‘Ottawa’ Philip Cross: Trump is Reviving the Worst of Canada’s left-wing anti-American Tendencies
The brief so-called “bromance” between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama could be a high-water mark in relations between Canada and the United States. The possible election of Donald Trump is reviving the nascent anti-Americanism of our political left wing, which projects onto Trump all its perceived failings of American society. Trump himself is likely to take a dim view of Canada’s weak defence spending, while threatening to re-open our trade agreements.
The history of anti-Americanism in Canada is an interesting study of swings in the positions of left- and right-wing parties. The Tories were the bastion of anti-Americanism in the first half of the 20th century, regarding the U.S. as a threat to the British and imperial ties they favoured. However, as our trade and investment flows shifted to the U.S. after the Second World War, conservatives became more favourable to closer ties with the U.S., culminating in the Progressive Conservatives’ adoption of the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. in 1988. The last vestige of old-style Tory anti-Americanism perished with David Orchard’s unsuccessful candidacy for the PC leadership in 2003 and the subsequent merger with the Canadian Alliance under Stephen Harper (Orchard then joined the Liberal party).
Meanwhile, the left in Canada, which once advocated free trade with the U.S. under Liberal prime minister Wilfred Laurier, increasingly became the source of anti-U.S. sentiment. In the 1950s this was fuelled by the economic nationalism of the Gordon Royal Commission and the cultural nationalism of the Massey Royal Commission in reaction to our deepening ties with the U.S. This mood exploded in the 1960s with the inflow of an estimated 100,000 draft dodgers and deserters from the U.S., many of whom quickly became active in academia and the media. Dinesh D’Souza in his biography of Ronald Reagan, describes these youths as “self-centred and narcissistic … (they) didn’t want the Vietnam war to interrupt their lifestyles of sex, drugs, and rock and roll and so they ducked the draft or ran away to Canada.” Think D’Souza is exaggerating? A few years ago, one senior manager at Statistics Canada, was fawningly profiled in The New York Times as a onetime “peacenik” who did “a lot of acid” before fleeing north from the draft. Not exactly the image everyone’s favourite statistical agency tries to project of itself.
The inflow of draft dodgers and deserters helped fuse anti-Americanism with the trendy socialism of the left. To justify their decision to leave the U.S., they found fault with everything in American society irrespective of the evidence, especially capitalism since the U.S. is its symbolic standard bearer. And they are living proof that liberal parents often produce radical children: Canada’s professional anti-capitalist protestor Naomi Klein, and former radical NDP MP Svend Robinson are both the offspring of draft dodgers (Robinson memorably organized the heckling of then president Ronald Reagan when he addressed the House of Commons in 1987; imagine the furor if Conservatives had heckled President Obama this past June).
Canada’s left shows remarkable ingratitude to the U.S., content to play the role of ‘useful idiots’
Being neighbours to the U.S. provides enormous benefits to Canada. Our exports have ready access to an economy whose vibrancy is still strikingly superior to the sclerotic eurozone, while our businesses can tap investors in the deepest capital markets in the world. Free trade with the U.S. proved to be a boon to our economy, without the cuts to social programs, mass diversion of water exports and the ultimate assimilation that its shrill opponents imagined. Secure in our invulnerability to foreign attack under the protection of our big brother to the south, we have skimped on defence expenditures for decades, allowing Canada to indulge in more spending on social programs.
In return, Canada’s left shows remarkable ingratitude to the U.S., content instead to play the role of “useful idiots,” as Lenin described the Communist sympathizers among the western intelligentsia. While Reagan was launching the successful and eminently justifiable Western opposition to the Soviet Union, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau wasted his energies on a flaky push for world peace that presumed moral equivalence between the West and a Soviet regime that brutally subjugated Eastern Europe and abetted Third World revolutions that delayed human development and democracy. This is why D’Souza’s biography of Reagan and Charles Moore’s of Margaret Thatcher, two titans of the modern world, conspicuously relegate Trudeau to footnotes. On the world stage, he was inconsequential.
Canada is uniquely placed to help explain the U.S. to the world and even to Americans (judging by the success of our actors, singers and writers in the U.S.) and testify to the benefits of integration with U.S. markets, ideas and innovations. Instead we too often return to the reflexive, unthinking anti-Americanism that is one legacy of allowing droves of draft dodgers to enter our country. The aforementioned New York Times article claimed draft dodgers were an unalloyed benefit to Canada. It is hard to understand how the arrival of a group unified by a hatred of the U.S. and defence spending, a disdain for free markets, and an inability to differentiate between good and evil did anything but distort and lower public discourse in Canada.
Philip Cross is the former chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada