|The Canadian government's February 24 decision not to join the US Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system has disappointed or even angered the US authorities, it has,however, been applauded by the Canadian public as the right thing to do.
According to latest public polls, the US BMD plan is highly unpopular in Canada. A poll of more than 3,000 Canadians, taken late last year by the Center for Research and Information on Canada, found a majority of voters opposed to the BMD. In the province of Quebec, the opposing rate stood at almost 70 percent.
An adviser of the ruling Liberal party said in an article published on Wednesday that the BMD has no champion in Canada. Members of every political party represented in the House of Commons are mostly opposed to, or uncomfortable with, the system.
Even Stephen Harper, leader of the major opposition party who some had assumed would reflexively embrace the program, refused tobe cowed during a closed-door meeting with US President George W. Bush last November.
The article said the BMD would kick-start a new round of arms race in the world as it forces other nations to build more offensive missiles if they want to retain a credible nuclear deterrent. The BMD makes the world less safe, not more, the article warned.
"Prime Minister (Paul) Martin, in the hearts and minds of most Canadians, and in the eyes of the world -- made the right decision.And he deserves credit for doing so,"the article said.
In a commentary, The Toronto Star newspaper blasted the champions of the US missile defense system.
"Canadian advocates of the missile defense have long argued that joining the scheme is the best way to protect our sovereignty-- the logic apparently being that Washington is going to intrude into our airspace anyway, so it's better if we look like that's what we wanted all along. It's only rape if you resist," it said.
"It's now clear how the Bush administration sees things: Canadian sovereignty exists only at its pleasure. If we do what Washington wants, we retain our sovereignty. If we don't, all betsare off," the commentary said.
After months of dithering on the issue, the Martin government, under enormous pressure from the public, finally turned down the US offer last week, showing "a spunkiness that will only improve our standing in a world increasingly alarmed by US unilateralism,"the commentary said.
The missile defense system has been a difficult topic for Martin, who once expressed support for it. But surveys suggest theissue had the potential to topple his minority government.
The new rift between the two countries is believed to be a big setback for Martin, who has promised to narrow serious divisions with the US over Canada's decision to stay out of the Iraq war andput bilateral relations on a more business-like footing. Some analysts worry that the latest decision by Ottawa will eventually affect the relations between the two countries.
An official from the prime minister's office on Wednesday defended the decision.
"Canada is a sovereign nation. The decision not to participate (in the ballistic missile defense) was Canada's alone to take. TheBush administration, while disappointed in the decision, recognizes that fact and is not seeking apologies. Our two countries don't agree always. But we continue to work on key issues."
Meanwhile, Frank McKenna, Canada's new ambassador to the UnitedStates, has suggested that the Canadian government's decision to reject Bush's missile defense shield was a "direct result" of Canada's outrage over lingering trade disputes with America over beef and softwood lumber.
McKenna said public support for missile defense eroded in the face of frustration over the impact US actions in the softwood andbeef disputes have had on the Canadian economy.
He was critical of the United States for refusing to lift import duties on Canadian softwood lumber which have already totaled in excess of 4 billion US dollars despite several World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement rulings in Canada's favor.
It was the first time a senior government official has linked Canadian pique over trade disputes to decision-making on an issue of national security.
Canadian government officials said later McKenna was not suggesting the missile defense decision was taken in retaliation for trade problems, but was speaking about the overall public attitude toward US-related issues.