Canadian News

Around the world in 80 delays

Robert Lewis January 29 1979
Canadian News

Around the world in 80 delays

Robert Lewis January 29 1979

Around the world in 80 delays

Robert Lewis

Joe Clark affected a casual air at the start of his meeting last week with Shimon Peres, his opposite number in Jerusalem. But as the Israeli opposition leader tossed off biblical allusions and seasoned readings on the Middle East, Clark slouched visibly in his chair. Finally, after a note from his secretary, Peres bolted from the room to make a speech in parliament. Clark stayed seated—and startled—inquiring of an aide: “Is he coming back?”

The incident took place during a meeting attended by Canadian reporters at Peres’ invitation, the only inside look at Clark in action during his 12-day “photo opportunity” around the globe. The image of the 39-year-old Albertan, dwarfed on the world stage, was inescapable. Clark’s uncertain and awkward performance symbolized his misdirected adventure through four world capitals which ended, mercifully, last week as Clark was driven by Cadillac

limousine from Montreal to Ottawa after faulty party planning caused him to miss a plane in New York. The voyage has been scripted to show that Clark is prepared to govern. Instead, it revealed that while he is eager and energetic, his capacity remains in doubt.

Throughout the trip, plagued by the customary snafus of travel on international commercial carriers and hampered by poor scheduling, Clark mumbled and fumbled. “I see,” he declared repeatedly as hosts corrected his elementary misunderstandings about their land. By last Tuesday, worn down by jet lag and previous gaffes, Clark managed to look like a youthful Gerry Ford during a visit to Canadian troops on the Golan Heights. In turn, he cut smack through the front rank of an honor guard, bumped into a bulky safe in the commissary and walked into a door at the officers’ mess.

Clark’s accomplishments were more modest than even he intended on his first visits to Japan, India, Israel and Jordan.* Back home, he got his name in the papers and his face on TV screens, he received sympathetic comments from pundits who didn’t bother to actually cover the trip and he learned about growing winter tomatoes in the Jordan Valley, met Harvard-trained PhDs in Amman, saw the flourishing manufacturing base of India and marvelled at the candor of the Japanese business mogul. For the first time he also saw the strategic importance for Israel of the West Bank and Golan Heights occupations. In the end, however, Clark came away with the conviction that the place for a Canadian leader is back at home (see box on page 19).

*Trudeau, in contrast, has visited 33 countries since 1968 and entertained 61 world leaders in Canada.

That assessment is not likely to damage Clark’s standing in popularity polls. “Canadians,” as Pierre Trudeau once confessed privately, “aren’t interested in the world.” At a time of acute concern over inflation, the dollar and unemployment, most citizens probably feel that having a prime minister who is at ease in Tokyo and, Toronto is a luxury. “Our priorities,” says Clark, “will

be domestic in the short term. I doubt that there will be many diplomatic initiatives in the early years of our government. There is a pretty limited range that Canada can take.”

Clark adopted the same standard for his voyage, billing it as a learning experience. “My image needs no building up,” he told reporters in Tokyo. “I’m not going to win the election abroad.” Foreign leaders, in fact, had trouble getting a fix on who Clark was. In Jordan one official, expecting a much older visitor, spent 30 minutes asking Clark about his position in the Canadian hierarchy—an exploration that presumably went unheeded since the hosts kept referring to Clark as “your excellency” and “president.” In Japan a government official, asked for an assessment of the Tory leader, looked bewildered, then inquired: “It is Clark, isn’t it?”

On the plus side Clark did get to see the chief honcho in every land he vis-

ited, although the stiff ceremony of the encounters proved less useful than his private chats with officials down the line. On the last night of the trip, Clark even stopped listening and, in the presence of a selected group of Jordanians, offered a firm defence of Israel’s “right to exist,” producing sotto voce grumbles from Jordanians. Clark also scored a telling point with the locals, who complained repeatedly that he had spent more time in Israel (two days) than in Jordan. Amid knowing smiles, Clark remarked, “I’m not sure how much time you’ve spent in Canada.” As if to confirm the point, two well-travelled Jordanians at the dinner admitted to perfunctory one-day stops in Canada as part of visits to the United States—one of them to Niagara Falls.

More substantially, the Jordanians are miffed that Canada is represented in Amman through the embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, although they have a mis-

sion in Ottawa. That, plus Clark’s oneday stop, apparently forced Clark into an embarrassing 68-minute wait for an audience with Jordan’s King Hussein. “The king made his point,” said one foreign diplomat in Amman. “They don’t much appreciate short visits here by Canadians.” Ever the generous hosts, however, the Jordanians laid on a 15car cavalcade for Clark’s morning tour of the Jordan Valley across from the Israeli-occupied West Bank—and picked up the cost of hotel rooms.

In Israel, where the Clark party paid its own way, the state pulled out all the stops, starting with a moving tour of Yad Vashem, a haunting monument to the six million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis in the holocaust. Clark was moved to assure that a Conservative government “would want to help directly or indirectly to ensure that Israel is not dangerously exposed” by the cutoff of Iranian oil, on which the country depended for half of its supply. What Clark apparently had in mind was increasing exports to the U.S., which has pledged to backstop the Israelis if they run short of oil.

The overt assurance proved unnecessary as a sign of intent, given the mix of people who joined the Clark party in

Jerusalem: Tory fund-raisers Jeffrey Lyons and Irving Gerstein, both prominent members of Toronto’s Jewish community, Toronto-Eglinton MP Rob

Parker and lawyer Ron Atkey, a candidate in the next election from TorontoSt. Paul’s. Both ridings, as it happens, have significant Jewish votes and the Tories spent $600 hiring a professional photographer to snap Parker and Atkey in Israel.

The travelling party of 14 media scavengers who hopped aboard when Clark grabbed a 10-point lead in December’s popularity polls hung in just as tight. Frustrated by the lack of hard news, the reporters resorted to recording Clark’s every miscue—an exercise that produced much hilarity on the press bus and such celebrated Clark lines as: “You have a lot of rocks here” (in the Jordan Valley); “Jerusalem is a very rich city” (after touring holy sites); and “it is quite useful to have been some place.” By the time Clark was driven out of Jerusalem, his motorcade accidentally following a big yellow garbage truck, the mockery was uncontained.

The giddiness and gaffes were rooted, essentially, in the unbounded ambition of the Clark schedule. In his mad dash through 24 time zones, Clark bit off more than he could eschew. The telling cost was a visibly zonked-out leader, seemingly stripped of any passion or emotion. At a compound housing a fam-

ily of 14 in the teeming (population, 60,000) refugee camp of Baq’a near Amman, Clark poked his head into a dark, dank room and inquired if it was a storage house, although the pile of rolled blankets said otherwise.

Without the good offices of the external affairs department, acting on instructions from Minister Don Jamieson, Clark’s voyage of discovery would have been a complete nightmare. At each stop, affable Canadian diplomats set up his appointments, scrambled for lost luggage and generally killed Clark with their kindness.

Adrift on the globe, Clark seemed to retreat into a shell. On a hill over the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, Clark even managed to dodge the traditional touristic camel ride. Informed that the driver was waiting, Clark told an aide: “He’ll wait longer than that. I’m not a camel rider.” Nor, clearly, a man of the world, 'v?