TORONTO, March 3 -- A U.S. Senate vote Thursday seeking to block the importing of Canadian cattle has added to a series of perceived snubs by Washington, causing alarm among Canadian officials and raising concerns of a chill in U.S.-Canada relations.
Since Canada announced Feb. 24 that it would not participate in a joint missile defense program undertaken by the United States, there has been a flurry of negative signals between the two countries, ranging from diplomatic barbs to judicial rebuffs.
The Canadian press has highlighted an unreturned phone call from Prime Minister Paul Martin to President Bush, dubbing it the "phone freeze." Martin telephoned last week to explain why he had spurned Bush's appeal to join in a missile defense system for North America, but the president did not return the call, according to reports in the Canadian press that have not been disputed by officials.
The Senate vote followed a decision Wednesday by a federal judge in Billings, Mont., to grant a temporary injunction against imports of young Canadian cattle. It came despite a promise by the Bush administration to resume beef imports, which were curtailed two years ago because of concerns over mad cow disease.
The actions followed sharp comments by U.S. and Canadian diplomats and coincided with the postponement of a planned trip to Canada by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"The relationship once again is at a very low point," said Stockwell Day, an opposition Conservative Party member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament. He said Martin had "mishandled" relations with the United States.
The Canadian press has tended to put the blame on Washington. On Thursday the opinion page of the Toronto Star featured a menacing Uncle Sam strangling a beaver, a symbol of Canada.
A group of 70 influential Canadians and Americans concluded Tuesday that "Canada is losing its influence in Washington." The American Assembly, which is affiliated with Columbia University, fretted about rising Canada-bashing in the United States, but noted that it "pales beside the disturbing and persistent current of anti-Americanism in Canada."
The new Canadian ambassador to Washington, Frank McKenna, told reporters Wednesday that the United States was partly to blame for strained relations, and he suggested the missile defense decision might have been different if the United States had moved faster in resolving trade disputes.
"The temperature in Canada has been at a pretty high level because of those ongoing irritants," he said. The missile defense decision can in part be "construed as the direct result of letting fester" those trade disputes, he said.
McKenna criticized U.S. attempts to transfer about $4 billion in duties paid by Canadian lumber companies to the U.S. lumber industry, calling this "the equivalent of someone standing on street corners, turning in jaywalkers, and then getting the fine money."
McKenna was returning the kind of pointed rhetoric used by the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, who annoyed Ottawa with demands that Canada boost its military and join the U.S. missile defense plan.
Other U.S. administration officials made their displeasure known indirectly following Martin's missile defense decision. Rice postponed a trip to Canada, citing "scheduling problems," according to U.S. officials. Bush's failure to phone Martin back was an embarrassment to the prime minister, who frostily ignored reporters' questions about it Thursday.
The Bush administration, however, did announce on Thursday that Bush would invite both Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox to Bush's Texas ranch on March 23 to talk about North American trade issues.