Published November 22, 2002
OTTAWA, Canada – The chief spokeswoman for Prime Minister Jean Chretien offered to resign Friday after being caught disparaging the U.S. president, but Chretien would not accept the resignation.
Francoise Ducros was overheard by a reporter at the NATO summit in Prague calling President Bush a "moron" because she claimed he was using the summit to beat the war drums on Iraq.
The comment was first reported in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. After hearing she made the comment, Chretien's political opposition demanded that DuCros be fired.
DuCros said she does not remember making the statement. Nevertheless, she issued an apology on Friday.
"If I made comments in the context of what I understood to be a private conversation, I regret that ... I accept full responsibility for them and I sincerely apologize," DuCros said in a written statement read before Canada's Parliament.
At his closing news conference Friday in Prague, Cretien said he turned down Ducros' offer to resign. Ducros told him she was unsure if she made the remark but acknowledged she uses the word "moron" frequently, Chretien said.
"She may have used that word against me a few times and I am sure she used it against you many times," he told journalists, adding that "we don't live in as civilized a world as we used to, where private conversations are private."
Chretien also spoke highly of Bush. "No no, he's a friend of mine. He's not a moron at all -- he's a friend. I had a good time with him today," he said in Prague, where the summit was wrapping up.
Despite their military ties and common democratic values, Canada has traditionally adopted more liberal social policies than the U.S. Examples include diplomatic ties with Cuba, a ban on capital punishment and more lenient immigration policies.
U.S.-Canadian relations have been strained by the relationship between Chretien, a left-wing member of Canada's ruling Liberal Party, and Republican Bush. They not only differ on the Iraq issue, but also on certain immigration and trade policies. The two are also at odds over the Kyoto global warming treaty and the demise of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty between the United States and Russia.
Since Bush's election, the United States has imposed punitive duties on softwood lumber imported from Canada and is investigating possible penalties on Canadian wheat. Trade between the two countries is worth about $2 billion a day and Canada sends 85 percent of its exports to the United States.
Canada took in flights diverted from U.S. air space after the Sept. 11 attacks and contributed troops, ships and reconnaissance planes to the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Chretien said Canada also would take part in a U.N.-authorized attack on Iraq.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told American reporters Thursday, "I just dismiss it as something from someone who doesn't speak for the Canadian government."
A State Department official whose area of responsibility includes Canada said of the remark that the State Department has "no intention of going anywhere near it with a 10-foot pole."
Fox News' Molly Henneberg and the Associated Press contributed to this report.