MONTREAL — Arnold Schwarzenegger meant well when he praised Canadian troops on Thursday. He just had them fighting the wrong war.
The former governor of California was wrapping up a Canadian speaking tour with an enthusiastic speech on public service and his own life when he started waxing poetic about true heroism.
He cited the bravery of police officers and the firefighters who battled blazes that ripped through his home state. Schwarzenegger pointed out the men and women of the American military who serve in Iraq have real guts.
“The Canadians that went over there to Iraq,” he said. “Those are heroes!”
Some of the 600 people who attended the Montreal Chamber of Commerce luncheon, exchanged glances with raised eyebrows but it wasn’t the first time the former action movie star had surprised them in his address.
Canadian troops have served in Afghanistan since 2002 and are scheduled to end their combat role this year.
Many Canadians have been vocal in their opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and then-prime minister Jean Chretien refused to involve the country in the war unless it was sanctioned by the United Nations.
Governments that followed Chretien’s have declined to send troops to Iraq.
At one point during his speech on Thursday, Schwarzenegger inadvertently seemed to move Canada’s capital from Ottawa to Montreal when he enthusiastically extolled how states — and provinces — can innovate.
Schwarzenegger, whose California administration clashed with then-president George W. Bush over environmental policies, said “You’ve never seen anything great coming out of Washington.
“Or Paris. Or out of Montreal or out of Beijing.”
The reference to Canada’s second largest city did prompt a slightly perplexed reaction, but nothing Schwarzenegger seemed to notice.
The fumbles come after a visit on Tuesday to Winnipeg where Defence Minister Peter MacKay showed an equal adeptness with geography, noting to the bodybuilding champion that British Columbia borders California.
Schwarzenegger didn’t visibly react but later politely said Oregon and Washington sit between B.C. and California.
Thursday’s gaffes were only a few seconds of an upbeat speech where the star of such movies as “The Terminator,” “Predator” and “Kindergarten Cop” gave the secrets of his success and promoted public service.
He jokingly said he was successful because he moved to the United States, married a member of the Kennedy family — his wife Maria Shriver is the daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver — and worked hard.
He said it was the Shriver family that instilled an interest in public service in him because they were interested in how they could better society — and not how they could get fancy clothes and cars.
As he did in his other Canadian stops, he described politicians who are timid about acting for social change and risking failure as “girly men.”
The actor, who was once dubbed “The Austrian Oak” because of his rippled physique, expressed pride in his achievements on environmental issues in his two terms as governor.
He was unfailing in his praise of Canada, pointing out that it was two brothers from Montreal — Ben and Joe Weider — who brought him from Austria in the 1960s and promoted his bodybuilding career.
Schwarzenegger said he had often visited Canada on pleasure and business and vowed, “I’ll be back.”
In a brief interview with reporters who stopped him as he left the hotel, Schwarzenegger said he was pleased with the enthusiasm shown to him by Canadian audiences during his tour this week.
“I enjoy always coming back to Canada because Canada has been a great neighbour to the United States and has been a terrific country, well run.
“I always love coming back — skiing, vacationing, doing movies here. And let’s not forget it was two Canadians that brought me to America in the first place, so I will never forget that.”