12/14/2005

Bush Administration Interference In Canadian Election

As the Canadian election campaign drags its predictable bones through one of the colder Decembers in recent memory, something has finally happened to spice up the proceedings a little bit. Not surprisingly it was nothing that any of our own political leaders have said or done that's been too much out of the ordinary. It's taken the ham fisted interference of the Bush administration in the campaign to actually wake Canadians out of their mid winter hibernation and stir themselves to active interest in the proceedings. Canada and the United States' administration have been at loggerheads the past couple of years over the softwood lumber tariff issue. Coupled with the mad cow scare, our unwillingness to join the coalition of American led troops invading Iraq, and our refusal to sign on to a joint missile defence program, this had led to a period of cool relations between the two countries. Then last week, at a climate change summit in Montreal, Prime Minister Paul Martin said that the American government didn't care about climate change. Considering George Bush and company's steadfast refusal to sign on to the Kyoto Accord, which requires little real commitment to change, this isn't saying anything which isn't pretty much already public knowledge. Paul Martin had been scheduled to speak at this summit long before a Canadian election was called, so the timing of the event was coincidental not planned. That being said Mr. Martin's comments were probably influenced by the fact that he is in the middle of an election campaign and that Canadians have shown they are not very happy with the current American administration. But instead of just letting it slide for what it is; election rhetoric, the Bush administration has chosen to seemingly interfere directly in the campaign. In the last week or so they have taken actions that show implied support for a change of government in Canada. The first step was the public chastisement of the Canadian Ambassador to the United States last week over Mr. Martin's statement about the Kyoto accord. According to comments made by political science Professor Stephen Clarkson in the "Globe and Mail" that, short of expulsion, there isn't any more serious an action that can be taken against an ambassador aside from this type of rebuke. This was followed by a speech by the American Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, warning Canadians that they risked long term harm to American/Canadian friendship by going for short term political gains through criticizing American policy. Since this seems to be the standard American practice, have the ambassador threaten the sanctity of our relationship, every time a Canadian politician publicly disagrees with American policy, one might wonder how this can be seen as American interference in the election. Professor Clarkson argues that the timing of these two incidents coupled with the recent public stances taken by supporters of groups like the National Rifle Association and Friends of the Family shows that the current administration has set it's sights on a regime change in Canada. There's a slight problem for them however. Given the current antipathy most Canadians feel for the American government and its policies, attempts to influence the voters by speaking out against somebody will backfire. They will make Mr. Martin look like he's standing up the Americans and being the great defender of Canada against the big bully next door. Public opinion of the Bush administration in Canada is so low that Conservative Party leader, Steven Harper, is taking great pains to distance himself from any sign of endorsement by the American government. He's gone from being one of the biggest proponents of joining the coalition in Iraq to now saying he wouldn't send Canadian troops there. When the "Washington Times" wrote an article saying how his election would please Mr. Bush, he wrote them a letter denying most of the points they made in their commentary. If you're talking about political expediency the finger shouldn't be pointed at Mr. Martin over this issue, but Mr. Harper. Just over a year ago he was invited to a personal meeting with Mr. Bush at the White House, a very rare occurrence for the leader of the opposition in a foreign government. While Mr. Martin and the Liberal party have taken to wrapping themselves in the Canadian flag over the past couple of years, Mr. Harper has until very recently been spouting rhetoric similar to that of Ambassador Wilkins. The Bush administration has a 70% disapproval ratting amongst Canadians right now. While that means squat in terms of how it affects him in the United States, in terms of Canadian politics it's a big deal. Any American denunciation of a Canadian politician is going to register as a ringing endorsement in the ears of the public up here. Canadians, unlike their neighbours to the south, do not tend to be overt in their pride of country. With the exception of international hockey matches we hardly ever put on emotional displays of patriotism. However that does not mean we take our independence or our sovereignty for granted. As a smaller nation living next to a world power we are very sensitive to actions that even give the appearance of attempting to interfere with out internal decision-making process. The actions of the Bush administration over the last couple of weeks while maybe not deliberate attempts at influence are sure being construed as such by many Canadians. If the American government were serious about wanting to see a change in regime in Canada they would be better off doing either absolutely nothing and hope that Paul Martin's popularity continues to erode, or resorting to reverse psychology and endorsing the party the don't support while criticizing the one they do. Their reputation is so tarnished here that any party they support will become immediately suspect and anybody they are critical about…well you get the picture. If the Bush administration was sincere in their desire for Canadian/American relations not to suffer they sure seem to have a funny way of showing it. Uttering veiled threats in an attempt to influence the voters of a sovereign nation are not the actions of a friendly neighbour. One has to wonder about the level of their maturity if they are unable to accept criticism about their policies from an ally without lashing out. It's postures like this that have led to them being one of the most mistrusted American administrations since the heyday of Richard Nixon in Canada and other countries. While the majority of Canadians have nothing but genuine affection for our neighbours to the south, the current administration is putting a strain on relations that will take a serious effort on the part of future leaders to restore. One can only hope that Canadian leaders show a little more maturity than their counterparts south of the border; ignore the recent rhetoric and not respond in kind less this escalate into a cooling of relations that citizens of neither country want. The 49th parallel has long been a symbol of how two sovereign nations of differing philosophies can co-exist harmoniously and co-operatively. It would be a shame to see that end.

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