Helicopters clattered overhead and frogmen combed the waters below. It was June, 1986, and Vice-President George Bush, on his way to pay an official call on Expo 86 in Vancouver, was taking a day out for fishing in Victoria Bay off the coast of British Columbia. Among his party were U.S. and Canadian officials—including then-transport minister Don Mazankowski—and their wives, 18 people bobbing together in two 20-foot Fiberglas boats. Bush caught the biggest fish, a 20-lb. spring salmon, and pronounced himself “delighted.” But there was also time for the anglers to discuss such
substantive issues as softwood lumber and acid rain—and for one Canadian official to note a sharp contrast between Bush and President Ronald Reagan. “The thing that impressed me the most,” said the official, “was that Bush didn’t need a cue card. And he could discuss more than the minimum required and not just give a set piece.” As Bush prepared to assume the mantle of the presidency this week, officials in Ottawa were clearly hoping that the avid American fisherman would continue to pay informed attention to Canadian concerns.
In an apparent attempt to reassure Ottawa, Bush told reporters at the White House last
week that he intended to renew the annual U.S.-Canadian summits established in 1985 by Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. “We’re not going to take for granted our neighbors to the north,” he declared. Canadian officials have been anxiously trying to arrange an early meeting between Bush and Mulroney—preferably before the new president attends the funeral of Japanese Emperor Hirohito on Feb. 24. But U.S. sources suggested that Bush’s first presidential visit to Ottawa might not come quite that early.
Pressing: In any case, Canada-U.S. relations will likely take a back seat to pressing domestic issues in each country, from the Meech Lake accord and the divisive language debate in Canada to the federal budget deficit in the United States. “The real question,” said Charles Doran, director of Canadian studies at Washington, D.C.’s School of Advanced International Studies, “is whether the domestic agenda on each side will so captivate their attention that they cannot keep up the momentum of activity on the bilateral agenda.” Of course, as a senior External Affairs official put it, “it is 3 always a problem to keep ourselves I on the front burner of American £ attention.”
j Addressing the National Press Club |||! in Washington last month, former Cas nadian ambassador to the United States Allan Gotlieb acknowledged that the “unprecedented” American interest in Canada last November was not due to a newly discovered fondness for its northerly neighbor after “years of neglect.” Rather, he said, the outcome of the Canadian election, with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement hanging in the balance, struck at the heart of relations with the United States. But with the election over and the FTA safely passed, he said, Canada would be “erased from the media mind.”
In addition, despite the mutual trumpeting of strengthened bilateral ties, analysts in both countries warned of a barrage of trade disputes over everything from the definition of wool to the size of knots in plywood. And while Bush is expected to be more sympathetic than Reagan to Canadian pleas to take action against acid rain, analysts say that any moves could well be jeopardized by the new president’s need to cut federal spending.
Controversial: Still, that failed to dampen the enthusiasm of Canadian officials, who preferred to highlight Bush’s long-standing ties to Canada. In fact, Bush held extensive talks with former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1983 over the controversial Strategic Defence Initiative, or Star Wars. But it was not until June, 1986—after Bush told Mulroney during his Expo visit to call him if he needed a sympathetic ear in Washington—that the two men developed a personal rapport.
That offer of help ultimately led to an agree-
ment over the use of the North West Passage, under which Washington agreed to request prior consent from Ottawa before sending U.S. icebreakers into Canadian-claimed waters. As well, Bush went on to lead the fight within the administration to salvage $3 billion in funding promised for an acid rain study. Noted one senior Canadian diplomat: “It showed that we have a guy in Washington who is prepared to listen to the merits of our case.”
Pollutants: Bush’s willingness to listen has fostered at least cautious optimism among members of Canada’s acid rain lobby. With a freshly cleaned-up Lake Erie glistening in the sun behind him, Bush—who has proclaimed himself an “environmentalist”—pledged dur-
ing the election campaign to cut “millions of tons” of American sulphur dioxide emissions by the year 2000 in an effort to curb acid rain. “The question is not whether we will have acid rain control legislation,” said Adèle Hurley of the Toronto-based Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain. “It is whether we will have legislation to take enough pollutants out of the air over our two countries.”
Stalled: Talks between the two sides over setting a clear timetable for specific reduction levels of sulphur dioxide broke down last summer and remain stalled. Hurley says that Canadian pressure alone will not force Congress into action; U.S. legislators will ultimately pump funds into a cleanup program—estimated at $5 billion—because “they have problems and they know it.” She added that another hopeful sign for environmentalists is the political ascendance of two native New Englanders who
are clearly committed to fighting acid rain: John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire who is Bush’s new chief of staff; and George Mitchell of Maine, the new Senate majority leader.
Many U.S. analysts, however, are less certain that Bush will act on acid rain, at least within the first year of his administration. Colin Campbell, a professor of government at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University, said that the new administration would be severely hampered by the crippling federal budget deficit. “There is not time to focus much attention on acid rain,” Campbell said. “It is a pledge of convenience if ever I saw one.”
To cut sulphur dioxide emissions, Bush
would likely have to propose a funding formula that will spread the cost of the cleanup program among the different regions of the country— and then steer the compromise agreement through a Democrat-controlled Congress. Paul Heinbecker, political minister at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, declared that “our biggest fear is the threat of a grid lock between the Congress and the administration” that could paralyse any action on acid rain. However, says Doran, “if there is continued economic growth in the second year, you will likely see action on acid rain and not just more research and development.”
Analysts struck a similar note of caution over the newly minted Free Trade Agreement. American observers say that the FTA, which took effect on Jan. 1, brought Canada international respect as a mature trading and commercial partner. But they add that it also stirred
deeply held protectionist instincts among certain American industries that, in an attempt to test the new system, are likely to swamp the new tribunals that will arbitrate disputes. Michael Aho, director of economic studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicted a painful initial stage in the implementation of the FTA. “The next couple of years may look like there are more tensions because both sides have got such high expectations,” he said. “We have to learn to live with the FTA—and we are not used to having our behavior curbed.” Already, the U.S. government and American industry have a long list of old complaints, ranging from Ontario’s protective price markups on U.S. wines to the flood of Canadian exports of salmon and pork. In fact, last week, the American pork industry asked its government to impose a countervailing duty on Canadian pork. And Ottawa announced two weeks ago that it would seek a settlement through FTA panels of two long-festering disputes: Canadian refusal to approve low-grade U.S. plywood because of its many large knotholes; and differences in how the two countries measure the amount of wool in garments for tariff purposes. Declared Doran: “You are seeing where the shoe is pinching for industries on both sides of the border.” Durable: Those disputes are minor irritants in an otherwise strong trading relationship, but the FTA will likely always produce points of friction. Wondered Aho: “How durable is the agreement? How will both sides behave when the Congress is upset or the Canadian public doesn’t like the rash of plant closings?”
But the earliest signal of the state of Canada-U.S. relations will likely emerge from the first meeting between Bush and Mulroney. Insiders said that both sides also want to resume the meetings held four times a year between the secretary of state—who will be James Baker if the Senate confirms his nomination—and External Affairs Minister Joe Clark. At a briefing for the Canadian media in Washington last month, Gotlieb noted that Reagan had given Canada “priority and importance.” Added the former ambassador: “In this country, one competes for attention, and I think that what Reagan has given Canada is a recognition of the importance of Canada to the United States.” As Bush takes office this week, Canadian officials will strive to continue to command attention—and respect—in the official corridors of Washington.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.