Why even the tolerant British don’t like us any more
Leslie F. Hannon
As 1961 ran its final bumpy course. Canadians in Britain found themselves shocked and dismayed at the erosion of their popularity. Looking back, they could see a year of steadily worsening relations between the senior dominion and the motherland and, looking ahead into 1962, could see little hope of early improvement.
Our plunge from the British hit parade first became clear to me last summer when I totted up the accounts of my first year as a Canadian correspondent abroad. I realized I was putting in hours, while interviewing Britons for stories, simply defending Canada against often unwarranted attack. 1 noted glee (if not downright spite) in some reports and comments on the Canadian unemployment situation. I recall a railwayman switching the conversation to unemployment and adding, gratuitously, “Serves you bloody well right.”
By year-end, responsible London newspapers like The Times and the Observer were carrying reports accusing Canada of deliberately trying to obstruct the British entry into the Common Market, and of rudeness and discourtesy at the diplomatic level.
The seeds of the present tensions were planted, strangely enough, in the heady years of the Canadian boom of the mid-fifties. Thousands of small British investors were dazzled by stories of easy money in Canadian oils, uraniums and other development stocks. Some few, of course, did make a killing; the great majority realized as the years passed that their savings had gone into a hole in the ground or to pay for alluring prospectuses about other holes in the ground. Apart from those fleeced by buckctshop stock-pushers, the Briton had only himself to blame—ordinary prudence would have saved his nest egg. Nevertheless, distrust was sown.
7'here was another cumulative factor much harder to assess. Canadians coming to Britain after the war were sometimes rather excessively proud of having become, in their own well-worn words, “leader of the middle powers.” A surprising number were still broadcasting, with schoolboy jingoism, that the twentieth century belonged to Canada. Others boasted about the sheer size of the Canadian provinces, about the soaring Canadian standard of living, about our superhighways and the excellence of Canadian art and theatre. It was almost fashionable for well-heeled visitors to slight the welfare state and imply that Britain had gone soft. Too much of this nettled an overcrowded nation, impoverished by two w'ars to the death, still fumbling for its own new place in the rebalanced world.
Looking back, it's possible to see the change in attitude about Canada crystallizing soon after the Conservatives came to power in Ottawa. At first. John Diefenbaker was a most encouraging symbol to London. In opposition, his party had accused the Liberals of not giving Britain adequate support and sympathy during the Suez crisis; one of his first acts as premier was to talk of diverting fifteen percent of Canada's import trade from the U. S. to the U. K.
The upbeat mood didn't last long. British expectations were dashed by the failure of Ottawa to implement that
trade switch. When researching an article here recently. I had to brace myself at practically every interview with British businessmen or civil servants for wry, if not rude, reference to that fifteen percent. For, in British eyes, the central point is that Britons are still spending five dollars on Canadian goods for every three dollars Canadians spend on British goods. They are well aware that, at the same time. Canada has a roughly comparable deficit in its trade with the United States. They i iterpret this, in simplest terms, as indicating that we want to buy in the American market and sell in the British.
In 1961. Canada’s “bad press" got away to a galloping start in the spring when the sensational Sunday paper. The People, “rescued” immigrant Peter Ruddock and his family and then told in several installments how the Ruddocks had been lured to Canada by false promises and cheated and insulted after arrival. I commented at the time on the Ruddock saga—the key point, to anyone who understands Canada, was that he saddled himself with weekly payments of $40 on a laborer’s $60 wage.
The story, slanted as it most certainly was. made a much deeper impression here than most Canadians would believe. Many British families were anxious about their relatives in the Dominion where unemployment was rising to 11.3 percent of the work force. One has to live here to realize the shock that figure brings—this has been virtually a full employment society for more than twenty years.
A different kind of shock was administered to a different kind of Briton last May when the wrangle between the Canadian government and the governor
of the Bank of Canada broke into the public prints. "An unprecedented and unseemly family squabble," said the City men of T he Times in their annual important financial review. "A blow to the Canadian image.”
In the early fall, after Britain had decided that her future prosperity lay in membership in the Common Market, it seemed that Canada suddenly decided it might as well live up to its Dennis the Menace reputation. First. Diefenbaker demanded a prime ministers’ conference before Britain pressed her application. The conservative Sunday Times rebuked him in an editorial and the British government merely sent out a trio of second-string cabinet ministers to all the Commonwealth capitals to explain Britain's reasons and intentions.
In September, Canadian ministers Fleming and Hees turned the conference of the Commonwealth finance ministers at Accra into a platform for attacking, and even threatening, Britain over the Common Market issue. The British view soon hardened into the belief that Canada was intent on pursuing a selfish policy of deliberate ob truction.
Canada’s high commissioner in London. George Drew, added to this impression when he decided not to attend a special meeting at which British cabinet ministers briefed the resident high commissioners on the early Common Market negotiations. Drew pleaded pressure of other (unspecified) business and sent along his deputy. His absence was taken as a very high-level snub. Within 48 hours. Drew stated it was "absolutely false" to say he had intended a snub and the Commonwealth Relations Office said it “regarded the incident as closed" — an icy diplomatic
phrase. A hassle then developed between the information office at Canada House and newspapermen who insisted they had been told, as “background information.” that a snub was indeed intended. British papers purposefully linked the tawdry affair with reports from their own correspondents that no member of the Canadian cabinet had turned up at an Ottawa meeting where Lord Amory, Britain’s new' high commissioner to Canada, was chief speaker.
British annoyance really boiled over, though, when Finance Minister Donald Fleming insisted on the full text (no paraphrase would do) of the speech by the Lord Privy Seal. Fdward Heath, to the Common Market conference in October. No doubt unintentionally, Fleming gave Britons the impression that he thought the full text would be significantly different from the summary he had already received—i.e., that Britain was trying to deceive her Commonwealth partners and sell them out in secret. When the text was finally published, and turned out to be no more than a clear statement of the wellknown British position, Britons stopped trying to conceal their indignation. "Inexcusable." said the Manchester Guardian, and the Daily Herald added: “Heath is now due for some Canadian apologies.”
From a wide selection. 1 have chosen my own favorite contribution to the deplorable image of Canada in Britain. It is one sentence from George Drew’s official statement about the snub that w as not a snub. “The Canadian government." said our high commissioner, "has made it clear on many occasions that what the British Government does is entirely its ow n responsibility.” *
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