Bush gave Chrétien the opportunity to say "no" to Iraq, a decision widely considered, along with balancing the federal budget and imposing the Clarity Act on Quebec referendums, as one of the three best of his 10 years in power.
Bush's persona as well as his softwood lumber and climate change positions were useful foils for Martin who, in desperation, campaigned against Canada's largest trading partner and closest friend only to lose the 2006 election for other reasons. Even after becoming a pariah, Bush served Harper surprisingly well by consolidating the continental conservative base while absorbing most of the criticism for common policies and shared values.
Whatever Harper was doing up here, Bush was doing more of it down there. While the Prime Minister, like his Liberal predecessors, was trying to ignore the human and legal rights of one Canadian that were being denied at Guantanamo Bay, the president was keenly defending and justifying the U.S. abuse of hundreds of prisoners. Canadian opposition to the Afghanistan mission was a mere peep compared to the screams against the war in Iraq.
When only a few academics and journalists here worried about eroding democracy and the concentration of control in the Prime Minister's Office, a U.S. public debate was roiling over the Bush administration's determination to remove constitutional checks, tipping the balance of power in the president's favour.
For a federal government with a more or less parallel U.S. agenda, political cover that broad is priceless. Among other things, it reinforces the me-too logic of economic, social and foreign policies arcing across the spectrum; from the lethal combo of low taxes and high spending to climate change foot-dragging and big-stick solutions to problems begging more subtle answers.
It's true that Canadian leadership has been superior to that of the U.S. over the Bush years. Our economy is better prepared for the worst still to come, social safety net holes aren't so gaping and this country's international reputation retains some of its prestige.
But if it's also true – and it is – that not enough has been asked of Canadians since 2000 (or, for that matter, since belt-tightening 1995), it's surely inescapable that in demanding tougher choices and setting higher standards, Barack Obama changes the inevitable cross-border comparison.
Much of what the new president told America in his sobering inaugural address resonates with similar urgency in Canada. Fear is no excuse for injustice, greed can't be a synonym for free markets, and dumping the planet's problems on the next generation is not an acceptable option.
Obama is a phenomenon – a seductive mix of upright character, soaring intellect and stirring rhetoric – that Canadian leaders can't and shouldn't try to duplicate. They can, and should, rise to his challenge of restoring principles to policies and to politics.
It's difficult to imagine Obama and Harper finding the personal rapport that's so helpful in driving the Canada-U.S. relationship over the speed bumps of petty differences. Even so, common interests and the common sense of the president's vision encourage the close co-operation that can take much of the odiousness out of coming comparisons with the Prime Minister.
James Travers' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre in the Toronto Star
More unpublished commentary
I love this article, its an accurate snapshot of the present reality. Mr. Harper expected and expects us to follow his political agenda, blindly and form right wing conclusions that now in the junk yard of dogma in Crawford Texas. Obama is leading by example, an example that will be heresy for Mr. Harper to contemplate. Again, I predict by the end of today, Harper or his mouthpiece will give the nod for Omar to return to Canada to some sort of domestic trial that will never happen.
http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/575062#Comments 11:01 am