Do the Americans Have a Global Conscience?
By Ira Basen, CBC.ca Reality Check Team | Dec. 9, 2005 | More Reality Check
Word out of the White House is that the Bush administration is powerfully peeved by remarks delivered Wednesday by Prime Minister Paul Martin at the UN Conference on Climate Change.
"There is such a thing as a global conscience," Martin told reporters at the Montreal conference, referring specifically to the American refusal to commit to even a watered-down plan to cut greenhouse gasses.
The Americans, not surprisingly, took exception to Martin's scolding, and delivered one of their own to Canadian Ambassador Frank McKenna on Thursday.
Jim Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, told McKenna that Martin's comments are the worst slight against President George W. Bush since Germany's Gerhard Schroeder had the temerity to suggest that Bush's stance against the Kyoto Protocol was responsible for hurricane Katrina.
Do the Americans have reason to be upset? American officials speaking at the Montreal conference after Martin delivered his broadside, correctly pointed out that the Americans have actually done a better job than Canada at reducing greenhouse gasses, even without signing on to Kyoto.
The rise in Canadian emissions has been twice that of the U.S. between 1990 and 2003, although a large part of the Canadian increase is directly attributable to increasing oil and gas exports from Canada to its energy hungry neighbour to the south (see Reality Check: Kyoto). Nevertheless, it is not surprising that the Americans are getting a bit weary of being lectured to by a Canadian government that seems incapable of practising what it preaches.
But the prime minister really muddied the water by raising the question of a "global conscience". That is not something that can be measured as easily as greenhouse gasses.
The Americans are acutely aware of how much their global image has been damaged by their misadventure in Iraq and other unilateral foreign policy decisions, including Kyoto. They are currently spending millions of dollars on a massive public relations campaign to, among other things, convince people around the world that they do indeed have a global conscience.
The last thing the Bush administration needs is for the leader of one of its closest allies to raise that issue in front of the world's media at an international conference where the Americans were already being portrayed as standing in the way of progress on global warming.
Canada and the U.S. have had a series of highly visible disagreements over the past few years, from Iraq, to missile defence, to Kyoto and softwood lumber. It is clear that in this election campaign, Paul Martin intends to use all of these disputes as a way of differentiating himself from the Conservatives.
He will claim that he has stood up for Canada, while Stephen Harper would have rolled over. The American's rebuff of Martin's comments on Wednesday indicates Washington has no intention of spending the next six weeks playing the role of Paul Martin's punching bag. It was a signal that there will be consequences if the Liberals want to play politics with Canada-U.S. relations.
And as for that photo op between Martin and Bill Clinton in Montreal on Friday afternoon, expect that they won�t be jumping for joy in Washington about that one either.