Over the past two
years relations between the United States and Canada have been at their lowest
ebb in at least four decades. There has been a noticeable
frost in particular in the relations between President Bush and Canadian
Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Sadly, much of this decline took place after
It is worth remembering that on 9/11 hundreds of planes were diverted from
U.S. air space to Canada. Americans and people from all over the world were
welcomed with open arms and without question. Indeed, it is worth noting
that Gander, Newfoundland had its population tripled.
The source of the consternation began when President Bush spoke to Congress
and thanked many nations from around the world for their help. Canada was
not one of them. Former White House speechwriter (and Canadian born) David
Frum has commented that it was an oversight and that no harm was ever intended.
Sadly Chretien never forgave Bush or for that matter the United States for
the slight. This past year his Communications Director Francine Ducros was
overheard calling President Bush “a moron.” Chretien cancelled
a trip to Washington D.C. in February. President Bush in turn
cancelled a planned state visit to Canada scheduled for May 2003. Chretien
very publicly opposed U.S. involvement in Iraq and went as far as to say
that if Saddam Hussein was found in Canada, his government would not hand
him over to U.S. authorities.
This past spring, Carolyn Parrish, a Liberal Member of Parliament from Mississauga
(west of Toronto), blurted out into an open microphone, “Damn Americans!
I hate those bastards.” Instead of being vilified for the remark, Parrish
became a folk heroine in Canada and appeared on the Mike Bullard Show (the
Canadian equivalent of David Letterman).
Certainly this is not the first time that a Canadian Prime Minister and American
President have been at odds with each other. Ronald Reagan
did not enjoy the warmest relationship with Pierre Trudeau. Reagan
fared better with Brian Mulroney, who is considered the most pro-American
Prime Minister in Canadian history. However, even Mulroney once called
the first President Bush “a tin pot dictator” in reference to the ongoing
softwood lumber dispute between the two countries.
Still, these are mild in comparison to Chretien’s actions against the Bush
White House. The only other time a Canadian Prime Minister ever objected
to an American military action was when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker refused
to cooperate with President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Diefenbaker, a Progressive Conservative, also did not want the U.S. testing
cruise missiles inside Canada. Strangely enough it was the Liberal Party,
led by 1957 Nobel Peace Prize winner Lester B. Pearson, that was considered
the pro-American party in Canada at that time and Pearson would come to power
in 1963 supporting the right of the Americans to test cruise missiles in
It is worth noting that Chretien has made the balance of his comments about
the United States over the past year. In August 2002, Chretien announced
he would be retiring as Prime Minister at the beginning of 2004. However,
many in the Liberal Party wanted him to retire sooner to make room for his
successor Paul Martin. But there is little love lost between Chretien and
Martin. Indeed, Chretien removed Martin from the Cabinet
in 2002 because of their long-standing feud and Martin’s ambitions. It would
seem that Chretien’s comments about Saddam or his more recent comments about
smoking marijuana are designed as much to make things difficult for Martin,
as it is to rile the Bush Administration.
So who is Paul Martin and why does he make Jean Chretien so angry?
And will those qualities make a happy man of President Bush?
Paul Martin was born into a political family. His father, Paul Sr., was a
Member of Parliament from Windsor, Ontario and was a Cabinet Minister for
several Liberal Prime Ministers such as MacKenzie King, Louis St. Laurent
and Pearson. Martin, Sr. twice ran for the Liberal Party leadership
in 1958 and 1968, losing to Pearson and Trudeau, respectively.
Paul, Jr was a lawyer and businessman based in Montreal. Martin was involved
with the Power Corporation and later became President of Canada Steamship
Lines. Paul, Jr. did not enter politics until 1990 when he ran for the Liberal
Party leadership, finishing second to Jean Chretien. Martin took Chretien
to task for opposing the Meech Lake Accord -- a constitutional proposal that
would have gained Quebec’s signature to the Canadian Constitution.
When the Liberals came to power ten years ago under Chretien, Martin was
named Finance Minister. Canada’s annual budget deficit was at $46 billion
(Cdn). However, within four years, Martin’s tough fiscally conservative policies
had eliminated Canada’s deficit. Martin earned the respect of both Canada’s
business community and the electorate. The Liberals were rewarded with re-election
in 1997 and 2000.
The Liberals do not have to go to the polls in 2005 but will in all likelihood
go the polls next year. Martin will be very formidable, if not nearly invincible.
What is interesting is that over the past decade Canada has had two conservative
parties – the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance. Some have
argued that if there was one united conservative party the Liberals would
not been in power as long as they have been. In any case, there have
been renewed efforts between the Tories and the Alliance to form a new Conservative
Party, especially as it became clear that Martin would succeed Chretien with
virtually no opposition from within the Liberal Party.
Relatively little is known about Martin’s foreign policy stances.
He has called for the G-8 to be expanded to a G-20 with a broader mandate,
although he has not specified what countries would be included in the G-20.
Martin has indicated that he would improve Canada-U.S. relations by increasing
the number of meetings between the Prime Minister and President, provincial
Premiers and state Governors, as well as Members of Parliament and members
of the House of Representatives and Senate. But it is worth noting that this
level of communication already exists. For instance there is an annual meeting
between Governors from the New England states and the Premiers from the Atlantic
provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince
Edward Island). Martin has also been critical of the lack of a national security
policy in Canada but has made no indication whether he would increase spending
for Canada’s earnest but beleaguered military.
President Bush gave a cordial welcome to Martin over the weekend. How cordial
that relationship will be with Martin will depend on what Martin does with
Carolyn Parrish, as she has been a long time supporter of Martin. Her constituency
has a large concentration of Muslim Arabs who have become influential within
the Liberal Party (as well as the socialist New Democratic Party).
Some have speculated that Martin will appoint Parrish to the Cabinet. If
he does his efforts to improve relations between Canada and the United States
will get off on the wrong foot. However, if he should not elevate
Parrish or even go a step further and remove Bill Graham from his post as
Minister of Foreign Affairs, it would be a represent a positive signal to
Washington. Indeed, Graham was the architect of the Chretien’s Iraq policy
and also resisted efforts to classify Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations.
The Liberal Party is considered Canada’s natural governing party.
Its success is that it is usually able to read the public mood.
When the mood is to the left, it moves left. When the mood is to the right,
it moves right. However, anti-Americanism is at an all
time high in Canada and it remains to be seen whether Paul Martin is willing
to clip its wings and restore Canada-U.S. relations to their rightful place.
Aaron Goldstein, a former member of the socialist New Democratic Party, writes poetry and has a chapbook titled Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and Dead Musicians. His poetry can be viewed on www.poetsforthewar.org.