Pipe down, Paul
Date: Wednesday, November 02 2005
November 01, 2005
Pipe down, Paul
Is this what the PM calls a 'sophisticated' approach to our problems?
Time for a pop quiz on Canada-U.S. relations. Name the prime minister who said, "It is hardly fair to rely on the Americans to protect the West, but to refuse to lend them a hand when the going gets rough." Those who didn't guess it was Pierre Trudeau, defending his 1983 decision to allow U.S. cruise missile tests in Canada, try an easier one. Back in the apartheid days, Ronald Reagan and some other leaders favoured trying to sweet-talk South Africa's white regime out of racism, instead of imposing tough sanctions. Name the Canadian PM who delivered this rebuke: "The way of dialogue is not making progress but is regressing," and even hinted that he sympathized with the African National Congress's armed struggle. It was Brian Mulroney.
When it comes to the Americans, Canadian prime ministers don't always say what's expected of them. But there's usually strategy behind the surprises. Trudeau might have been hoping to bank some U.S. credit before embarking on his career-closing world peace tour. Mulroney was spending some that he had earned by being so close to Reagan on trade and other issues. Now it's Paul Martin's turn to defy expectations -- though he's done it so often lately that any shock has mostly worn off. Back when he was gunning for Jean Chrétien's job, Martin promised a more "sophisticated" approach to the U.S., which was interpreted as code for soothing George W. Bush's hurt feelings over Chrétien's decision to stay out of the Iraq war. Instead, Martin has taken to lobbing complaints, demands and rejections at the White House with a regularity that makes Chrétien's stance look positively demure.
Some Canada-U.S. watchers dismiss Martin's tough talk as posturing in the run-up to next spring's likely election. "Martin is going to continue with this knee-jerk anti-American tack until after the vote," predicts long-time Canadian diplomat John Noble, now retired and a fellow at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. Given that the Liberals are aiming to pick up seats in places like urban British Columbia -- where anti-Bush sentiment is not unknown -- that theory makes some sense. But top federal officials, not surprisingly, deny charges of prime ministerial pandering. They say Martin is no less strategic than his predecessors, and his blunt approach is grounded on two assumptions: that the Bush administration's gratitude for Canada's contribution in Afghanistan gives him leeway to speak out on other issues, and that American elite opinion is more open to Ottawa's arguments than many Canadian commentators realize.