dolighan cartoon The title of this essay alone is likely to get me into trouble with both Canadians (“We do not!”) and Americans (“You ingrates still don’t get it.”), but someone ought to talk about this. Let me start by dispensing with two myths: That most Canadians and Americans are really very similar, and that Canada couldn’t exist without American support and forbearance.

I spend half of my work life working with Americans and half with Canadians. While there are dangers in generalizing, recent opinion polls illustrate fundamental differences between American and Canadian worldviews and value. Here are three major differences:

  • Americans are unilateralists, Canadians are multilateralists: The latest Environics poll shows that 70% of Canadians still oppose the attack on Iraq, not because they think Saddam was a great guy, but because they think military action against another country must have international support. Seventy percent of Americans now think the Iraq war was justified. That’s a huge difference of opinion. The very concept of a pre-emptive unilateral attack on another nation is anathema to most Canadians. And having the majority of a country right beside you support a regime that relishes pre-emptive unilateral military adventures is terrifying.
  • Americans have an authoritarian worldview, Canadians have a conciliatory worldview: A survey taken in 2000 revealed that 44% of Americans but only 20% of Canadians believe “the father of the family should be the master of his own house” and that “good parents make and enforce strict rules for their children”. If you buy Lakoff’s nation-as-family metaphor for conservatives (strict father worldview) and liberals (nurturing parent worldview), this means that Americans are evenly split (perhaps badly, even schizophrenically split) between conservative and liberal worldviews, while Canadians, like Europeans, are overwhelmingly liberal. The US is arguably the only developed country in the world where conservative views are sufficiently prevalent today to elect a government. To most Canadians this ideology is so outdated, so nonsensical and doctrinaire , that to see it pursued so aggressively by the most powerful nation the world has ever known is frightening.
  • Americans like hierarchy and structure, Canadians like heterarchy and diversity: Another survey taken in 2000 revealed that 47% of Canadians, but only 19% of Americans, believe organizations work best when there is no single leader in charge. Many Canadians have learned the hard way that you don’t criticize your American boss. The American cult of leadership is hard for Canadians to fathom: Canadians routinely poke fun at their managers and ridicule their Prime Minister. Canadian managers get paid much less than their American counterparts, while new recruits get paid more. Americans’ fanatical patriotism and flag-waving is seen by Canadians as xenophobia and intimidating zealotry rather than as pride and respect for their country and authority.

Put aside for a moment the Bush administration’s bullying and threats of retaliation against Canada for its non-support of the war. Put aside the hypocrisy of Bush’s claim to support free trade while his trade negotiators are reneging on every existing trade agreement that restricts American companies. Put aside Bush’s refusal to sign Kyoto and his attempt to undermine the World Court of Justice. I think most Canadians see these actions as Bush/neocon excess, and not representative of the views of Americans. The only thing frightening about these particular actions is that the US political system allows one small group of mostly (entirely?) unelected people to wield this much power so undemocratically. The only Canadian prime minister that expected that kind of blind trust from the electorate (Brian Mulroney) almost destroyed the country when Canadians refused to be bullied into accepting his reckless plan for constitutional reform. He was ousted in disgrace and his Conservative party has never recovered. Americans seem to like arrogant, swaggering leaders; Canadians loathe them.

Most Canadians also think the ‘average’ American (not to mention the average Republican president) is woefully ignorant of world history, geography, culture, and current events outside the US and Iraq. That may or may not be a fair assessment, but it underlies the Canadian perception that Americans see Canada as somehow utterly dependent on US largesse. By every standard except GDP, Canadian living standards are higher than those in the US. The trade interdependence is two-way: to a significant degree the 1990s US economic boom was sustained by handy access to Canadian labour that is more productive and 30% cheaper than their US counterparts’, and by Canadians’ willingness to sell them raw materials at bargain prices and then buy back the finished goods at a premium. And while Canadians would clearly be unable to defend themselves from an attack by a larger enemy, they also believe that no one else could or should defend Canada either, and that the best defence is hence neutrality, negotiation, consensus-building and a global reputation for peace-keeping and fairness.

Ironically, Canada’s very proximity to the US seems to reinforce these differences and the fear they elicit among Canadians. Those Canadians who are conservative, materialistic, entrepreneurial and religious are far more likely to move to the US, widening the Canada/US worldview gulf further. Twice the proportion of Americans vs. Canadians believe in trying to convert non-Christians, and three times the proportion describe themselves as evangelical Christians or as ‘born-again’. Twice the proportion of Canadians believe the government should guarantee adequate health, education and welfare for all citizens, but Canadians are even more opposed to government restrictions on civil liberties than Americans.

Canadians opened their hearts and wallets to help America after 9/11. They fought side-by-side with Americans in Afghanistan. It was Canadians who liberated the American hostages from Iran. But now 70% of Canadians fear retaliation from the neighbour with whom they are economically joined at the hip. They read that 30% of Americans would like to annex Canada. They hear about US boycotts of Canadian goods, and US demonstrations whose leaders propose to ‘nuke Canada’. And they read that 70% of Americans support an administration that stands against almost everything Canadians stand for. They don’t understand, and they’re afraid.

Postscript: Lovely quote from (Canadian) Robert MacNeil of PBS MacNeil-Lehrer Report fame: Canadians view America with a little kind of ironic distance. It’s part of the Canadian psychological mechanism for asserting its own identity in the face of the overwhelming force of the American economy and popular culture.

This entry was posted in How the World Really Works. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Marie Foster says:

    Dave, as usual you are absolutely correct in your assessment. American public schools are abysmal. Part of this stems from very valid conservative criticism over the breadth of things that liberals have added to the curriculum that must be taught. There is also a covenant that schools in America should be training good citizens as parents can not be trusted to do that. And that covenant means that you do not encourage dissent or the questioning of authority or for goodness sake making up your own mind.I feel like I am stuck in a wasteland in America now. People get their news from CNN or even worse FOX and have lost the ability to see how they are being manipulated.Ivan in the Grand Inquisitor said that you can control a people if you can give them bread. I think that this is what is happening in America. As people see their own liberties threatened as well as their ability to provide for their families they tend to hunker down and draw the covers over their eyes. I see that in my own family who has taken to daily bible readings to try to divine the signs that the

  2. Steve says:

    America’s greatest strength but also greatest weakness: lack of moderation. Unfortunately, the weakness is showing right now.

  3. As an American with strong ties to Canada, I think you are dead on, Dave. Americans tend to think that Canada is sort of a suburb of the US.Canada may look somewhat like the US on the surface thanks to all the American firms doing business there. But if you stay awhile and look beneath the surface, you find that Canada really is a foreign country. Delightfully so. I was privileged to live in Whistler for a couple of years and if things keep going the way they are here in Baja Canada, I hope you hosers will welcome me back. As a political refugee.

  4. Ok, so after reading your assessment, it seems that I’m a natural-born Canadian – by temperment if not latitude and logitude. Can I come home now? :)

  5. Doug Alder says:

    Well said Dave. I’ve covered this topic myself a few times. You might enjoy the recent Citizens Dialogue on Canada’s Future article that I found on the Canadian Policy Research Network (http://www.cprn.org/cprn.html in case your system doesn’t accept html in comments)

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Hey, Steve, sensational blog you have there; especially the photography that has me green with envy. Also like your comment on how much you can tell about people from their taste in music. Thanks for your comment and hope to hear more from you.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Christopher and K: You are welcome here anytime, and I’d love to have you and your families as guests at our home, since I feel I know you both well. Interestingly, Wood’s Lot has put up an ‘Immigrating to Canada’ link, perhaps partly in jest and perhaps partly because not since the Vietnam War era have so many Americans been so disenchanted with their government and the people that support it.

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    “Driveler” Doug: I’d read the CPRN report before and found it interesting but not very actionable. I was very impressed with your blog’s link to ReclaimDemocracy.org, since I’m current working on a paper on how to restore corporations to their original, important but limited, place in our society. Thanks for the link.

  9. The Raven says:

    First off, having lived as an expat for nearly half my life, I’ve spent a lot of time with Canadians. I’ve listened to you clowns trash the States over a beer or ten, endured your self-righteous prattling about our crime, gun culture, healthcare system, racism, sexism, cruelty to animals, sulfuric acid emissions, inept leadership, and, inevitably, the poor quality of our beer. The average American, on the other hand, thinks about Canada once or twice over the course of a lifetime, and generally in unfavorable terms.

  10. PI says:

    Dave, once again you make me think twice before deciding to move across town rather than north of the border. But several things stop me:1) The problem you mentioned in reverse of bad Canadians moving to the US. I figure if everyone like me moved to Canada, we’d leave just the bad Americans in charge of the nukes!2) I am at heart, American. I was born on the 4th of July, and had an American Flag cake every birthday as a child. I love John Phillip Souza marches. I was a fanatic for the comic book “American Flagg!” I love baseball. I consider my American heritage to be the legacy of Emerson, Thoreau, MLK, FDR, JFK, RFK. And the constitution, for all its problems (and they are legion) is like a religion for we Americans. It’s hard to pull myself away from it. 3) My family is here. (Though granted, my brother has moved to Minneapolis, and my Mother-in-law will be retiring to Maine, so I guess that wouldn’t be too far!) I guess that my heart’s still in it. The question becomes whether or not that will change one day. My real fear is that one day not too long from now America will become an undead version of itself. Like the vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it would still have the same memories, the same appearance, the same speech patterns, but its soul would be irredemably lost. It would prey on the weak and be entertained by death and pain. Unfortunately in the real world, there is no moment when we would see our country rise from the grave to let us know that we were past the point of no return. We may be very close today. We may have already passed it. But I’m not going to give up yet. I’ve got to fight for the country I love, and wrest it back from those who would suck it dry. But I am bookmarking that Canada immigration link, just in case.

  11. cs says:

    Another wonderful post, though about that “woefully ignorant about geography” thing, here’s one funny, half-contradictory anecdote. During my high school years in Indiana I had a Canadian friend whose family had come to town to spend his father’s sebatical year at the university. At the end of the year they returned to Toronto and my family moved from Indiana to Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie. We wrote back and forth a number of times about swimming out to meet in the middle of the lake before we realized we didn’t share a lake in common. I’m sure I knew more about the geography of Southeast Asia than my own continent back then . . .I hope you’re right about intrenched liberalism up there and in Europe. Personally, I’m concerned about developments in England’s Conservative Party, where the Young Britons’ Foundation has been trying to move in on the Tories’ established youth wing. BYF is an outgrowth of the Young Americans Foundation and both are supported by various right-wing enterprises. Both are also actively involved building blacklists of college professors accused of liberal bias by their students,training the next generation of center-right activists through conferences, camps, internships, etc. Really disturbing stuff. Here are the links:YAF: http://www.yaf.org/BAF: http://www.ybf.org.uk/The YBF site still hasn’t gotten its links right; you get a page with all the code exposed and have to pick out the content, but it’s worth reading all the same)I hope Canadians stay alert to this sort of stuff. If there’s one thing fascists know, it’s how to organize.YAF

  12. Brian Long says:

    Dave that was a wonderful BLOG! I am just like PI except I wasnt born on the 4th of July I am so fearfulmy great nation has lost its way(how honorable we used to be *weeps*)we are now aggressors because our corporations rule Washington.Most Americans are ready to hand over complete control to the government for security. Little do they know we created this mess and our actions after 911 should have been to see how the other side is suffering because of our corporate empire.Kriselda, you already said what I feel. Maybe I too am more Canadian than American. I want to go home.

  13. Julie says:

    as a Canadian living in the US , I have to say that you are absolutely right.I like both sides of the border but prefer to live on the North side bcause it is more my way of life.

Comments are closed.