TOPICS > Politics

President Bush Visits Canada

December 1, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


ANNOUNCER: The President of the United States and the prime minister of Canada.

GWEN IFILL: Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin welcomed President Bush to the Canadian coastal city of Halifax today. It was the second stop on the president’s first official visit to Canada.

PAUL MARTIN: Mr. President, this place is Canada, and it is an honor today to share it with the leader of our nation’s great friend.

GWEN IFILL: Residents of Halifax, Toronto and many other Canadian cities took in thousands of U.S.-bound airline passengers who were stranded for days after the 9/11 attacks.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: One American declared, “My heart is overwhelmed at the outpouring of Canadian compassion.” How does a person say thank you to a nation?

Well, that’s something a president can do. And so, let me say directly to the Canadian people and to all of you here today who welcomed Americans: Thank you for your kindness to America in an hour of need. ( Applause )

SINGING: — through the perilous fight…

GWEN IFILL: While Canadians stood with the U.S. in the days after 9/11 and sent forces to Afghanistan, the bonds between the longstanding allies frayed over the U.S. Decision to go to war in Iraq.

Part of the goal of this visit was to begin the process of mending those fences, but many Canadians are in no mood for that. 45 percent of them now view the U.S. unfavorably, up from just 8 percent in 1981. President Bush is especially unpopular.

WOMAN: I was really disappointed when he got re-elected.

MAN: It’s hard to understand how Americans could vote for someone who’s made so many mistakes.

GWEN IFILL: Eighty percent of Canadians agreed with their government’s opposition to the Iraq War, a sentiment which played out yesterday in the streets of Ottawa. Mr. Bush, however, remained unapologetic.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We just had a poll in our country where people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to be: “Stay in place for four more years.”

I made some decisions, obviously, that some in Canada didn’t agree with, like, for example, removing Saddam Hussein and enforcing the demands of the United Nations Security Council.

GWEN IFILL: Much of Canada’s 32.5 million people are concentrated in major cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. That leaves vast acres of land open for logging, farming and cattle ranching, major money makers that account for a large part of $1 billion-a-day in trade with the U.S. and also for some of the thorniest disputes between the two nations.

The U.S. has placed steep import tariffs on Canadian lumber, an issue now before the World Trade Organization. Ranchers are incensed over a U.S. ban on Canadian cattle imposed after the discovery of a single case of Mad Cow Disease in Alberta last year. America is Canada’s largest beef customer. Today, the president noted the extent of U.S./Canadian trade, but made light of the Mad Cow controversy.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: 23 percent of America’s exports go directly North, and more than 80 percent of Canadian’s exports go to my country. With so much trade, there are bound to be some disagreements. I proudly ate some Alberta beef last night… (laughter) …and I’m still standing. (Laughter and applause)

GWEN IFILL: Increasingly, there is also a political and a cultural disconnect between the two countries, which, on occasion, can degenerate into sneering animosity, as in this American cartoon.

SOUTH PARK SEGMENT: Well, blame Canada –

It seems that everything’s gone wrong since Canada came along.

Blame Canada. Blame Canada.

They’re not even a real country, anyway.

GWEN IFILL: Prime Minister Martin’s efforts to initiate a thaw in icy U.S./Canadian relations were complicated when a liberal member of parliament, Carolyn Parrish, mocked and abused a President Bush doll on Canadian television. She was expelled from her caucus several days later. But today in Halifax, President Bush emphasized the values the two nations share in common.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We believe in the right of every person to live in freedom. We believe in free markets humanized by compassion and fairness. We believe a diverse society can also be united by principles of justice and equality. With so much in common and so much at stake, we cannot be divided.

I realize, and many Americans realize, that it’s not always easy to sleep next to the elephant. (Laughter) As a member of Canada’s parliament said in the 1960s, “the United States is our friend whether we like it or not.” (Laughter and applause) When all is said and done, we are friends, and we like it.

GWEN IFILL: Now for more on how Canadians have come to view their neighbor to the South, we’re joined by three Canadian citizens who think and write about cross-border relations.

Margaret Wente is a columnist at the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto and author of “An Accidental Canadian.” Rick Mercer is a comedian and satirist who hosts a popular weekly CBC television show, “Rick Mercer’s Monday Report.” And Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine. Welcome all of you.

Professor Kingwell, I would like to start with that comment the president just made about sleeping with an elephant. How would you gauge the state of U.S.-Canadian relations right now?

MARK KINGWELL: Well, I think probably it’s fair to say that they haven’t been this bad in recent memory. I think probably you’d have to go back more than four or five decades to have a sense of what was described as a disconnect primarily it seems to me not because both countries aren’t liberal political organizations — they are.

I mean, those are the shared values — but because there are fundamental rifts on what kind of liberalism each country is pursuing. And the reasoned objection to an unjust war, the legitimate claims of cultural independence in these trade disputes where we are simply protecting the interests of our farmers and ranchers and loggers have highlighted those differences.

So I would say probably it hasn’t been this bad for a long time. It certainly historically has been worse; you know, in 1813, the British attacked Washington and the Americans attacked Canada. So we are not that bad. But… and I’d like to say by the way, that many of my best friends are American.

GWEN IFILL: That’s so kind of you.

MARK KINGWELL: I have a feeling — I have a feeling both in my own experience and talking to many people across this country, that things have rarely been this bad.

GWEN IFILL: Margaret Wente, what is your take on that?

MARGARET WENTE: Well, it is certainly safe to say that George Bush is the most unpopular American president since Richard Nixon, for sure. And that goes back a ways. But at the same time, Canadians want their government to be on fairly good speaking terms with the United States, with Washington, because we know where our interests lie.

And we are so economically dependent on the United States that any fraying of that relationship at the top is going to hurt, and so I think people, especially the business community, felt that this meeting and this sign of friendship and I have to say that the two men got along pretty well; the body language was pretty good.

There was a sense that it was long overdue and it was kind of a relief that on some level we started to try to close that gap, and at least get back on speaking terms again.

GWEN IFILL: Rick Mercer, did you see the ice breaking or are we making too much of this split?

RICK MERCER: Well, obviously actions speak louder than words. That’s why Mr. Bush decided to come to Canada because one of the big sticking points between Canada and the United States is that Bush never came here. And since the beginning of time, the president of the United States generally when he went on a state visit for the first time, he would come to Canada.

And, you know, Bush didn’t do that and that kind of set the tone. And the words would come from his ambassador and his ambassador would roll back and forth across the country for the last four years telling Canadians what to do and telling us, you know, what we were doing wrong and how we should run our country and what laws we should pass and should not pass.

And, as a result, there has been an incredible amount of animosity building between the two nations and not just over trade, which is obviously very big, but this feeling that there is this attitude coming from Washington that Canada is, you know, is a state, essentially someone who should do just what they’re told when they’re told.

And, you know, Canadians didn’t buy into that. And, as a result, that’s why you see George Bush being phenomenally unpopular in this country.

GWEN IFILL: Rick Mercer, how much does it matter to Canadians what Americans think? Are Canadians viewing themselves through an American lens?

RICK MERCER: Well, we would like to think we don’t care but clearly we do care. I mean, one of the interesting things about Canadians is that we do sometimes define ourselves by how we are different than America. There is no doubt about it. Our nose is out of joint when George Bush snubbed us the first time around, but at the same time we’ve always been friends.

We’ve always been neighbors and yes, one does care what one’s neighbor thinks of one. So it’s not like we are relishing in the fact that the president doesn’t seem to like us or that there is this animosity between the two nations.

We have actually been a little bit confused by it, I think. But, you know, in the issue of Iraq, we had no choice. We just, you know, stood our ground. And that worked out for the prime minister of the day because overwhelmingly, over 80 percent of the Canadian people stood by him.

And actually I’m surprised to see George Bush coming to visit. And it’s probably a good thing for the relationship between the two nations and especially on the issues of, you know, beef and lumber. That’s what’s important here — not really, you know, what we think of George Bush; that doesn’t really matter.

GWEN IFILL: Well, Mark Kingwell, let’s talk about those sore spots, especially the cattle ban and the lumber tariffs. How big a deal have those been? Have they been the driving force in any deterioration in the relationship?

MARK KINGWELL: Well, first of all I think many Alberta ranchers are not going to be particularly pleased with the mockery that the president offered on the issue. This has been a serious hit to the economy of the prairies.

And while it doesn’t get the same kind of attention as the foreign policy issues because it doesn’t seem so emotional and doesn’t affect all Canadians, or not obviously, it hasn’t had the same attention. And yet I think Rick is right. On a day-to-day basis, these trade issues are far more important.

I think American policy — trade policy has not been willing to recognize the deep importance of the Canadian market to the health of the American economy. I mean Margaret spoke about our interests. Well, yeah, we have our interests, but the Americans have our interests in keeping us happy, too.

And I think this is the forgotten fact in most Canada-U.S. relations. I think likewise many Canadians are wondering not just why Bush is here now, but why it took him three years to thank us for what happened after 9/11. This was a significant breach of diplomatic protocol when there was no forthcoming thank at the time.

And I think that was part of what made the relationship deteriorate, part of a general loss of faith in the American attitude after 9/11.

GWEN IFILL: So are you suggesting that the goodwill that we saw on display when the president joked about the beef and when the president said thank you, didn’t necessarily sit that well with Canadians?

MARK KINGWELL: Well, it didn’t sit well with this Canadian. I think it is disingenuous. I also think that his defense of his actions in Iraq as being in accordance with the United Nations Security Council is disingenuous.

The Bush administration has consistently failed to cooperate with the United Nations; something that Canadians have been urging all along as the real basis of any kind of legitimate international action.

He has also refused to cooperate with the international criminal court with various measures which Canadian diplomats and thinkers have been spearheading to try to give a legitimate basis to international law so that we don’t see the kind of rogue action that we have seen in Iraq.

GWEN IFILL: Margaret Wente, let’s talk a little bit about Iraq. Has the president or have Americans successfully made their case with Canadian observers, with Canadian citizens about the reason why United States felt the need to go into Iraq? And has the breach been healed over about Canada’s decision not to support the U.S. on that?

MARGARET WENTE: Well, no, generally no, Canadians are still pretty unconvinced that that was a wise thing to do. I think the question now is what do we do? What is appropriate for to us do now that the United States is there, now that there’s a certain necessary commitment to turning the thing around.

And I think sometimes Canadians tend to be too obsessed with the past and not as engaged as they could be with how we could contribute to the reconstruction effort. There certainly are some things that we’ve got to offer. In fact, our prime minister said during this visit that we are going to contribute some money and some expertise. And I think that’s quite appropriate.

There is some kind of role that we can play in partnering with the United States. And I think we should think about playing that kind of role. It’s important. We still have some kind of constructive thing that we can do in the world.

GWEN IFILL: Rick Mercer, let’s talk about your prime minister, Paul Martin. Obviously there is a different relationship between he and President Bush and his predecessor, Jean Chrétien. Perhaps Iraq was part of that. How would you compare the two?

RICK MERCER: Well, when our current prime minister, Paul Martin, you know, came into power, one of the first things that he made clear was he was going to warm up the relationship between Canada and the United States.

And he was going to head on down to the states and he was going to, you know, make that relationship work. And he tried very desperately to do that. And, you know, that’s a fine line to walk in Canada because we don’t want our prime minister to be seen sucking up to the president too much.

But he went. He did his job. And people expected and I think Paul Martin expected there would be some thawing and there would be some movement on the big files of softwood lumber and Alberta beef or Canadian beef and nothing happened.

So – you know, but now we see them being cozy with one another, so I guess perhaps they get along or at least they get along in front of the cameras, which is more than, you know, our former president and former prime minister did.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean or suggest in any way that years of being allies can counter balance these recent tensions?

RICK MERCER: Well, I would hope that, you know, when push came to shove, that, you know, all of these problems could be solved because of the historic relationship between the two countries. But, you know, it just doesn’t seem to be going that way.

In Canada we definitely do think that these directives are coming directly from the White House, and directly from George Bush. It seems to me that, you know, with softwood… you said at the top of the show, this is an issue that’s in front of the World Trade Organization.

Well, in front of the World Trade Organization once again because time and time again the World Trade Organization says Canada is not doing anything wrong and the United States should not be putting these tariffs on softwood lumber and the United States does whatever it wants to do.

And you know, George Bush is making jokes about Canadian beef – it’s you know, these are very touchy issues, and what we need to see is action, not just photo-ops, quite frankly.

GWEN IFILL: Margaret Wente, watching the elections from north of the border, what was the sense of how people reacted to the outcome?

MARGARET WENTE: I think many people were surprised that Bush got back in with as decisive a majority as he did. People thought it would be a squeaker. People thought the first time was an accident. But the second time seemed inexplicable; it’s because we really don’t understand the United States, I think, as well as we think we do.

GWEN IFILL: What does that mean?

MARGARET WENTE: And I’d like to make one other point.

GWEN IFILL: Well, go ahead.

MARGARET WENTE: Which is that, you know, we make George Bush a lightning rod for all of this. But in fact, the strain of anti-Americanism in Canada goes back long before George Bush. It has always been a theme in Canadian life.

You know, to some extent, we like to define ourselves as in opposition to the Americans, as more tolerant, less gun-owning, less crime, more virtuous and all those sorts of things that make us feel as if we’re kind of morally superior. And we forget that, for example, the trade disputes have been going on forever. It’s not the Bush presidency. It’s been all the presidencies.

Softwood lumber was around during the Clinton years. It will be around I’m sure 20 years from now; same with Kyoto. We blame George Bush for not getting involved in the Kyoto Agreement. But we forget that actually it was the Clinton administration that said no thanks.

GWEN IFILL: So Mark Kingwell, can this marriage be saved?

MARK KINGWELL: Well, it can. But I think the first thing to see from this side of things is that this whole debate about anti-Americanism is a totally misleading and fruitless kind of discussion. It has no bearing on the real issues. Legitimate resistance to imperial foreign policy is not anti-American. It’s anti-imperial.

If we are going to give reasons for why we’re different, that’s fine. I don’t think defining oneself as against something else is for some reason illegitimate. We’re saying these are the things we are. They’re not the things that you are. I think there is a fundamental set of value differences that hasn’t been fully recognized.

One thing I agreed with in what Margaret said is that we don’t understand Americans as well as we think we do. That’s why there was so much bafflement after the election results. It’s also the case that we are far more different from Americans than the Americans think we are. We are not your northern 51st state. This is a completely different political culture. Our baseline values are quite distinct.

The CBC just ran, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a contest to decide who was the greatest Canadian. The winner was Tommy Douglas, who — a name I’m sure is unfamiliar to many of your viewers, if not most, who was the architect of universal health care in this country. So that is our baseline value, or one of them, and it’s not one that we share with you.

GWEN IFILL: Mark Kingwell, Margaret Wente and Rick Mercer, thank all you very much for joining us.