Wednesday, March 19, 2003

BLAME CANADA ?

Here is a rather long but worthwhile read from the Toronto Daily Star.
Hurrah for you Stephen Harper for your candor.
And as for you Prime Minister Chretien, you make me ashamed to be born Canadian.

Canada scrambles to repair U.S. links
Agrees to random searches of cars leaving country


TIM HARPER AND ALLAN THOMPSON
OTTAWA BUREAU

OTTAWA—One day after announcing Canada will sit out the war in Iraq, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien scrambled to head off what some fear could be a severe rupture in Ottawa-Washington relations.

U.S. President George W. Bush is likely within hours of announcing that bombing of Iraq will start, but Canadians today are already feeling the impact of Chrétien's announcement Monday that this country will not participate in the war.

Some of the immediate moves the government made to ease tensions with the U.S. include:

Canada agreed to randomly search vehicles leaving Canada en route to the U.S., a move requested by Washington.

Canadian frigates in the Persian Gulf will continue to escort American and British ships bound for the Iraq campaign.

The planned visit by Bush on May 5 will go ahead as scheduled.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) increased its vigilance at the border, at the request of the Americans.

Last night, traffic was backed up 9 kilometres from the border at Fort Erie and one trucker reported a five-hour delay crossing to the U.S. Police were closing some roads leading to the QEW because of stalled traffic.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister stressed that trade between the two countries will not be damaged. A number of his ministers were in touch with American counterparts, explaining the Canadian position and pledging to work together on continental matters, even as the U.S. state department expressed its "disappointment."

The Chrétien government also stressed in addition to the three frigates in the Gulf, our troop commitment in Afghanistan is part of the U.S. war on terrorism.

Deputy Prime Minister John Manley warned backbenchers in his caucus to refrain from making personal comments about U.S. motives.

As the day wore on, Chrétien became less dismissive and more reflective on the possible fallout from Washington.

"I'm sure they are disappointed," Chrétien said. "I knew that. But we had to make a decision based on the convictions of the Canadian people and the Canadian government.

"They want to maintain good relations with us. You know, we have disagreed in the past and we will disagree in the future."

Some don't believe Chrétien can successfully avoid economic fallout by pledging to abide by Canadian convictions while snubbing its biggest trading partner, ally and neighbour as it goes to war.

"In war, nobody respects somebody who doesn't have a position, who sits on the sidelines," Opposition Leader Stephen Harper said. "We are cheering against Saddam Hussein, for his removal, and for our allies.

"The government should do the same and they don't have the guts to say that."

Historian Jack Granatstein said Chrétien has made a very serious mistake.

"Americans are quite rightly furious about this. This government will get zip from the U.S. administration, absolutely nothing, whether it lasts two years or six years," he said.

"What is going to happen when Washington decides to spend another 30 seconds on each truck crossing the border? It will bring our economy to its knees. What is Ottawa going to do when Congress gets the okay to start kicking Canada on every trade issue?

"When little countries spit at big countries they have trouble and we have just bought ourselves a lot of trouble."

One of the most significant appeasement moves came from Manley, who agreed to a request from Tom Ridge, head of U.S. Homeland Security, to randomly check vehicles leaving this country bound for the U.S.

"Normally, we don't inspect vehicles leaving the country," he said.

But, for the first time, he revealed that Canadian border officials began the practice after the U.S. went to a "Code Orange" security alert on Feb. 7. The alert was subsequently reduced to code yellow but it returned to code orange on Monday night when Bush gave Saddam and his sons 48 hours to get out of Iraq.

Solicitor-General Wayne Easter said he agreed with a request from his U.S. counterpart John Ashcroft to have the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) raise its level of vigilance, particularly near the international border, as the war begins.

Reid Morden, a former head of CSIS, said yesterday that Canadians should know they're now also at higher risk of being targeted, even though Canada has ruled out directly joining the war against Iraq.

"We represent the same kind of ... decadent society that they (terrorists) are bound to deal with," Morden told Canadian Press. "So we shouldn't breathe a sigh of relief from a security point of view just because we're not in this game."

Manley insisted Canada's stance on Iraq would not adversely affect Canada's diplomatic ties with the United States or injure crucial economic dealings between the two countries.

Chrétien's foreign affairs adviser, Claude Laverdure, said Chrétien has been clear with Bush on Canada's position dating back to a conversation the two leaders had 13 months ago while the Prime Minister was on a trade mission in Russia.


"They've known our position for a year," Chrétien said following a morning cabinet meeting.

"There is no confusion between Mr. Bush and I. I told him clearly. He made his own decision and I respect his authority to make a decision on behalf of the people of the United States. I made a decision on behalf of the people of Canada."

Chrétien was winning support at home. His office said 3,500 e-mails had been received by mid-morning yesterday, 2-to-1 in favour of his position.

Another couple of thousand of e-mails, most supportive, went directly to U.N. ambassador Paul Heinbecker.

In the House of Commons, Chrétien said, "given some more weeks, disarmament would have been achieved."

But the Alliance stepped up its attack on Chrétien, with Harper accusing the Liberals of supporting Saddam and another MP calling Defence Minister John McCallum a "jackass'' in the Commons.

"This is a government which says Saddam Hussein is a terrible guy who possesses weapons and is violation of U.N. resolutions, then says it is important he not be removed from office against his will," Harper said.

"Whatever side of this you are on, this government is embarrassing, the Prime Minister's behaviour is gutless. We have historically stood beside our best friends, the United States and Britain, that's where we should be now."

NDP Leader Jack Layton said any fallout in Canada-U.S. relations was not the point of the government decision.

But, he added, relations were "pretty chilly" to begin with, and he couldn't see how this decision could worsen them.

With files from Les Whittington

Additional articles by Linda Diebel