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December 15, 2005
Martin's Potatoe

Sensing a chance to exploit the always-present undercurrent of resentment towards Canada's southern neighbor and largest trading partner, Prime Minister Paul Martin took an opportunity given to him by American ambassador David Wilkins to sound tough and stand up to Wilkins' rebuke earlier this week that "the US is not on the ballot" in the upcoming election. Tory leader Stephen Harper backed away from Wilkins' criticism of Martin (who went unnamed in Wilkins' statement), claiming that the ambassador's speech had been "inappropriate":

Paul Martin enthusiastically tore into an election-time spat with the United States yesterday, firing nationalist rhetoric from a B.C. softwood-lumber mill only one day after U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins warned Canadian politicians against campaign chest-thumping.

At the same time, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, in his first comments on the issue, called the ambassador's intervention "inappropriate" -- as federal party leaders appeared to calculate that rebuking the United States is good electoral politics.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, whose party has been losing support to the Liberals, came closest to defending the U.S. ambassador. He said Mr. Wilkins discovered Mr. Martin's electioneering bent when he started "whipping up the rhetoric" to get elected after failing to deliver results on Canada-U.S. issues.

Unfortunately for Martin, he wound up with his foot in his mouth when he made his attack on the American ambassador. The Prime Minister, who should have worked closely with the envoy of his largest trading partner since his appointment last April, couldn't even get his name right for his prepared speech yesterday:

Mr. Martin, however, made tough talk against the United States his theme of the day. At a softwood-lumber mill in Richmond, he fired shots over the continuing trade dispute around U.S. tariffs and then, misnaming the U.S. ambassador, made no apologies.

"Ambassador Williams is a man for whom I have the greatest respect," Mr. Martin said. "All I will simply say is I am going to deal with issues that are important to the Canadian people. . . . I will deal with them as they arise and I will call it as I see it."

He couldn't ask someone to double-check Wilkins' name? Martin supposedly has held high-level contacts with the American ambassador for months on the softwood lumber issue and other NAFTA concerns. Perhaps part of Canada's problem stems from Martin's inability to recall exactly who represents the other side of those negotiations. When George Bush ran for president in 2000, the media ridiculed him as a bumpkin because he couldn't name every world leader of every country; I believe he missed Musharraf in Pakistan at the time. Here we have a sitting head of government who can't even properly name the most key ambassador in the diplomatic corps in Ottawa -- for prepared remarks.

That leads me to my Daily Standard this week, "Liberal Party Meltdown". It recounts the opening missteps of the ruling party's efforts to campaign for its continued grip on power in Canada and their unusually self-destructive remarks that include Scott Reid advising the media that "Alberta can blow me". Apparently, the foot-in-mouth disease starts at the top in this election.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 15, 2005 6:41 AM

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