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Canadian Prime Minister Lets Loose on 'Cowboy' Bush
Published on Thursday, April 5, 2001 in the Toronto Star
Canadian Prime Minister Lets Loose on 'Cowboy' Bush
Complains U.S. leader `naive,' ignorant of Canada
by Tim Harper
OTTAWA - A frustrated Jean Chrétien warned his Liberal MPs yesterday the country is in for four very tough years dealing with George Bush - but vowed he would play hardball with the new U.S. president on trade issues.

If Bush wants to play rough on issues such as Canadian potato and softwood lumber exports, Chrétien told a closed-door meeting, he would play just as rough or rougher when it came to U.S. energy needs.

He criticized the U.S. leader's cowboy-style demeanour, what Chrétien called the "damn the torpedoes'' attitude in the current standoff with China

Export taxes on Canadian oil and gas or electricity can damage an already fragile U.S. economy, Chrétien said, according to sources.

He warned MPs he is dealing with a new American administration that is largely ignorant of Canada.

Behind closed doors, the sources say, the Prime Minister lamented the fact he had to explain to Bush where Prince Edward Island was before he could discuss the U.S. ban on potato exports from the province.

He also had to explain to the American president the size of the Alberta tar sands as part of an effort to bring him up to speed on this country.

As well, he criticized the U.S. leader's cowboy-style demeanour, what Chrétien called the ``damn the torpedoes'' attitude in the current standoff with China after Bush told Chinese authorities to release the crew members of a damaged American spy plane.

Without using the terms, one source said, he left caucus with the impression he felt the new U.S. president was politically naive and had a steep learning curve when it came to relations between Ottawa and Washington.

Chrétien's unusually blunt assessment of the Bush administration comes little more than two weeks before the Prime Minister is to host the hemispheric trade summit in Quebec city.

Some caucus sources expressed surprise on two points: They were stunned Chrétien would ``slag'' Bush on an issue as volatile as the Washington-Beijing standoff, and that the Prime Minister referred to Canadian water as a ``tradeable'' good, something they had never heard him do before.

On Monday, U.S. lumber producers formally filed a petition seeking taxes of up to 80 per cent on Canadian softwood exports through countervail duties and anti-dumping charges, a move that threatens 140,000 Canadian jobs.

But the Prime Minister told his MPs if the Americans want to get into a full-scale trade war, they will regret it because of Canada's riches of natural resources.

Bush, in desperate need of new fuel sources, has recently cast covetous glances at natural gas resources in the Northwest Territories.

Chrétien's frustration yesterday boiled over when an MP asked him whether he had raised the P.E.I. potato ban with Bush when they first met.

It was then the Prime Minister explained how difficult it was to deal with Bush, compared with his predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, who had a good knowledge of Canadian issues.

The tone for the new Ottawa-Washington relationship was perhaps set early in the U.S. presidential campaign when Chrétien's nephew Raymond, the former Canadian ambassador to Washington, said Ottawa was hoping for a victory by Democrat Al Gore.

One of the reasons Raymond Chrétien cited was the ignorance of Canada shown by Bush, the former Texas governor.

Official Ottawa was further peeved when the newly-elected Bush chose Mexico over Canada for his first official foreign visit.

Bush's father George Sr., Clinton's predecessor, had a very close working relationship with Brian Mulroney and Clinton and Chrétien developed a tight working relationship, bolstered on the golf course.

But former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and U.S. president Ronald Reagan had a strained relationship.

Liberal prime ministers and Republican presidents have a checkered history.

Chrétien and Bush met in Washington in early February and are scheduled to meet again April 22 when Chrétien hosts the Quebec summit.

One Liberal said Bush has the potential to rekindle a level of Canadian nationalism that hasn't been seen for years.

Later, Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief publicly echoed some of Chrétien's frustrations.

Vanclief said P.E.I. potato farmers should consider growing something else, because it was clear Washington will not back down on the spud dispute.

A clearly exasperated Vanclief said anyone who thinks Bush was going to give ground on trade issues is ``naive.''

``None of us can be naive enough to think that the present administration in the United States hasn't already shown that they're going to be very, very protectionist,'' Vanclief told the Senate agriculture committee.

``We're frustrated. I make no bones about it. We're frustrated.''

A spokesperson for Chrétien said there had been no communication between Bush and the Prime Minister since Washington launched trade action against Canadian softwood lumber Monday.

Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited


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