John Manley (Interview)

IN THE DAYS FOLLOWING the Sept. 11 attacks, John Manley was the Canadian cabinet minister most in the public eye. As foreign minister at the time, he spoke out unabashedly in support of the United States, and was one of the guiding forces behind Bill C-36, Canada's anti-terrorism legislation.

Manley, John (Interview)

IN THE DAYS FOLLOWING the Sept. 11 attacks, John Manley was the Canadian cabinet minister most in the public eye. As foreign minister at the time, he spoke out unabashedly in support of the United States, and was one of the guiding forces behind Bill C-36, Canada's anti-terrorism legislation. Today, Manley serves as finance minister and deputy prime minister, but he remains chairman of the Ad Hoc Cabinet Committee on Public Security and Anti-terrorism, dealing with the U.S. over security measures and conferring regularly with American officials including Tom Ridge, head of the Office of Homeland Security. Manley recently spoke to Maclean's Editor Anthony Wilson-Smith and Ottawa bureau correspondent Julian Beltrame about Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Excerpts:

Where were you on Sept. 11 and how were you apprised of the tragic events?

I was coming back from a visit to European capitals. We were probably just out of European airspace when the flight attendants told me about a plane flying into the World Trade Center, but not too much more than that. They took me to the flight deck, where I actually learned everything listening to BBC. I tried to make phone calls to Ottawa on the satellite phones, got through once and got cut off. We were told we were the last plane to get into Canadian airspace, and we were given permission to land in Toronto. It was really quite bizarre, because there were no planes taxiing, no other passengers going through in the arrivals area. The only thing that was normal was that one of my bags didn't make it.

How would you characterize the mood in Washington these days?

Things are returning more to a normal state. But there's no question that, as of Sept.11, there was the sense of being not only hurt and violated, but also being under siege. Security became a chief topic of concern, and I'd say to this day it remains the top order of business in Washington. Their belief is that their first responsibility is to provide a secure environment for the people.

When you're dealing with concerns affecting Canadian sovereignty, do you run into U.S. officials saying, "You're either with us or you're against us - you can't equivocate?"

I've read that kind of thing from some U.S. officials, but nothing of that nature from the people I've dealt with. I have never heard anything but satisfaction with the Canadian response - it was rapid, it was more than adequate, it was genuine. I've also never felt we responded in ways that were other than in our interests. I don't feel that in any way we have compromised our SOVEREIGNTY - as some people have suggested - by our response.

Have you encountered lasting American suspicion about our security standards?

From officials, no. I did a widely reported interview with 60 Minutes, where it was suggested there were all kinds of problems, but to be fair, they in previous broadcasts identified all kinds of problems they perceived with U.S. security as well. There are going to be inadequacies in anybody's system. There's no reason to expect that nobody will try to get into the U.S. for those purposes from Canada. It could still happen, and I think it's still very important for us to do the things that are necessary to prevent it.

Should we feel as if our lives have changed since Sept. 11?

We can say that, as a society, we've invested more resources into security. We all take risks every time we step off a curb - you can never eliminate risk. But we have taken appropriate and reasonable measures to reduce the risks for Canadians of being on the scene of a terrorist attack. And in doing so, we've also interfered with other criminal activities that were perhaps getting under the radar screen.

Did Sept. 11 result in simply fast-tracking security steps that would have taken place anyway over time?

What Sept. 11 did was bring a phenomenon that's been occurring in other parts of the world for a long time onto the North American continent - in a very dramatic fashion. Talk to the Europeans. None of this is stunning to them - terrorism is something they've been living with. We've been conscious of it but not feeling immediately affected by it until Sept. 11. We'd have ended up doing a lot of these things at some point. I wish it had been in response to less disastrous circumstances, but eventually we would have got there.

How, if at all, has your own attitude toward the Americans changed?

I think we as Canadians have sometimes been a little bit immature in the way we've dealt with the United States. We tend to be hypersensitive and we actually behave like a junior partner. We should be a little more grown-up about it and behave like an equal partner. There are some times we have good reasons to disagree with the United States and go a different way. Ratification of Kyoto is a recent example of our going on a different course. On the other hand, we're not an island in the Pacific Ocean. We're on the North American continent. There's probably no country in the world that has as much commonality with us as the United States. Fundamentally, our values and our dispositions on things are quite similar. We simply need to be pragmatic about how we conduct our affairs in our own interests, so that we benefit from a good relationship with a huge economic and political power and yet maintain a distinct identity.

How often do you talk to Tom Ridge?

At least once a month. He's from Erie, Pa. - we had him and his wife up for a visit. They came to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and went to a play, had a nice dinner at one of the local wineries. I took them to play golf and cemented the relationship a bit more. He's a terrific man to work with, and he's personally responsible for a lot of the progress we've made because he's been able to give it the attention that it needed.

Will the closer relationship Canada and the U.S. are building in the security area have an impact on Canada's response to a U.S. decision to attack Iraq?

I don't think there's any impact. We have concerns - we think that in the absence of a clear connection to al-Qaeda, Iraq should be dealt with under UN auspices. I think the U.S. has seen it is difficult to build an alliance at the moment, not just with Canada. And we're not, for geopolitical reasons, the first country they're concerned about having onside.

Maclean's September 16, 2002