Bush has Ottawa buzzing

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail — Nov 30, 2004

Tuesday 30 November 2004, by Alan FREEMAN, Jeff SALLOT

Ottawa and Washington - The Liberal government welcomes an unpopular American President to the capital today under tight security for a meeting aimed at mending fences even as a nasty trade war looms and critical policy differences remain unsolved.

A no-fly zone is expected to be in place over Ottawa as George W. Bush arrives this morning, and the main roads from the city airport will be blocked while the President’s motorcade heads downtown. Large numbers of protesters are expected on Parliament Hill.

The trip - Mr. Bush’s first official visit to Canada since he was first elected - is seen as a dress rehearsal by the U.S President for an international effort to smooth relations with other countries over the war in Iraq, a war Canada did not support.

But Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mr. Bush will also face a large bilateral agenda as the two leaders meet in Parliament’s centre block, before heading for a working lunch off Parliament Hill.

Issues include trade disputes such as the ban on Canadian cattle, the situation in Iraq and American-Canadian security issues at the border. The two men later preside over a dinner at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, where 700 people - including Canada’s premiers - are expected to attend.

Yesterday, the divide that has characterized Canada-U.S. relations over the past few years was on display in a poll that found a number of areas where residents of the two countries are having trouble seeing eye to eye.

Of those surveyed in an Ipsos-Reid poll done for The Globe and Mail-CTV News, 58 per cent of Canadians says Mr. Bush’s re-election was a bad thing, compared with 41 per cent of Americans who say the same thing. By contrast, 56 per cent of U.S. residents says his victory was a good thing, while only 26 per cent of Canadian agree.

Although officials have moved to play down expectations of major announcements, Defence Minister Bill Graham did say yesterday that Ottawa is renewing an agreement that allows Canadian military officers to continue joint planning with the United States for continental defence operations. The deal was to expire at the end of this year, but has been extended to May, 2006.

The announcement keeps alive the possibility that Canada will eventually join the Pentagon’s controversial ballistic missile defence program. It also allows the Canadian and U.S. military to map contingency plans for joint anti-terrorist and coastal defence operations.

The planning group was established two years ago in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The planners have been working at Colorado Springs at the headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense command, a Cold War-era joint military organization that is responsible for monitoring continental air space.

But the group has made little progress on maritime and land-based joint defence operations before the mandate was to expire, an interim report said in mid-October.

Other Liberal ministers were busily lowering expectations yesterday that the two-day meeting will produce very much.

"I’m not holding my breath," Trade Minister Jim Peterson told CBC TV when asked of the chances that Mr. Bush will be able to get Congress to repeal a protectionist trade measure.

Opposition parties came at the Liberals in the Commons yesterday from several different angles, accusing them of mismanaging relations with the United States.

The Conservatives claimed government plans to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana will result in longer delays at border crossings because U.S. authorities will step up drug searches. The New Democrats said the government is turning a blind eye to U.S. military ambitions to put weapons into space. The Bloc Québécois claimed the Liberals haven’t done enough to help the cattle and softwood lumber industries that have been hurt by U.S. trade protectionists.

Bloc MP Pierre Paquette asked Mr. Martin if he will demand that the Americans show "a minimum of good faith" in trade discussions. "Yes, Mr. Speaker, that’s exactly my intention," Mr. Martin shot back.

Read the complete article on TheGlobeAndMail.com

With reports from Gloria Galloway and Brian Laghi

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