Canada seen as progressive safe haven among Americans upset by Bush election

12:18 AM EST Dec 17 2004

BETH GORHAM

WASHINGTON (CP) - Forget polite, a tad dull and just a bit repressed. Lose that inferiority complex, eh?

It's an irreverent, feisty, progressive northern neighbour Americans are seeing these days, not to mention a safe liberal haven for those devastated by the re-election of President George W. Bush. In the envious eyes of despondent Democrats, at least, it's actually become Cool to be Canadian.

Even before the Nov. 2 vote, there were no end of web sites available to educate would-be Canucks in the United States about how the visa process works.

And weeks later, pundits are still calling for a marriage of Canada and the so-called Democratic blue states that voted against Bush.

Commentators and web bloggers are emphasizing how different Canada is from the more conservative, rural Republican red states.

The colours have been used consistently by U.S. media organizations since the 2000 election, and the political map didn't change much this time. Bush cut a swath of red in the south and across the plains, while Democratic challenger John Kerry dominated in New England, the states around the Great Lakes and the west coast.

A cultural divide between Canada and the reds exists but it is often exaggerated, say some analysts who see it as part of the historical ebb and flow of similarities and differences between the two countries.

"There are too many things tying us together - we'll never get that far apart," says sociologist Edward Grabb at the University of Western Ontario.

"But we are different from the red states. That has legs," says Grabb, who has co-written a recent book on regional societies in North America.

It's not uncommon to hear people in the United States talking about Canada's education system, lower crime rate, universal health care, tough gun-control laws, social tolerance, softer marijuana laws and same-sex marriages.

"You guys have it all now," says Los Angeles comedian Tim Bedore, whose recent public radio satire envisioned uniting the more liberal blue states with Canada in a merged New America.

"Canada has more guns per person than America and far less violent crime with guns," Bedore says. "The experiment with democracy is working better up there."

"We're a non-thinking nation now. The media doesn't make you think; they react. And there's only one Bill Clinton in a generation who can persuade people to do the right thing in spite of themselves."

Bedore's new country would have lots of religion, just not in public schools, and would finance lots of sex education classes. It would also refrain from attacking countries that didn't attack first.

"I haven't checked on this plan with Canada," he said in a tongue-in-cheek commentary that ran across the country. "But nobody who's in the Monkees says No to joining the Beatles, so Canada's in."

Bedore maintains he's serious about a new partnership, and his view is probably shared by more than a few in California, which leaned heavily toward the Democratic ticket.

"I think we're enough like brothers that it would work. We're more like you than we're like, say, Georgia," he says. "Half of Hollywood is up in Vancouver shooting (movies) anyway."

It will take months to determine whether some of the disenchanted Americans who flooded the Immigration Canada web site right after the election actually take the plunge and move north.

Meantime, some are still seeking therapy.

Rob Gordon offers free counselling through his charitable group in Boca Raton, Fla., for what he calls post-election stress disorder. His three support groups are attended by 57 people in wealthy Palm Beach County, already stung by the chaotic 2000 election that resulted in a state recount Bush won by just 537 votes.

"There's a lot of apprehension about what (Bush) is doing," he says. "People still tell me they can't eat, they can't sleep and they're having nightmares."

His clients, says Gordon, are mostly older people who reside in the area for the weather, so few would move to escape four more years of Bush.

But world travellers are scooping up "Go Canadian" packages so they can lose their American identity on holidays in Europe with Maple Leaf T-shirt, lapel pin and luggage patch sold on the web by a novelty clothing company based in Mountainair, New Mexico.

"You'd be surprised how many of these packs are being sold in Palm Beach County," says Gordon. "People here have money and they travel. But there's a label that people put on Americans and they can't believe how they're treated abroad."

"Canadians are respected around the world."

Bush's recent visit to Canada prompted American television networks to show a lot of footage of anti-war demonstrators and others scuffling with riot police in Ottawa. And it was an opportunity for U.S. media organizations to rattle off the anti-American stunts pulled by Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish and others.

But old stereotypes die hard.

On a CNN program, for example, conservative pundit Tucker Carlson baited Parrish with remarks about Canadians being nice, polite dogsledders who need the U.S. a lot more than it needs Canada.

And while some vital Canadian issues like the U.S. ban on Canadian cattle and the softwood lumber dispute got some media attention during Bush's visit, they quickly vanished from view upon the president's return.

Canada routinely gets caught in the crossfire on heated social issues like same-sex marriage, which is blasted by conservatives and praised by liberals. But Charles Doran, a political expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, doesn't see a dramatic difference in how Americans are viewing Canada.

"I don't see any fundamental difference except I see a warming between the two governments," says Doran.

Grabb says he thinks most Americans "still don't know us from a hole in the ground."

"Educated Americans, they'll see these similarities and affinities."

"I would like to think that Americans know more about us than they do. The good thing is that if they have an opinion, it tends to be positive."

The Canadian Press, 2004


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