Under the Maple Leaf: War talk

By MARK BLANCHARD  |  March 28, 2003 at 8:43 AM
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TORONTO, March 27 (UPI) -- It was stinging criticism of Canada's position on the war in Iraq.

Boiled down to one word, one theme carefully crafted and repeated three times.

And in the coded, cautious language of diplomats, it was a bombshell lobbed by a neighbor over a fence.

"There is disappointment in Washington and in the United States," Paul Cellucci, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, told a business audience in Toronto this week.

"There is no security threat to Canada that the United States would not be ready, willing and able to help with," he added. "There would be no debate. There would be no hesitation. We would be there for Canada -- part of our family.

"That is why so many in the United States are disappointed and upset that Canada is not fully supporting us now."

Calling weapons of mass destruction "a direct security threat to the people of the United States," the ambassador then hammered his message home.

"That is why we feel so strongly about this and why we are so disappointed that Canada is not fully supporting us," he said.

The D-word -- disappointment -- landed with a thud in the Liberal government's lap and made headlines across the country.

Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper lambasted Prime Minister Jean Chretien for failing to support Washington's move into Iraq.

"These flip-flops are not going to go unnoticed," Harper said in the House of Commons. "When will this government do the right thing and back our American friends and allies because, frankly, sir, you are embarrassing us."

Chretien responded by saying he, too, was "disappointed" because the United States could not get the United Nations' blessing for the "intervention" in Iraq's affairs.

Cellucci's angry words came, it seems, straight from the White House.

Reports say he consulted with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice about his breakfast speech.

Cellucci, a former governor of Massachusetts, also happens to be an old Bush friend.

The ambassador also knows Andrew Card, the president's chief-of-staff, from his days as a Massachusetts state representative.

Perhaps that might explain some of the animosity in Cellucci's remarks, after Chretien didn't punish one of his cabinet ministers who recently described Bush as a "failed statesman."

Two of Canada's most outspoken conservative premiers are attacking Chretien for his government's stance on the war in Iraq.

Ontario Premier Ernie Eves picked up Cellucci's diplomatic codeword and wrote a letter to the ambassador, saying: "I share your expression of disappointment in the response of the Canadian government."

Eves added his letter had the unanimous support of his cabinet and, always willing to be quoted slamming the federal Liberals, added: "Please feel free to share our thoughts."

And finally, a former hockey coach with some thoughts on the war.

The thing is Don Cherry isn't just any coach.

He's the former Boston Bruins coach who's now a TV personality adored by millions of Canadians for his off-ice commentary.

Sporting a red, white and blue striped tie, Cherry slammed the Canadian government for not supporting "our American friends" in the war.

"I hate to see them go it alone," he fumed. "We have a country that comes to our rescue, and we're just riding their coat-tails."

One newspaper editorial writer penalized Cherry for "his bunker buster personality."

The state-run Canadian Broadcasting Corporation he appears on chastised him, too, for turning a mid-game analysis into a political statement.

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