TOPICS > Politics

New Canadian Leader

December 12, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: In separate events in Ottawa today, Jean Chretien ended ten years as prime minister and Paul Martin took over the job by virtue of his top position in the parliament’s governing liberal party. The ceremony included a native Indian purification ritual and an oath of office in both French and English.

PAUL MARTIN: (in French and English) I, Paul Martin, do solemnly promise and swear that I will clearly and faithfully -

RAY SUAREZ: The 65 year old Martin, a former finance minister, is credited with shrinking Canada’s budget deficit in the ’90s. He’s made a key priority improving trade and security ties with the United States, with whom Canada’s 32 million people share a 5,000-mile border. Martin spoke at an afternoon press conference.

PAUL MARTIN (Translated from French): Sept. 11 changed everything. So the first thing to do is to reestablish the tone between the countries. So that we can look at the fundamental problems: whether it’s soft wood lumber, the situation with the reconstruction in Iraq, rebuilding Iraq, or agricultural problems between our two countries.

RAY SUAREZ: Martin’s predecessor, Chretien, sent Canadian forces to the war in Afghanistan, but not to Iraq. And this week, Chretien’s government and Martin criticized the Pentagon announcement that U.S.-funded Iraq rebuilding contracts would go only to coalition members. But yesterday, on the eve of his resignation, Chretien got a call from President Bush.

JEAN CHRETIEN: And he told me that the mention of Canada in some press, that we were to be excluded from economic activities in Iraq, was not appropriate, and he was telling me to basically not to worry.

RAY SUAREZ: Martin inherits two controversial pieces of domestic legislation from Chretien: To decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and to legalize gay marriage. He’s publicly indicated he would continue the government’s support for both.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, a Canadian and U.S. Perspective. The Canadian is Allan Gotlieb, who served as ambassador in Washington in the 1980s. He is now a senior advisor to a Toronto law firm. The American is Charles Doran, a senior associate for the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is also director of the Center of Canadian Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Ambassador Gotlieb, let’s start with you. A new man at the top, a reshuffled cabinet but the same liberals still in charge. For Canadians, does the end of the Chretien era mean a big change?

ALLAN GOTLIEB: Well, you know, I think that there will be quite a big change you’re right. This is a continuation. It’s a new government, but the liberal party continues to rule. We’ll have an election probably in the next six months.

But I, frankly think that there will be a big change. I think these two men, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, are very different people. They’ve worked in the same government for many years. They both did good work in eliminating the deficit in Canada year after year. But they are very different people.

I think Paul Martin is one of the most experienced politicians that this country has ever produced. I think he’s a large thinker. I think he has a wide ranging knowledge of the world, and his years in finance. And I think he will give a very high priority to getting our relationship with you, with the United States, on to a better footing.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Doran, looking north from this side of the border, is it a big change?

CHARLES DORAN: I think it is. I think that what I liked very much was his statement, Mr. Martin’s statement about changing the tone in the relationship. That’s really an important thing to be sensitive to. There are lots of specific issues. There are lots of constraints that both sides have. This is a difficult period of history. So you can’t expect enormous changes overnight. But what I like is the commitment, the sense that something needs to be done and that it can be done.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ambassador, there were a lot of articles written about the time that Prime Minister Chretien announced he would leave office about the lull, the lull in Canadian-American relations. What kind of shape do you perceive the relationship being in?

ALLAN GOTLIEB: Well, you know, if you go down the list of issues, I don’t think it’s in that bad shape. I had the honor to serve in the Reagan administration when Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau was at the helm. And I think our issues — we had more issues then. We had some very profound differences of philosophy about the role of government and that means we were causing a lot of ripples because the United States believed we were sort of nationalizing our oil industry, not quite true. And we had quite profound differences between our prime minister and your leadership on the — in terms of the Cold War. There was, I think, a feeling that Canada was — particularly our prime minister — that we were sort of thinking, that we were sort of finding a kind of moral equivalence between the two sides.

Well, you know, I don’t think if you look at the picture today, I don’t think there are that many issues. There are quite nasty ones: Soft wood lumber, wheat’s a problem. But somehow or other, what has changed is the level of confidence that seems to exist between the two countries, the two nations, and a sense I think that Canada is not as friendly, not as well disposed, not by America’s side. And that, I agree with Prof. Doran, I think the tone is very largely responsible.

We didn’t go into the war in Iraq. That is true. That was a disappointment that we weren’t members of the coalition. But I think again it was more the tone, more our standoffishness, more a sort of critical stance rather than the fact of our abstention. We never participated in the Vietnam War, but we had good relations. And, right now, in all Canada, we agree we have the same enemy. They’re the terrorists. We’ve committed 2,000 troops to Afghanistan. We are fighting terrorism. We’ve got our navy in the Persian Gulf. There is no disputing our goals and there’s no disputing who our enemy is. And so I don’t think the issues are that profound, quite frankly.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a response from Mr. Doran. Really a tone problem even though both countries are in NAFTA — there were healthy fights over prescription drugs, lumber, grains. Even though both countries are in NATO, public disputes over the war on terror, certainly the incursion into Iraq. Is it just a tone problem?

CHARLES DORAN: Well, there are lots of issues that will come up. For example, the issue of marijuana and how that’s dealt with and treated. I’m not making judgments about what the right policy is, but I think if there are different policies, the two governments are going to have to manage that. That’s not going to be easy. But I agree with Ambassador Gotlieb that it is certainly the case that overall this is a very, very deep and important relationship and it’s very positive on both sides. But I think, and it’s also the case that with regard to something like multilateral issues as we described, because we are always talking about bilateral and multilateral issues — the multilateral issues are really front and center and I agree that both Canada and the United States and all of the other democracies want to make a success of policies that exist in the Middle East, whatever the background has been.

But in fact, there are always things that tend to come up, and those have to be overcome. The only way they can be overcome is when the people at the top, in particular, can lift the phone and talk to one another in a relaxed way. And I think that’s exactly what is going to happen.

RAY SUAREZ: It was widely reported to be a difficult relationship between Prime Minister Chretien and President Bush. Even if the government’s policies are the same, does a change in leader provide an opportunity to start on a different foot with the American administration?

CHARLES DORAN: I think there’s always a chance for making things different when there’s a change of government or there’s a change of leadership. Of course there’s going to be continuity in terms of cabinets and so on. But I think it’s a chance to shuffle the cards once again, and to look at things in a different way. And so what I would hope to see is, you know, a little more pomp and circumstance of the old sort that indeed acknowledges each of these governments as being important to each other, and this is the kind of thing which I think citizens on both sides appreciate seeing, too. So I think maybe we’ll see some of those visits and exchanges that have been long postponed.

RAY SUAREZ: And Mr. Ambassador, the recent spat over the denial of Canadian access to Iraqi reconstruction contracts, do you think that this new man at the top provides an opportunity to revisit that issue?

ALLAN GOTLIEB: Well, I think so. I think that that’s why, you know, if I can just step back one second. Our relationship — and I’ve been an observer or involved in it for many years. We are always absolutely high up in issues and disputes. It’s absolutely inevitable that’s going to happen. You are a great democracy. I think we are a great democracy. We are going to have different public policies. Your policies are legitimate, democratically based. Our policies are legitimate, democratically based. We don’t have one country. We don’t have one Congress or parliament to decide them. So we are going to have to negotiate these things. And what is the most important thing in negotiation I think is the tone, is the attitude of confidence and mutual respect.

And I think that, and the issue you just raised, personally, I think it’s very understandable that the United States should say or President Bush, look, it’s our taxes, we’ve suffered. We’re paying for it. We and our coalition friends should have the contracts. I hope that he would… if that is his position, I hope that vis-à-vis Canada he would change his mind because we are fighting the same enemy. We are fighting terrorists. We have our people in Afghanistan I’ve said. And we are out there, and I think going forward among the allies, it’s a good sign to try to leave as much of the differences of the past behind us. I think Paul Martin can speak that way and I think he can speak very, very effectively that way. So I have to say that I think that the method of discourse, the way, the regard they have with each other — for each other — to get the ear today is no more important factor in bilateral relations than the mutual relationship at the top. Personal relations count. You don’t find that in the textbooks. You don’t necessarily find that in academy. But personal relations are critical. Peoples can change their mind at the top level. Leaders can accommodate. That’s what leadership is all about.

RAY SUAREZ: And I guess now that Martin is in office after waiting for a while, in sort of a waiting room to get to become prime minister, should we be looking for a meeting between the two leaders soon? This was something that there was some tension about with the Chretien administration?

CHARLES DORAN: Well, one ever knows. I mean, each of them have very crowded schedules. And you’ve got an election coming up, for example. That obviously is front and center. But in a reasonable period of time, I think it would be — I think the people on both sides of the border would like to see that kind of discussion in front of the TV cameras and kind of to make a judgment about the capacity of these two men to interact. I agree, I think that things are going to work very well, and if that’s the case, and I believe it is going to be the case, then let’s in fact get started with the kind of formalities that we have to put in place to show it. That’s all.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Doran, Ambassador Gotlieb, gentlemen, thank you both.