January 4, 2006
Canada's Liberals Blame AmericaBy Paul Jackson
A too—close—to—call federal election campaign in Canada has spurred the nation's beleaguered Liberal leader to try and cling to power by attacking the nation's oldest ally and largest trading partner. That Canada sells 83% of its world exports to the United States and some 50% of all Canadian jobs depend either directly or indirectly on those exports seems irrelevant right now.
It's a bizarre world Up North these days.
Prime Minister Paul Martin is in the fight of his political life against Conservative leader Stephen Harper and that's obviously why he's been trying to whip up anti—American fervor in the hope it might win him votes and get his government re—elected on voting day Jan. 23. And also to take voters' minds off a raft of scandals that have erupted within his government and that of his predecessor, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
In December, Martin condemned President George W. Bush's administration for allegedly not having a 'global conscience' because Washington didn't sign the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing so—called greenhouse gases some say cause global warming. Martin's outburst was seen as hypocritical by many, since the U.S. record on this particular environment issue is far better than that of Canada.
Martin has also slammed Washington for imposing $5 billion worth of penalties on Canadian softwood exports to the U.S. The U.S. imposed the penalties because American softwood producers claim their Canadian counterparts are indirectly subsidized by low Canadian stumpage fees on government forest land. Martin hinted his government might retaliate for trade disputes by finding new markets for its natural resources exports such as selling its oil to Communist China rather than to the U.S.
This was purely a nonsensical threat since the vast amount of oil is produced in Alberta and under law federal authorities have no claim to it. As an aside, it's estimated that Alberta's booming oil sands contain enough oil to supply the U.S. for 40 years.
As gang violence has been exploding in some of Canada's larger cities — especially the largest, Toronto, where 50 people were killed in 2005, double the usual number — Martin has taken to blaming guns being smuggled in from the U.S. as the main reason for problem. In reality, it has been the Liberal government's lax immigration policies that have allowed Jamaican gangs to flourish in Toronto and Vietnamese and other Asian gangs elsewhere.
The White House viewed Martin's tone and strategy so seriously that American Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, called it a 'slippery slope' that could lead to bad ramifications. Wilkins, who said the U.S. appeared to be an 'easy target' for just about everyone, chided Martin and his teams saying 'Canada never has to tear down the U.S. to build itself up.' The Canadian ambassador to Washington, Frank McKenna, got into the fray by claiming the U.S. government system is 'dysfunctional.'
Martin even attempted to win over votes by standing alongside former president Bill Clinton in Montreal at the United Nations conference on climate change. Clinton, though, while saying he supported the Kyoto Protocol dodged the attempt to be brought into Canadian domestic politics.
Actually, it's hard to see why Martin — a multi—millionaire shipping line owner whose vessels often fly foreign flags to avoid paying Canadian taxes and giving Canadian benefits to their crews — can gain from his anti—American rants. Canadians watch American movies, listen to American music, eat American food at McDonalds' and Burger King, and depend on the U.S. for defense. Even though Canada is the second largest nation in the world in land area, it has barely 60,000 men and women in uniform. Martin himself cut the military budget and its personnel by 25% when he became finance minister in 1993.
The Bush administration feels it was betrayed by Martin last year when right up to the last minute Martin gave all the indications Canada would join the U.S. missile defense shield program and then suddenly backed out. Martin didn't even tell Bush about that decision himself but left it to one of his cabinet ministers.
Martin, who was ousted from the Chretien cabinet in early 2002 after almost 10 years as finance minister for allegedly constantly plotting against the prime minister and replace him, became Liberal leader and prime minister in December of that year after Chretien finally resigned.
It had been expected when the next federal election occurred Martin would easily win a majority government. But in June, 2004, the Liberals managed to win only 135 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons and Martin held to power by making deals with the 19 members of the socialist New Democrats. The Conservatives won 99 seats in 2004 and the Quebec—based separatist Bloc Quebecois 54. There was one Independent elected.
Incidentally, the Washington Times has endorsed Harper's Conservatives suggesting in the seat of American government they would be America's best friends. That is likely true.
Former American Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci recently authored a book Unquiet Diplomacy, a bestseller in Canada, in which he details his disappointments with Martin and Chretien. Cellucci ruffled Liberal feathers in Ottawa by touring the country and speaking out on such issues as Canada's weak military commitment, and its refusal to join the missile defence shield program.
Martin's anti—American posturing is aimed at taking voters minds away from many scandals in the Liberal government. The most notorious is one known as 'Adscam' in which about $100 million of the taxpayers' money was laundered to the advertising and public relations companies of Liberal friends and even to the Liberal party itself.
Now, right in the midst of the campaign, another scandal has erupted, in which an immensely favorable tax decision on income trusts on the stock market was allegedly leaked to Liberal insiders. Both Martin and his finance minister, Ralph Goodale, have denied the charges, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have launched a major investigation into the allegations — which has surprised many because there had been suspicions in recent years the Mounties had been 'bought off' by both Chretien and Martin because of lack of action in other scandals.
A poll taken for the Canadian Financial Times newspaper amongst Canadian business leaders and released on Jan. 2 showed 90% of them describing the state of Canadian—U.S. relations as historically worse than average.
But the anti—American stance of the Liberals — as opposed to the pro—American stance of the Conservatives — goes back before the recent headline—hitting scandals appeared. When Chretien was prime minister his communications director Francine Ducros publicly called Bush a 'moron.' She was never chastised for it, claiming it was a slip of the tongue. Ducros is still in government employ.
Herb Dhaliwal who held several cabinet posts under Chretien's leadership declared Bush to be a 'failed statesman.' He wasn't chastised either.
High profile Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish screamed out 'Americans! I hate the bastards.' No reprimand.
She also called the Bush administration a 'coalition of idiots' because its fight to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein's fist and other policies. Again, no reprimands.
Then Parrish went on TV and stamped on a doll—like image of Bush. Yet again, nothing happened.
Only when Parrish then criticized her own boss, Martin, did the prime minister admonish her and kick her out of the Liberal caucus.
In 2000, Chretien's nephew, Raymond Chretien, then Canadian ambassador to Washington, told a supposedly private audience the Liberal government would prefer Al Gore to win the election rather than Bush. His comments leaked out and angered many.
Then in 2004, a number of Liberal senators and at least two Liberal cabinet ministers publicly endorsed John Kerry over Bush, and went around wearing John Kerry campaign buttons.
Martin never once told them to stay out of American politics.
Canada's Liberals took anti—Americanism to the point of even returning Canada to British spellings (favourite, centre, etc.) to distinuish our prose from that of Yanks.
The anti—American stance of Liberal politicians had caused Bush to cancel a planned official visit to Canada in May 2003. He finally came on an attempted fence—mending visit in December 2004.
The caustic situation today is a long, long way from the days when Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were in power. When Mulroney was elected with the largest majority government in Canadian history in 1984 — and repeated the feat in 1989 — he made it a priority to rebuild relations with the U.S. after the long stint in office of Liberal Pierre Trudeau.
Trudeau, whose heroes were Mao Tse—tung and Fidel Castro — Castro was later to be a pallbearer at Trudeau's funeral in 2000 — had once been banned from the U.S. for communist activity. After becoming prime minister in 1968 his relations with Washington were bitter to say the least. When Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin visited Canada in the 1970s, Trudeau proclaimed he wanted Canada to build up a strong relationship with the Soviet Union to counterbalance the influence of the U.S. That at a time when the Kremlin still held its slave states in Eastern Europe and trying to spread revolution throughout much of the world.
Trudeau also told Kosygin he wanted Canada to be 'the cutting edge of the Left in international affairs.' Among many measures that irritated — and infuriated — Washington was Trudeau's 'Foreign Investment Review Agency' that sought to restrict U.S. investment into Canada.
This was obviously not in Canada's interests, since it hampered job creation.
One of the first things Mulroney did after being elected to power was to kill the agency. It was Mulroney who forged the Canada—U.S. free trade pact with Reagan and later the Canada—U.S.—Mexico free trade pact with Bush Sr. Relations — and respect — between Mulroney, Reagan and Bush were so close that former Canadian ambassador to Washington Allan Gotlieb likes to tell a story to illustrate the friendship.
Gotlieb says whenever Mulroney phoned Reagan or Bush Sr. to ask for a favor or on an issue of Canadian—American relations, the two presidents would almost snap their fingers at their aides and say, 'Brian wants this done. See it gets done.'
Usually, it was — no further questions asked.
Amidst the softwood lumber controversy, and the long ban on Canadian beef entering the U.S. because of the mad cow disease crisis, Conservatives recall Mulroney's great success with Reagan and Bush Sr. and suggest if a Conservative prime minister had been in office during the past several years these disputes, too, would have been over at the snap of a finger.
One of the endearing and enduring moments of the Mulroney—Reagan era occurred at the so—called Shamrock Summit in Quebec in 1985. There the two leaders, Mulroney's wife, Mila, and Nancy Reagan, held hands aloft and sang 'When Irish Eyes Are Smiling' together. Both Mulroney and Reagan had Irish backgrounds, of course, and both came from relatively poor families and worked their way to the top.
U.S. National Security Council documents declassified in 1999 revealed Washington saw the Shamrock Summit as a key turning point in U.S.—Canadian relations.
Coincidentally, Chretien and his cabinet members had made it so obvious they preferred Gore over Bush that after 2000 the tradition of the newly—installed American president holding his first official talks with a foreign leader being the Canadian prime minister was abandoned. Instead, Bush met first with Mexican president Vicente Fox.
After the strained relations between the Chretien and Bush administration it had been speculated after Martin became prime minister in 2000 one of his priorities would be to mend fences with Washington.
That was a shallow hope.
Today, Martin can hardly get Bush to return his phone calls never mind get invited to the Oval Office.
Yet is there any wonder?
Paul Jackson has covered Canadian and world politics for several major Canadian papers over the past 40 years. He is now Editor Emeritus of the Calgary Sun, in Calgary, Alberta.