Thursday, December 15, 2005

Canadian election, American interference

Do U.S. officials have this overwhelming itch to interfere in issues that don't concern them? Like, for example, the Canadian election?

Yesterday, United States Ambassador David Wilkins made a statement that Canadian politicians on the campaign trail should not "bash Washington," or, in essence, use it as an issue to win the election. He feels that anti-American sentiments could undermine the relations between the two countries. No, Mr. Wilkins, I believe the President's stance on softwood lumber tariffs are responsible for that -- and Kyoto (although, to be fair, we do need to work on that; we're not any better on pollution right now).

Does this American presidency have such a thin skin that it cannot withstand comments from Canada? Honestly. While I'm not too keen on the U.S.-bashing at times (hey, I love New York and the blue states), the fact of the matter is that anti-Americanism is a large part of the identity of the country, beginning when the United States became independent.

Even the first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, came up with his (distinctly anti-American) National Policy in 1876 to protect local farmers, workers, and industries from American companies. Elections have always been won that way, and that threat of being swallowed up by the U.S. and its culture has always struck fear in the hearts of Canadians. And it works, because it's true: We don't want to be American.

But apart from that, the concern over the lumber tariffs, as Paul Martin refuted, existed even before this election was called -- and it is a genuine issue because the Canadian industry is suffering under it, and the President Bush has continuously chosen to ignore NAFTA rulings. So why is the ambassador's feathers ruffled over this now? It's bewildering.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, however, is "unrepentant" in his stance. During an appearance at a sawmill in British Columbia, Martin stated, "I am not going to be dictated to as to the subjects that I should raise... I will make sure that Canada speaks with an independent voice now, tomorrow and always, and you should demand nothing less from your prime minister."

Even Conservative Leader Stephen Harper called Wilkins's comments "inappropriate" and said that no foreign ambassador should be intervening in another country's election campaign.

This is the first time (and likely the last) I'll ever agree with Harper.

Canada is a sovereign and independent nation. While we may be close trading partners with the United States, we are by no means an extention of it. When there are matters and issues under our jurisdiction that require our attention and protection, we're going to tackle them, even if that means confronting our southern neighbours. We won't be dictated to.

The best thing for the U.S. government to do would be to distance itself from David Wilkins's statements and offer to resolve these problems in a fair and timely manner with whomever is elected. Though I seriously doubt that'll happen -- we're dealing with Dubya here. Enough said.

At the same time, the NDP and Conservatives, while disapproving of Wilkins's statements, are using this opportunity to jump on the Liberals, calling the anti-American rhetoric "posturing". But, as I've said, softwood lumber and climate change were considered major issues before the election was even called, and Martin was very visibly working on them.

It seems right now that the only person being forced to tone down his rhetoric is U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins. Oh, the irony.

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  • Are you trying to say that no official of any country should comment on the behaviour of politicians in any other country? Mr Martin had made only slightly veiled criticisms of George Bush just days before, something he likely did to draw American fire so he could paint himself as the great defender of the nation at election time. That's what the ambassador was reacting to, I think. At least the fellow was civilized in his comments. Notlike the Liberal, Carolyn Parrish, who Americans in the lobby of parliament.

    By Blogger Ogilvie, at 7:44 PM  

  • Sorry, I omitted an important word in my reference to Ms Parrish. It should read, "...cursed Americans in the lobby of parliament."

    By Blogger Ogilvie, at 7:47 PM  

  • That wasn't my point. Wilkins overstepped his bounds by, basically, saying, "You shouldn't say that during the election."

    As for Ms. Parrish, she is no longer a member of the Liberal Party - Martin removed her from the ranks months ago because of her comments, which were unacceptable from a diplomatic standpoint. She has been sitting as an independent and, to my knowledge, will not be running for Parliament again.

    Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and the Liberal government have been making noise about the softwood lumber dispute for a while. Wikipedia mentions Finance Minister Ralph Goodale speaking out over the NAFTA ruling and considering litigation against the U.S. since August of this year, with Paul Martin supporting him quite vocally.

    Major election rumblings and tensions did not start until late October/early November.

    The ambassador has already called us "overly emotional" when the Martin government fumed at the U.S. refusal to adhere to the NAFTA ruling. I'd call that a case of "foot-in-mouth" disease on Wilkins' part.

    The Canadian government was and is trying to solve a long-existing problem and attempting to protect a vulnerable industry. I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    By Blogger Grace, at 8:27 PM  

  • How do you feel, then, about U.S. and other foreign businesses trying to influence Canadian policy by using Canadian-based lobbyists like, oh, let me see....Earnscliffe Strategy Group (Mr Martin's close friends), or S.A. Murray Consulting Inc? For example, scientists at Health Canada complained they were being pressured by their managers to approve a bovine growth hormone which had potential health risks. It turned out that a Murray Consulting lobbyist for the drug maker, a U.S multi-national, just happened also to be an adviser to Health Canada. This sort of "political interference" goes on all the time, and to me is much more worthy of concern than a speech by the U.S. ambassador.

    By Blogger Ogilvie, at 8:44 PM  

  • And yet that bovine growth hormone, rbST, also known as rBGH, is banned in Canada.

    That's a different can of worms, when a corporation tries to influence any government. I disapprove of that as well, but that's a completely different topic.

    By Blogger Grace, at 9:01 PM  

  • CANADA IS NOT AN INDEPENDENT, SOVEREIGN NATION in reality, it is only a formality.Your "country" is a province of the united states just like vermont or wisconsin.We, Americans should have the right to comment on your political affairs, for America is like your father. If a father lets his children badmouth him in front of his guests, it makes him look bad and hurts the family. Canada has a debt and a duty to the United States, it should be respected, not tarnished.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:42 AM  

  • Being am American with alot of Canadian friends, I think that the last comment is over the top. Canada owes us NOTHING. However, neither do we, the US owe Canada anything. It is true that Canada depends heavily on the US for her existence and security - and that dependence breeds contempt from both sides. Lets close the border and leave Canada to rot...thats my vote

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:06 AM  

  • The anonymous commenter above fails to realize that the United States depends on Canada a great deal more than would appear at first glance. Apart from the exports of oil and electricity that keep the American economic machine humming, production chains for complex goods from cars to airplanes to telephone switching equipment are now so tightly integrated across the border that shutting it would lead to the "rotting" of large sectors of the American economy in order to spite Canada.

    More significantly, however, I think we've come to see in the last week just how much the United States relies on the high moral standing of its northern neighbour to legitimize the international exercise of its power. It is telling that years of condemnation from around the world could not bring the United States to the climate change table, but a rebuke from Paul Martin finally made the Bush Administration reverse course, if only in a very modest way.

    When you're the big guy on the block and your closest neighbour and best friend starts having issues with you, it can't be long before everyone else begins to doubt the sincerity of your motives. That ought to be the lesson Washington takes away from this tawdry incursion into Canadian domestic politics.

    By Blogger Vivek Krishnamurthy, at 4:43 PM  

  • An interesting exchange, everyone. I think Grace is right that Wilkins overstepped his bounds -- the bounds of friendship between the U.S. and Canada. But would anyone care to respond to Vivek? It seems to me that he makes some solid points. The U.S. needs Canada more than it even realizes.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 11:57 PM  

  • Vivek,

    I´m sorry for using the familial metaphor again, but it is the only suitable one for the situation.

    The U.S. depends on canada like a Father depends on a son for emotional support. It is not a partnership of equals for 85 % of Canada´s exports are sent to the United States, while only 23% of US exports are sent to Canada. The industrial area that Canada and the US shares is already rotting, GM,Ford, Adelphi, and even Nortel, are going through massive downsizing. I concede that we are dependent on your raw materials, but that does not qualify Canada to be in any real sense an equal sovereign nation. It has always been a colony, switching from French masters, to British masters, finally ending up in american hands in the 1880s. Please, let´s not fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, something this blog does a tad too often.

    "Paul Martin finally made the Bush Administration reverse course"

    Paul Martin did not singlehandly cause the US Republican government to enter the climate change table. The U.S gave in because of all the other issues it´s facing heat for, not because Paul Martin gave him a slap on the hand. You see why I have a problem with this blog??? Vivek, Gracia, and Michael, let´s get past our biasness, and call the game how it really is. You guys are all fantastic writers, and have some good ideas to put on the table, but your canadian nationalism sometimes get´s in the way of clarity.

    I do agree though, as vivek said, that the lesson to be learned is more cooperation, and less confrontation, but not too much cooperation, just enough... Good example´s would be Theodore Roosevelt, JFK, even Bill Clinton.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:27 PM  

  • i think that this american that thinks his country is the father and canada is the son...smokes to much crack cocaine....i realize that crack is a growing problem in the united the crack users are posting uneducated blogs....remember your country and prez could not find any weapons of mass destruction in iraq...maybe your country should find a brain and use for a prez that is not an alcoholic and former drug user....only in america can this happen have an incompitant leader...we are superior to the state...maybe we should shut the power off to the states and see how long they can be a "super power" in the world....who's your daddy now?? eh?!?!?!?!?!?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:30 AM  

  • I am an expat Canadian and US citizen. I served in the Canadian Military, which Canadians pretty much despise unless they are clearing snow, or peace keeping in a relatively safe place.

    The wife and I came here under NAFTA on TN visa's as nurses. When Canada didn't give a crap about its ailing national health care system. Thank god for that.

    I am regularily embarrassed by the new Canadian Patriotism and Identity which is, "We are not American's we are everything they are not." "Yaaay Canada, screw the US!" Thats it...oh and that peace and love multiculturalism thing. The "old" Canadian identity, you know, the one you can actually be proud of is filed away like a retarded cousin.

    On a recent trip to visit family, we were shocked how very unfriendly Canadians are. It all came back to us. We were confronted continually, berated and did not engage our gracious hosts. Never once in 12 years has an American made me feel unwelcome. You live in a world of un-reality. You have a "gun" problem, not a criminal or criminal justice system problem. "We must not be putting enough money into some social program or this wouldn't be happening."

    Canadians have thrust their country into a state of affairs where they do not matter. They talk the talk, but really, it doesn't mean anything.

    Let me describe one on many examples how embarrassing you are to me by my wifes response to a Canadian patriotic ambush. At a funeral no less. Some guy was ranting to us how "the Americans think they own us!!!" My wife responded by saying, "You know what American's think of you?.........They don't. Just about every country in the world is more relivant."

    Easy to be a sideline quarterback when you never have to put the rubber to the ashphalt.

    Softwood lumber? You have an 80 billion dollar trade surplus with the US (and a lot of trees). So a politician politicizes the issue because he knows it is the only way he can take a "strong" stand with the US in public and be a champion for Canucks.....cause basically you don't have anything else to bitch about as Canucks are absent when it comes to world issues. Now it serves as a battle cry. Take your wood and shove it.

    Last time I checked this was a capitalist country where you negotiate deals. Money talks. You don't force your wares on your customers. It is give and take. The US owes you nothing as stated before, so sell your wood to Japan. Seems with an 80 billion $ trade surplus, NAFTA is treating you just fine.

    Some day you will all look around and ask yourselves..."Just who are we anyway?"

    I have lived both places and I can tell you most NUKs don't have a clue. I have nightmares about being forced to return to the GULAG and have that great healthcare system and everything else stuffed down my throat.

    Thank God there are still a few intelligent Canadians who voted this year.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:27 PM  

  • Not meaning to put down other cultures I'am struck by the coldness and unfriendliness of many
    Canadians. Polite maybe but if your
    different your considered a maverick. If you talk at work you
    get reprimanded. It like if you
    lose at something your congratulated. Just the boorish diposition of Canadians can be very depressing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:19 PM  

  • i would like to one day become prime of canada, and hang that bastard bush. americans are so blind, they think everyone "loves and respects them." Rusians, French, Canadians, Asians. They all hate you, and the UK, oh they might be jerking you off right now but the peope will change their mind. and as soon as the other half of canada sees how we are being lied to and being robbed by our neighbour, our government will go back to the way it was.

    when americans grow too strong they will have to fight the world, and they can barely take a thirdworld country despite popular belif of american millitary strenght. a russian-china frount could take america in a mounth.

    american is weak
    america has nothing
    the american people are simple minded
    the american people blind

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:55 AM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:50 PM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:33 AM  

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