Saturday, October 01, 2005

Canadian Ambassador McKenna calls United States government dysfunctional

From Guerilla News:

Frank McKenna said the United States is "a great country in spite of its government structure, rather than because of it."
Canada’s ambassador to the United States painted an unflattering picture of the way government works south of the border yesterday, calling it “dysfunctional,” overly complex and in dire financial straits, while saying Canada has an efficient system on a solid fiscal footing.
Speaking at a business luncheon—and with the U.S. ambassador to Canada sitting steps away—Frank McKenna said the United States is “a great country in spite of its government structure, rather than because of it.”
“The United States of America is a wonderful creation—the Constitution is a spectacular thing,” Mr. McKenna said.
“But it was anticipated that it would be established as a country in which there would be a check and balance on the exercise of power. And I can tell you categorically that what has been institutionalized instead is total gridlock. The government of the United States is, in large measure, dysfunctional.”
He said one senator there has 75 staff members, which shows that U.S. policymaking is “so complex that even people who work within government need help to navigate through it.”
David Wilkins, the American envoy to Canada, appeared to take his counterpart’s speech to a joint meeting of the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club of Toronto in stride.
Following the address, Mr. Wilkins told reporters that Mr. McKenna is “a great orator and he’s a good friend and he gave a pretty compelling speech about the attributes of Canada.”
Mr. Wilkins said he has been warmly received in Canada, adding: “The United States is a beacon of light for so many people throughout the world. I could not be prouder of my country and I, quite frankly, did not take personally the remarks of Mr. McKenna in any way, period.”
In his speech, Mr. McKenna also attempted to juxtapose what he sees as inferior traits of the U.S. system in painting a positive image of Canada’s government.
For instance, he said Canada’s neighbour to the south is also possessed of “so much independence of political party loyalty, if you like, that everybody in their own way is a freelancer, going off in different directions,” he said.
The situation is “like having 535 Carolyn Parrishes in one place,” he added, referring to the controversial Canadian MP.
A lack of structure in turn makes it difficult to develop and execute a coherent policy, he added.
“In Canada, whether we like it or not—and often we don’t like it—but essentially we have party discipline, and if you can convince the Prime Minister or a minister that something should be done, invariably it can end up being done,” Mr. McKenna said.
At the same time, he said, the United States faces “a very difficult financial situation,” with predictions its deficit will hit or exceed US$500-billion this year.
“That’s not to speak of the fact that that doesn’t include unfunded liabilities for social security, which, some estimate, could run into the twenties and thirties of trillions of dollars.”
By comparison, Canada is in its eighth consecutive year of surplus, with a dropping ratio of debt to gross domestic product, he said.
“Our pension plan, instead of being in deficit, is actuarially balanced for the next 75 years.”
He also praised Canada’s health care system and the country’s abundance of natural resources.
“And with respect to energy, in an energy-starved world, where our neighbour to the south of us, the United States of America, relies [on] export markets for 60% of its oil, Canada is self-sufficient in every category.”
Speaking to reporters following his address, Mr. McKenna said he was inspired to praise Canada’s strengths by the recent remarks of Michaelle Jean, the new Governor-General.
“I just thought I would put my interpretation on her remarks and try to define Canada a little bit more.”
He also appeared unconcerned about any potential reaction his current and previous criticisms of the United States may provoke.
“I find Americans are very direct people and they accept directness with equanimity,” Mr. McKenna said.
Absent from Mr. McKenna’s speech was any reference to the ongoing dispute over softwood lumber duties between Canada and the United States—a topic on which he has criticized the United States a number of times in the past.
However, at the outset of yesterday’s address, he said: “I am so tired of talking about softwood lumber. I just want a break for one day.”


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