Under the Maple Leaf: Liberal gag order

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  Feb. 7, 2003 at 1:40 PM
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TORONTO, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- John Manley's given the gag order.

Canada's deputy prime minister is warning fellow Liberal members of Parliament to tone down their anti-American rhetoric.

The MPs in question are complaining Washington is pushing Ottawa into a war with Iraq.

They want to make sure any military action would come only with the United Nations' approval.

But when a politician's grumbling gets headlines, it can be hard to ratchet back the rhetoric.

Manley's move comes amid word President George Bush plans to visit Canada for the first time since he took over the White House two years.

The Canadian government says Bush has scheduled a state visit to Ottawa for May 5.

Plans for the event are well under way, sources say, even though the United States and allies like Canada could be waging a war against Iraq on that very day.

The president will address a joint session of Parliament -- the Senate and House of Commons together.

It's expected he'll talk about trade and border security, two contentious issues for Canadian politicians. A cross-border dispute over Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States has seen several mills shut down and thousands of workers laid off.

But politicians here fear increased gridlock at the U.S. border, sparked by a war on Iraq, could even harm the country's economy.

Some Liberals are suspicious of Washington's true feelings for Canada, after being snubbed by Bush when he suggested the United States had no greater friend than Mexico.

Liberal feelings were also bruised when Bush did not keep up the tradition of American presidents choosing Canada for their first official state visit abroad -- a sign of just how the two neighbors value their relationship.

No wonder then Manley had to tell his fellow caucus members to keep quiet.

It didn't take long for left-wing leader Jack Layton to make his first federal political blunder.

Just days into his new job, the head of New Democratic Party saw his chief of staff resign over his former job as an activist against the seal hunt.

Layton says Rick Smith, once director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, offered to quit because his controversial hiring was hurting the party.

"He became the issue, rather than the issues he wanted to work on," Layton told reporters.

"He was setting us off on a course that was not the starting course he wanted to be on."

And finally, a surefire way to get votes.

Quebec's separatist government thinks parents should only have to work four days a week.

The Parti Quebecois wants to overhaul provincial labor standards and guarantee parents the right to reduce work hours by 20 percent.

They wouldn't get paid for an extra day off the job, but they would get full benefits guaranteed.

The move would apply to parents of children under the age of 12, along with people caring for elderly or handicapped family members.

Officially, the government says the idea would help increase Quebec's sagging birth rate.

But the pundits call it a no-brainer as the PQ prepares for an election campaign.

It means opponents will be forced to argue against a longer weekend.

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