In her new political memoir, No Higher Honor, Condoleezza Rice, devotes little ink to her dealings with Canada. Most mentions are fleeting and rate less than a sentence: there is Canada training police in Haiti, “standing aside” during the Iraq invasion, “bristling” while other NATO countries limited their own rules of engagement in Afghanistan, or participating in “unsettling” meetings on the lack of military coordination there. Former prime minister Jean Chretien gets a sentence all to himself for telling other G8 leaders he was “appalled” by a speech in which George W. Bush called for the ouster of Yasser Arafat.
And then there is Peter MacKay. He gets almost a page.
It turns out their evening together in Nova Scotia 2006 was more than just grist for the gossip mill — Rice credits it with helping her decide not to quit her job.
Back in 2006, Rice was in the midst of wrestling with vice president Dick Cheney over issues of Guantanamo detainees, rendition, and military commissions. One of their disputes was “the most intense confrontations of my time in Washington,” she writes. Between fighting internal battles and defending the administration’s unpopular actions to the press and foreign governments, she was ready to call it quits. During a moment of silence on the White House lawn on Sept. 11, 2006, she was ready to leave: “I have been doing this too long, I thought. Tomorrow I am going to tell the President that I want to leave at the end of the year. I can’t do this anymore.”
But first she had a trip scheduled to Canada –to Nova Scotia, the home province of her “friend and colleague” MacKay, then the foreign minister, to thank Canadians for taking in stranded American air travellers on 9/11.
“Peter who is single, hosted me for ‘family’ dinner at a lodge on the Atlantic coast. It was just what I needed — relaxed and low key. That night I slept very well with the cool ocean breeze coming through my open window. The next morning, Peter and I walked to a local coffee shop for breakfast.”
When MacKay mentioned how well Rice had slept, and mentioned her open window at their joint press conference, Rice writes, “I immediately heard a soft snicker among the crowd, and I tried to laugh his comment off at the beginning of my speech. But the scene had been set.”
The subsequent New York Times report about “our supposed flirtation” which noted “the foreign minister’s good looks and my black pencil skirt”, writes Rice, “made a mountain out of a molehill.”
But it wasn’t without consequence. Rice continues:
I have to admit it was kind of funny, if misdirected. When I got home, I called Peter. “A girl can’t be seen with you without some scandal,” I joked. Peter was kind of embarrassed. He is a good friend. And I’ve never told him that without the levity and refreshment of that visit, I might not have regrouped and returned to Washington to fight another day.