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Don’t dictate to me, Canada’s Martin tells USA

December 14, 2005

By Allan Dowd

RICHMOND, British Columbia (Reuters) – Prime Minister Paul
Martin escalated a war of words with the United States on
Wednesday, telling Washington not to dictate to him what topics
he can raise in the run-up to Canada’s January 23 election.

But U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, who warned Canadian
politicians on Tuesday not to bash the United States as part of
their campaigning, denied on Wednesday he was trying to control
the election debate.

Martin — who has regularly attacked the U.S. stance on a
bilateral trade dispute over softwood lumber and also
criticized Washington’s approach to climate change — took aim
at Wilkins’s warning for a second consecutive day.

“When it comes to defending Canadian values, when it comes
to standing up for Canadian interests, I’m going to call it
like I see it,” he told reporters in a lumber yard in Richmond,
British Columbia. “I am not going to be dictated to as to the
subjects I should raise.”

Although Martin came to power in December 2003 promising to
repair relations with the United States that were damaged by
his predecessor’s decision not to take part in the Iraq War, he
has shown little hesitation in attacking Washington.

The two sides are locked in a protracted dispute over the
U.S. decision to slap tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber
shipments on the grounds they are unfairly subsidized. Canada
says its lumber producers are not subsidized.

Ottawa is fighting the case through various trade panels
and complains Washington is not respecting its obligations
under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“This dispute with the United States demands leadership at
the national level in Canada, even if that leadership happens
to rankle some in the U.S.,” said Martin, whose minority
Liberal government fell last month over a corruption scandal.

Martin may feel he is on safe ground politically, since
polls show most Canadians dislike U.S. President George W.
Bush. But Wilkins said the continued attacks could start
undermining the close relationship between the two countries.

Wilkins said his comments were aimed at improving relations
between two major trading partners, and had “no intention of in
any way affecting an election which is the business of
Canadians.”

“I don’t presume I can dictate to anybody,” Wilkins said
after addressing a forum in Ottawa.

Martin also attacked Stephen Harper, leader of the main
opposition Conservative party, saying he had been silent on the
softwood lumber issue.

Harper, who criticizes what he says is Martin’s needless
antagonism of the Bush administration, knows that his electoral
chances could be fatally undermined if he allows himself to be
portrayed as too pro-American.

“I actually think the (U.S.) ambassador’s intervention was
inappropriate… I don’t think foreign ambassadors should be
expressing their views, or intervening in an election,” Harper
told reporters in Vancouver.

But Jack Layton, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic
Party, who has demanded the Liberals take a tougher line with
Washington in the softwood fight, dismissed Martin’s comments
as “shameless posturing.”

“Whipping up the rhetoric about George Bush is very easy to
do… Canadians have known that the Liberals will say anything
in an election to get elected. I think now the ambassador has
discovered the same thing,” Layton said.

Harper equated Martin’s dealings with the United States on
softwood to a kid who calls names but is afraid to fight. “He
hasn’t thrown a punch. He couldn’t throw a punch to save his
life,” he said.

(With reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa and Wency Leung
in Vancouver)


Source: reuters



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