by David Beers
mortifying for Canada's elite when their Prime Minister's public
relations aide called President Bush a moron. Mortifying because Canada
had suddenly slipped its mask of the polite and grateful neighbor.
Now the mask is feverishly being put back.
The latest sign: A draft report from parliament, rushed forth Monday, fretting over Canada's "diminished" diplomatic status with the United States, and urging more weapons spending and tighter borders if that's what it takes to please its biggest trade partner.
This after the flak resigned over the moron remark. And after, perhaps most tellingly, Canada's biggest newspaper chain, Canwest, ran unprecedented front-page editorials in its 14 major dailies. The editorial calls the moron remark "a crude and inappropriate insult," blames it on an "intellectual climate [of] smug anti-Americanism" and instructs readers "to reflect on how much Canada depends on its neighbor, and how much they risk with their harping."
The wind-up is a stunning about-face for a media conglomerate famously supportive of the party in power: "Canadians' best interests lie in strong relations with the U.S. and ... if government's attitude toward the U.S. becomes destructive of those ends, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish the government."
In other words: our politicians had better butter up Bush, or be un-elected.
Most Canadians reading that will merely shrug and return to feeling ever more subservient to -- and resentful toward -- the American mega-power next door.
But the public scold of those editorials, as well as the offending flak's departure and other make-nice noises from Ottawa will have served their purpose in Washington. Those who run Canada know well the usefulness of pretending a gracious smile.
It's simple. To shrewdly negotiate from a position of weakness, one must wear a pleasant face.
Negotiating from weakness is a fact of life for Canada when it sits down at the table with the United States, whether to discuss the price of lumber, grain or offing Saddam Hussein. In fact, that's what U.S. relations really mean to most Canadians -- one endless, lopsided negotiation.
But like some jujitsu master who knows how to feint and dodge to use his opponent's superior muscle against him, Canada is an expert at appeasing the Yanks while solving its own domestic political equation.
And so, for example, you have Canada shrewdly claiming the role of the world's peacekeeper, when in fact Bangladesh, Fiji and 31 other countries provide more United Nations peacekeeping troops around the world. The peacekeeper ideal plays well at home, distracting Canadians from seeing that their economic fate is, in fact, intertwined with the same oil fields and global markets policed by American military power. That fact is hardly lost on Canada's leaders, of course, so whenever they are asked to supply a fig leaf of international support for the latest American military adventure, a token battleship flying the maple leaf quickly sets sail.
If this way of playing the game frees up billions of dollars in Canada for, say, a world-class, universal health care system rather than an imperial fighting force, Canadians figure they've got the best of that bargain.
Or take immigration policy. Washington wants tighter borders all around fortress North America. But Canada's leaders are convinced that their nation -- vast and lightly settled by a population not reproducing its own numbers -- needs a good deal more immigrants just to keep pace economically. Already, Canada accepts nearly twice as many immigrants per capita as does the United States, and the minister in charge wants more let in, until Canada, a nation of 31 million, accepts over 300,000 immigrants a year.
Do this "one percent solution" math in the United States, and you'd see the current annual 850,000 documented immigrants jump to nearly 3 million.
The same Canadian immigration minister has proposed requiring those newcomers to settle in non-urban hinterlands -- a century-old Canadian practice that started when railroad investors lured Europeans to the country's frozen prairies. Nowadays, it's medical technicians and engineers and investors of any stripe that Canada culls from eager applicants. By policy, the poor and unskilled wait at the back of the line.
So, when Washington demands a deeper suspicion toward immigrants, look to see Canada politely listening. And then shrewdly proceeding to accept the skilled prospects its neighbor has turned away.
Likewise, in doing its bit for the U.S. war on terror, expect Canada to add a few more fig leaves to its military -- nothing very expensive.
The mask may have slipped a bit. Unfortunately, yes, most Canadians perceive Dubya Bush to be, if not a moron, the epitome of America as arrogant bully. But Canadians also know Americans prefer to see a smiling partner when they look north. So the mask goes back on, with fingers still firmly crossed behind the back.
December 13 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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