Canada Kicks Ass

Lloyd Robertson: Reflections on neighbourly relations
Date: Wednesday, April 16 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics

For Canadians, it has hardly been a lovely war.
When Jean Chretien announced his decision not to join the "coalition of the willing" against Iraq, a substantial majority of the general public supported him. Most people seemed to have assessed the matter in the same way as the prime minister. Canada would go along with the campaign only if it had the imprimatur of the United Nations.

This country's "principled" position made sense, given our long relationship with the United Nations and our dedicated support for the world body through many difficult periods over the years. And so, for the first week of the war at least, the country seemed at peace with itself about Ottawa's decision.

The Canadian Alliance was quick to denounce the prime minister's stand with its view that Canada should be by the side of its traditional friends: the United States, Britain and Australia. The government was also hammered from all sides on the questions of the status of Canadian exchange officers who were embedded with the coalition side and the two destroyers that were patrolling in the Persian Gulf as part of  "Operation Apollo" in the war on terror.

Chretien and his ministers danced as best they could around those apparent anomalies but weren't helped by members of their own party, who took it upon themselves to blurt out their personal impressions of the U.S. president and the way he manages his government.

These problems were minor annoyances compared to the cannon blast that emanated from Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada. In a clever speech in Toronto, designed to touch the deep chord of friendship and history that exists between Canada and the United States, Cellucci told his audience the Americans were "hurt" that Canada was standing on the sidelines. He said that if this country's young people were heading off to battle an enemy, there would be no questions asked, no debate, the United States would be there to help.

His words had an immediate impact. When combined with media stories about threatened business losses because of the Chretien government's policies and pro-war sentiments expressed by the premiers of Ontario and Alberta, polling showed Canadians were having second thoughts. In fact, in English Canada, a clear majority of 58 per cent in a CTV/Globe and Mail poll believed Canada should be supporting the U.S.-led coalition.

The numbers on pro-war support were much lower in Quebec, so the national average was evenly split. Still, it was a long way from the 70 per cent-plus support the prime minister enjoyed when the war started in mid-March.

And the fallout from Ottawa's position south of the border hasn't abated. George Bush has postponed indefinitely his visit to Ottawa in May, bringing Canada-U.S. relations to their lowest ebb in a long time.

My friend Pamela Wallin, now Canadian consul in New York, tells us that the United States is not just the sole superpower anymore; it is the new Rome, a hyper-power with vast military and economic resources to use to whatever ends it wishes. Fortunately, the U.S. tends to be a benevolent society with deep respect for its democracy; becoming the occupying force for the world would have no appeal.

The big difference for Americans these days is that they are living with a new reality for which their friends, such as Canada, will have to make allowances. They still exist in a post-9/11 world and feel threatened on their own soil for the first time.

That's why Bush's war made sense to so many in his country -- Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who, if left unchecked, would not hesitate to inflict great damage. So we saw a pre-emptive war, a conflict born out of choice rather than necessity, a war in which "regime change," over the objections of Prime Minister Chretien and others, was viewed as acceptable by the Americans.

The fog of war is now lifting and we have a chance to pause and reflect on our contacts with our best friend, closest neighbour and largest trading partner. It is a complex relationship but one that should always allow us to exercise our sovereign and democratic rights while respecting the other side for the same reasons.

By Lloyd Robertson, CTV Chief Correspondent

This article comes from Canada Kicks Ass

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