Cover

'IN HIS FACE'

PAUL WELLS February 9 2004
Cover

'IN HIS FACE'

PAUL WELLS February 9 2004

DON’T STAND SO CLOSE

IFTHERE WAS a House Committee on Un-Canadian Activities, prime ministers called before it would be asked the following question: “Have you ever fished, golfed, or sung sentimental Irish ballads with a United States president?” Seen through the anti-American lens, getting along too well with the occupant of the White House is highly suspicious behaviour for any prime minister. And since that lens tends to view politics from the left, all the worse if the president in question happens to be a Republican. So Prime Minister Paul Martin is walking a fine line. He has plenty in common with George W. Bush, a fellow famous politician’s son and former businessman. All the more reason to stay a touch aloof.

‘WE gotta get that son of a bitch out,’ one Democrat lamented. ‘We can’t afford to have him appoint any more Supreme Court justices.’

Which is precisely what Martin has been doing, with Bush’s apparent co-operation. Their first meeting was carefully staged on neutral turf in Monterrey, Mexico. No chummy get-together at Bush’s Texas ranch. And no sudden reversal of his boycott of visits to Ottawa, which would have invited awkward comparisons between Jean Chrétien’s defiant independence from U.S. policy and Martin’s emerging closer relationship. Martin sent a clear signal by asking United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to come to Ottawa before formally inviting Bush. “We spend a lot of time in Canada talking about our relationship with the United States,” Martin said. “That’s important but, fundamentally, our relationship with the rest of the world, and how that world works, is going to be the determining factor as to whether our children and their children after them enjoy the same quality of life that we do.”

In one respect, Bush’s unpopularity in Canada works in Martin’s favour. The comparison makes it easy for the Prime Minister to look appealingly progressive to the more liberal-minded Canadian electorate. But John Kerry, now the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is another matter. Consider this salvo from Kerry’s speech after winning big in New Hampshire last week: “I have a message for the influence peddlers, for the polluters, the HMOs, the big drug companies that get in the way, the big oil and the special interests who now call the White House their home: we’re coming, you’re going-and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

you on way Take out the references to health management organizations and the White House, and that could be NDP Leader Jack Layton unleashing one of his angry politics-of-privilege attacks on Martin. Judging from his recent rhetoric, Kerry could shift the North American political debate in a direction less comfortable for all secondgeneration power-politics millionaires in high office. JOHN GEDDES