One current theory among some of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s closest advisers is that an election campaign based on outraged Canadian nationalism would sweep the country. The scenario is beautifully simple, and just a slight adaption of the absolutes of 1968: Plucky Pierre defies the American colossus; anyone against Plucky Pierre is for Americans and against Canadians; and the Liberals return.
But that blaring line of attack has been diffused. Instead of strident trumpets calling Canadians to the barricades, the Liberals will use nationalism as the soft background music designed for sophisticated seduction. The good-manager Liberals will be the low-key protectors of the Canadian identity, a brilliant concoction which should include everything and satisfy everyone. Continentalists who identify nationalism with barn-burning antiAmericanism can hardly object; for nationalists who yearn for patriotic satisfaction, it will be a kind of Canada Without Tears.
For a time last autumn, the government really did appear to generate a brief flash of nationalism. It soared like a Roman generate candle in the weeks after the imposition of the American surcharge and then plummeted almost as quickly. By the time Trudeau visited Washington in December, only a soft glow remained; the last spark had spluttered before President Richard Nixon paid his brief visit to Ottawa in April.
The tone of the Nixon visit can only be understood in the context of the traumatic eight months which preceded it, back to that Sunday in August when the President announced his dramatic protectionist measures to save the U.S. economy. The measures themselves and their long-range implications were an appalling shock for the Trudeau government.
There was no sign of nationalist truculence when two cabinet ministers scuttled down to Washington four days after the Nixon measures were announced. They were not protesting that Canada should not be asked to pay the bill for Vietnam. They were sympathetic to the American problems, but surely there could be an exemption for good old Canada, just the way there had always been in the past? Let Mexico and Liberia and Indonesia pay the bill, but don’t stick it to the nice fellows in Ottawa. But, of course, there was to be no exemption for Canada this time. The surcharge on imports to the U.S. from Canada was sticking, whatever they said north of the world’s longest unguarded border.
The government maintained its gloomy view of the American surcharge for many months, long after they had received a secret study — which they kept secret — indicating their fears were exaggerated. The higher estimates of probable Canadian suffering were a handy new excuse for the continuing unemployment. It took about a month for a few ministers, such as the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp, to recover their composure.
The new stance which evolved slowly is probably best described as reluctant but defiant realism. If the Americans were going to carry on this way, they said, then perhaps Canada would have to think again about the whole relationship.
The giddy idea of independence was carried even further when Trudeau rekindled his flirtation with the Soviet Union during the visit of Premier Alexei Kosygin last October. He even permitted himself the hope that the friendship with Moscow would be as warm as the friendship with Washington had always been.
Nobody knew it at the time, but Trudeau ended the romance shortly afterwards. He sent off a letter to Nixon about the whole Kosygin affair, just to show there was really only one true love in Canada’s heart. That sentiment was ratified publicly when he went to Washington before Christmas and quoted Nixon’s “fantastically new statement” about Canada being able to determine its own economic course.
The Prime Minister was creating a public commitment by the President that would allow the Canadian cabinet to back away from the dangerous precipice to which it had crawled at the height of the crisis. All that remained was for Nixon to come to Ottawa to quote Trudeau quoting Nixon. There was no need for future truculence. It was a small but smothering gesture of obeisance to Canadian nationalism.
This careful performance, from the time he stepped off his presidential jetliner to the time he left, was not sheer intuition or generosity on the part of Nixon. Canadian officials had gone out of their way to inform the White House that the Canadian government and the Canadian public were worried about the state of relations between Ottawa and Washington. They wanted these worries laid to rest for the good of both countries.
In the short run, the political advantages to Nixon of the Ottawa visit seem negligible at home. Canada, as everyone keeps saying, is not big news in the U.S. But, in the long run, Nixon has many fish to fry on this side of the border, and anti-Americanism would not help him. He may yet want his pipeline for Alaska oil down the Mackenzie Valley. He will eventually want fresh water. He undoubtedly already wants a freer hand at Canadian resources. More immediately, Nixon would prefer not to anger Canadians about Americans because that might foment a tougher Canadian policy toward foreign control of the economy, and that would hurt a lot of Nixon’s corporate friends.
For Trudeau, the cooling of tensions is undoubtedly a personal relief. His revulsion against the excesses of any kind of nationalism would make him uncomfortable mounting the electoral barricades against the demons of American capital. Certainly the main supporters of the Liberal party - as he recognized years ago — would not like their party too militantly ranged against foreign ownership. Too many of those backers are plenipotentiaries of American capital for the Liberals to be trapped into that kind of corner.
However, if the political ánd psychological crisis has been settled, the crisis of the economic relationship remains. Amid all the banal chatter about friendly-but-different during the Nixon visit, nobody has yet faced the fact that there are many times when the economies of the two countries are inevitably in conflict.
Whatever nice words were said about good old friendly Canada in the House of Commons in April, if it boils down to a crude choice between jobs for Americans in Akron, Ohio, and jobs for Canadians in Oshawa, Ontario, Richard Nixon will forget he ever visited Ottawa. ■
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