In Ottawa, Rice Seeks to Temper Bitterness About Bush Policies

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By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

TORONTO, Oct. 25 -- As relations between the U.S. and Canadian governments have increasingly soured, Americans here are being viewed with suspicion, derided in jokes and shunned as representatives of a sinister force.

One quick way for dinner speakers in Canada to win applause is to take verbal shots at the United States. President Bush is a frequent target of newspaper columnists. Pollster Michael Adams said Canadian views of the United States this month are the most unfavorable he has seen in 25 years. His findings coincide with the results of a survey of 17,000 Canadians in June by the Pew Research Center in which 53 percent viewed Americans as "rude, greedy and violent."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Ottawa Monday and Tuesday to try to soothe the rancor. She spoke warmly of the friendship between the North American neighbors. "This is a relationship that is deep and broad and good," she said in an appearance Tuesday with Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

But her arrival served to remind Canadians of their irritation with the United States. In April, Rice pointedly canceled a visit to Canada as a diplomatic rebuke for its decision not to participate in the Bush administration's missile defense system. The decision broke a long tradition of visits to Canada by incoming secretaries of state.

The Toronto Star newspaper noted Monday that Rice visited 39 countries, traveled 167,366 miles and spent 357 hours in the air "before making the 90-minute hop to Ottawa."

Her presence this week also gave Prime Minister Paul Martin and members of Parliament an opportunity to state their grievances against the U.S. government.

Top on their list is the U.S. refusal to accept rulings under the North American Free Trade Agreement that the United States has illegally collected nearly $4 billion in tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber imports. The Bush administration views the issue as an arcane trade dispute and Rice asked Tuesday that Canadians "keep this in perspective." But to Canadians, it has become a searing symbol of arrogance and hubris by the Bush administration.

Blaring newspaper headlines have described the U.S. government as a "bully" and "outlaw." The national tenor was captured in a blunt question to Rice on Tuesday by a reporter in Ottawa: "If you don't live up to a decision with your closest neighbor, how will other countries around the world trust the United States?"

In response, Rice urged Canadians "not to speak in apocalyptic language," and she insisted the U.S. commitment "has been as good as gold."

Martin, though, has been persistent on the issue. "Friends live up to their agreements," he scolded when asked about the U.S. position in a news conference Monday. In a telephone conversation with Bush on Oct. 14, Martin rejected the president's request to negotiate the tariff issue, saying Canada "would not negotiate a win," according to an account by Martin's office uncontested by the White House.

Martin, meanwhile, has been mentioning lately that Canada, the largest exporter of oil to the United States, has other potential customers, notably energy-hungry China.

At dinner with Rice on Monday, Martin also raised complaints that U.S. guns were contributing to street violence in Toronto. He also said a U.S. plan to require passports for anyone crossing the border from Canada would hurt tourism and trade.

Rice stuck to her positive message in public. "There are many, many issues the United States and Canada are cooperating on across the world," she said Tuesday.

Martin came to power two years ago, and pledged he would repair relations with the United States, which had been damaged by Canada's refusal to join the invasion of Iraq. But the jabs at the United States serve the prime minister's home front politics. Martin leads a minority government constantly hectored by the opposition Conservative Party. With an election looming, a little America-bashing is "fertile ground for politicians in search of votes," said Adams, who has taken public opinion surveys regularly for 25 years.

A broadly worded survey question indicated that 48 percent of Canadians now have an unfavorable view of the United States, Adams said. In 1981, he said his survey showed that 7 percent had such a negative view of their southern neighbor.

Chantal Hebert, a political commentator, said that relations with the United States are not likely to improve very soon.

"There will not be a thaw between the White House and Ottawa until the Bush administration moves on," she said.


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