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"Anybody but Bush"

Issue: 9 Section: Features Geography: Canada, USA Topics: elections

October 20, 2003

"Anybody but Bush"

Canada-US relations and the next Presidential election

by Susan Thompson

anyonebutbush.jpg
"Whenever there's a Republican administration in power it's more difficult for Canadian governments." photo: Fire Marshals Association

The relationship between Canada and the US has been rocky since George W. Bush took office. Some have blamed this on a personal disconnect between Jean Chretien and President Bush. For example, in March 2003 Liberal MP David Pratt said "I don't think things will change until our leadership changes"--i.e., when Chretien leaves office. Many pundits and politicians agree with Mr. Pratt.

But is this realistic? Exactly how does the relationship between a Canadian Prime Minister and a US President affect Canada-US relations--and how might upcoming federal elections in both countries change the situation?

Canada-US relations since 2000

Even before President George W. Bush finally declared victory in the last Presidential election, the Prime Minister's nephew, Raymond Chretien, stirred up controversy by making a speech that implied Democratic candidate Al Gore would be easier for Canada to work with. Historically, of course, Democratic US administrations generally are easier for Canadian governments to work with than Republican administrations. Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail columnist and author of several books on Canada-US relations, puts it this way: "This is a problem that runs through our history with the US--whenever there's a Republican administration in power it is more difficult for Canadian governments, [and] particularly Liberal governments which are usually in power here, to have good relations because of the ideological divide--they're more right-wing and we don't tend to agree with them."

In hindsight, it seems Raymond Chretien was right about the difficulty of working with the Bush administration, even if it wasn't the time to say so. The Canada-US relationship has experienced twists, turns, and diplomatic tantrums since Bush's inauguration that read like a political soap opera.

Although Bush met with Prime Minister Chretien at the White House as his first state visit, Bush's own first visit to another country was to Mexico, raising a few allegations that Bush was more concerned with his southern neighbour than his northern one. After Sept. 11, President Bush neglected to mention Canada in a speech in which he thanked the nations that had helped the US after that tragedy. In 2002 Francois Ducros, an aide to Chretien, called Bush a moron in a private conversation that was quickly publicized. Coupled with a later remark by Carolyn Parrish about Americans being "bastards," charges of rampant anti-Americanism in Canada became common.

But the real drama came when Canada decided not to join the war on Iraq. US Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci responded by saying that the US was "disappointed" and that it was causing a "bump in relations"--comments which raised calls among MPs to send Cellucci back to the US, and calls from the business community and much of the media to make more concessions to US demands.

"The print media has certainly become more pro-American and more right-wing, and so there's greater media pressure on Canadian governments to get along with the US and to favour US policies like the Iraq war."
-Lawrence Martin
More indications of strain came when President Bush cancelled a state visit to Ottawa last spring three weeks before the appointed date--the diplomatic equivalent of storming out of a room and slamming the door, given that such visits take months to plan. In June, speaking to reporters on a plane, Prime Minister Chretien candidly criticized the huge deficit the US administration has incurred since Bush's inauguration. It's little surprise that the President has yet to invite Jean Chretien to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

But have these tensions been due to a personal disconnect between Bush and Chretien, or ideological tensions between the US and Canada? If the disconnect is personal, then when Chretien leaves office conditions should improve. Canadian Ambassador to the US Michael Kergin has recently stated that he doesn't think it will make much difference in Canada-US relations if Paul Martin assumes the position of Prime Minister, because the relationship is "too important to be affected by any one person." Lawrence Martin believes that Kergin's opinion is "not entirely accurate." "I've done a book on the Presidents and the Prime Ministers and it's quite apparent that the personal rapport that they have or lack does cast a positive or negative tone over the relationship which is quite important," says Martin. "If you look at MacKenzie King and Franklin Roosevelt, for example, they worked out agreements on a piece of paper between one another and that type of thing. If you have a high level of communication that spirit gets channeled down through the system and [the countries] work in a more cooperative vein."

However, that doesn't mean that the current lack of rapport is due to a conflict between individual personalities. Colin Campbell is chair of Canada's first US studies program at UBC and author of several books on US presidential politics. According to Campbell, "That [the rocky relationship between Chretien and Bush] is really in many respects more symptomatic of the tensions than the source of the tensions. The fact of the matter is that unless you want to be a poodle to the [Bush] administration like Tony Blair, you're going to have difficulties with it."

Lawrence Martin points out that tensions have actually abated somewhat now despite Chretien still being in office. "I think the war increased the intensity of the dialogue and the criticism of Canadian policy vis-a-vis the Americans," Martin opines. "But I think that...the Canadian government's position has been looking more and more vindicated because of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and because the aftermath of the war is not going well." Martin has a point--it's been a while, after all, since the US Ambassador to Canada has had anything negative to say about Canada. In fact, Cellucci most recently remarked that Canada had "stepped up to the plate" in Afghanistan and that relations were running smoothly once again.

Essentially, then, the tension between Canada and the US has been less about personal differences between leaders and more about working with a US administration that is unilateralist and demanding. But that still leaves the question of where prime-minister-in-waiting Paul Martin fits into the equation.

Paul Martin

Paul Martin is almost certainly going to win the November Liberal leadership convention, meaning that he will automatically become Prime Minister as soon as Chretien steps down, in February or possibly earlier.

Martin will likely call an election some time after assuming leadership of the country. When that election will be is still uncertain, but it will be before the next US election. So whether or not they both win the next federal elections in 2004, there will be an as-yet-unspecified period of time where Paul Martin is Prime Minister and President Bush is President. The two might meet as soon as January when both could find themselves at the Summit of the Americas in Mexico--if Chretien has stepped down by then. Roger Noriega, head of the US State department's bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs, has already suggested a quick meeting between representatives of both leaders once a new prime minister is sworn in would be wise.

Martin is more conservative than many Liberals have been in the past and may actually relate fairly well to even a Republican administration. US opinions on Martin thus far have generally been favourable. The Washington Times called Paul Martin "an outspoken advocate for mending ties with the United States" in July. A Los Angeles Times editorial reprinted by the Toronto Star commented approvingly on Martin's fiscal policies and noted that "Before a recent major address, Martin also had a courtesy visit with US ambassador Paul Cellucci, an action that would not be Chretien's first instinct." Roger Noriega, who was appointed to the head of the US State Department's bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs by President Bush himself, has expressed pleasure with a foreign policy speech Martin gave April 30, 2003 to a Canadian Press dinner. During the speech Martin stated that "What we must do is to pursue continuously a systematic and coordinated effort to confirm and strengthen the Canada-US partnership." Noriega responded that "these views reflected a healthy appreciation for the relationship. We would look forward to working with the next government team."

"If [getting along] means you simply give in to the policy directions of the Bush administration, it means you will be abandoning a number of very vital Canadian interests."
-Lloyd Axeworthy
Lawrence Martin muses, "I think that Paul Martin wants to create a more harmonious relationship with the White House. He is more of a business Liberal to begin with and will be viewed by the US administration in a more positive vein. Not to the extent that Brian Mulroney was, but as a former businessman he is more in synch with Republicans."

Some warn, however, that this may mean making some concessions to America, and potentially adopting more Americanized public policies. Speaking about the missile defence to the Canadian Press, former minister of foreign affairs Lloyd Axworthy said on Oct. 11 that "They (Martin's advisors) want to have a better relationship and no one argues with that in theory... [but] what do you do to get it?... And if it means you simply give in to the policy directions of the Bush administration, it means you will be abandoning a number of very vital Canadian interests."

But both Lawrence Martin and Colin Campbell feel that Paul Martin is unlikely to get too close to the Bush administration. "I don't see him rushing in to a warm relationship with Bush the way things are going for Bush right now, but I do see Paul Martin as wanting to improve the rapport, improve the level of dialogue, increase the security of trade across the border. He might do something to follow up on free trade and NAFTA agreements, to enhance them in some way," says Lawrence Martin. "Looking at the polls Paul Martin and his people realize that by and large Canadians supported Mr. Chretien's position on the war and are supporting it in increasing numbers--and they are seeing that the popularity of the Bush administration is diminishing. Therefore for Paul Martin to try and bring in a new American policy at this time would not be wise. He will wait for the American election next November to see what happens." Colin Campbell basically concurs. "The difficulty with Martin is that he tends not to want to be in conflict with people, so he's going to try to go along with Bush on a lot of things. But ultimately he's going to take a lot of heat, particularly since he's from the Liberal party and not from the Progressive Conservatives like Brian Mulroney. He's got to remember the preferences of his core constituency so he has, I think, limited maneuverability."

Campbell also notes that a Prime Minister doesn't necessarily have to give in to US demands in order to have good relations. "I don't think that with this particular administration you could ever have a smooth relationship because they are so xenophobic that it would never resolve the issues pending," he says. "But...I think that you can have exceedingly harmonious relations and not be making concessions of any great note that would in any way compromise Canadian sovereignty and values."

Of course, that depends on what sort of administration will have power after the next presidential election.

The US Election

It may seem a long way off to many Americans, considering that they have to endure twenty-two months of campaigning versus the much shorter Canadian campaign periods, but the next federal US election is getting close. It's scheduled for Nov. 2, 2004, with the newly elected or newly re-elected President to be inaugurated on January 20, 2005.

The field of contenders to Bush's re-election plans is large, but of those a few names stand out. Democratic candidate Howard Dean has created a considerable amount of excitement through his very effective use of the internet. And General Wesley Clark has stirred both excitement and controversy since entering the race at with the support of filmmaker Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) and his considerable number of supporters, who billed Clark as an antiwar candidate despite his military background and inconsistent positions on the Iraq war.

On Bush, Campbell and Martin are in agreement--he needs to go. "George W. Bush doesn't really have anything in common with this country, being a Texan, and it's more difficult for him...his list of priorities is so long," says Martin. Campbell is to the point: "Even another Republican would be probably a lot easier to work with than George W. Bush."

"The fact of the matter is that unless you want to be a poodle to the [Bush] administration like Tony Blair, you're going to have difficulties with it."
-Colin Campblell
So what of the Democratic candidates? "The field is so large and I don't see that any of them would be antagonistic toward Canada. Virtually anybody... would be better than what we have now," says Campbell.

As for what characteristics would make the best President from Canada's point of view, Campbell points towards respect. "I think the critical thing is just respect for the fact that Canada is a sovereign nation and is going to have different sets of policy preferences from those which prevail in the United States... I think that that's not sufficiently understood by the current administration."

Martin places more of a priority on knowledge. "A familiarity with Canada, the Canadian system and the way it works here, and Canadian sensitivities is very important. If you look at Roosevelt he used to spend his summer holidays... near New Brunswick in Canada. He had a deep familiarity with Canada and it really showed in his relationship with the country."

If we're judging by Martin's criteria, Howard Dean emerges as a clear favourite. Not only does he represent a state which borders Canada, the Montreal Gazette reported that Dean got his political start by appearing on the Canadian show "The Editors" and discussing politics. Those who worked with him at the time have commented on his deep understanding of Canada and Canadian issues.

Campbell notes that "He obviously has a certain resonance with the more liberal wing of the Democratic party and I would be sympathetic towards him. He seems to be exceedingly good at raising money and... attracting appeal even outside of the groups which ideologically would find him most attractive. But there are a lot of pluses with Wesley Clark too so I'm not strong in my preference there."

As for what those pluses are, Campbell points towards Clark's military background. "Wesley Clark is going to be a pretty tough opponent for George W Bush, particularly the deeper [they] get into the difficulties with the Iraq war. He could perform the function of say, Eisenhower in '52--basically saying 'it's time for the US to get out of this quagmire and I know how to do this.' That was clearly a very important dimension to Eisenhower's appeal in '52."

Whether a new version of Eisenhower appeals to everyone is up for debate, however. Clark's military background is a red flag to many of the people who participated in the peace movement--some even consider him a war criminal for his actions in Kosovo. Nor has Clark been consistent when explaining his position on the Iraq war. Both of these factors have led to some intense criticism of Michael Moore for his support of Clark, as well as criticism of Clark himself, especially in the left and alternative media both in the US and Canada.

However, it may not matter much if it's Clark, Dean, or someone else who replaces Bush. Lawrence Martin points out "Canadians have to accept the reality that basically an American president has far more important things on his plate than to deal with Canadian issues as a top priority, and I think most Canadians have come to realize that. That's not to say the Presidents have been ignorant of Canadian issues. But there was that one incident where Lester Pearson was visiting [President] Eisenhower (this was while Pearson was external affairs minister). Pearson had some pressing Canadian issue to discuss with the President and he quickly discovered that Eisenhower hadn't even heard about what he was talking about. Eisenhower was known as the great golfing President and he'd golf almost every day of the week--so Pearson came out of the White House muttering to his aid that 'You'd think his caddy would have mentioned it to him.' That is an illustration of the type of difficulties that Canadian leaders face in trying to make Presidents know what's going on up here."

Pressure from a pro-US media

One of the most important factors affecting Canada-US relations may not be the leaders of the two countries at all, but rather a new source of pressure to get along. Where is this pressure coming from? Canada's own media. "The print media has certainly become more pro-American and more right-wing, and so there's greater media pressure on Canadian governments to get along with the US and to favour US policies like the Iraq war," says Martin. "[Prior to the Iraq war] there was this disconnect between the media and the Canadian population where polls were showing Canadians were saying no, not unless the UN approves [the war] while the editorial positions of the papers were pro-war. So this is a new dynamic in the country--the trend of the media. And let's face it, Prime Ministers pay attention to what the media is saying because it creates a lot of pressure."

In the end, then, it may be up to the alternative media and grassroots efforts like the Dominion to carry the torch for Canadian sovereignty and balance out the push to concede to US demands. Canada-US relations may not be the better for it, but Canada itself likely will be.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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