By Paco Francoli
OTTAWA--Liberal MPs are accusing Alliance MPs of souring Canada-U.S. relations by distributing newspaper articles and other related materials to American politicians highlighting the government's opposition to the war in Iraq as well as anti-American statements made by Grit MPs.
Liberal MP Sarkis Assadourian (Brampton Centre, Ont.) said he learned about the situation during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group when one of his American counterparts, Republican Congressman Don Manzullo, showed him the documents.
Mr. Assadourian said the incident cast a pall over the meetings, which took place during the war, and that he was stuck doing damage control.
"When I was there I was shown letters and speeches and newspaper articles that Liberal Party Members of the House of Commons had spoken up against the Americans regarding the war in Iraq," he said.
"It doesn't help the situation. It doesn't help trade. It doesn't help the border issue. The best thing is for people to show leadership and look forward."
Mr. Assadourian, while admitting that relations between Canada and the U.S. have soured considerably since the Liberal government decided not to support the U.S.-led war effort, stressed that when travelling abroad, politicians should avoid airing their dirty laundry in public.
"The point I'm making is that no Member of Parliament should travel outside our country and knock down our own country," he said, adding that he also wasn't impressed when Alliance Leader Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and his party's foreign affairs critic, Stockwell Day (Okanagan-Coquihalla, B.C.) co-wrote an article in The Washington Post which was critical of the federal government's war stance.
"If he [Harper] wants to make a point, he should make it in the House of Commons in Canada, not to go outside and bash Canada. We used to get upset when the Bloc Québécois did that. These guys are doing the same thing," he said.
Mr. Assadourian, Parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Que.), said that Alliance MP Rob Merrifield (Yellowhead, Alta.), his party's health critic, gave the American politicians the documents and that he later confronted the Alliance MP about the matter upon his return to Ottawa.
In an interview, Mr. Merrifield confirmed that the two MPs exchanged heated words in the lobby of the Commons and that they "agreed to disagree."
Mr. Merrifield denied giving the American politicians any newspaper articles, adding he wasn't aware of them. But he admitted personally handing over copies of speeches by Alliance Leader Harper delivered in the Commons to several current and former U.S. politicians, including military officials, during a recent "leadership conference" he attended in Washington, D.C.
The trip, which took place the week the war started and which he paid for out of his own pocket, was organized by the Christian Embassy, a non-partisan organization that works closely with leaders on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon.
Alliance MPs Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley, B.C.) and Jim Abbott (Kootenay-Columbia, B.C.) also attended.
Mr. Merrifield said he felt it was important that his American counterparts understand that the Liberal government doesn't speak for all Canadians.
"The Liberal Party should be quite embarrassed over the way they have treated this entire situation. What Americans need to hear is that view is not reflective of all Canadians, particularly in the West and my riding," he said.
"So as a Member of Parliament I have no hesitation explaining to as many Americans that I can that we feel that Canadians have always been there. We are free-loving people. We love freedom and we detest war, but we will stand up for our freedoms and our human rights wherever we can. And that is a value that Canadians have. So as an MP, I have no apologies whatsoever for explaining that to our colleagues."
Mr. Merrifield said that one of the speeches he gave to the American politicians was the one Mr. Harper gave in the Commons during the war in response to a Bloc supply day motion on Iraq.
"We felt that it was a positive speech that reflected Canadian values and we were pleased to give them that. They need to hear that we should be supporting our colleagues in this effort to deal with Saddam."
He added that the Americans appreciated why Canada would differ on the need to attack Iraq, but could not understand why Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (Saint Maurice, Que.) has refused to discipline caucus and party members who have made anti-American remarks.
Last December, Françoise Ducros, the Prime Minister's director of communications, was overheard calling U.S. President Bush a "moron," while Liberal Backbencher Carolyn Parrish (Mississaugua Centre, Ont.) was overheard saying Americans are "bastards" last month.
But probably the biggest slight came from within Mr. Chrétien's Cabinet, when Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal (Vancouver South-Burnaby, B.C.) said U.S. President George Bush has let down the world by not being a statesman.
The Hill Times attempted to reach Congressman Manzullo but his spokesperson said he was away on vacation last week. The spokesperson added that his boss continues to hold a "favourable" view of Canada-U.S. relations.
The co-chair of the all-party Inter-Parliamentary Group, Liberal MP Joe Comuzzi (Thunder Bay-Superior North, Ont.), was not available for comment last week. But in an interview with La Presse, he confirmed seeing the documents given to the American politicians by the Alliance.
"I don't think that this is an appropriate thing to do. It is completely irresponsible. It will hinder Canada," he told the French-language daily newspaper.
In an interview earlier this month with The Hill Times, Mr. Comuzzi also expressed deep concerns over the way Canada-U.S. relations had been affected by the federal government's decision not to fight the war.
"Anyone who thinks that there will not be economic consequences as a result of this, he's smoking something thing else besides tobacco," said Mr. Comuzzi.
Many Liberals have been highly critical of the Alliance's continued attack of the Liberal's war position and its allegations that the governing party is rife with anti-Americanism. Liberals, such as Liberal Senator Colin Kenny (Rideau, Ont.), chair of the Senate's influential National Security and Defence Committee, insist that harping on the same theme is making the situation worse.
"My view is that the opposition * and I'm talking about the Alliance * is trying to exacerbate Canadian-American relations for their political advantage. We just see it so often that no one disputes the fact that some people have said things that were less than helpful," said the Senator (Rideau, Ont.)
"But is the object to go back and to repeat then and repeat them so your sure that every last Congressman and every last Senator has heard them. I don't understand why they would put political gain against the interest of the country."
The Hill Times
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