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12/15/2004 Archived Entry: ""

[REPOST from 3 December 2004]

It was disconcerting to watch Bush on Canadian turf thank the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia for taking into their homes thousands of Americans who had been stranded when U.S. airports were closed and flights diverted Northward on September 11, 2001. Of course, his thanks came three years late. Of course, his gratitude was a prelude to making demands. (Neither the thanks nor the demands came with any concessions on trade issues, I note.) His talk of a longstanding friendship between Canada and the States sounded like those phone calls you get from an old and 'dear' friend who chats you up before requesting money.

Canada is in the unenviable position of being required by Bush for a program that he seems determined to pursue: the US anti-missile shield. The US wants to place "the shield" over all of North America to protect it from attack by "rogue states" like North Korea. It won't work unless Canada signs on and puts her air space under de facto U.S. control or, at least, at the service of U.S. goals. How important is the program to Bush? I had the TV news on in the background as Bush and the FLOTUS arrived for his first visit to Canada and my attention riveted to the screen as the debarking first couple were followed by Connie Rice and Colin Powell. Bush brought in the heavy hitters for a simple goodwill visit?

Clearly, he wishes to use seduction and smiles rather than a harsh tone with Canada's Liberal PM, who is now on the defensive and over-explaining himself. (As the leader of a minority government, he does that a lot.) "Whatever we decide," Martin has assured Canadians, "it will be in Canada's interests. We are a sovereign nation and we will make our own decisions on our airspace." The PM doth protest too much methinks. Or maybe he's having to think fast on his feet. After all, the missile shield program was not meant to be on the agenda during Bush's visit let alone be part of a speech Bush delivered to the entire nation.

In his prepared remarks on at a joint news conference with Martin, Bush sketched what had been discussed at their earlier meeting. "We talked about the future of Norad and how that organization can best meet emerging threats and safeguard our continent against attack from ballistic missiles," Bush stated. According to Canadian news sources, however, the missile shield wasn't discussed and came as a surprise to Martin who hastened to assure the press that he wasn't surprised. Whatever. The issue is now sitting on Martin's desk, with the weight of an elephant.the last thing he wanted to happen before the upcoming election.

The extremely vocal New Democratic Party has come out against the missile shield, saying "We don't want to see a weaponization of the future. It's our future." The majority of Canadians do not wish to participate in the US missile shield, but it is a slim majority and the issue could ultimately blow either way. One thing is for sure. Martin did not want this to become an election issue. Especially since the program is particularly unpopular in Quebec and Martin's Liberals can't afford to lose more ground in La Belle Province. Bush unceremoniously created a political mess for Martin.

Nevertheless, I think a measure pledging Canada's co-operation is likely to pass if put to a vote of the House. For one thing, the official opposition party, the Conservatives will back it. For another, Martin is weak-kneed around Bush, and however unpopular the measure may be in areas of Canada and even within factions of Martin's own Liberal party he can look to Tony Blair's poodle routine for inspiration.

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