"Moron" Incident and the Growing Rift in Canada-U.S.
December 3, 2002
By John D. Briner
It's not just that the Canadian Prime Minster's senior communications
director called President Bush a "moron." And it's
not just that White House staffers refer to Mr. Chretien as
"dino," short for dinosaur. Such fuss over petty
monikers reflects a greater issue at play; that of the growing
ideological and personality rift between the two countries.
The "moron" incident began during the NATO summit in Prague,
when journalists overheard Françoise Ducros refer to Mr. Bush
as a moron. A radio reporter quoted her as speaking scornfully
of Mr. Bush's policy on Iraq by saying, "What a moron."
Ms. Ducros' ill-timed and ill-worded comment only underscores
the increasing contempt between Canada and the Republican-controlled
White House. Until recently, the leaders of both countries
managed to make the relationship work. There have been notable
disagreements, but the two countries have usually found some
way to work together, most notably in defense and trade.
This downturn in relations has happened for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the current White House occupant did not endear himself
to his Northern neighbors when he made his first official
presidential visit to Mexico's Vincente Fox, mistakenly labeling
Mexico as the "biggest trading partner" of the U.S.
Up to this point, tradition held that the first official visit
was made to Canada.
After September 11, Mr. Bush began forging an extremely close
relationship with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Canada
came to be seen more as a backdoor for terrorists than an
ally in the so-called War on Terror.
Then, when a US pilot accidentally dropped a bomb on Canadian
infantrymen in Afghanistan the following year, many Canadians
felt truly rebuffed in the handling of this "friendly
fire" incident. The American response seemed indifferent
and disinterested, in both its internal investigation and
its official apology to Canada.
But what of the Canadians? The ideological gulf is getting
increasingly wider. Mr. Chretien's genuine dislike of the
Republican administration and its conservative platform is
no secret. In fact, the Chretien government openly supported
Al Gore in the last U.S. presidential race. The recent mid-term
victories for the Republicans will only serve to underscore
As a result of ideological differences, many Bush advisers
consider the Chretien government as too soft on terrorism,
essentially defenseless, and whiny on trade issues. In fact,
the ultra-right National Review labeled Canadians as "wimps"
and Pat Buchanan has gotten substantial mileage out of calling
Canada "Soviet Canuckistan."
Granted there have been no real efforts from the Chretien
government to heal this rift. It is notable that while Mr.
Chretien played the occasional game of golf with Bill Clinton
during his administration, he has favored Tiger Woods over
Mr. Bush as his new golf buddy. As long as the Bush administration
insists on exporting its ultra-conservative world view, it
is not likely that Messrs. Chretien and Bush will be hitting
the links in the near future.
One final observation of the "moron" incident is
worth noting; Mr. Chretien insists that the incident will
have no effect on Canada-U.S. relations. He was completely
correct in this observation, but only to the extent that the
relationship is already so strained that an insult such as
this hardly seems to matter.