George W. Bush and Canada

On the Amtrak line between Portland and Seattle there are two tracks except when you reach the Nelson-Bennet Tunnel in southern Washington. You have to wait for the southbound train to LA to go through.

As the train stopped around 9:30 in the morning, my car was full of Seahawks fans making their way from Oregon, finishing off their third beer and waving their foam hand paraphernilia.

Arriving in Seattle near the football stadium, I wandered into a nearby pub to grab a drink before getting my connection to Vancouver. The go go dancers were already on stage and it was just after noon.

On the surface, America may be about freedom but democracy here sometimes looks like it has a lot do with football, beer and war.

George Woodcock once wrote in the inaugral edition of Now Magazine in 1940, "Art is antithetical to evil and violence. And evil and violence have their supreme avatar in war, when the common virtues are suspended and truth hibernates for the duration. It is no particular violence, e.g. Nazi violence, that we must oppose, but all violence, no matter what the cause that uses it. The man who tolerates war nurtures a beast that will destroy him, perhaps not physically, but certainly intellectually and morally."

As George W. Bush is set to visit here next week, his northern neighbour and a country he has yet to visit since taking over the Presidency four years ago, it will test the civility of a country that takes great pains to present itself as the enlightened middle power of the modern world. Canadians have readily lapped up the mythology that they are the modern day posterchildren of human rights, peacekeeping and universal medicare.

If Canadians were Americans, they would be the "democratic wing" of the Democratic Party.

Bush had testy relations with the previous Chretien administration and even with the present government where many high ranking insiders clearly favoured Al Gore and John Kerry, having much to do with directions in American foreign policy.

While Prime Minister Martin will want to press Bush on bread and butter Canadian issues like free trade, the softwood lumber dispute, toque exports, reducing tariffs on maple syrup and restrictions on Canadian beef exports having to do with mad cow disease, the President will be looking to widen his international coalition. Hungary, Spain, Norway, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Moldova and Poland have already announced that they are withdrawing troops.

The images of Abu Ghraib and more recent reports that the US is not officially counting non-US military deaths is continuing to raise concerns.

While Canada did go to Afghanistan, there was little domestic support for going to Iraq except from the rabidly pro-American Conservative Party whose leader Stephen Harper appeared on Fox-TV criticizing Canada’s decision not to send troops to the Iraqi war as Australia did, a country of similar size and values to Canada as the thinking goes.

Bush cancelled a visit to Canada in May 2003 which many widely believe had to do with Canada’s decision not to go to Iraq under then Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Rebel MP Carolyn Parrish was kicked out of caucus last week by Prime Minister Martin after he had warned caucus members not to make inflammatory comments about the US election. Rebel MP Parrish, not to be bullied by her leader, appeared on the political parody show, "This Hour has 22 Minutes" stomping on a little Bush doll and smiling. The nerve of her!

She had earlier criticized the US administration on several occasions including:

– a CP report published on Wednesday in which Parrish described the newly re-elected U.S. President as a "war-like man." She also said she was "dumbfounded" he had won. This would have put her squarely on the side of the majority of Canadian public opinion.

– "I guess it’s a reflection of the profound psychological damage of 9/11," she said. "That country is completely out of step with most of the free world."

– In August, she called Americans "a coalition of the idiots," in reference to the U.S. missile defence plan.

– Last year, an open microphone caught her saying, "Damn Americans … I hate those bastards," after a scrum outside the House of Commons.

Since the Bush re-election, there have been rumours of an exodus of American liberals to Canada which led to news reports of immigration consultants having their phones ringing off the hook, This Magazine’s website getting tens of thousands of hits to help with the immigration process and a small city in BC launching a marketing campaign to attract the "Bush refugees."

The US is a country almost ten times the size of Canada. Though we clearly benefit from this arrangement, areas of sovereignty, freedom and cultural expression are regularly put to the test. We are subject to the big American elephant shaking its oversized rump and those fat tourists coming off the cruise ships.

Margaret Atwood put our relationship with the US in a better way, warning that the only position the United States had "ever adopted toward us, country to country, has been the missionary position, and we were not on top."

In the case of Iraq, Canadians did not favour the American approach of ignoring international institutions like the UN. During the election, we tended to favour a pro-choice position and support same sex marriages. The relationship between church and state wasn’t sufficiently divided enough for us. For those of us up north, we were alarmed at the rightward and unilateral shift of the American government.

Canadians will understandably look at the Bush visit with skeptical eyes while the cartoonists and the national wits are busy getting their pens sharpened.