OTTAWA U.S. President George W. Bush is the most unpopular American president in recent memory among Canadians, with more than 60 per cent saying they have an unfavorable opinion of him, according to a new poll by Environics Research Group Ltd.
Relations between Mr. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien have been strained over the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, among other issues, but most Canadians blame the American President for the worsening climate, Environics said in a poll released exclusively to The Globe and Mail.
Environics senior associate Derek Leebosh said that, while Canadians maintain a favorable attitude toward the United States, Mr. Bush is deeply unpopular here. That's in contrast to his still high, though declining, approval ratings among Americans.
"George Bush as president will probably be the best thing that ever happened to Canadian nationalism," Mr. Leebosh said. "He totally personifies the essence of the side of the United States that Canadians tend to dislike the anti-intellectual Texan in a Stetson, social conservative."
Environics surveyed 2,018 Canadians between June 12 and July 6. A poll of that size is considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Of those surveyed, 62 per cent said they had an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Bush, including 37 per cent who said it was "very unfavorable" In 1991, about two-thirds of Canadians said they had a favorable opinion of Mr. Bush's father, George Bush, who was U.S. president at the time.
Quebeckers and British Columbians are least supportive of Mr. Bush, while Albertans are most favorable
Mr. Leebosh said Mr. Bush is the most unpopular president in Canada since Environics started asking the question in 1982, when the staunchly conservative Ronald Reagan was in the White House.
Mr. Bush remains popular in the United States, though his support has slipped since the spring. According to a CNN/USA Today poll released yesterday, his support dropped to 61 per cent in June, from 71 per cent when the war in Iraq was getting under way in April.
Despite a rising tide of anti-Americanism around the world, Canadians still remain fond of their southern neighbor, though not unduly so. About 61 per cent said they had a favorable view of the United States, but of that, 42 per cent said they were "somewhat favorable," and only 19 said "very" favorable
Mr. Leebosh said Liberal leadership front-runner Paul Martin who has promised to improve Canadian-U.S. relations will have to avoid becoming too chummy with the President.
"If he did that, he would just be creating a huge opening for the NDP, to be perfectly blunt. Martin should walk carefully there."
And he said the Canadian Alliance which has backed Mr. Bush and criticized Mr. Chrétien's stand is increasingly out of step with its British Columbia constituents.
After Quebeckers, British Columbians who have been hammered by softwood-lumber duties and tend to be staunchly antiwar are most likely to blame Mr. Bush for the worsening relations between Canada and the United States.
However, Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper who was in Washington this week lobbying for the lifting of the border closing to Canadian beef said the federal government can't afford to play to public opinion in its dealing with the Bush administration.
"Canadians' views about George Bush or other American figures, while interesting, I think should be irrelevant to Canadian government policy vis-ŕ- vis the United States. Canadians don't vote in American elections," he said.
"My view is the prime minister of Canada has to have to have a good relationship with the president of the United States regardless of who the president is or what party he represents."
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