Becoming friendly with U.S. President an oily question  

I notice, President George W. Bush, that you have canceled  your visit to Canada next month. That’s OK, we know how  busy you are.  We got preview of what your message might be  from your ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci.


“There would be no debate. There would be no hesitation. We would be there for Canada as part of our family. And that is why so many in the United States are disappointed and upset that Canada is not fully supporting us now,” said Cellucci  on March 25, 2003.

I notice that your ambassador delivered your passionate appeal directly to Canadians,  via Economic Club of Toronto.  Diplomats usually give their dry, carefully worded, messages to host governments.

But what, Mr. President, do we owe this earnest attention?  In the past, you have scarcely noticed that we exist.

Excuse me if I seem petty, but it seems like you like Mexico best.  Mexico was the first country that you visited as president.  Mexico’s President Vincente Fox was the first leader invited to the U.S.  On Fox’s visit, you gushed “This is a recognition that the United States has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico.”

Did you forget, Mr. President, that our two countries share the world’s greatest trade ($1.4 billion a day) and the longest undefended boarder in the world (although I understand you have a problem with that.)

What do you want from Canada?   You know that all of our military resources are fighting the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and in the Persian Gulf.  It’s a commitment greater than most in your coalition.

If you are seeking our approval, I’m truly touched since your always seem to do things your own way.

I notice that you didn’t visit Iraq either.  Your message to Iraqis came in the form of 17 million leaflets dropped in advance of your invasion, and from a pop radio station aboard a converted C-130 cargo plane that flew over Iraq.

One of your leaflets read “The oil industry is your livelihood.  Your family depends on your livelihood.  If the oil industry is destroyed, your livelihood will be ruined.”

The American pop music from the flying radio station over Iraq was a nice touch.  We get a lot of that music here, too.  When the radio announcer flying over Iraq said that Saddam Hussein was corrupt and you wanted him out, you obviously meant what you said.

Three days after ambassador Cellucci’s impassioned speech in Toronto, he was the heart of B.C.’s oil patch in Fort St. John.  His message was that Canada is the biggest source of energy for the U.S. and without Canadian energy, the American way of life would die.

Wow, the survival of the American way of life is at stake.  But I’m beginning to get the feeling that you like us, not just because we are family, but for our oil.  The ambassador also says that you have a problem with our government.

He told the Economic Club of Toronto that you were “disappointed” with recent comments from members of the government of Canada.  Disappointed?  As you would be with a wayward brother, Mr. President?

I notice that you have also been disappointed with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez Frias ever since he was elected in 1999.  Is that why you tried to get him out office and privatize Venezuela’s publicly owned refineries?   I can understand why you are concerned – – it’s the second largest output of oil in the world, and the fifth largest in terms of exports.

And Venezuela’s membership in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is certainly irritating.  Don’t you hate the way OPEC controls world oil prices by limiting oil production?

I thought President Chavez’s reaction to your concern was uncalled for when he said that “Venezuela is a sovereign nation … we are nobody’s colony.”

Come to think of it, that’s almost exactly what our Canadian prime minister said in response to the remarks from your ambassador.  Or was he responding to your senior adviser Richard Perle who called Prime Minister Chrétien a “lame duck”?

Anyway, I’m sure that you’ll make it clear to us.  You can just put your message on American TV channels.  We all watch them.

 Good environmental record best card to play in Canada’s deck

No wonder the Americans aren’t worried about the “tough talk” of Prime Minister Chretien when he was in Alberta.  I guess he thought a little macho talk was appropriate in the land of swagger and oil. There must be a better way.


Chretien told an Alberta audience that he gave US president Bush “hell” for putting barriers up to Canada’s lumber while wanting our oil and gas.  Chretien’s bravado was lost on Americans.

Most Americans aren’t even aware that they get energy from Canada. They think that all their fossil fuels come from the Middle East.  And the idea of a threat of Canadians cutting off energy flow to the US is unthinkable to Americans.  Part of the problem is that we are seen nice people — incapable of doing rotten things like retaliating.

The idea of cutting off oil and gas exports is unthinkable to Albertans, too.  They are in no mood to sacrifice the windfall profits they are making on gas and oil.  After all, it’s those profits that are fuelling the political agenda of the Alberta government.  Without oil and gas, the right-wing gospel of the marketplace and low taxes would be hot air.

The unfair American tactics couldn’t come at worse time for the new B.C. Liberal government.  Not only are they faced with a slowing continental economy, but now this and the layoff of thousands of B.C. workers.

British Columbia suffers more than any other province from the 19.3 per cent tariff on softwood imposed by the US.  Almost half of all Canada’s export lumber comes from here.  To add insult to injury, the Americans are handing the tariff money over to sawmills in the States.

The federal Liberals have chosen a path that will inflict maximum damage on B.C.  The feds stubbornly support the North American Free Trade Agreement and its dispute resolving committees.  Sure, eventually the Americans will loose this dispute.   But in the meantime, B.C. suffers.

The federal Liberals could have chosen to keep the money in Canada as the last federal government did. In the last dispute with the US over softwood, the then-Conservative  federal government implemented an export tax that kept billions of dollars in Canada.

The effect of both taxes is the same.  Both an export tax by Canada or import tax by the US drives the price of lumber up.  The difference is that Canada could collect billions that would go to help unemployed saw mill workers in B.C.

Former Minister of Trade Pat Carney knows what its like to deal Texas presidents — she had to deal with Bush Sr.  Carney was bluntly told by Bush toadies that “You are going to loose regardless of how fair or legal your case is.”  The current Minister of Trade, Pierre Pettigrew,  blindly believes in NAFTA and due process.

You can’t beat bullies by playing fairly.  The only way to win is to play smarter.  We need to take advantage of our nice image.  Canada should market its goods through Canada’s good brand name, says professor David Wheeler of the Business and Sustainability department of York University.

Canada is universally known as promoting fair play, social and environmental concern, says Wheeler.  Although our reputation has been tarnished by foot-dragging on the part of the feds in signing the Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, the Canada brand still has some marketable value.

We should forget about the mass export of our natural resources at discount prices.  Canada needs to tap into the valuable environmental market. For example, the giant retailer Home Depot will only take lumber with environmental credentials.  Also, Europeans are prepared to pay more for paper that has been produced without environmentally harmful chemicals.

Even after years of wrangling with the US and the softwood dispute is finally won by Canada, there is still the perception that our stumpage rates for logs too low.  Americans have to pay more than Canadian sawmills because our logs are taken from publically owned Crown land.

Environmentalists on both sides of the border claim that we are giving our resources away a bargain basement rates.   And maybe they are right.  We need to regain the high road so that “made in Canada” means that we care about our environment.

Federal inaction on trade amounts to giving corporations power

Now that the tear gas has cleared, and the anarchists and the innocent bystanders have been released from prison, it’s a good time to reflect on just what happened 10 days ago in Quebec city.  The leaders of 34 countries in this hemisphere met for what was essentially a photo opportunity.  They accomplished nothing, nor had they intended to — the actual Free Trade of the Americas Agreement is not to be signed until 2005.

free trade

The anarchists also gathered for their photo opportunity and the government obligingly provided the theatrical set: the ugly fence that surrounded picturesque old Quebec city.  The sight of bloodied anarchists fighting police dressed in Darth Vader outfits made for great television.

What I found amazing was none of the above.  Rather, it was  the 30,000 people that came from all over our hemisphere.  They were labelled “protestors” by the government and right-wing media.  They came with a more thoughtful purpose than just to protest, but to provide an alternative view of civil society.  Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians provided some of that  insight when she said that the whole exercise was not about free trade but about the strengthening of corporate power.  If it was about free trade, there would more than moving jobs to the cheapest labour markets.

Under true free trade, wages and environmental standards would move along with the jobs.  Then Mexicans wouldn’t be working in slums under unsafe conditions.  But that’s not what’s meant by “free trade”. Corporations want to have the power to move jobs in the blink of the eye, leaving dazed workers wondering what hit them, and leaving new workers grateful for pittance wages.

And what if free trade gave governments the power to sue corporations?  The government could then sue corporations like Ethyl Corp. for poisoning our environment with the gasoline additive MMT, instead of the other way around.

The faith of the government of Canada in free trade is simplistic — if we could just get more trade in goods, everything else would follow.  Jobs, protection to the environment, all flow from free trade in goods, so the Liberal thinking goes.  Never mind that government is diminished in the process.  Never mind that millions of Canadians disagree.

Prime Minister Chretien’s faith in free trade amounts to an kind of snake oil, a cure to what ails you.  This blissful naivete reminds me of ex-president Ronald Regan’s star wars initiative, or his belief that tax reduction would increase government revenue.

Where is the official opposition to the Liberals, the Canadian Alliance, when we need them?   They oppose everything that the Liberals do and yet they are strangely silent about the  Free Trade of the Americas.

The Canadian Alliance should be representing the millions of Canadians who are opposed the whole idea the proposed free trade deal.  According to a recent poll commissioned by the Council of Canadian Unity (not to be confused with the Council of Canadians) 33 percent of Canadians oppose the FTAA.

Ironically, one of the smallest opposition parties — the federal NDP — is the only party objecting to so-called free trade.  Alexa McDonough marched with the 30,000 peaceful citizens of the hemisphere who have another view.  I’m glad that to see the NDP starting to capture the conscience of Canada again, even though they have a lot of catching up to do with the Council of Canadians.

But why would the federal Liberals promote an agreement that amounts to weakening of their own power?  Perhaps it’s a virus that they caught from Bloc Quebecois.  The goal of the BQ is to self-destruct through the breakup of Canada.  The Liberals are content in sitting back and giving the function of government to corporations.


Thanks to Tom Curry for pointing out an error in my quotation of statistics in my last column.   Deteriorating air quality in Ontario will cause an increase in premature deaths from the current 1,200 per year (not per day) to 2,500 in less than twenty years.  Details can be found at the Ontario Medical Association web site: