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Western Standard ^ | 02/27/06
Terry O'Neill

Too close for some people's comfort.
Those who think Canadians are manifestly distinct from the folks next door may be disappointed by a new study.

Terry O'Neill - February 27, 2006

The drumstick of Canadian nationalism beats with predictable regularity on the head of Uncle Sam. Ask many Canadians to define their country, and chances are they'll do so by contrasting it, superiorly, to the United States. As former prime minister Paul Martin put it during the election campaign, while his attack ads were busy painting Tory leader Stephen Harper as "[George] Bush's new best friend," Canadians see America as "our neighbour, not our nation."

That much is true. But those who think that means Canadians are manifestly distinct from the folks next door may be disappointed by a new study by Ronald Inglehart, of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

The political scientist says his empirical findings will come as a "shock to Canadians." After all, he says, "The worst insult I can make to my Canadian friends is to say, 'Aw, you're just like us.'"

But that may indeed be the case. As part of the Institute's World Values Survey, the professor plotted more than two dozen countries on a continuum: along one axis, he measured cultural attitudes associated with traditional or secular values; along the other, he gauged attitudes towards such things as tolerance for outsiders and self-expression. He then compared the current findings (based on data compiled no later than 2001) with those of two decades ago.

On the resulting graph, Canada ends up side by side not with Belgium, France or Sweden, but near the U.S.--with both registering values that fall roughly midway between secular and traditional, but with high levels of tolerance (Canada is marginally more permissive and marginally less religious). The only country measured that even approaches the philosophical space shared by our neighbouring nations is Ireland, which naturally skews slightly more religious and a tad less open-minded. Compared to data from the first time the countries were surveyed, at least 16 years ago, both the U.S. and Canada have shown similar rates of change toward secularism and liberalization.

Of course, an objective reading of the two nations' general approach to all manner of significant social and political issues (free speech, property rights, human rights, women's rights, minority rights, separation of state and religion, et cetera) would tell you so. That's why Inglehart likens the countries to rivalling siblings who exaggerate the ways they are unique instead of focusing on obvious resemblances. It's true, he allows, that the data used in the survey is now five years old, and it is possible the two countries may have diverged from their lockstep in the interim. "I'm sure the Canadians fervently hope so," chuckles Inglehart. Well, at least some do. Unfortunately, they'll have to wait till the next survey results are released, in late 2007, to find out.


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