President Bush used humor, flattery and a bit of scolding today to try to convince the Canadian public that when it comes to the United States, the nations' traditional friendship is more enduring than their recent discord.
In a speech to the people of Canada during his first official visit to their country, Bush gave no ground on the issue of whether the United States should have invaded Iraq, a war Canada opposed and refused to support militarily.
But he tried to smooth over the conflict by acknowledging that for Canada, with one-tenth the population and economy of the United States, "it's not necessarily easy to sleep next to the elephant."
"Sometimes, our laws and our actions affect Canada every bit as much as they affect us, and we need to remember that. And when frustrations are vented, we must not take it personally," Bush said, apparently referring to his testy relationship with former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
"As a member of Canada's Parliament said in the 1960s, 'The United States is our friend, whether we like it or not.' When all is said and done, we are friends — and we like it."
To underscore his goodwill, Bush offered a joke or two. He outlined a vision of "two prosperous, independent nations joined together by the return of NHL hockey."
And he recalled an incident from his first presidential campaign when a Canadian reporter slyly asked whether he welcomed the endorsement of a prime minister named "Jean Poutine." Poutine is a traditional, if oft-derided dish from Quebec made from potatoes and cheese curds.
"I really only have one regret about this visit to Canada," Bush told an audience of local officials in Halifax's Pier 21, a museum that commemorates the landing site for generations of Canadian immigrants.
"There's a prominent citizen who endorsed me in the 2000 election, and I wanted a chance to finally thank him for that endorsement. I was hoping to meet Jean Poutine." The audience roared appreciatively.
Bush's two-day visit to Canada was aimed at defusing lingering tensions in relations with America's northern neighbor. However, protests in the capital of Ottawa on Tuesday and a smaller one today in Halifax illustrated that at least some Canadians are not ready to let bygones be bygones — at least not on the president's terms.
For the most part, Bush's gestures were atmospheric, not substantive. He offered no acceleration of the process to lift a ban on Canadian beef. He announced an intent — but no concrete steps — to resolve a decades-old dispute over U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber that the World Trade Organization has repeatedly ruled illegal.
And on the issue of missile defense, his remarks were likely to raise at least some hackles among his hosts. Despite an agreement ahead of time not to mention the subject, Bush repeatedly referred publicly to U.S. plans to build a North American missile defense system — first in a press conference with Martin on Tuesday, then in his toast to his hosts Tuesday night, and finally in his speech in Halifax today.
"I hope we'll also move forward on ballistic missile defense cooperation to protect the next generation of Canadians and Americans from the threats we know will arise," Bush said.
The Canadian public opposes missile defense, which is seen as a step toward militarizing space. All the same, this summer Prime Minister Paul Martin acceded to a U.S. request that the joint U.S.-Canadian early warning system known as NORAD be allowed to take a role in the development of the U.S. system.
Bush's remarks forced Martin to defend that decision during a press conference with Canadian reporters after the Halifax speech.
"In terms of putting weapons in space, we have no intention of getting involved in any program that would do that," Martin insisted.
In his Halifax speech, Bush also needled Martin on the subject of cooperating with international organizations like the United Nations. While Martin has been promoting what he calls "New Multilateralism," Bush said pointedly that "the success of multilateralism is measured not merely by following a process, but by achieving results."
"The objective of the U.N. and other institutions must be collective security, not endless debate," Bush said, adding a clear reference to the debate over military action in Iraq. "For the sake of peace, when those bodies promise serious consequences, serious consequences must follow."
And on Iraq, Bush reached back to World War II and quoted the words of a former Canadian prime minister, McKenzie King, to chide Canadians for what he considered their failure to understand the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's regime.
"The prime minster [said], 'We must also go out and meet the enemy before he reaches our shores. We must defeat him before he attacks us, before our cities are laid to waste,'" Bush said. "McKenzie Kind was correct then, and we must always remember the wisdom of his words today."
Fearing hecklers, Bush turned down an invitation to address Parliament in Ottawa. Instead, he added a second day to his visit to travel to this Atlantic port city, which has close ties to Maine and New England, to highlight themes of friendship.
In back-to-back speeches apparently coordinated by the two governments, Bush and Martin — who has made a point of working to repair relations since he succeeded Chretien a year ago — recounted two episodes in which the countries came to each other's aid.
The first was in 1917, when a munitions ship in Halifax Harbor caught fire and the explosions killed or wounded 10,000. Americans in New England sent aid, and each year the city of Halifax sends a Christmas tree to Boston in appreciation.
The second was in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, when Canadians opened their homes to 33,000 airline passengers who were grounded in Canada, most of them Americans and most of them stranded in the Atlantic provinces because U.S. airspace was closed.
"That emergency revealed the good and generous heart of this country, and showed the true feelings of Canadians and Americans toward each other," Bush said. "Beyond the words of politicians and the natural disagreements that nations will have, our two peoples are one family, and always will be."
Bush returned to Washington in the afternoon, where he greeted six recent Nobel laureates in the Oval Office to congratulate them for their work.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times