When Bush comes to town

November 30, 2004

John Hamm has asked us to welcome George Bush in a Nova Scotian
manner.  But being polite is frankly going to be difficult and it
is not in our best interests.

For the most part Bush has himself to blame for the less than warm
reception he has been receiving from many whenever he ventures beyond
the US border.  His policies and actions have left the world less
safe and more divided.  His fundamentalist conservative agenda has
fanned the flames of intolerance both at home and abroad, and increased
the gap between the rich and the poor.  His administration is
undermining efforts to stem environmental degradation.  

For all the rhetoric of the new era of globalization, Bush’s
go-it-alone approach harkens back to the days of empire building. His
simplistic ‘with us or against us’ stance has driven a wedge between
the US and many of its former allies and dimmed the prospects for a
multilateral approach to global problems.  His administration has
squandered both the good will that resulted from 9/11, and the
opportunity as the sole “super-power” to make the world a better place.

So what to make of Bush’s visit to Halifax?  The visit to Halifax
is just another prop in Bush’s continued exploitation of the 9/11
tragedy to implement his political agenda.  He will likely use the
opportunity of thanking Atlantic Canadians for welcoming American
passengers stranded by 9/11 to rekindle enthusiasm for his “war on
terrorism” and the need for greater security.  Bush needs broader
international support and what better place to start than Canada. 
The emphasis on fear and need for security worked to win Bush a second
term – and it will be used to try to bring Canada into the fold. 

The harkening back to 9/11 obscures more fundamental issues facing
Canada’s relationship with the US.  While most Canadians do not
share Bush’s social, and international views, there are powerful
interests in Canada willing to disregard the disturbing elements of the
Bush administration in order to secure access to the American economy.

Our economic elite continue to lobby for closer integration with the
US.  The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the folks who
pushed for free trade, are promoting greater co-operation on security,
defence, trade and immigration and the “re-inventing” of  the
Canada-US border in favour of  a North American security border.

American big business would like, and for the most part have been
getting, unfettered access to Canadian raw materials and energy. 
But US restrictions on softwood lumber and beef exports, as well as
other trade disputes, have left Canadians sceptical about the benefits
of “free” trade.  

The Bush administration has not been making it easy for those Canadians
favouring greater integration.  The more that the Bush
administration pursues its fundamentalist policies the more
uncomfortable we are about deeper integration with the US.  This
could prove to be a big problem for those who favour closer ties to the
US in the context of a new and even more conservative mandate for the
Republican administration.

On the international stage Canadians like the image of themselves as
“honest brokers.”  Canada’s stand against invasion of Iraq
reinforced that image.  But the current government’s apparent
support for missile defence and participation in a North American
border will undermine Canada’s credibility as an independent player on
the international stage.

This brings us back to Bush’s visit to Halifax.  Canada is facing
a number of policy decisions relating to its relationship with the US,
such as participation in missile defence and Canada’s role in the “war
on terror.”  We regularly hear the mantra from business leaders
about the need to repair relations with our biggest trading partner, in
other words make up to the Bush administration for past independent
stands taken by the Chrétien government.  

In effect these folks are saying that all other issues should take a
back seat to a focus on trade issues.  It is clear from polling
that this is not what the majority of Canadians want.  

Martin’s interaction with Bush should be guided by what Canadians have
to say and by the need to maintain our sovereignty and
independence.  This will not be easy in the context of pressures
from the CEOs and Martin’s own inclination.   It is therefore
all the more important that the focus be on making our voices heard
rather than on being a polite and scenic backdrop for the promotion of
Bush’s misadventures.

John Jacobs is director of the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian
Centre for Policy Alternatives (www.policyalternatives.ca), an
independent public policy research institute.