This is an odd little story. 'Little' in the amount of coverage it's received in the US, but not north of our border.
Yesterday in a speech to the Canadian Club in Ottawa, US Ambassador David Wilkins warned Canadians to tone down their criticism of the United States in their current national political campaigns. Canadian elections are scheduled for January 23rd.
"It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner. But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship," said Ambassador Wilkins. "It shouldn't be lost on any of us that some of your politicians use my country to score political points."
(Here are some excerpts of the speech from the Embassy website. Wilkins is a "a longtime [Bush]family friend and top Republican fundraiser", according to the CBC, as well as being a former Republican House Speaker in South Carolina.)
It was hardly the most caustic speech you've ever heard. But it's the essence of diplomatic etiquette that foreign ambassadors simply don't poke their noses into their host country's election campaigns, especially not to tell them not to criticize his country, except in cases where the host country amounts to a dependency or de facto protectorate.
So what was this guy thinking?
As you'd expect, center-left Prime Minister Paul Martin has responded to Wilkins remarks by wrapping himself in the flag and playing to Canadian disgruntlement over American big-footing: "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," said Martin. "I am not going to be dictated to as to the subjects I should raise."
The whole thing vaguely reminds me of Gerhard Schroeder's 2002 reelection campaign. In the world of Bushdom, every center-left leader gets to win once on his own steam and then a second time by running on domestic disdain for George W. Bush.
It's good politics.