Monday, December 26, 2005

Canada's Open Season on Americans

Updated December 27

Over the past few years, there seems to have been a prevailing "stick it to Uncle Sam" attitude that has seeped like a fetid rot into Canadian politics. As a Canadian myself, I have been thoroughly disgusted by it all.

The Canadian government has stuck it to Uncle Sam a few times in the past year, cancelling Canada's participation in the North American missile shield, publicly rebuking the United States over a trade dispute over softwood lumber, and a couple of weeks ago, publicly lambasting the United States at a climate conference in Montreal, and with the Prime Minister exchanging caustic barbs with the US Ambassador on the Canadian news.

It should come as no surprise to Canadians that if you play "stick it to Uncle Sam" too often, Uncle Sam may stick something back to you. Last week, while I was enjoying my Christmas vacation in Canada, the news media here was abuzz with talk about American commentator Tucker Carlson's comments on MSNBC: "Anybody with any ambition at all, or intelligence, has left Canada and is now living in New York. Canada is a sweet country. It is like your retarded cousin you see at Thanksgiving and sort of pat him on the head. You know, he's nice but you don't take him seriously. That's Canada." He went on to say that it's pointless to try to convince Canada to stop criticizing the United States because "it only eggs them on. Canada is essentially a stalker, stalking the United States, right? Canada has little pictures of us in its bedroom, right? It's unrequited love between Canada and the United States. We, meanwhile, don't even know Canada's name. We pay no attention at all."

While I disagree with much of what Tucker Carlson said, part of the reason his remarks kicked up such a storm in Canada is there is a grain of truth to them. Both Canada and the United States have their flaws, and Tucker Carlson seems to have hit on a few of Canada's, including one I discussed in a post last year. And, after enough rampant American-bashing going on in Canada, a bit of Canadian-bashing should come as no surprise to anyone. Like the a child in the playground, Canada may find it's fun to throw rocks at its friend, but it becomes decidedly less fun when that friend starts throwing rocks back at Canada.

Some of the silliness going on here in Canada can be attributed to the political climate here. For the last couple of years, there has been a minority government in power, where the party in power controls less than half of the seats in Parliament. In practical terms, this means that the Prime Minister is walking around with the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head all the time - any time he slips up, and the opinion poll numbers seem to suggest he might lose the election if it were held then, the opposing parties can gang up on him and force an early election through a vote of non-confidence. The Canadian government has been hobbling along like this for the past couple of years, and just a couple of weeks ago a non-confidence motion was passed that will force a January 2006 election.

Canadians tend to think very similarly to Americans living in the nothern states. Many of the northern states dislike George Bush, and do not have as much support for the war in Iraq as in the South. In Canada, the Iraq war is highly unpopular, and George Bush is even less popular. Thus, a Canadian politician who is seen by voters as too closely aligned to the Bush administration could find themselves losing support at home. And, because of their minority-government situation, Prime Minister Paul Martin, who had come to office promising to patch up relations with the US, had very little latitude to go against public opinion and support certain US-led initiatives that are not popular (the missile shield, etc.). In the last few weeks, things have gotten even worse: with the opposition parties threatening to force an early election in Canada, the United States has seemed to be a convenient scapegoat; and criticizing America for its flaws a convenient distration from Canada's own problems at home. Politicians in Canada seem to think that if they stick it to Uncle Sam on the short-term and win the election, they can patch up the damage later, or if they lose the election, it'll become someone else's problem. A decidedly short-sighted approach.

As a Canadian myself, I've been repeatedly disappointed over the last couple of years at the nonsensical American-bashing that has gone on in Canada. Canada's politicians need to realize that Canada is highly dependent on the United States: Canada may be big in area, but 80% of Canada's population lives within a two hour drive of the US border, and the United States is by far the largest importer of Canadian goods. And, while Canada is also the largest importer of American goods, it is quite obvious that Canada needs the United States far more than the United States needs Canada. As a general rule of thumb, when you are sleeping next to a large bear, it is best not to poke and prod the bear a whole lot, because if the bear wakes up and gets angry, it's gonna hurt!

Some Canadian politicians need to GROW UP and realize that while hurling insults at your closest ally may provide some sort of sadistic fun on the short term, the long term negative effects far outweigh any short term gains.

Update: December 27

Silly season continues: Canada blames US for Gun Violence

"What happened yesterday was appalling. You just don't expect it in a Canadian city," the mayor said.
"It's a sign that the lack of gun laws in the U.S. is allowing guns to flood across the border that are literally being used to kill people in the streets of Toronto," Miller said.
Miller said Toronto, a city of nearly three million, is still very safe compared to most American cities, but the illegal flow of weapons from the United States is causing the noticeable rise in gun violence.
"The U.S. is exporting its problem of violence to the streets of Toronto," he said.
Miller said that while almost every other crime in Toronto is down, the supply of guns has increased and half of them come from the United States.
What an idiot!

When you have a problem, it is always useful to look at what changed. Guns from the United States have always been available to smuggle across the border into Canada. The issue isn't the gun, it's the guy pulling the trigger of it that needs to be addressed. And, in the case of Toronto, there has been an upsurge of gang-related activity in recent years. Fix this, and the gun violence will fix itself.

In several US cities such as New York, despite the fact that guns are still readily available, violent crime has dropped significantly over the past few years and continues to decline. For Toronto's mayor Miller, trying to blame Toronto gun crime on US gun laws is just deflecting the problem. Mr. Miller would be better trying to learn the effective strategies that have been used in places like New York to reduce violent crime.