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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Big Winds

I’ve just returned tonight from a quick weekend trip to Prince Edward Island, a delightfully remote corner of Canada, but all the talk while I was there was of the USA.Like Americans, Canadians have been riveted by the incredible destructive power of Hurricane Katrina, and particularly the predictions that New Orleans might finally be wiped out by catastrophic flooding. (Since New Orleans is my favorite place, I was frantic yesterday and today to get the news, and only after sitting through a long CNN feature about the impact on oil refinery capacity at the Charlottetown airport did it become apparent that massive loss of human life did not occur in the Crescent City, though Biloxi was less fortunate).But the news item that competed with Katrina across much of Canada involved America in a far less sympathetic story. Canadians are absolutely livid about a cavalier rejection by the Bush administration of a NAFTA-sponsored arbitration decision declaring U.S. duties on Canadian softwood lumber illegal under the agreement. In fact, under heavy public pressure, Prime Minister Paul Martin is reportedly thinking about calling a special session of Parliament to take retaliatory measures against U.S. exports.This hasn’t exactly been big news in the States, but Canada is America’s biggest trading partner, and the longstanding U.S.-Canada partnership on trade policy is the linchpin not only of NAFTA, but of hemispheric free trade efforts generally. And the long-simmering dispute over Canadian lumber is now leading a variety of voices north of the border to call for a reconsideration of that partnership, and of NAFTA itself.It didn’t help that Bush’s ambassador in Ottawa, David Wilkins, responded to outrage over the U.S. decision to ignore the lumber ruling by lecturing Canadians to eschew “emotional tirades.” Bush himself, of course, is vastly less popular in Canada than his predecessor, and Wilkins’ comments reinforced every available perception about the administration’s general disdain for the opinions of long-time allies.This incident also shines a bright light on the Bush administration’s generally bumbling and inconsistent stewardship of trade policy, which follows few clear principles other than solicitude for domestic business interests with political clout.In any event, it was fascinating to spend a few days among our neighbors whose love-hate relationship with the U.S. was illustrated by their worries over a hot wind from the south roaring into the Gulf Coast, and their willingness to launch a cold wind from the north towards Washington.

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