It's almost enough to make you wonder whether somebody's carrying a grudge from all those Canada-Russia hockey series. One surprising theme that emerges in the Maclean's How the World Sees Canada poll is the somewhat frosty reception we seem to get from residents of that other sprawling subarctic hockey power.
Russians were more likely than any of our other respondents to complain, when asked to name something they don't like about us, that Canada is "too U.S.-oriented," at 32 per cent. Only 17 per cent of Britons, and just 13 per cent of Americans themselves, see that as our big problem. Russians were likeliest to believe, incorrectly, that Canadian troops are sitting out the Afghanistan combat. They are the least likely to see Canada as a "global leader working for human rights," at 26 per cent compared with 54 per cent in China and 68 per cent in the United States.
And in evidence of a looming dispute that may have higher stakes than simple negative perception, Russians were likeliest to disagree with any Canadian claims to ownership of natural resources under the Arctic Ocean.
Is antagonism the word for all this? At the very least, call it a refusal to be particularly impressed. Yet other findings from our survey suggest it's not based on a jaundiced view of Canadian society. Fully 78 per cent of Russian respondents believe they would be able to observe their religion and cultural traditions freely if they moved to Canada. And 94 per cent would expect a better quality of life here than in Russia.
Those results, at least, strike a familiar chord with Piotr Dutkiewicz, director of the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at Ottawa's Carleton University. "Canada is a desirable place to live for many Russians, as they see us as a quite efficient welfare state with lots of opportunities, strong rule of law, and allowing different cultures to coexist," Dutkiewicz said.
Finally, while Russians have a soft spot for their leader, Vladimir Putin, that is shared in very few places around the world, they are also quite well-disposed toward Stephen Harper. When asked how much they respect various leaders, Russians gave our prime minister higher marks than respondents anywhere except in Italy and Turkey. In fact, Harper gets more respect, at least of a vague and distracted sort, in Russia than he does here at home.
So why the chilly response on other things? If anyone's inclined to suspect the Russians have simply written Canada off for our perceived coziness with the Yankees, our poll data confound that theory as well. The Russians kind of like Americans. They are far less likely than Turks and the Chinese to view the U.S. as the greatest threat to global stability, at 29 per cent compared with 66 per cent in Turkey and 46 per cent in China. In fact, barely more Russians see America as a big threat than do Canadians (26 per cent) or Americans themselves (23 per cent). Again, that matches Dutkiewicz's observations. "In general, Russians are not anti-U.S.," he says. "They might be against specific George W. Bush policies, but the majority is not anti-American."
The surprise, to Dutkiewicz, is the apparent Russian perception that Canadians are too close to Americans. "Many of the Russians I talked to were fully aware that Canada is not involved in Iraq," he said. "It was perceived as a proof that we have our own space in international relations, independent from the U.S."
Russians don't have a particularly rosy view of their own country: 94 per cent disagree that Russia's judicial system treats everyone equally, the highest level of disagreement of any country in our poll. And 96 per cent agree that "corruption is a big problem in my country" - again, higher than in any other country where we asked. Perhaps Russians are skeptical in general, not just about Canada.
Maclean's December 3, 2007