Chrétien Cuts in Line

“He came, he saw, he left—and hardly anyone seemed to notice,” wrote Andrew Cohen in Toronto’s centrist Globe and Mail (Feb. 7). “The first meeting between Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and President George W. Bush may have been front-page news in Canada. But it was barely a footnote in the United States, where Americans have trouble finding Canada on a map, let alone naming its leader.”

Chrétien’s hurriedly scheduled Feb. 6 White House visit, arranged to ensure that he was the first foreign leader to meet with President Bush, “displays an undignified desperateness” and a tacit recognition “that in relying on Chrétien’s friendship with Bill Clinton as a substitute for substantive policies, [the ruling Liberals] have dropped the foreign policy ball,” editorial board member Robert Sibley wrote in the liberal Ottawa Citizen (Feb. 7).

His rush to Washington “when word came that George the Younger would break with past precedent and go to Mexico instead of Canada for his first foreign visit” reflected fears that “Canada was disappearing from the American radar screen as Bush looked south rather than north for his policy priorities,” Sibley added.

Lawrence Martin, writing in the leftist Calgary Herald (Feb. 7), cautioned that Chrétien will face a more difficult task reaching policy understandings with the Bush administration, which “is much closer in policy and outlook on taxation, defense, energy, environment, [and] social policy” to the Canadian right than to the ruling Liberals. Despite their broad differences on such issues as oil drilling in the Arctic and development of a U.S. anti-missile shield, Martin wrote, “Chrétien…must find a formula that can make his longstanding and wise policy of balancing nationalism and continentalism work under circumstances far more taxing than those to which he is accustomed.”

Barbara Yaffe of the centrist Vancouver Sun (Feb. 7) argued that “Canada has no option but to give quiet assent to the missile shield if and when the technology becomes proven,” since a decision to opt out of the system would fatally undermine the two nations’ 44-year-old NORAD defense partnership.

“Canada spends US$6 billion a year on defense; the Americans spend $288 billion. It’s clear which nation is really providing continental defense,” Yaffe said.

In any event, the Ottawa Citizen observed in an editorial (Feb. 7), “Mr. Chrétien should be under no illusions that Mr. Bush’s promise to consult on issues of mutual concern means we will have much influence on key issues, especially if we show little inclination to respect their concerns. They are bigger than we are. Sometimes, the truth hurts.”