Canada buzzing on insult of Bush Leader's aide calls president 'moron'

By Tom Cohen

Associated Press

Nov. 23, 2002

TORONTO - A private comment that became very public was the talk of Canada on Friday, with newspaper and broadcast reports detailing how an aide to Prime Minister Jean Chretien called President Bush a moron.

Political foes demanded the ouster of Francoise Ducros for what she said Wednesday at the NATO summit in Prague, Czech Republic. Ducros offered her resignation Friday, but Chretien refused to accept it.

"What a moron," is the quote attributed to Ducros, Chretien's communications director, during what she called a private conversation with a reporter that was overhead by other reporters who wrote about it.

"If I made comments in the context of what I understood to be a private conversation, I regret that they have attracted so much media attention," Ducros said in a statement. "I accept full responsibility for them, and I sincerely apologize."

Chretien, at his closing news conference Friday in Prague, said he turned down Ducros' offer to resign. Ducros told him she was unsure whether she made the remark but acknowledged that 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."

Back in Canada, the opposition Canadian Alliance hammered the issue in Parliament, saying the comment showed the anti-American bent of Chretien's governing Liberal Party.

"Isn't it a fact that this anti-American attitude hurts our relationship with the United States, our biggest trade partner?" Grant Hill of the Alliance asked during a question period.

Not so, said Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, who described relations between the North American neighbors who share the world's largest trade relationship as sound, despite occasional problems.

Chretien also denied the incident harmed relations with Washington, saying he received no official complaints from U.S. officials at the summit. On Thursday, when first asked about the reported comment, he said Bush was "not a moron at all, he's a friend. My personal relations with the president are extremely good."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told American reporters Thursday, "I just dismiss it as something from someone who doesn't speak for the Canadian government."

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