President George W. Bush intended his first state visit to Canada to be a fence-mending mission and he used phrases like "America always prefers to act with allies at our side" and "Multilateral organizations can do great good in the world" to chum up.
He even called for broader international participation in building peace in the Middle East. The president said he hopes "to foster international consensus" to defend security. This was an unusual message from the "go it alone" Texas cowboy who lives by a "my way or the highway" foreign policy. Remember, just a few weeks ago, Bush and his minions were mocking John Kerry for saying much the same thing.
The United States and Canada can defend security and spread freedom, the president declared, "by building effective multinational and multilateral institutions and supporting multinational action." Of course, those are the very things Bush did not do in his war in Iraq and other international issues, and our Canadian friends were quick to point out the enormous gap between Bush's advertising and his products.
An editorial in the Toronto Star told Bush pointedly, "Your message seems to be that you want allies to share in the dangers and costs of your policies while having no voice in them. The Middle East must be made to accept secular democracy even as you secure your presidency by embracing the religious right. You seek to enforce nuclear non-proliferation everywhere except in the U.S. where you are developing the next generation of nuclear weapons and exhorting a missile defense shield; actions that in the past provoked the arms race. The tragedy of 3,000 civilian deaths is reason enough to start a war, but the tragedy of 100,000 civilian deaths is not reason enough to stop."
Bush did try to charm the Canadians with a belated thank you for all the help and hospitality they provided for 33,000 passengers on 224 U.S.-bound planes diverted to Canadian airports after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Canadians fought and died in Afghanistan. In spite of that contribution, Bush could never forgive former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien for refusing to support the invasion of Iraq. Chretien was blunt and outspoken, often noting Iraq had nothing to do with the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11 and that invading Iraq was unwise and would result in terrible consequences. That talk infuriated Bush, and the fact that Chretien is French-Canadian probably rankled him, too.
Bush hopes for a better personal relationship with Prime Minister Paul Martin, but some thorny trade issues are still unresolved. While the White House has given scant attention to the importance of Canada, the fact remains the nation is far and away our No. 1 trading partner. In 2003, $440 billion worth of goods passed through the border.
More goods and products pass over the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont., than the entire trade volume with Japan, our second-largest trading partner. Bush's protectionist tariffs on Canadian soft lumber are just a political expedient that drives up the cost of housing in the United States, violates provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization rules, and invites retaliation.
Twenty thousand protesters greeted Bush when he arrived in Ottawa, providing him a rare occasion to see people who disagree with his world view. He refused to address Parliament because his handlers feared he would be heckled. They were right.
People in the streets carried signs saying, "George, go home," "Is God really an American?" and, with typical Canadian politeness, "Please leave." Such civility escaped popular conservative crackpots in the United States who spew the bullying arrogance that angers not only our Canadian neighbors but most of the world.
I normally wouldn't quote these venomous vipers, but since their words get such wide propagation, I must. Ann Coulter, a right-wing pundit and hate-monger, went on the Fox News Channel's "Hannity and Colmes" show and said Canadians "better hope the United States doesn't roll over one night and crush them. They are lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent." Another guest on the show, Newsday columnist Ellis Henican, noted that we share a lot of culture and interests with Canadians. He asked her, "Why do you want to ridicule them and be deeply offended if they disagree with us?" Coulter huffed, "Because they speak French." How's that for right-wing enlightenment?
Not to be outdone in barbaric behavior and intolerance, CNN's "Crossfire" co-host Tucker Carlson said, "Without the U.S., Canada is essentially Honduras, but colder and much less interesting." He added that, instead of following politics, "the average Canadian is busy dog sledding."
Since a good husky's intellect rivals Carlson's, he failed to note that the average Canadian is much better informed on public policy issues than most Americans, especially the Red State variety. Canadian media, especially television, covers politics more extensively and critically than the American Pravdas. Canadians vote at a significantly higher rate than Americans.
What's so disturbing about the ignorance and bigotry of Coulter and Carlson is that they receive such a wide forum for their radical rants and their wild thoughts are given serious attention from the masses of the uninformed. People actually read their fact-fabricated books, especially Coulter's faux history, and then the cable networks showcase them, pretending they're respectable and what they do is journalism.
Last Tuesday, the day Bush arrived in Canada, a real journalist, whose work inspired generations and gave Canadians a sense of connection with their past, died. Pierre Berton was everything people like Coulter and Carlson are not. He was thoughtful, reflective, reasonable and fair. His work guided people to a better understanding of their history, national character and themselves. He sought to give Canadians -- and all people, for that matter -- an ethos of unity, not division.
Berton had enormous impact on all media, as a newspaperman, magazine editor, writer of popular history and children's books, and a towering television personality and pundit. He embodied an understanding of the events, issues, conflicts and people that gave Canada its distinct national character, purpose and direction. Canada refuses to be the subservient colony Coulter and Carlson prefer. Thus they turn to insult and ridicule to dismiss the nation they don't even attempt to understand.
The 84-year-old Berton died from congestive heart failure at a Toronto hospital. Years ago, he wrote in a Toronto Star column, "According to accepted newspaper cliches, we all go down fighting. ... That has become the mandatory phrase for all who expire disease-ridden. They battled valiantly; they lost. When I finally depart, I hope somebody will write, instead, that I died after a long battle with life."
Berton left this vale of tears just as Bush was performing his kiss-and-make-up speech in Ottawa. Berton would have enjoyed the irony and offered a wry remark. He was born in the Yukon and grew up in a family struggling with poverty in the rough-and-tumble mining towns of Canada's north. He wrote of those experiences in "Drifting Home," one of his 50 books.
After military service in World War II, he started in the newspaper business in British Columbia, becoming a city editor at age 21. He moved on to Toronto, where he signed on with "Maclean's" magazine. At 31, he was promoted to managing editor, an extraordinary achievement.
In 1957, Berton, recognizing the growing influence of television, joined the CBC and worked in public affairs programming. He became a permanent panelist on "Front Page Challenge," a quiz show, dazzling viewers with his encyclopedic knowledge of current events and history.
"Maclean's" threatened to fire him because he refused to give up his television appearances, so Berton quit and went on to write daily columns for the Toronto Star. He started "The Pierre Berton Show," on which he did great interviews and had real, insightful conversations with guests like Malcolm X, Lenny Bruce, Pierre Trudeau and Groucho Marx. I watched those shows. When each ended, I had been entertained and had learned something interesting.
Critics would sometimes brand Berton as egocentric, crusty and rude. But others knew him for his generosity and compassion. He and his wife had six children of their own, adopted another and raised a foster child.
Berton returned to "Maclean's," but quickly got into trouble. He was never shy about sharing his views. He was an atheist and didn't "give a damn" what people thought about his opinions and social criticism. In 1962, he wrote a piece about teen-age sex and had the boldness to observe that "premarital sex isn't always a bad thing ... what is bad is the sense of guilt, shame and sin." Some readers appreciated his honesty, but others went ballistic and "Maclean's" sacked him.
Berton made his last television appearance in October, with eye-popping flair. He appeared on Rick Mercer's comedy show on CBC-TV and called Canadian marijuana laws "hysterical and hypocritical," He went on to demonstrate for the viewers how to roll a perfect joint, and admitted he'd been a recreational pot-smoker for 40 years. Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson would have burned Berton at the stake for that one.
Berton was prolific and he could sometimes grind out 15,000 words a day. He was a wonderful storyteller. His popular histories celebrated Canada's past and the remarkable people who shaped it.
His "Niagara: A History of the Falls" is a delightful read, filled with fascinating vignettes and intriguing characters. In the book, Berton sought the single word that best describes the majesty of the falls. It's the very same word that embraces his life, work and legacy.
"Beauty, danger, terror, and charm are here combined. Over the centuries, poets, essayists, historians and ordinary visitors have struggled, and often failed to find words to describe the lure of these waters. Yet, in the end, a single word -- an old well used word -- best captures the essence of Niagara. In spite of mankind's follies and nature's ravages, in spite of scientific intrusion and unexpected catastrophe, in spite of human ambition and catchpenny artifice, the great cataract remains what is has always been, and in the true sense of the word. Sublime."
Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2004 Niagara Falls Reporter