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The "Moron" Incident and the Growing Rift in Canada-U.S. Relations
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 these differences.

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.

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