Newswise — The anti-American rhetoric that has defined much of the debate as Canada prepares to elect a new government may have been a surprise to Americans, but an expert at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, says that in Canada, anti-Americanism is "just good politics."
Professor of Canadian Studies and Molson Research Fellow Robert W. Thacker says that anti-American sentiment runs deep north of the border, especially among English-speakers.M make no mistake about it," says Thacker, "many Canadians love to hate us."
The feelings are rooted in history, according to Thacker. "We're their only neighbor, they're stuck with us, and they know it," he says. "Our relative positions in the world are imbalanced, but because we share most of the North American continent and many cultural traits, Canadians and Americans are more alike than different. This relationship makes the differences more important, especially in Canada."
Thacker adds that, in many ways, the dominance of the U.S. makes for "an easy target. Even easier since George W. Bush came to office. One Canadian analyst recent asserted that Bush is the least popular president there since James Madison, and Madison was president during the War of 1812 when we invaded Canada and burned Toronto."
The coming (January 23) election campaign has heated up the debate. After Prime Minister Paul Martin publicly criticized the U.S. on several issues, Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins gave a speech suggesting that the prime minister should stop criticizing the U.S. "It caused a considerable dust-up in Canada," Thacker says, "with cries of outrage and callers to a nationwide program from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation dissecting the performance of successive U.S. ambassadors to Canada." Further, he says, "The widespread Canadian view that Wilkins had no business saying anything on the subject of U.S.-Canada relations during their election is indicative of the pervasiveness of anti-Americanism within the relationship."
This deeply ingrained feeling is partially due to the fact that, according to Thacker, "most Americans don't know much about Canada, and don't bother even to see it as a foreign country." He adds that things are likely to stay that way. "Anti-Americanism just seems to most Canadians to be a rational position, something hardly worth talking about," Thacker says. "Margaret Atwood has called the border between Canada and the U.S. a one-way mirror, which it is. So long as it is, so long as most Americans don't even stop to think about thinking about Canada, bashing the U.S. will remain good politics there."
Thacker is the author of "Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives," the first biography with which Munro has cooperated. He is an expert on Canadian culture, especially literature, and has written extensively on the work of Munro, Willa Cather, and the North American literary west. He received the 2003 Edith and Delbert Wylder Award from the Western Literature Association and is a former editor of The American Review of Canadian Studies.