OTTAWA (CP) - Two days of friendly banter couldn't bridge the chasm separating George W. Bush and Paul Martin in style, substance and worldview. The personal rapport between the folksy, conservative Texan president and the blue-stocking, Liberal prime minister failed to erase obvious differences - notably on the war in Iraq. They used their own distinctive people skills to thaw out the chill between the Canadian and American administrations from the invasion of Iraq. And it might have worked, to a point.
"Paul Martin is a leader who is asserting Canada's good influence in the world," Bush said in a Halifax speech in one salvo of the charm offensive he unleashed this week. "As I prepare for a second term in office I look forward to a successful working partnership between our two countries." Martin was far more stingy in heaping praise, and that may speak volumes about the challenge he faces.
With his Liberal minority government on guard for an election at any moment, Martin is seeking an improved relationship with the U.S. without being seen as too cozy with a president none too popular with Canadians. The U.S. missile-defence shield is a perfect example of an initiative Martin might eagerly endorse - he has expressed support for it in the past - were it not for domestic political fears. His cautious feelings toward Bush's policies were evident Wednesday at a gathering of Halifax's business, legal, and political elite.
The warm standing ovation that greeted Bush on his way into what had been billed as a feel-good event turned to stony silence once the president began talking about actual policy. Bush exhorted Canada to fan out with him in the fight against terror, exporting it abroad and punishing terrorist-friendly states, blocking regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction while also joining his missile shield.
He paused for emphasis while delivering a handful of lines scheduled to draw applause, but quickly moved on when most landed with a thud. "There's only one way to deal with enemies who plot in secret and set out to murder the innocent and the unsuspecting: we must take the fight to them," he said, pausing. "We must be relentless and we must be steadfast in our duty to protect our people. Both of our countries have learned this lesson."
That lesson was the Second World War, and Bush lauded former prime minister Mackenzie King for sending Canadian troops even though Canada hadn't been attacked. If that carefully crafted message was designed to draw Canada deeper militarily into initiatives like Iraq, Martin wasn't buying it and he said as much. The prime minister twice pointed out during a news conference that the enemy King feared - European fascists - were nothing like the terrorists of today. "Terrorism is a global threat that's very, very different from the situation we were facing in the Second World War - which is what Mackenzie King was referring to," Martin said.
He also brushed aside Bush's references to military escalation and argued that both agreed Canada's role in the war on terror should be building democracy in failing states. "Essentially what we're talking about is the spread of democracy - and the spread of democracy takes places through elections," he said. "Which is why taking the battle outside of our borders really is the election in the Middle East, it is the election in Iraq and it is the election in Ukraine."
Friendly rapport between Bush and Martin will also go only so far in solving the longstanding trade disputes between their countries. Both agreed their officials should search for an improved dispute-resolution mechanism under NAFTA that avoids the endless string of litigation and negotiation that have hammered the Canadian cattle and lumber industries. Bush reiterated his hope that the border would open soon to Canadian cattle, but his administration was far less committal about Congress-imposed tariffs on softwood lumber. "The softwood lumber issue is one of these eternal issues in the U.S.-Canada relationship," said one White House official.
Canadians and Americans have been growing apart for years now. The issues that we disagree about seem to edge wider year by year. Note the issues that were not even discussed by Bush and Martin publicly. Prescription drugs, and the increasing practice of Americans buying them in Canada because they are cheaper. Marijuana, which Canada has been contemplating decrimalizing or even making legal. The death penalty, Canada is like most of the free world and doesn't have it while America is among the rare countries in the world that does allow it. The Kyoto Treaty, Canada signed on, America refuses.
The difference between the countries is that Canada is willing to advance on issues as most of the free world does and America tends to "go it alone" and essentially defy the world on so many issues. Canada wants to "get along" and be an equal partner in the free world. America wants to dominate the world. Candians have come to dislike American imperialism and self-absorption as much as most countries in the world.
Not to mention that Bush is just flatly wrong in how he sees things and this reflects on all us Americans. As Paul Martin can clearly distinguish but apparently Bush can't, terrorism is not World War II. Bush has done this before trying to equate the two and Martin clearly explains WWII was about stopping fascism. Someday maybe Americans will understand that there is a touch of fascism in the Bush gang. Just as fascist leaders made their people fear enemies to hold and gain power and to wage war, the Bushies have been using the fear card as well.
Although we might not know the true reason why Canada didn't support the Iraq War (as so many nations didn't support) but I wonder if they saw a bit of fascism or imperialism in the Bush ideology.