Under the Maple Leaf:Sticks and stones...

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  Nov. 22, 2002 at 9:53 AM
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TORONTO, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Ouch.

What else can you say when a mouthpiece for the Prime Minister's Office calls President George W. Bush a "moron?"

Yes, that's what happened behind the scenes at the NATO summit in the Czech Republic this week.

It all started when the U.S. leader suggested, without naming names, that member-nations spend more on defense.

Canadian Defense Minister John McCallum was clearly offended by the unsolicited advice.

"I would not urge the President of the United States or the U.S. ambassador to do my job -- to ask for more defense spending," McCallum lashed out.

"I think that is a Canadian matter," he added. "So while Mr. Bush may be asking for what I'm asking for, I'm not asking for his help."

The tone in McCallum's response sparked a seething off-the-record briefing later from a top PMO staffer.

"What a moron," the official said, complaining to reporters that Bush was using the summit to beat the drums of war instead of dealing with NATO modernization.

Opposition critics slammed the government for the embarrassing remark.

Canadian Alliance Member of Parliament Jason Kenney told the House of Commons he believed the comments were made by Francoise Ducros, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's communications director.

Her White House counterpart scoffed when asked if his boss is a moron.

"I just dismiss it as from somebody who obviously doesn't speak for the Canadian government," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Still, the controversy raised a legitimate issue.

Canada spends 1.1 percent of its gross domestic product on its armed forces, ranking near the bottom of NATO countries, behind Luxembourg and Iceland.

The Canadian navy is leading patrols in the Gulf, but Ottawa is facing a severe cash crunch to pay for its role in the war on terrorism.

The situation is so bad, Ottawa has ordered a halt to all unnecessary activities, including some patrols along its coastline.

Bush's representative in Canada, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci, has been harping on the Canada's meager defense spending for months.

Canada doesn't even have the proper ability to transport its troops, he noted in a September speech.

"If you don't have the ability to go somewhere, then it's pretty difficult to have a voice," Cellucci warned.

Relations between the two neighbors have become increasingly frosty recently.

Canada and the United States are locked in several trade disputes over softwood lumber and wheat exports. Then, there's the perception Canada is an easy entry point for terrorists hoping to sneak into the United States.

For the record, this isn't the first bit of cross-border name-calling.

White House staffers reportedly refer to Chretien as "dino" -- as in "dinosaur" -- probably because he's 68 and has been Liberal leader since 1990.

Chretien is retiring, though. He plans to step down in February 2004.

And finally, a political operative gets a taste of his own medicine.

An organizer with the Action Démocratique du Québec has resigned, after his criminal record became public.

Just last week, Marc Snyder was asked by the party to run background checks on aspiring candidates -- all to avoid scandals in the province's upcoming election campaign.

A Montreal newspaper reported Snyder pleaded guilty to a charge of armed robbery in 1987. He was 18 at the time and the target was a convenience store.

Snyder has worked with ADQ leader Mario Dumont for several years and has clearly picked up some political savvy along the way.

"I take full responsibility," he told the party when he resigned.

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