Monday, June 23, 2008

The upside of our anti-U.S. tic

In Canada, a sure-fire way to squelch debate on an issue is to accuse one's opponent of advocating for an "American-style" solution. From health care to handguns, the spectre of American encroachment upon cherished Canadian values is used to drown reason and stifle dissent

Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the Dominion Institute, opined in the Post's pages last week ("Prying apart Canada's civic compact," June 19) that English Canada is facing a "significant loss" by way of the "current mania in Ottawa for fixed election dates, MPs quizzing Supreme Court appointees and an elected Senate [that] foreshadow … the Americanization of the civic culture."

Folks in policy circles know Griffiths to be a perspicacious and accomplished fellow. What, then, would be his objection to removing an overwhelming electoral advantage from a sitting majority government, allowing some transparency in appointments to the top judicial body in the country and permitting the public some say as to who sits in Canada's Upper Chamber? Is it simply that these practices resemble those of the United States? Griffiths makes a worthy appeal to Canadian national projects and institutions, but offers no further criticism of these potential reforms. Apparently, being similar to America is indictment enough.

As the Post has often repeated, a chilling instance of this xenophobic tic came in the words of Canadian Human Rights Commission "anti-hate" enforcer Dean Steacy who famously remarked, "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value." Never mind that the Canadian Charter of Rights guarantees "freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media," which can reasonably be considered synonymous with freedom of speech. The fact that Steacy and others like him would rather jettison the most cherished of human liberties than countenance any similarity to our closest friend and ally crystallizes the problem of Canada's anti-American reflex.

The upside of this Ameriphobic phenomenon is that if, as many expect, Barack Obama becomes president and leads the United States further to the left, it will open the door to some overdue changes in Canadian public life. To wit, if the Americans are doing it, it must be wrong.

For example, if Obama were to institute a government-funded, single-payer health care regime, Canadians may finally decide that their own socialized medical system requires reform. This would not be to address the problems of long wait times and lack of services, of course, but to ward off accusations of an "American-style" approach.

As to the Supreme Court, if Obama were to nominate left-leaning, activist justices, Canadians may reconsider their own recent history of judicial rule and decide that matters of national significance should be decided on election day, not in judges' chambers.

If Obama and his Democratic comrades in Congress were to resurrect some version of the so-called Fairness Doctrine -- an extinct Federal Communications Commission edict that for 40 years suppressed conservative free speech on America's airwaves --Canadians may look afresh at their own precincts of thought police and human rights tribunals and decide to defend to the death their countrymen's right to speak. They would not be martyred for the sake of free expression, obviously, but because they'd rather die than see Canadian society look anything like the show those cowboys south of the border are running.

Or if, as promised, Obama were to negotiate unconditionally with whichever Castro brother is still kicking and brutalizing the people of Cuba, Canadians may finally decide to shun that cruel dictatorship -- if only to show independence from American foreign policy.

Our antipathy to American conventions is generations old and spans the entire ideological spectrum. But with the proper outlook, it needn't be all bad.