U.S. and to divert those tax revenues to the softwood lumber industry in response to parallel U.S. measures, but certainly Paul Martin raised the temperature in our most pressing trade dispute. Then he dispatched Natural Resources Minister John McCallum to Beijing to say that we were keen to boost trade with the Chinese.

To many, this flexing of Canadian muscle would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous. That Canada could reduce its dependence on the U.S. market, which currently takes in 87 per cent of our exports, by diverting its output to other countries in the near future seems fanciful at best. So why is the Prime Minister acting in this way?

As former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill used to say, "All politics is local" - and here in Canada, we have a minority Liberal government just three points (in our latest poll) ahead of the Conservative opposition, and probably just months away from a promised federal election.

The Liberals cannot easily play their traditional role of uniting the country by appealing to French Quebec and building out from this base to Ontario and urban Canada. Nor can they play the health-care card. The polls say it's the No. 1 issue in Canadians' minds, but this is hard for the Liberals to leverage as Stephen Harper has promised to spend as much in this area as the Liberals - astutely leaving any talk of private-sector alternatives (that second tier/third rail issue) to Ralph Klein.

So what cards are left in the Liberals' hands? Canadian nationalism, which has always been bound up in wariness of the United States.

America and the U.S. government are less popular in Canada today than any time since polls were first conducted in this country in the 1930s. To find similar anti-American sentiment, you'd probably have to go back to the federal election of 1911, when Wilfrid Laurier's espousal of trade reciprocity with the United States cost him re-election.

The public-opinion trends do not augur well. In 1981, the year Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, seven per cent of Canadians told us they had an unfavourable opinion of the U.S., while 10 times that proportion (72 per cent) reported a favourable impression of our southern neighbour. Today the proportion reporting an unfavourable impression is 48 per cent, and the proportion reporting a favourable opinion is down to 50 per cent.

We are talking here of America as a country, not the administration of George W. Bush. Favourable opinion of the United States has been eroding gradually over the years, but its decline accelerated sharply when W. was first elected in the fall of 2000. And if his Republican administration was unpopular in 2000, it was anathema in 2004.In 2000, 29 per cent of Canadians would have voted for Mr. Bush had they had the opportunity. Forty-eight per cent would have voted for Democratic candidate Al Gore. By 2004, Mr. Bush was down to 15 per cent in Canada, and John Kerry would have garnered 70 per cent of the Canadian vote. George W. Bush is probably the least popular president of the United States in Canada since James Madison led his country in the War of 1812.

(In 1992, George W.'s father George H.W. was actually preferred over Bill Clinton by a margin of 39 per cent to 31 per cent; we liked the kinder, gentler Mr. Bush better than his more religious, neo-conservative son.)

As for co-operation, only 10 per cent of Canadians want their government to do everything it can to get along with the United States; 70 per cent want the government to try to get along but hold the line on issues where there is no clear agreement. Another 19 per cent (twice the proportion of the devout continentalists) say Canada should actively oppose those U.S. government policies at odds with Canadian policies. More than 80 per cent of Canadians believe former prime minister Jean Chrétien did the right thing to stay out of the Iraq war.

Canadians also opposed Canada's participation in the U.S.-led North American missile-defence system by a margin of 59 per cent to 38 per cent. On softwood lumber, Canadians are feeling similarly standoffish: A September poll by The Strategic Counsel found that 76 per cent of Canadians said Ottawa had not been tough enough in the dispute.

This is fertile ground for politicians in search of votes, but it is crucial for Canada that Paul Martin the Prime Minister temper Paul Martin the Leader of the Liberal Party. To capitalize on anti-American sentiment may be rewarding for the Liberal Leader when it comes to votes - and it might even do double-duty in efforts toward national unity, as Quebeckers' distaste for America these days is the highest in the country - but such a strategy would be playing with fire: the negative consequences for Canada's Prime Minister (to say nothing of his fellow citizens) could last far beyond the next election. How the two Paul Martins play their cards over the coming months will be important - for the fate of the Liberal Party and for the fate of Canada.

* Michael Adams, president of the Environics group, is author of American Backlash: The Untold Story of Social Change in the United States, to be published next month by Penguin.


Polt said...

Well, only roughly 50% of us Americans like Bushie either. Unfortunately, it didn't matter in the last two elections. I just don't know what the hell the American people are thinking!

Lone Primate said...

I think what amazes/depresses me the most is that at the end of September I was hearing that Bush's popularity had plunged even in the red states. Katrina aside, I'm wondering... what changed? The war was chewing their sons up a year ago, same as now. The US was econominically bleeding by the gallon then, same as now. Were they putting LSD in the hominy grits last November and it finally wore off, or what?

Of course, what can I say... in 1988, the Canadian electorate returned Brian Mulroney with a majority government... and within 14 seconds of doing so, hated the man's guts for the next five years. It makes me wonder sometimes if human beings aren't too capricious to govern themselves.

Polt said...

what happened, i think, was Katrina, which showed how ineffective and uncaring the Adminstration was. But even more so, I think the sharp increase in gas prices happened, and there was nary a peep from the White House about it.

If there's one thing that trumps "morality" and "politics" and nearly everything else, it's money. When people get hit in the pocketbook, and are worried about money for food as opposed to gas for the car, does the "social issues" or "family values" really matter all that much? I think that's what happened....but what do I know, I'm a blue stater anyway.:)