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Bush arrives in Canada to repair relations
Updated: 2004-11-30 00:36

US President Bush sought Tuesday to patch up relations with Canada after years of bickering, flying to the capital for talks with Prime Minister Paul Martin on trade, security and a host of tough hemispheric and global issues.

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush wave at the top of the steps to Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base before leaving for Canada, November 30, 2004. [Reuters]
Bush's landing here marked the first official visit by a U.S. president in nearly 10 years a meeting that was akin to a political dance where the president was trying to avoid any missteps that could amplify anti-Americanism north of the U.S. border.

Relations between the Bush administration and Canada got off to a rocky start when Bush, a new president, chose Mexico instead of Canada as the first country he'd visit. Trade disputes and the war in Iraq further soured the friendship.

Martin, Canada's former finance minister and a wealthy shipping magnate, however, has repeatedly expressed a desire to rebuild U.S.-Canada relations, which cooled under his predecessor, Jean Chretien. The dialogue became even more strained when Chretien decided against sending troops to Iraq a decision supported by more than 80 percent of Canadians.

"Under Chretien, relations were terrible," John Hulsman, research fellow in foreign policy at Heritage Foundation, said of the former prime minister whose aide called Bush a "moron" in November 2002. "It got so bad that in the Parliament one time they forgot to turn the mikes off and someone was calling Bush a bastard."

Bush will not make a customary speech at the House of Commons in Ottawa where the sometimes raucous Parliament has been known to heckle speakers. White House press secretary Scott McClellan shrugged off suggestions that the president feared hecklers, saying that Bush had elected to speak "directly to the Canadian people" Wednesday in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Bush's unpopularity is expected to be protested by demonstrators upset about trade issues, Iraq and U.S. efforts to get Canada involved in the continental missile defense shield and Iraq.

The two-day visit was focused on creating goodwill, but thorny economic issues were also sure to arise at the meeting between the leaders whose nations have the world's largest trading partnership. The United States and Canada do more than $1 billion in business a day; 85 percent of Canada's exports go to the United States.

Bush and Martin also are expected to talk about security on the U.S.-Canada border, the war on terrorism and efforts to expand democracy to other corners of the world.

Canada stood with France and Germany in deciding not to send troops to Iraq, but pledged $300 million for reconstruction and is helping train Iraqi police officers in Jordan. Martin is expected to offer to send Canadian observers to help oversee January elections in Iraq.

On trade issues, the two nations are fighting over a tariff the United States has placed on imports of pine, spruce and other easy-to-saw softwood lumber logged in Canada. On average, the United States adds an extra 27 cents to every $1 worth of softwood lumber imported from four Canadian provinces.

U.S. officials accuse Canada of subsidizing the lumber business, saying it does not charge companies large enough to log on public lands. Canada is challenging the tariff through international trade organizations. The World Trade Organization has sided with Canada in a series of preliminary rulings, but the dispute is far from over.

Also, Canadian ranchers are upset about the U.S. ban on live Canadian cattle that was imposed after a lone case of mad cow disease was discovered in Alberta in May 2003. The United States is Canada's biggest beef customer, and the American ban has cost the Canadian cattle industry billions of dollars.

Under a rule recently drafted by the Agriculture Department, Canada would be allowed to resume exports of certain kinds of beef. That rule will be reviewed for the next several months by the Office of Management and Budget.

"The process is moving forward at this point," McClellan told reporters on Air Force One during the flight to Ottawa. He did not, however, offer a timetable for resolution.

Bush will be served Alberta beef at a dinner tonight that Martin is hosting at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The United States and Canada are working jointly on environmental issues as well as health and safety standards and regulations that won't slow down trade and economic exchange across North America, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Wednesday, Bush will travel to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to give a speech, thanking Halifax and other maritime provinces that received tens of thousands of Americans stranded after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. More than 200 jetliners heading for the United States were diverted to Canada after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. About 7,000 people on 44 planes went to Halifax.

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