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U.S. Influence Feared : Canadians: New Pride in Own Identity

January 22, 1986|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO — Maclean's, the Canadian weekly news magazine, once ran a contest asking readers to complete the phrase "as Canadian as. . . . " The winner: "as Canadian as possible."

That such a slogan should win demonstrates the ambivalence many Canadians feel about being Canadian, the self-doubt that many say stems directly from Canadians' inability to define their identity, to distinguish themselves from Americans.

It also reflects insecurity, arising out of conflicting emotions that swing from admiration and envy of American accomplishments to fear of being absorbed by Canada's southern neighbor, with Canada's social, political and cultural identity destroyed in the maw of American aggressiveness.

Resentment Growing

So while Canadians may look like Americans, sound like Americans and even act like Americans (baseball is a favorite Canadian sport; the Bill Cosby show is Canada's No. 1 TV program), many Canadians resent any assumption by Americans that the two societies are identical.

"We are different and we want to remain different," former Minister of External Affairs Mitchell Sharp said once in a seminar on the future of Canadian-American relations.

Increasingly, this desire to maintain the difference is leading to criticism and even scorn of the United States. Canadians who used to defend the United States now favor a sharper distinction, a Canada separate from the U.S. economy and separate from U.S. foreign policy.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, an avowed fan of the United States, is pressing for further integration of the two nations' economies. He emphasizes that Canada is America's best friend. But other political and social leaders who in the past rarely questioned the close relationship have had a change of heart. They now contend that Canada has been pulled too tightly into the U.S. orbit.

Role as U.S. Pawn Feared

Thus, a Mulroney proposal for a free-trade arrangement that has clear economic benefits for Canada is in danger of defeat because of growing popular concern that such an arrangement would make Canada virtually an American pawn, with no economic, political or cultural identity of its own.

There also is growing unease here over the U.S. role in Central America. Even the Mulroney government refuses to endorse President Reagan's policy toward Nicaragua.

Canada also has shied away from following too closely the American lead in South Africa, and has even been ambivalent on the question of arms control. It has refused to take part in Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative--the "Star Wars" space-based missile defense program--and expressed concern about Washington's apparent willingness to violate the 1972 treaty limiting anti-ballistic missile defense systems.

But what may be the most troublesome aspect of Canada's unease is a reluctance by the Canadian population, if not the government, to accept a renewal this year of the agreement establishing NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, which helps to protect the continent against Soviet air attack.

"We should junk the system altogether," Stephen Clarkson, a University of Toronto political scientist, said not long ago, "and come up with something that we control all on our own."

There are no signs of that happening, but both opposition parties in Parliament, including the Liberals who negotiated the last NORAD agreement, want serious changes, along with guarantees that NORAD does not become part of Reagan's SDI.

Beyond economics and politics is an increasingly strident call to exclude as much American culture as possible by requiring more Canadian content in television and radio programming, by restricting American ownership of movie theaters and publishing houses, by censoring American books and magazines that are regarded as pornographic or anti-feminist.

Anti-Americanism Evident

Some Canadians say this is not so much anti-Americanism as an effort to promote Canadian cultural and political independence. But David Kilgor, a member of Parliament from Winnipeg, says it is "pretty hard to argue that much of the nationalism here does not have a strong anti-American element."

Anti-Americanism is not always readily evident. Many Canadians, particularly on the right, say that what there is of it is not important. Mulroney speaks of the two nations as best friends and full partners, and many business organizations and conservative economists press for even closer friendship. Even the staunchest ultranationalists have been heard to praise the United States.

Mel Hurtig, an Edmonton, Alberta, publisher and one of the country's most strident nationalists, has said, "We're lucky to have the United States on our border."

Another nationalist, Sheila Copps, a Liberal Party member of Parliament whose opinions on U.S. policy are usually expressed in a shrill shout, recently began a speech by saying, "Nobody is a better friend of the United States than I am." She then proceeded to denounce the United States.

Negative View of U.S.

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