Our Southern Neighbors; A Canadian Perspective

The United States is losing its closest and best ally. While hostility to the U.S. is rampant throughout the world, this largely related to the Iraq war, surprisingly the reaction of most Canadians, next-door neighbors, is hardly less critical.

Canadians view the current U.S. debacle with both sadness and in some instances, outrage. Once widely admired in this big country, the U.S. is now seen as a leading threat to world peace.

In a recent Time magazine poll asking whether the U.S. was either a "good," or "bad" force, 26 of the 28 countries polled responded negatively. Canada was among them with more than 70 percent of Canadians questioned saying they thought their American neighbors acted illegally and immorally in its invasion of Iraq..

Much of the Canadian resentment is directed at President Bush and his circle of advisers. Canadians share the opinion of many Americans that the invasion was initiated on false premises. Canadians also feel The U.S. pays little attention to Canada and that the U.S. expects its support for American actions to be forthcoming without debate.

It is little known in the U.S. that Canada was one of the first NATO allies to respond to the U.S.-led incursion into Afghanistan and is one of a handful of allies who have played a major role in the containment of the Taliban. 57 Canadians have been killed in the conflict and the Canadian forces operate out of Khandahar, one of the most dangerous areas in that country. Canada's participation followed a UN Security vote which authorized the Afghanistan exercise.

Another, and this an early complaint against Bush, was that the President shortly after 9/11 paid tribute to countries who offered support and sympathy. More than a dozen countries came in for tribute. There was no mention of Canada, and yet Canada to its own peril accepted the arrival of hundreds of overseas air flights as U.S. airports were closed . Towns and cities such as Gander, Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Moncton, New Brunswick housed and fed thousands over a period of four or five days. Further shocked by the tragedy and in sympathy with its neighbors, religious services were carried out in hundreds of Canadian towns and cities. More than 100,000 are estimated to have attended the tribute on Parliament Hill in the capital city of Ottawa.

Yet there was no acknowledgement of Canada's role.

There was some amends two years ago when President Bush flew to Halifax from Ottawa and offered his country's thanks for the role Haligonians and others played in accommodating thousands of airline passengers, mostly Americans, following 9/11. But for many people the tribute came to late, and doubtlessly was inspired by the Ottawa U.S. embassy which had been deluged with complaints.

The invasion of Iraq, and the massive destruction and loss of life that followed, also added to the disenchantment of Canadians. Its then Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, opposed Canada's participation in the Iraq invasion and this won the widespread support of Canadians. Chretien, in a meeting with President Bush, and this just prior to the U.S.-led invasion , urged that the UN inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction be given six more months in their quest. His request was denied as subsequent events proved.

The Chretien decision to not send troops to Iraq was not unanimously accepted by Canadians at the outset. Many felt that Canada, as a neighbor, particularly given the tragedy of 9/11, should follow the U.S. into the conflict. Further there were those, largely in the business community, who pointed out that the U.S. was the biggest purchaser of Canadian products. A retaliation was feared. But supporters of Chretien's decision, a courageous one in that both American and Canadian interests urged a march to war, pointed out that Canada on the other hand was the biggest purchaser of U.S. made goods in the world and the U.S. purchases were for such essentials to their economy as oil, natural gas, water, lead, zinc, copper, nickel, wood products and other related ingredients. Canada's purchase were largely for domestic products.

Little known to Americans is that Canada, not Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of oil to the United States. Further, Canada is the largest source of fresh water in the world which makes it vital to the North American water supply.

There are Canadians, listening to the talk of a fence across the Mexican border, who feel that maybe there should be a fence crossing Canada's 4000 mile border. Perhaps this would keep certain American elements out - especially their guns.

Arnie Patterson is a veteran Canadian journalist and broadcaster. A former Principal Press Secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Patterson is a columnist for the Halifax Daily News and a retired radio stations owner.

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