A Bad Time for a Family Feud

By: Rachel Marsden


President Bush has said that Canada and the USA are more than just friends--"we're family". We share a common culture, a passion for freedom and democracy, and the world's longest unguarded border. You send us your basketball players (at least until they start blubbering like overpaid, overgrown babies about wanting to go back home to mommy and the warmer weather), your runaway Hollywood productions, and your television shows. In return, we give you our hockey players, our top industry professionals, our comedians, Peter Jennings and Pamela Anderson. Now if that isn't love, then I don't know what is.

Our two countries have stood shoulder-to-shoulder through various trials and tribulations--the latest being the September 11th terrorist attacks and the subsequent war. We opened our airports, our hearts and our homes to our American friends when US airports were shut down immediately following the attacks. We raised millions of dollars to help with the relief efforts at Ground Zero, and we sent our own firefighters and police officers to New York to participate in ceremonies honoring their fallen American brothers and sisters. Canadians even traveled to New York City last year for an official "Canada Loves New York Day" rally.

Whatever help President Bush has requested of Canada, he has received. We have committed 2,400 soldiers to the War on Terrorism. Our snipers covered US troops and cut down heavily armed Al-Qaeda fighters during Operation Anaconda. Operation Harpoon--a combat mission in eastern Afghanistan that involved hunting down and clearing out any remaining al-Qaeda and Taliban pockets hiding out in the caves and mountains south of Gardez--was under Canadian command.

During the California brownout, Canada came to the rescue with an abundant supply of power.

Now before that warm, fuzzy feeling sets in, I'll explain how President Bush has thanked us Canadians for our unwavering support: By sitting back and allowing for measures to be taken that will devastate one of the main industries responsible for putting food on our tables.

Bush stood beside Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien at a UN conference in Mexico last week, and professed to be a staunch defender of North American free trade. At the exact same moment, his henchmen in Washington were inking a deal that would slap a 29-per-cent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber--a move that will cost Canadians tens of thousands of jobs, and will cripple one of the country's biggest industries. The spin-off effect will ripple through our entire economy.

I guess Bush is only a free trader when it suits him to be. The new duty on Canadian softwood smacks of blatant protectionism. It's another case of the tail wagging the dog. When the influential American lumber producers whined to the US Commerce Department and their allies in Congress and the Senate, they should have been told to fix their industry to make American lumber producers more efficient and competitive in a free trade, free enterprise market. After all, aren't free enterprise and market competition what America is all about? Instead, it's the Canadians who have been given the high hard one on the softwood issue. If Bush is such a staunch defender of free trade, he should have intervened in this dispute and exerted some influence. You're either in support of free trade, or you're not--and Bush needs to stop playing both sides of the court from the middle.

Incidentally, Canadians aren't the only ones who will be stiffed by this duty. The American consumer will be paying about $1,500 more for a new home. It would seem that the support of deep-pocketed lumber producers means more to Bush than the votes of a few new homeowners.

At a time when both the USA and Canada should be united in a common purpose to fight much greater evils, a trade war is heating up between the two countries. And don't look for Canada to back down from this one. Wood and lumber mean everything to Canada. Our national symbol is a beaver, for crying out loud. And what do you think we use to make hockey sticks?

Canada is already planning to take the issue to the World Trade Organization, and to mount a challenge under NAFTA. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chretien has publicly dismissed any kind of tit-for-tat retaliatory action against the USA, despite a poll by the Globe and Mail (Canada's national newspaper) that found a majority of Canadians in favor of some kind of retaliation against the US over the tariffs. However, the Official Opposition is suggesting that the Canadian government tie the lumber issue to the Alaska oil pipeline that will have to run through Canada from the Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge to the US. It is even being suggested that Canada use its role as a partner in the continuing War on Terrorism to leverage its position. At a time when Bush is looking at taking out Saddam Hussein, and is seeking continued support and commitment from his allies while sweating a shortage of troops on the home-front, he couldn't have picked a worse time for a fight with his closest friend and neighbor. I would hate to see him give Canadians any reason not to lend the USA their full support in any current or future war efforts.

Now is the time for Bush to walk the walk--to step up and confront the US lumber producers and the Commerce Department, and prove himself to be the staunch defender of free trade that he claims to be. If we really are "family", as Bush says, then he risks looking like the kind of brother who would whip around and kick you in the unmentionables right after you've helped him lay out a group of schoolyard bullies.