EDMONTON — It was a small slip, but a telling one in terms of U.S./Canada relations. On Friday, the Canadian networks were covering the transition of the Prime Minister-ship from Jean Chretien, going out, to Paul Martin, coming in. As the TV cameras panned over car after chauffeur-driven car depositing happy new cabinet ministers on the steps of the Governor General’s house for the swearing-in ceremony, commentators were doing their best to talk some interest into this rather boring parade of politicians.
One network flashed an image on screen of the CNN website that contained the headline “Pro-American takes over as Canadian Prime Minister.” The conversation went something like this:
News Anchor: Paul Martin’s talked an awful lot about repairing Canada/U.S. relations. Well, some American newspapers are running some pretty positive headlines.
Commentator (former Liberal cabinet minister): Well, that’s a headline you certainly wouldn’t see in a Canadian newspaper, but as long as the Americans believe it, that’s great.
News Anchor: He-he.
And that was it, cut to the parade, on to a new topic.
But hold it a second, rewind that. What did that commentator say? He said, in effect, that Canadians don’t want to think of themselves as allies of the U.S., but Canadians certainly want Americans to think they are.
That’s a little two-faced, don’t you think? Besides, there are something like 293 million Americans and 32 million Canadians. This phony friendship thing is going to be a tough thing to fake.
But of course it is not quite like that. Canadians, like Americans, are not all of one mind.
Americans should understand the fault line in the Canadian political psyche runs along partisan lines parallel to American Republican/Democratic ones. If you are a Canadian who supports the Liberals — in power now for 10 years consecutively — you are probably shaded and jaded with anti-Americanism, but you weren’t just a few years back. Clinton bombs Serbia back to the stone age? Count us in. Bush attacks Iraq? Outrageous! Illegal! If you support the Conservatives, you are no doubt pro-American… for the moment.
Of course this is not absolute; but in general — for Doug and Kathy Canuck who don’t expend a lot of mental energy trying to remember who controls Congress or the Senate or even what they do — it applies.
This is Paul Martin’s dilemma. He wants good relations with the U.S. because he knows this is good for his country. He has something of a business background and Canada does most of its international business, something like 80 percent of its trade, with the U.S. Canadian big business understands this, too.
But he is head of the Liberal Party. A lot of Martin’s supporters, the people who actually vote, are at present reflexively anti-American because a Republican is in the White House. A few Americans might remember that the Canadian prime minister’s director of communications, Françoise Ducros, infamously called George Bush “a moron” just over a year ago. Well, a lot of Canadian Liberals agreed with her, and it’s a safe bet they still do.
So, if you are Paul Martin, what to do, what to do? On the one hand, he has to pander to the Mini-Me Democrats in Canada, while at the same time condescend to the Real Republicans in Washington.
Fate tossed Martin a curving puff ball on Sunday morning when it was announced that American forces had captured Saddam Hussein. Canada of course is not among “the coalition of the willing,” but even as the sun was coming up and most Canadians were still in their beds, Martin made his first foray into international politics as leader by dashing off messages of congratulations to both President Bush and Tony Blair for bagging the former dictator.
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