Thursday, March 03, 2005

Mr Dithers

Warning: political views contained below. This warning is issued because this blog is not normally political. It may offend both some Canadians and some Americans. We will shortly return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Our prime minister is a guy named Paul Martin. Arguably, he may have been the best finance minister that this or any modern, developed country has ever had. He slew the deficit dragon; the country now enjoys a budgetary surplus every year. While I will grant you that programs such as health care took a hit in this slaying of the deficit dragon, I look upon it as unfortunate and bitter medicine that had to be swallowed for a while and that now has to be set right.

When he became prime minister, this country had very high hopes that we had finally obtained what we very much deserve: an intelligent, imaginative, and proactive visionary. Even when his first steps were uncertain and when the sponsorship scandal emerged, I cast my vote for him. To me: it's quite clear to me that the man who sets the budget and allocates the money is not the one who actually spends the money. But I digress.

Perhaps Canadians were expecting too much too soon. If Mr Dithers had been totally new to government, I think his performance would have been accepted and perhaps even applauded. But because he had been near the centre of power for ten years and for those ten years plotted to become prime minister, Canadians naturally assumed that he had an agenda, and we expected a prime minister who would hit the ground running.

Instead, we got Mr Dithers.

I was prepared to forgive Mr Dithers many things. I was prepared to hand him my next vote, for, let's face it, the only other serious pretender is Mr Righteous Bumstead, a smooth and smarmy fellow who has nothing to sell but snake oil.

I was prepared to forgive Mr Dithers many things and to vote for him once again ... until this week. This week, he pulled out of the missile defence treaty. Just like that. No warning. Just a self-righteous announcement out of the blue that left the American government reeling in a state of angry incomprehension.

This missile defence project may be (or may not be) a silly notion, but it is the American government's notion, and they don't think it silly. I think they would have been tolerant had Mr Dithers been clear from the beginning that Canada could not be onside in this project. Instead, everything that Mr Dithers has ever said or done on the topic seemed to all to be an implicit endorsement of the agenda.

Mr Bush was certainly led to expect some that sort of partnership and cooperation would be forthcoming. Suddenly, without the decency of any sort of warning, the rug was publicly pulled out from under him. There goes Mr Dither's attempt to build a better relationship with Washington. They're damn mad, and I don't blame them.

Not that I'm any sort of Bush fan; to me, he's one scary cowboy. Not that I'm all that sold on his missile defence plan either. But if he and his cohorts want to fund it, I prefer that Canada at least have a tiny bit of input and influence, not to mention economic spinoff. In the meantime, I do want Canada to have good relations with America. I like good relationships on principle, but I see them as the only effective way to deal with border-trade disputes that erupt from time to time.

I am not happy that Mr Dithers chose this moment and this way to appear to be decisive and firm. You don't try to make cheap political points at home by alienating Washington. Sometimes we have to disagree with Washington, particularly with this administration, but we must do it with foresight and sensitivity. We mustn't give Washington every indication that we are onside, and then, out of the blue, suddenly declare otherwise, especially in a smug morally superior manner.

For the moment at least, Mr Dithers has lost my support and my vote. That leaves me in a quandary, for I am a fiscal conservative at heart, and it is the Liberals here, and it seems to me the Democrats down there, who are now the true fiscal conservatives. The traditional conservative parties have left their roots to embrace neo-conservatism, which is not the same thing. It is most assuredly not my old-fashioned type of conservatism but actually a reckless credo which is anything but.

Mr Dithers, I'm a pretty loyal guy. If you've managed to lose my support, I am at pains to believe that you have much remaining. I think you will be turfed. I think the other party will get its brief chance to screw up, just like they always do — for a brief interlude, every twenty years or so.



-epm said...

Let me preface this with the disclaimer that, beyond reading the CBC news on the web and occasionally listening to CBC Radio 1 over the internet, I'm not fully versed in this particular issue. However, the blogosphere and Fox News Channel has shown us one need not possess facts, nor even be particularly astute, in order to speak with great self-assured certainty and conviction on any issue we choose.

My understanding goes something like this… The US government wants to develop this new missile defense thing, after unilaterally pulling out of the historic Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty it had with Russia (nee USSR). To actually perform tests, the US needed missile tracking information (or some other super-secret info) from the joint US-Canada Norad system. This Canada agreed to, sometime last year. OK, so time goes by and W. just assumes the maple leaf moose lovers in Canada are coming along for the ride. After all, Bush figures, “Their Canadians for godsake… what’re they gonna do? Argue?”

Meanwhile, Mr. Martin does nothing to dissuade W. of his illusions. Washington is vague and non-specific in what it means by “Canadian participation” and Mr. Martin in perfectly happy to be equally vague about what he means by “Canadian support.” All along the Canadian people and their representative of all strips remain suspicious of the Bush administration and their global activism.

Around last November, Bush starts pressing Mr. Martin publicly about hoping the US and Canada would move forward together on missile defense, blah, blah, blah. Bush is boorishly saying, “What’s wrong with you? Who wouldn’t want my missile defense programme?” This puts Mr. Martin in a bit of a tight spot: he doesn’t want to alienate Washington, but neither does he want to be an impotent pawn in W’s scheme. After all, Washington seems to be more interested in looking for political cover on the world stage and would desperately like to recast his unilateral missile defense programme into a “North American” missile defense programme.

By February 2005, Bush is in his second term and already ominously rattling his sabers at Syria and Iran. The Liberal government is giving mixed signals on what it means by “supporting US missile defense” and the political foes are gathering at the gate accusing Mr. Martin of making secret appeasement deals with the Washington. That’s when Mr. Martin said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to Washington’s offer to blow stuff up.

Now my question is: What exactly did Mr. Martin pull out of? What is Canada not doing today that it was doing yesterday, in a manner of speaking. I don’t believe there was ever an actual treaty – or even written agreement of partnership – regarding the US missile defense programme. I suspect there was a lot of foggy language and euphemisms tossed around and as such the US and Canada were talking past each other on this issue. But a formal agreement?

Anvilcloud said...

You have the advantage over me -- it's called brains. :) Actually, your political awareness and knowledge rather intimidates me. However, I will try to explain my greatest problem in all of this.

Supposedly, one of Martin's primary objectives was to foster a period of better relationships with Washington. Under the Chretien watch, an awful lot of name-calling toward "His Bushness" went on. Not by Chretien himself, but he permitted it. I also believe that Chretien was very ambiguous about his position on Iraq for a long time. He might have been ambiguous enough to lead Bush to expect our support. All of a sudden, one day, amidst much trumpeting fanfare he announced his/our position. From what I gather, this was done through the media and that Washington had no or little forewarning. IMO, he made the right decision, but he went about it in the wrong way, and, under the circumstances, I can understand Georgie getting a little steamed.

So, our new guy sets out to mend fences. Once again, he strings Washington along. Once again, he bails out as Chretien had done before: to fanfare, with chest thumping, and with the touch of moral superiority that Canadian love to use when talking to or about Americans. Once again, he (apparently) does it publicly without bothering to pre-inform Georgie. Like Chretien, only more so, he dithered and then stopped dithering by inappropriate means. However, his sin is even worse than Chretien's because he gave (in my mind, and I think in Bush'es) every indication that he was onboard.

As you say, Martin may have been irked by Georgie's attitudes and assumptions and his war-like propaganda. Martin is supposed to be a good diplomat, but this business doesn't seem to support that in any way.

karla said...

Here’s real deal behind Mr. Dither’s decision

He knows he needs a hell of a lot of support to keep his party in power, and I think his decision had more to do with liberal gains than what is best for Canada.

The missile defense program is VERY UNPOPULAR in Quebec, and he needs to keep Quebec happy to keep the Bloc out of the picture. Both the Bloc and NPD don’t support the missile defense program, and before he could make a decision he would need their support. I don’t think the Conservatives support this program either.

I still think this was the wrong decision to make. Bush wasn’t looking for any money, just someone to support him for once! (Besides Tony Blair who wont be getting back in office anyways).

As my husband mentioned in his blog,

“U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci was bang on when he said: "We simply cannot understand why Canada would, in effect, give up its sovereignty, its seat at the table, to decide what to do about a missile that might be heading toward Canada. It's very perplexing to us ... we really don't get it..." This was our free ticket to be at the decision making table and we've declined it. I just can't help but wonder if the politicians would have preferred that the US not ask us to work with them on North American security. Obviously security in Canada itself and protecting our economy by ensuring security in the US (our biggest trading partner) is not an issue for the current Canadian administration. If that's not important I don't know what is!”

I miss the Progessive Conservatives….

-epm said...

I still think this was the wrong decision to make. Bush wasn’t looking for any money, just someone to support him for once! ,

Exactly. Bush wasn't looking for a partner, just a puppet. (OK. Too strong. I was going for the alliteration. How about 'looking for a yes-man')

And I don't know what this seat at the table Mr. Cellucci is talking about. Do Canadians actually think the Bush administration is interested in dialog vis-à-vis defense decision making?! Remember, this is the man who eviscerated John Kerry for suggesting the US act in accordance with interationally accepted standards before engaging in global military exploits. This is the man who vowed to never let another country have 'veto power' over his decisions.

My feeling is -- and I apologize for this -- that some Canadians felt this missile defense thing would be their chance to be equal partners with the US on continental security issues. I'm cynical. I think these Canadians would suffer buyer's remorse the first time they tried to affect the course of US juggernaut that is the Bush administration, only to find themselves drowning in its wake.

And who's firing all these missiles at Canada anyway?

Anvilcloud said...

Karla: I miss the PCs too. I don't much like the Reform-Alliance-Conservatives.

To All: this article in The Star is about our new US ambassador and is somewhat relevant to this discussion. It may mostly bolster -epm's pov, but that's okay. Nobody has to win or lose. We're just stating feelings, impressions, and opinions.