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To give Jean Chretien his due, he has not often been catalogued as anti-American, unlike some Liberals of note such as Lloyd Axworthy or the late Walter Gordon and Pierre Trudeau.

On the other hand, even in the Clinton years, the PM was not often defined as markedly pro-American, say as Brian Mulroney, Stockwell Day, or even the late Rene Levesque have been. He did make plain in his winning electoral bid in 1993 there would be nothing intimate and either obsequious or sycophantic in his necessary relations with the incumbent in the White House. By and large, he never vibrated in exhibitionistic harmony with Bill Clinton as Brian Mulroney had with Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr.

At this time, as for many decades, we have not had any associations clamouring for Canada to join the U.S. Rather, what we have had – it seems to me ever since the mid-1960s and the Canada-U.S. Auto Pact – is a continuing, keen interest among a substantial minority of Canadians, always tinged with concerns about the strength of the American economy and any threats within it to our export sales. A dozen years ago, NAFTA deepened the interest and made worries over it even keener – e.g., softwood lumber tariffs – particularly among the companies and their employees engaged in making and selling such products, largely in the U.S.

Of course, the penetration of corporate American ownership of so much of our industry and commerce, and the multitudinous American elements, from ideas to performers to owners, which have become so large in our entertainment, reading, tourism, recreation, and sport have long been a challenge to our politics. One sees in the CBC, the CRTC, the National Film Board, the Canada Council, etc. governmental checkmates to such overwhelming pressure from Americans.

Is too much being made, within Canada, of Chretien’s recent, homespun remarks that the terrorism threatening the West and originating in Third World countries comes from the contrast between our high living standards and their low ones? Yes! This seems quite a reasonable statement. Its use by the PM fits in as a sound reason for widespread backing beyond charity and humanity for the much needed international program to bring western billions into Africa, a program he pushed hard in his year for chairing the big Earth Summit (and which he continued to plug at the UN on Monday).

Most of us in political journalism are given to defining where someone becoming prominent in federal politics stands on emotional issues like high unemployment, capital punishment, protecting the environment, private health care, the scale and funding for social welfare, government support for the arts, and getting along well with the U.S. while retaining our independence.

Anyone with much inkling of our history knows the issues wrapped up within “Canada-U.S. relations” were a prime reason our Confederation was in 1867, and have been a factor in almost all parliamentary mandates since Canada ceased being a British colony in the 1920s.
Most of us, I believe, have thought about where we as individuals stand toward the United States. In doing so, a lot of us reach the conclusion it isn’t easy, and it hasn’t really been made any easier since World War II and development of such as NATO, NORAD, the Auto Pact, NAFTA – and now the consequences from 9/11 along our joint border.

Oh, it’s easy enough to say (as I do) that one is more “pro” than “con” about America, or that one generally likes America and what it signifies. Nonetheless, I (and a lot of others) do not want to be an American citizen. Being Canadian is too worthwhile – and in so many ways.

So too is retention of as many as possible of our own political and cultural options. I do not want them decided in U.S. politics or engineered by agencies here which are controlled or heavily influenced by Americans. And I feel just as strongly about surrendering the sovereign right of Canadians to make their own decisions about joining or remaining in internationally sanctioned programs (like Kyoto). I think Jean Chretien feels the same way.

I abandoned what anti-American antagonism the largely British history taught in Ontario schools had given me after a few weeks along the lower Rhine with a Yank infantry division during WW II – a hardly typical but not uncommon experience. These were real comrades.

My sense is that Chretien never has had a smidgen of the indoctrination I got in school of anti-American attitudes, nor has he had much to do for long with Americans, but he did acquire something hardly typical of a French-speaking Quebecer: the view that he belonged with all of Canada, and all of it belonged to him, and his kin. He could not turn away and give it up, as so many Quebecers did, and continue to do.

I have always wanted to honour Jean Chretien for this, ever since he first proclaimed his absolute federalism in 1966 when he was parliamentary secretary to minister Mitchell Sharp. He did it by insisting in a speech in Quebec that Quebecers had too much common sense to give up on Canada.

He now may be in a long retreat, even deserving of the replacement ahead, but it should not be for anti-Americanism. That is only there in what he’s recently said if you twist and twist it.