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Canada-U.S. poll points to widening gap in attitudes on human rights, security

A woman holds U.S. and Canadian flags in Ottawa.


Canadians and Americans may still share a continent, but they are steadily drifting further apart, according to the latest annual Nanos-UB survey of attitudes on both sides of the border.

And Canadians are now as unimpressed with President Barack Obama's performance as they were with that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The recent survey indicates Canadians have sharply downgraded their view of the United States on human rights to levels not seen since Mr. Bush was in office.

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"On human rights, there's a sharp falloff," said Nik Nanos, president of Ottawa-based Nanos Research, which has conducted the survey with the State University of New York at Buffalo for the past nine years.

In an interview, Mr. Nanos said he believed the drop reflected a range of policies, from Mr. Obama's preference for missile-firing drones to kill suspects overseas to U.S. spy agencies trolling of data from individuals' e-mails and telephone calls and threats to attack Syria over its use of chemical weapons.

"We see an accumulation effect … on a number of fronts, including security surveillance and drones, but Syria is the signature event. … It's an issue that Barack Obama has 100 per cent ownership of," Mr. Nanos said before publicly releasing the survey's findings.

Canadians' ratings of U.S. performance on human rights went up when Mr. Obama was elected, and stayed much higher than the levels recorded for Mr. Bush until recently, but have declined dramatically. "This is a trigger point that has moved public opinion as to how Canadian views the United States," Mr. Nanos said.

Barely a quarter of Canadians surveyed picked the United States as the nation closest to their own sense of human rights. For the first time since 2008, the United States fell behind Britain on that measure.

Most of the drift seemed to be on the Canadian side, as many Americans still ranked Canada as the nation closest to their views.

The Nanos-UB survey tracks opinions on everything from an integrated energy policy to family values and the degrees of scrutiny visitors and goods should undergo at the border.

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"Across all the indicators, there is an increasing sense of drift in the Canada-U.S. relationship," Mr. Nanos said. "It could be a result of a combination of factors including miscommunication and neglect on both sides of the border."

Unless remedial steps are taken, the relationship will continue to deteriorate, Mr. Nanos said. "If we see the drift continue, then Canada-U.S relations will become just a series of irritants between neighbours that should have very good relations," he added.

While Americans and Canadians still chose the other as the nation most closely aligned on some issues – such as family values – the percentages have declined in recent years. Over all, the nine-year trend suggests a drifting apart on national security, anti-terrorism and border security.

On energy policy, and despite the debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to funnel Alberta oil sands crude to refineries on the Gulf coast, support remains strong on both sides for greater integration.

"Almost six out of seven Americans and eight out of 10 Canadians see developing an integrated energy policy as very or somewhat important," Nanos Research said in its summary of the survey.

Questions were put to 1,000 Canadians between Aug. 18 and 22, the period in which the Assad regime was accused of using poison gas against civilians. The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. A parallel poll of 1,000 Americans was also conducted, and respondents were asked about the other country and major trading partners, including Britain, Japan, France, China, Germany and Mexico.

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