By Alfa · Mar 4, 2005 ·
  1. Alfa

    OTTAWA (CP)-- Canadians shouldn't worry about their sovereignty because in many ways this country and the United States have never been further apart, says the next ambassador to Washington.

    Frank McKenna was grilled for 90 minutes by the Commons foreign affairs committee on Tuesday. And while the session was largely overshadowed by controversial comments on continental missile defence, the former New Brunswick premier had some interesting and candid insights on his new job.

    McKenna thinks the U.S. should back off on criticisms of Canadian marijuana decriminalization. He worries about the gulf between Canadian and American understanding of one another. And he believes the two countries can't do enough to harmonize their shared border.

    "I don't think I've ever seen the countries, in many ways, more different,"

    McKenna told the committee.

    "We're going in a very different direction from the United States of America."

    By example, he cited legislative measures such as same-sex marriage, gun control and pot decriminalization.

    And he said Canada's "whole approach with respect to preserving the social structure, social security in Canada, is dramatically different from the direction of the United States of America.

    "We just seem to be much further apart than we've ever been before. So my view is Canadians have done a good job of protecting our cultural integrity and our sovereignty."

    McKenna made a spirited defence of Canadian independence in matters such as marijuana, which many American legislators have sharply criticized.

    It has been suggested if Canada decriminalizes pot, it could cause problems at border crossings. McKenna said Americans should examine their own lax gun laws first.

    "One of the biggest problems Canada faces is with respect to guns from the United States coming across the border and being used in crimes in Canada.

    So we could make the argument that each of us should be entitled to our own domestic policy, even though it has some implications for the other country."

    Americans, said McKenna, "are largely indifferent to Canadians" and need to be constantly reminded of the importance of Canada's import and export markets.

    And Canadians don't appreciate the psychological impact the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks had on American society.

    Do Canadians "truly understand the sense to which the United States was traumatized and the sense to which that has driven their public policy since then?" McKenna asked.

    "No. I don't think our citizenry overall have understood that."

    Security trumps everything else in U.S. policy these days, and McKenna said he'd like to see the Canada-U.S. border "as seamless as possible" to assure our mutual interests.

    But he also said that overly deep integration with U.S. policy could harm Canada's sovereignty.

    "I think you could reach a stage where it would be a threat," said McKenna, citing occasional calls for a common currency.

    McKenna was also asked what type of diplomat he'll be in Washington.

    Paul Cellucci, the departing U.S. ambassador to Canada, frequently made headlines and raised hackles by criticizing Ottawa's domestic policies.

    "I liked his style. You always knew where he was coming from," said McKenna.

    "I like that kind of candour. I think it's very helpful."

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