"Canadian Leader Angers US Envoy," by Clifford Krauss (in Toronto) - the New York Times, 14 Dec 2005 (registration required)
The American ambassador, David H. Wilkins, interjected himself into the Canadian national elections on Tuesday with an implicit but strong warning to Prime Minister Paul Martin to stop attacking the United States while on the campaign trail.
"I understand political expediency, but the last time I looked, the United States was not on the ballot for the Jan. 23 election," Mr. Wilkins said in a speech in Ottawa. "It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner, but it is a slippery slope."
Mr. Wilkins did not mention Mr. Martin by name. But it was clear that he was referring to recent statements by Mr. Martin criticizing American tariff policy on Canadian lumber, linking gang shootings in Toronto to gun smuggling from the United States and condemning the Bush administration's opposition to the Kyoto climate control protocol.
At a United Nations climate change conference in Montreal last week, Mr. Martin said, "To the reticent nations, including the United States, I say there is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it."
American diplomats have often complained about Canadian criticisms, but Mr. Wilkins's remarks were perhaps the strongest since the cold war.
Mr. Martin said he was not putting the United States in the campaign. "We do expect our partners to honor their agreements," he said, referring to the disputed lumber tariffs. "And I will defend Canada. Period."
"US Officials Spin Wilkins Speech," by Beth Gorham - the Canadian Press (Washington), 14 Dec 2005
American officials are publicly portraying a rebuke from Ambassador David Wilkins as an open, even affectionate, request from the U.S. administration.
A day after Wilkins bluntly urged Prime Minister Paul Martin to stop criticizing the United States in a bid to get re-elected, there were attempts to put the best possible spin on escalating tensions.
He spoke "in the finest tradition of our relationship - frank, open and with clear affection for his Canadian host," State Department spokesman Noel Clay said Wednesday.
The ambassador's comments were intended to "highlight and enhance our partnership" and were based on "mutual respect," said Clay.
At a briefing, the department's Sean McCormack echoed those sentiments, while making it clear the ambassador "was speaking as a representative of the U.S. government."
Wilkins, who likely would have run the themes of his speech by the State Department and perhaps even the White House, delivered the same message in Toronto about three weeks ago, before the election officially began.
But what drove him to complain again mid-campaign, some say, was the prime minister's appearance last week with former Democratic president Bill Clinton at the climate change conference in Montreal.
The two attacked the American record on greenhouse gas emissions.
"It sent him over the edge," said a former U.S. envoy in Canada. "I don't think it was his intention to get into the campaign. But he's not there to be a potted plant."
Aside from the timing of his message, which could benefit the Liberals, many see the Wilkins move as largely unsurprising and not at all inappropriate.
"No one likes to make announcements like this during an election," said former Canadian ambassador Paul Frazer.
"It has to tell you that it's a message that folks in Washington really felt they had to get out. They were fed up."
Frazer predicted the furor in Canada would die down after a day or two in a story that barely caused a ripple south of the border....
"American Ambassador Tells Martin to Stop Dragging US into Federal Election," by Bruce Cheadle - the Canadian Press (Ottawa), 13 Dec 2005
The Bush administration issued a sharp, public rebuke Tuesday to Prime Minister Paul Martin for dragging the Canada-U.S. relationship into federal electoral politics.
Ambassador David Wilkins' unprecedented, mid-campaign sortie drew an immediate, flag-waving riposte from Martin, who came to office in 2003 promising a more mature relationship with Washington. "I will defend the Canadian position and I will defend our values and I will defend our interests against anybody," the prime minister said on the campaign trail in Surrey, B.C.
Wilkins' diplomatic message was about as subtle as a sledgehammer, suggesting maturity in cross-border relations remains in short supply two years after Martin became prime minister.
"It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner constantly," Wilkins said in a speech to the Canadian Club at the historic Chateau Laurier Hotel, next door to Parliament Hill.
"But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on the relationship."...
If the intent was to extricate Washington from the election campaign, the speech was counter-productive.
It appears that Martin's campaign team, which is often given to bare-knuckle politics, considers a dust-up with the Bush White House as ballot-box gold.
The prime minister used Wilkins' rebuke Tuesday to insist that he hasn't made American relations an election issue - even as he repeated his criticisms of American policy on softwood lumber and global warming.
And he seamlessly, and without prompting, spun the issue around to bludgeon Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
"If the thesis of Mr. Harper is that the only way to have good relations with the United States is to concede everything to the United States, then I do not accept that at all," said Martin.
If anything, the Conservative leader has been doing everything possible to distance himself from Washington after feeling the sting of Liberal claims in the 2004 election that he was too closely allied with the Bush Republicans.
Harper sent an open letter this week to the right-wing Washington Times newspaper, repudiating much of a recent glowing commentary that painted a potential Harper election win as "a rare foreign event that manages to put a smile" on President Bush....
Added 20 Dec 2005:
"Canada Described as 'Retarded Cousin,'" by Beth Gorham - the Canadian Press (Washington), 19 Dec 2005
Canada has been described lately by a conservative U.S. television host as "a stalker" and a "retarded cousin."
Another pundit recently asked if Canadians weren't getting "a little too big for their britches." There's been a spate of Canada-bashing by right-wing media commentators in the United States ever since Prime Minister Paul Martin's complaints about lumber penalties and U.S. policy on climate change. His remarks prompted an unusual rebuke last week from the American ambassador.
The attacks on Canada have had web bloggers typing overtime and a non-profit group that's monitoring the trend, Media Matters for America, says it's disturbing.
Yet Paul Waldman, a senior fellow for the group, said Monday the criticism is confined to the usual faction that erupts whenever there's criticism of President George W. Bush's administration and it probably won't last past Canada's Jan. 23 election.
"There are always going to be occasions when it pops up. But Canada is never going to occupy an extraordinary amount of American thought," said Waldman.
"It's more like: 'Who can we beat on today?' It's never going to reach the heights of animosity toward France in the run-up to the Iraq war."
Last week, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, a well-known conservative pundit, let loose with a string of anti-Canada rants.
"Anybody with any ambition at all, or intelligence, has left Canada and is now living in New York," he said.
"Canada is a sweet country. It is like your retarded cousin you see at Thanksgiving and sort of pat him on the head. You know, he's nice but you don't take him seriously. That's Canada."
Carlson also said it's pointless to tell Canada to stop criticizing the United States.
"It only eggs them on. Canada is essentially a stalker, stalking the United States, right? Canada has little pictures of us in its bedroom, right?"
"It's unrequited love between Canada and the United States. We, meanwhile, don't even know Canada's name. We pay no attention at all," he said.
The day before, Fox News host Neil Cavuto highlighted Martin's remark at a news conference that the United States is a "reticent nation" lacking a "global conscience" on climate change.
"So have the Canadians gotten a little too big for their britches?" Cavuto asked.
"Could our neighbours to the north soon be our enemies?"
Douglas MacKinnon, a press secretary to former Republican senator Bob Dole, also recently accused Canada of harbouring terrorists.
"Can Canada really be considered our friend anymore?" he asked in a recent commentary in the right-wing Washington Times newspaper.
"What other question can be asked when the Canadian government not only willingly allows Islamic terrorists into their country but does nothing to stop them from entering our nation?"
U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins warned Martin last week to tone down anti-American jabs or risk hurting bilateral relations. But Martin was unrepentant, saying he would "not be dictated to" by the United States and his hard line appears to be resonating with some voters.
While the offensive from American pundits isn't widespread, it still has the potential to affect cross-border ties, said Waldman.
"On Capitol Hill, the TVs are turned to Fox News. This kind of media environment is what the White House pays attention to," he said.
"That hostility is probably shared by a lot of people in the administration."