A thaw in Canada-US Ties

A new prime minister is always a good excuse for Canadians to reaffirm their national identity as distinct from the giant, overbearing neighbor to their south.

So most Canadian eyes were on Prime Minister Paul Martin for his first meeting with President Bush on Tuesday. They wanted to see if he would walk that difficult line between friendship with the United States and maple-leaf sovereignty, while still warming the frosty relationship that prevailed under his predecessor, Jean Chrétien. The feisty Chrétien enjoyed brandishing his nationalist credentials during a decade in office.

It helped that the two leaders met long after Canada opposed the Iraq war and on neutral ground (on the sidelines of a Summit of the Americas in Mexico). They reported "good vibes" (they're both former businessmen) and announced actions to solve a few bilateral disputes, such as letting Canada bid on contracts in Iraq.

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But as much as the United States and its largest trading partner always manage to resolve differences, Ottawa knows that Washington will take it more seriously if it keeps investing in its military and cooperates with continental defense.

Mr. Martin played it smart by deciding to move ahead and participate in a US missile-defense system for North America that's scheduled to become operational later this year. He has also promised to rebuild the Canadian armed forces, which have deteriorated to the point that they needed US help to transport nearly 2,000 peacekeepers to postwar Afghanistan.

Rebuilding Canada's military will take billions at a time when a similar amount is needed to fix its national healthcare system. Martin, who as finance minister under Mr. Chrétien helped gut military spending after the cold war, now must find a way to balance domestic priorities with a need to keep America's attention.

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