Perspectives on War: the view from Canada

02/21/03 12:00AM By Neal Charnoff
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(Host) Canadian views on a possible war with Iraq differ sharply from opinion in the United States. In part five of our series Perspectives on War, VPR's Neal Charnoff explores the northern point of view.


(Sound of Rex Murphy opening the CBC radio program, Cross Country Checkup.)

(Charnoff) Every Sunday, thousands of Canadians tune in to "Cross Country Checkup" on CBC radio. It's one of the country's oldest radio programs, and the only national call-in show. Each week the program tackles a different Canadian issue, but for the past three weeks, the topic has remained the same: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.

(Murphy) "And our next caller is, first name only, is Bob, and he's calling from Guelph, Ontario, Welcome to the program."
(Bob) "Rex, I believe the inspectors do deserve more time, and require more time. I strongly disagree with going to war. But having said that, if the United States does do it alone, for the sake of our economy alone, Rex, our economy would be devastated if we don't go. But forgetting that, they're our friends...."

(Caller) "What I would suggest is that leadership has been lacking, period. I mean, we don't know where Canada is going."

(Caller) "What we need to keep in mind and continually question is the motivations behind the desire to go to war."

(Caller) "As one person said yesterday, if we were to export potatoes, you wouldn't be fighting us."

(Caller) "But I am quite impressed with the Blix report and what he has done, and I believe in the Franco-German viewpoint that inspections should be given as much time as required."


(Charnoff) Rex Murphy, host of Cross-Country Checkup, says he considers his program to be a sample of the Canadian mood:

(Murphy) "We've had consistently on our program people who are very, very, very strongly opposed to the idea of war. But we've also had people that have advanced quite seriously the notion that, you know, if these threats, especially in the environment and under the example of September 11, are not attended to there will be greater costs down the way. I won't say it goes down 50-50, because it's not a poll. But nonetheless, we do get opinions voiced on both sides, we do get some nuance down the middle."

(Charnoff) What the polls do show is a strong opinion against a war. When Secretary of State Colin Powell made his presentation to the U.N. Security Council, one poll was taken by Ipsos-Reid, CTV and the Toronto Globe and Mail. The poll showed that 67% of Canadians disapprove of the United States taking unilateral military action against Iraq. And 60% of Canadians hold the view that Canada should only provide military assistance if the U.N., not just the United States, decides that military action is required.

Mary Clancy is president at Vermont's Burlington College. She spent 30 years in Canadian public life, most recently as a member of Parliament from Halifax. Clancy says the polls are not necessarily a reflection of anti-U.S. sentiment:

(Clancy) "Canada was very much involved in the creation of the U.N. so Canadians generally very much feel an ownership of the United Nations. Therefore our desire to be with the U.N. on matters such as the resolution over Iraq is not a rejection of American policy, as it is an affirmation of what's part of our national character. So if indeed we seem to be less sympathetic to the American position, that's not really the case. What is the case is we are more sympathetic to the United Nations."

(Charnoff) Talk show host Rex Murphy believes Prime Minister Jean Chretien keeps his finger on the pulse of the pulse of the country.

(Murphy) "He's a fairly faithful mirror of Canadian sentiment. He has a gift of intuition for knowing essentially where the population, or a majority of the population, is at any given time."

(Charnoff) This week, the official position became clearer. On Tuesday, Chretien told Parliament that Canada will not be part of the American-led "coalition of the willing" unless the United Nations authorizes military action. And on Wednesday, Canada's ambassador to the U.N. told the Security Council that Canada was spearheading an eleventh-hour effort to broker a deal among the major powers.

In Montreal, newspapers are divided over the country's obligation to the U.S. The Montreal Gazette has taken the editorial position that the burden of proof rests with Iraq, and warns of the U.N.'s irrelevance. But La Presse has aligned itself with the Canadian majority. Andre Pratt is the editorial page editor of La Presse.

(Pratt) "You have to understand also that we are a French-language newspaper and in Quebec the French, the Francophone part of Canada, that pacifist stand we might say, is even stronger than in the rest of the country."

(Charnoff) The debates are sure to continue. Mary Clancy says that whatever action the U.S. decides to take, Canada will be watching closely.

(Clancy) "You know the late great Pierre Trudeau, Canada's greatest prime minister, once said that living next door to the United States was like sleeping with an elephant. You weren't necessarily afraid of it, but you were very aware of its every twitch. Don't forget, you're our best friends, but we love you inside your borders, if you know what I mean."

(Charnoff) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Neal Charnoff.

Related link:
Audio and transcripts of the series Perspectives on War is available online.
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