Scholar Explores the Continental Divide

Jul 15, 2005

Recently, Stephen Brooks was perusing a newly released popular Canadian political reader and noticed that not one essayist espoused a conservative viewpoint. This did not surprise Brooks, a professor of American politics at the University of Windsor, who is researching ideological differences between Canada and the United States while a public policy scholar at the Wilson Center this summer.

"Conservatism in Canada fights an uphill struggle to gain acceptance and legitimacy," he said. "Even conservative parties in Canada are left of center on the U.S. political spectrum." Canada's politicians tend to be more conservative than the average Canadian, said Brooks, but Canadians generally are not exposed to what in the United States would be considered conservative views.

While the United States boasts many think tanks across the ideological spectrum, Canada has just one major one that deserves to be called conservative, The Fraser Institute, which the media tend to label as "far right" in an attempt to delegitimize it. Brooks said Canada, until recently, also attempted to limit access to conservative television news, such as Fox News, which is considered intemperate and culturally out of sync with Canadian thought.

"There is a sort of soft censorship in Canada by saying ‘it's not Canadian,'" said Brooks. "Canadians are quick to criticize thoughts outside the mainstream."

In addition to political ideology, Canadians differ from Americans on security. To Americans, it's paramount; to Canadians, it's an abstraction and even a nuisance. For example, Brooks said, Canada has cooperated with the United States on border security but also relies on swift passage across the border to facilitate bilateral trade. Delayed border crossings could hinder trade and devastate Canada's economy.

One man who dealt intimately with bilateral security concerns was U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci, who served in that capacity from the spring of 2001 to March 2005. Brooks, who first met Cellucci while visiting the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa on a program he coordinated for university interns, recently assisted Cellucci in writing his Ottawa memoirs, to be published this fall.

"It's an important policy story," said Brooks. "He's a household name in Canada and was often criticized for being so outspoken," which is reflected in the book's title, Unquiet Diplomacy. Cellucci, a fiscal conservative who takes a liberal stance on social issues, had served as governor of Massachusetts from 1997 to 2001 before his appointment as ambassador. Brooks said that as ambassador to Canada in the years immediately following the September 11 attacks, Cellucci handled border and terrorism concerns and other pressing bilateral issues with resolve and zeal.

Despite their different outlooks, Canadians view America and Americans favorably, said Brooks, who also has conducted research on how other Western democracies view the United States. His data reveal a values gap between the United States and other western nations but he said despite the focus today on anti-Americanism, he does not deem the world anti-American.

"Foreign opinion leaders and elites tend to be more anti-American than their general populations," he said. "People may oppose certain politicians and policies, but they are persistent in their admiration of many American values and technology. There is a large reservoir of goodwill toward the United States."

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