Date: Monday, January 09 2006
Canadian Politics Are All About America
By Anna Morgan
Sunday, January 8, 2006; B02
TORONTO Barely 18 months ago, Canadian party leaders were out campaigning for better health care policies, a cure for Quebec's nationalist aspirations and an end to government corruption scandals. But since the minority government put in place in June 2004 lost a no-confidence vote late last November, the politicians have been back out on the stump, preparing for a new election on Jan. 23. This time, though, running in the two coldest months of winter, they've been using that familiar demon -- the United States and all its evils -- as the fuel to heat Canadian voters to a frenzy.
There's no denying that Canadians are in an even more anti-American mood than usual, thanks to the Iraq war and the Bush administration's perceived arrogance. And politicians here are playing to that mood. In a blatant appeal for votes, candidates of every stripe, led by Prime Minister Paul Martin and his ruling Liberal Party, are taking aim at Washington, blasting it for taxing Canadian lumber imports, for failing to fight global warming, for lax gun-control laws, for dealing inappropriately with the war on terrorism. And all the while, they're studiously ignoring Canada's own homegrown issues.
America-bashing became such a central part of the election landscape last month that U.S. ambassador David H. Wilkins warned that Canadian-American relations could take a turn for the worse if party leaders didn't back off. But his words only prompted Canadian politicians to lash back with admonitions of their own. Even Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservatives, the party generally most sympathetic to the United States, declared: "I don't think foreign ambassadors should be expressing their views or intervening in an election."
In keeping with a long political tradition, the United States ignores Canada whenever possible. Nonetheless, the issues between the two countries just keep piling up. Leading the way is the softwood lumber dispute. Three years ago, the United States began imposing import duties on Canadian lumber after American producers complained that the Canadian government was all but subsidizing the lumber industry. Canada objected, and last August, arbitrators for the North American Free Trade Agreement decided in its favor. But Americans still have not fully complied with the NAFTA ruling to lift the duties, so Prime Minister Martin has made confronting Washington on this score a main issue of his campaign, even though lumber represents less than 3 percent of Canadian exports to the United States.
While American non-compliance with NAFTA may be a legitimate beef for Canadians, politicians have also been indulging in some inflated rhetoric on other fronts where Canada isn't on such solid ground. The specific attack to which Wilkins responded, for example, had to do with the Kyoto environmental accord. In welcoming a United Nations conference on global warming in Montreal last month, Martin criticized the United States for not signing the agreement and urged it to pay attention to the "global conscience."
In doing so, he conveniently neglected to mention that Canada, which is one of the accord's major promoters, so far hasn't complied with its emission reduction requirements. The United States, in fact, has done a better job in dealing with greenhouse gases. A U.S. Department of Energy report released in December noted that American emissions for 2004 were 16 percent higher than in 1990. A similar study prepared by Environment Canada reported that greenhouse gas emissions rose 24 percent here between 1990 and 2003. But in the current election environment, the prime minister knows that it is hot air that really counts.
Anna Morgan is a freelance journalist and author in Canada.