I view U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Ottawa tomorrow as a significant opportunity on the part of the United States and our government to repair the damage to Canada-U.S. bi-lateral relations that was so thoughtlessly inflicted by former president George W. Bush and past Liberal governments.
Canada-U.S. relations got off to a poor start under the Bush administration when that president chose Mexico as his first foreign visit. Many Canadians saw this as a deliberate slight, though is was probably more like benign neglect or, at worst, a minor diplomatic snub.
But then, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush thanked 20 or more countries for their support, but failed to acknowledge Canadians for providing safe harbor to passengers on more than 200 transcontinental flights who were left stranded when the U.S. closed its airspace. And President Bush never publicly refuted false claims made by members of his own administration and other well-known conservatives that some of the 9/11 terrorists had entered the U.S. from Canada. All this was topped off by Bush repeatedly referring to the United Kingdom as the United States’ closest ally.
Later, President Bush added fuel the flames of mounting anti-Americanism here in Canada, when, in 2002, he showed little or no remorse after four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were killed by a bomb dropped from a U.S. F-16.
None of this was helped by trade disputes, former prime ministers Jean Chrétien’s and Paul Martin’s unseemly eagerness to poke a stick in the eye of America and when Liberal MP, Carolyn Parrish was reported as saying, “Damn Americans, I hate the bastards.” And when, in a skit on a CBC comedy, Parrish stomped on a Bush doll and performed voodoo on its head, where, she said, “it would do the least damage.” Or, in 2002, when Françoise Ducros, one of Chrétien’s top aides, referred to Bush as “a moron.”
George W. did eventually reach out to us when, in late 2004, he visited this country and travelled to Halifax to thank those communities that had welcomed the diverted passengers in the hours right after the 9/11 attacks. But, by this time, many of us who see ourselves as moderate and secular were questioning whether we still had much left in common with our American friends and business partners.
Now, with Liberal Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff practically being an American himself, and PM Stephen Harper’s lack of the sort of animosity towards the United States we saw with Chrétien and Martin, perhaps President Obama’s visit will be a step towards rebuilding strong bi-lateral relationships.