In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a weatherman who is forced to relive February 2, over and over, until he finally gets it right.
I never actually saw the movie, but sometimes I am seized with the horrible conviction that my fellow Canadians and I are destined to watch, dreamlike, as our Prime Minister Jean Chrétien commits gaffe after inexorable gaffe for all eternity, like some kind of political Groundhog Day.
In April 2000, PM Chrétien was let loose on the Middle East, leaving a path of both outraged autocrats and indignant democrats in his wake.
On Day 2 of his tour, he announced that he would support a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians, in clear violation of the Oslo accords.
Only a day later, our intrepid PM was at it again, asserting Israel’s right to the disputed Sea of Galilee that is also claimed by Syria. "I am not the expert of where was the international border. Apparently there was a border that was occupied a long time ago and there was war and so on,” Chrétien elucidated. “For a Canadian we have 30 million lakes so we don't see it in the same perspective but I can understand the need for Israel to keep the only lake they got."
For his next trick, he stunned the international community and his own cabinet by announcing that Canada would be willing to accept some 15,000 Palestinian refugees.
Sometimes you get the impression this man just makes it up as he goes along.
Last week, Chrétien opined on the US stance on Iraq, apparently not yet convinced that Saddam Hussein is an unhinged madman. "A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It's a proof. A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it's because it's proven." Philosophy and politics and entertainment, all rolled into one.
I have taken to watching the man in almost admiring horror. It’s actually quite impressive to see a head of state sound so much like a cross between Susan Sontag and Doctor Seuss.
Of all days, Chrétien chose the one year anniversary of the September 11 attacks to link terrorism with Western arrogance and misuse of powers.
"You cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others,” he remarked sagely. “There are long-term consequences.”
"And I do think that the Western world is getting too rich in relation to the poor world and necessarily will be looked upon as being arrogant and self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits. The 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize it even more."
Let us not forget that this is the man who once unknowingly bragged into an open mike that he formulates policy by opposing the Americans, because it’s popular at home.
I had come to expect these ravings from my Prime Minister, but I was not prepared for the widespread support that followed.
Transport Minister David Collenette defended Chrétien’s remarks, saying, "There will be people in the U.S. emboldened by their new source of unfettered power to, in a hockey term, get their elbows up." And even opposition leader Joe Clark, known in some circles as Joe Who because of his winning personality, agreed. "There is a direct relation between the roots of terror and the existence of poverty and despair," Clark said. "I don't think there's much disputing that."
This might come as a surprise to anybody who noticed that a disproportionate number of the September 11 hijackers were wealthy and educated. Or to anybody who noticed that Osama bin Laden is a millionaire. Or to anybody who noticed that the Middle East has oil. And it might come as a surprise to researchers Alan B. Krueger and Jitka Maleckova, who found that higher levels of income and education were positively correlated with terrorism.
Somebody stop the contagion, because it seems to be spreading.