A new poll suggests when it comes to their country's role in the world, Canadians really are from Venus, not Mars.
A typical Canadian feels that the country's proudest moment was a decision not to go to war in Iraq, that its foreign policy is too heavily influenced by the United States, that we are fighting in Afghanistan mainly at the behest of Washington and that climate change and the rich-poor gap are a bigger threat to world security than terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
The results put Canadian public opinion sharply at odds with the views of the United States, Canada's closest ally and economic partner. They may also be a blow to the more muscular foreign policy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The poll was carried out Dec. 6-9 by the Strategic Counsel for The Globe and Mail and CTV, based on surveys of 1,000 Canadians from across the country. Conducted to mark the 50th anniversary of former prime minister Lester Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize, it suggests that Canadians are as attached as ever to the Pearsonian ideal of solving international problems through peaceful diplomacy, not force or war.
Asked to name the biggest threat to the world today, 36 per cent chose climate change, making it far and away the greatest concern. It was followed by the rich-poor gap (14 per cent).
Terrorism, the fixation of the superpower to the south since Sept. 11, 2001, was deemed the greatest threat by 11 per cent and weapons of mass destruction, another main worry in Washington, by just 4 per cent. In fact, weapons of mass destruction were considered less threatening than the foreign policy of the United States. Nine per cent of Canadians said U.S. foreign policy was the greatest threat to the world.
The Canadian public's alienation from Washington came out when pollsters asked what they thought was the biggest influence on Canadian foreign policy. The largest number, 25 per cent, said it was Canada's relationship with Washington. But when asked what should be the biggest influence, just 5 per cent said the U.S. relationship.
Canadians seem to feel that Ottawa is far too beholden to Washington, something that Mr. Harper's Conservative government will have to remember as it tries to repair relations strained under the previous Liberal government.
In the poll, 39 per cent said that Canadian foreign policy was less independent than it was 50 years ago, in Mr. Pearson's day, while 25 per cent said it was more independent and 27 per cent said it was about the same.
Peter Donolo, a Strategic Counsel partner and onetime spokesman for the government of former prime minister Jean Chrétien, said it would be wrong to say the poll reflected "rabid or virulent anti-Americanism."
"I think it's fairer to say there's a deep suspicion of U.S. foreign policy currently and a sense that Canada is tracking too closely to it."
That was evident when pollsters asked about Afghanistan. Though Canada sent troops there under a NATO command with a United Nations mandate, 37 per cent of Canadians said the country became involved in the struggle "because the United States wants Canada there." By comparison, 27 per cent cited the NATO mission and 26 per cent the UN mandate.
The most striking evidence of Canadians' views on war and peace came when they were asked to name Canada's greatest achievement in foreign policy.
Fully 33 per cent chose Ottawa's decision to say no to joining in the Iraq war. Even Conservative voters (27 per cent) made giving Iraq the thumbs-down their leading "greatest achievement."
The runners-up were two other "soft power" moments: spearheading the drive to ban land mines (15 per cent) and signing the Kyoto accord on global warming (13 per cent). The mission in Afghanistan, by contrast, was chosen by a modest 10 per cent.
That could be bad news to the Conservative government as its faces pressure from opposition parties to cut short or scale back the effort.
On the other hand, it might find encouragement for its tougher line with China. Seven per cent of Canadians said standing up for human rights there was Canada's proudest achievement.
Historian Jack Granatstein called the poll "dispiriting." He said Canadians are wearing blinkers if they think that Canada can make the world a safer place simply by promoting human rights, banning land mines and "being nice to animals."
"They forget that we live in a world of carnivores," said Prof. Granatstein, a professor emeritus at York University.
"Russia is showing its teeth again. China has the potential to be a serious threat. Its very naive to assume that things will always get better if only we talk nice to people."
Canada's foreign policy footprint
In the latest Globe and Mail/CTV-sponsored poll, Canadians weighed in on what they think our foreign policy record is and how they would shape it.
Which foreign policy position is regarded by Canadians as our "greatest achievement"?
Saying "No" to Canada's involvement in the invasion of Iraq: 33%
Spearheading the International Treaty to Ban Landmines: 15%
Signing the Kyoto accord 13%
Our current mission in Afghanistan: 10%
Signing the North American Free Trade deal: 10%
Standing up for human rights in China: 7%
Participating in the 1991 Gulf War: 3%
|What do Canadians think is the major factor influencing Canadian foreign policy today?||What should the major factor be?|
|Canada's relationship with the United States||25%||5%|
|Canada's obligations as a member of the United Nations and NATO||22%||21%|
|Promoting Canada's economic interests internationally||14%||13%|
|Promoting human rights, including democracy, around the world||12%||23%|
|Protecting vulnerable people when their own governments are less able to do so||9%||11%|
|Promoting development and reducing poverty and suffering in the developing world||9%||20%|
Poll conducted between Dec.6 and Dec. 9.
SOURCE: STRATEGIC COUNSEL