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Political parties express rising sentiment against Canada-U.S. cooperation

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Release Date: June 15, 2009

VANCOUVER, BC-Increasing negative attitudes and rising criticism of Canada-U.S. cooperation have dominated the bilateral debate in Canada's Parliament since 2006, according to a new, peer-reviewed study from independent research organization the Fraser Institute.

The report, Measuring Parliament's Attitude towards Canada-US Cooperation, points out that an enormous decline in support for Canada-U.S. cooperation occurred in 2006, where 57 per cent of the parliamentary debate surrounding the Canadian-American relationship expressed a negative outlook towards cooperation. The year 2006 also saw the Liberal Party suddenly double its share of critical comments to 50 per cent, despite having expressed generally warm sentiments towards the Canada-U.S. relationship prior to the 2006 change in minority government from Liberal to Conservative.

"This pivot suggests that the Liberal Party is willing to change its overall favorable sentiment in support of close cooperation with the United States while it is in government to a critical attitude of overall Canadian-American cooperation when it is in opposition," said Alexander Moens, professor of political science at Simon Fraser University and coauthor of the report.

The study, scrutinizes the parliamentary Hansard for instances where MPs expressed their support for, or opposition to, more cooperation and/or better relations with the United States. It does so using an objective, quantifiable method called content analysis. A total of 918 comments relating to trade and economy, borders and security, and political relations between Canada and the U.S. were identified and analyzed. A team of four independent judges was enlisted to score in an objective and reliable way whether the sentiment of each comment was positive, negative, or neutral.

The study reveals a consistent trend of negative sentiment and rising criticism towards Canada's relationship with the United States through 2002-2007, where softwood lumber and border issues were always at the forefront of parliamentary debate.

Three significant trends are identified with regard to political parties:

  1. Comments from both the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois were consistently negative over the entire period studied and across all categories;
  2. The Conservative Party scored most positive of all parties but increased its volume of neutral comments after 2006;
  3. Comments from the Liberal Party were generally positive until 2006, after which its sentiment became primarily negative.

According to the report, parliamentary debate regarding Canada-U.S. cooperation was 54.5 per cent positive following 9/11 from 2002 to 2003. In 2006, however, this overall cooperative attitude dropped to as low as 14 per cent, while 57 per cent of the parliamentary comments studied for the same year presented a negative outlook.

These observations appear to contradict the notion that Canadian attitudes towards the United States were negative after 9/11 and only turned positive after the 2006 switch in government from Liberal to Conservative.

To interpret these findings as objectively as possible, the study considers whether major changes on the top issues could explain observed trends but finds little variance in the issues themselves, where the border and softwood lumber were always the most contentious items. 

The study is based on the premise that a cooperative approach towards Canada-U.S. relations serves Canada best.

"Our findings show a large presence in Parliament that either criticizes more and better cooperation with the U.S. or is willing to use this relationship as a tool for political advantage and power," Moens said.

"These findings should be a concern to Canadians and Americans alike, as improved cooperation is the key to North American prosperity and security."