C'mon over George, we're ready for you!

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Canadians will understandably look at the Bush visitwith skeptical eyes.

On the Amtrak line between Portland and Seattle thereare two tracks except when you reach the Nelson-BennetTunnel in southern Washington. You have to wait forthe southbound train to LA to go through.

As the train stopped around 9:30 in the morning,my car was full of Seattle Seahawks fans making theirway from Oregon, finishing off their third beer andwaving their foam hand paraphernalia.

Arriving in Seattle near the football stadium, Iwandered into a nearby pub to grab a drink beforegetting my connection to Vancouver. The go-go dancerswere already on stage and it was just afternoon.

On the surface, America may be about freedom butdemocracy here, sometimes looks like it has a lot dowith football, beer and war.

George Woodcock once wrote in the inaugural edition ofNow Magazine in 1940, “Art is antithetical to evil andviolence. And evil and violence have their supremeavatar in war, when the common virtues are suspendedand truth hibernates for the duration. It is noparticular violence, e.g. Nazi violence, that we mustoppose, but all violence, no matter what the causethat uses it. The man who tolerates war nurtures abeast that will destroy him, perhaps not physically,but certainly intellectually and morally.”

Canada is not a warrior nation which is why we took inOld George, the “gentle anarchist,” the transplantedBrit, and put him to work as a prolific writer and anunderpaid editor of literary magazines.

As George W. Bush is set to visit here next week, hisnorthern neighbour and a country he has yet to visitsince taking over the Presidency four years ago, itwill test the civility of a country that takes greatpains to present itself as the enlightened middlepower of the modern world. Canadians have readilylapped up the mythology that they are the modern dayposter children of human rights, peacekeeping anduniversal medicare.

If Canadians were Americans, they would be the“democratic wing” of the Democratic Party.

Bush had testy relations with the previous Chrétienadministration and even with the present governmentwhere many high ranking insiders clearly favoured AlGore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, having much to do withdirections in American foreign policy.

While Prime Minister Paul Martin will want to press Bush onbread-and-butter Canadian issues like free trade, thesoftwood lumber dispute, toque exports, reducingtariffs on maple syrup and restrictions on Canadianbeef exports having to do with mad cow disease, thePresident will be looking to widen his internationalcoalition which now includes international powerhouses like Bulgaria. Maybe Bush can bringLichtenstein on board next. Hungary, Spain, Norway,New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Moldova and Polandhave already announced that they are withdrawingtroops.

The images of Abu Ghraib and more recent reports thatthe U.S. is not officially counting non-U.S. militarydeaths is continuing to raise concerns.

While Canada did go to Afghanistan, there was littledomestic support for going to Iraq except from therabidly pro-American Conservative Party whose leaderStephen Harper appeared on Fox-TV criticizing Canada'sdecision not to send troops to the Iraqi war asAustralia did, a country of similar size and values toCanada as the thinking goes.

Bush cancelled a visit to Canada in May 2003 whichmany widely believe had to do with Canada's decisionnot to go to Iraq under then Prime Minister JeanChrétien.

Rebel MP Carolyn Parrish was kicked out of caucus lastweek by Prime Minister Martin after he had warnedcaucus members not to make inflammatory comments aboutthe U.S. election. Parrish, not to be bulliedby her leader, appeared on the political parody show,This Hour has 22 Minutes stomping on a little Bushdoll and smiling. The nerve of her!

She had earlier criticized the U.S. administration onseveral occasions including:

  • a CP report published last Wednesday in which Parrishdescribed the newly re-elected U.S. President as a“war-like man.” She also said she was “dumbfounded” hehad won. This would have put her squarely on the sideof the majority of Canadian public opinion.
  • “I guess it's a reflection of the profoundpsychological damage of 9/11,” she said. “That countryis completely out of step with most of the freeworld.”
  • In August, she called Americans “a coalition of theidiots,” in reference to the U.S. missile defenceplan.
  • Last year, an open microphone caught her saying,“Damn Americans ... I hate those bastards,” after ascrum outside the House of Commons.

Since the Bush re-election, there have been rumours ofan exodus of American liberals to Canada which led tonews reports of immigration consultants having theirphones ringing off the hook. This Magazine's marryanamerican got tens of thousandsof hits to help with the immigration process and asmall city in BC launched a marketing campaign toattract the “Bush refugees.”

The U.S. is a country almost ten times the size ofCanada. Though we clearly benefit from thisarrangement, areas of sovereignty, freedom andcultural expression are regularly put to the test. Weare subject to the big American elephant shaking itsoversized rump and those fat tourists coming off thecruise ships.

Margaret Atwood put our relationship with the U.S. in abetter way, warning that the only position the UnitedStates had “ever adopted toward us, country tocountry, has been the missionary position, and we werenot on top.”

In the case of Iraq, Canadians did not favour theAmerican approach of ignoring internationalinstitutions like the UN. During the election, wetended to favour a pro-choice position and supportsame sex marriages. The relationship between churchand state wasn't sufficiently divided enough for us.For those of us up north, we were alarmed at therightward and unilateral shift of the Americangovernment.

Canadians will understandably look at the Bush visitwith skeptical eyes while the cartoonists and thenational wits are busy getting their pens sharpened.

C'mon over George, we're ready for you!

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