Our Washington game plan

Are Canada's diplomats in Washington the sort of men who make America great?

WALTER STEWART August 1 1973

Our Washington game plan

Are Canada's diplomats in Washington the sort of men who make America great?

WALTER STEWART August 1 1973

Our Washington game plan


Are Canada's diplomats in Washington the sort of men who make America great?

Since we are in the middle of what may be the most crucial period ever for Canada-U.S. relations, it would be comforting to believe that the diplomats we pay to stand on guard for us at trade talks, energy confrontations and other aspects of the continental tug-of-war are intelligent, highly motivated, strongly nationalistic pros who have the American team on the run. It would be comforting, but it would be dead wrong. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to work out whether our External Affairs people are working for Us or Them, whether they are conscientiously trying to grapple with the problems of American power, or have become so mesmerized by the superior moxie, organization and aggressiveness of the Americans that they press Canada’s views apologetically, if at all, in conflabs with their confreres in American diplomacy.

One small illustration. Over lunch in a Washington restaurant last spring, I twitted a Canadian diplomat about the way Ottawa had been caught flat-footed by President Richard Nixon’s elegant and deadly new economic policies on August 15, 1971. Had the embassy been asleep, I wondered? No, no, no, said the diplomat. “When the files are finally made public, people will see that we kept warning the government that this man [i.e., Nixon] was a much tougher specimen than they thought, that he was about to do something drastic.” So far, so good. But, in later conversation, this same diplomat made it clear that, as far as he was concerned, Nixon had been quite right to impose a temporary surcharge on imports, end the convertibility of gold, and demand trade concessions to right the U.S. balance of payments. What’s more, his Secretary of the Treasury, John Connally, was right — although perhaps too forceful — to attack us for complaining about this cavalier treatment. And so, I guess, when the files are finally made public, they will show that our embassy in Washington flashed a warning that went something like this: we are about to be raped, mugged and insulted; but don’t worry, we deserve it.

Another illustration, not so small, and more disturbing: I put a series of questions to one of the senior bureaucrats in Ottawa, a man charged with developing policy decisions for the top echelons of External Affairs and for passing on accepted policy to the Canadian embassy in Washington. His replies were, in essence, American replies, but put with a brusqueness no American diplomat would dare. Samples:

Should we share energy resources with the U.S.?

Answer: “Everybody knows that Canada has so much oil, uses so much itself and the rest is available for export to the U.S. Where’s the problem?”

Was Canada wrong to subsidize Michelin Tires’ exports to the U.S.?

Answer: “Canada was wrong, and Canada was told it was wrong from the beginning.”

Were the safeguards attached to the auto pact transitional, as the U.S. claims, or permanent, as Canada contends?

Answer: “They were transitional, and everybody knows they were.”

In short, at least some of the experts we employ to defend our interests are doing an excellent job — for the Americans. On the other hand, the U.S. representatives in Ottawa display no such ambivalence. While they are not pushy — as some of their predecessors have been — they are very clear about why they have been sent to Canada, namely, to advance U.S. interests and reflect U.S. policy, pleasantly, if possible, and rudely if rudeness is necessary in the circumstances.

This gloomy comparison is the result of several weeks spent examining the two most vital embassies in the world from Canada’s point of view — the American embassy in Ottawa and the Canadian embassy in Washington. What emerges from this study is a firm conviction that we do an inferior job in an area where we cannot afford to be inferior.

The chancery (proper name for an embassy building) of the United States of America in Ottawa is a handsome, fourstory Georgian structure which peers out across Wellington Street from the foot of Parliament Hill. It was built for its present function in 1932, cost $200,000 and leans heavily, for decoration, on American marble and North Carolina knotty pine paneling. This building shelters the Ambassador, Adolph Schmidt, the Minister, Mac Johnson, the political and economic counselors, and most of the administrative staff of the embassy. This is where Americans come to renew a passport or use the library, to seek government aid on a business deal or turn in a report to one of the two (at least) officials charged with CIA liaison. Other branches are ensconced in other buildings — the Defense and Treasury attachés on Cooper Street, the U.S. Information Service in the National Press Building, farther down Wellington. /continued on page 50

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This is not a large embassy by U.S. standards, with a total payroll of 117, 72 of whom are Americans and the rest Canadian support staff. There are larger American posts in West Germany, Brazil and a score of developing countries, including Ecuador. (Large staffs are needed in developing countries to service U.S. foreign aid.)

The present ambassador, Adolph Schmidt, is a clever, cultured and highly placed political appointee who had the good sense to marry an attractive daughter of the wealthy Mellon family in his native Pittsburgh (where he worked for the Mellon National Bank), and the good fortune to be an early friend and supporter of Richard Nixon. Nixon rewarded him with the Ottawa posting in 1969, and he has been kept busy since observing Canadian affairs, lunching with cabinet ministers at the Rideau Club, making speeches about the close bonds that unite our two peoples across 4,000 miles of undefended border.

Ambassador Schmidt is not the irksome presence that some of his predecessors have been. For example, during the 1962-68 tenure of Walton Butterworth, one of the few career diplomats to receive ambassadorial posting here, the embassy became bitterly embroiled in Canadian affairs, lobbying fiercely for nuclear arms on Canadian soil and for the extension of the privileged positions of the so-called Canadian editions of Time and Reader’s Digest. Under Butterworth’s direction, the embassy also campaigned lustily against restraints on the Canadian expansion of the U.S.-owned Mercantile Bank. The Americans won total victory on the first two issues and a compromise on the third, but Butterworth was not one of Canada’s favorite people.

There are a number of reasons for today’s quieter approach (even skipping the fact that Canadians seem to have taken over the lobbying themselves). Much of the power once wielded by the Secretary of State has passed to the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and to the White House. When direct pressure is applied to Canada today, it comes from the top, not through the embassy. In the second place, in a day when cabinet ministers jet back and forth between the two capitals at the drop of a state paper, matters of great moment are often discussed over the heads of the diplomats. As a rough rule of thumb, the more important the subject (energy sharing, trade talks, Canada’s role in Vietnam), the less likely it is to be directly influenced by the diplomats, the less important it is (obtaining clearance for a joint Canada-France telescope in Hawaii), the more initiative will be left to the chancery.

Because of his personal friendship with Nixon, Ambassador Schmidt has a

White House entry not available to most envoys, but the chancery’s workings are still largely directed by the State Department, through Rufus Smith (deputy assistant secretary for Canadian affairs), with occasional interference from the more than 20 congressional committees involved in Canada-U.S. affairs. Although their influence is not so direct, the priorities laid down by Treasury, concerned with the U.S. imbalance of payments, and Commerce, concerned with trying to right it, are applied to the diplomats by presidential decree. For example, although Ambassador Schmidt had no part in forming the new Nixonomics, he was landed with the job of trying to explain and defend them against cries of outrage he could hear simply by opening his window and cocking an ear up Parliament Hill.

Under Schmidt comes Mac Johnson, the Minister, a personable redhead whose previous Ottawa posting (196469) and his role as Director of the Office of Canadian Affairs in Washington for two years make him more of an expert on our affairs than all but a few Canadians. As Minister, he is the embassy’s top career officer, its executive director and, during the ambassador’s frequent pilgrimages to spread friendly tidings across the land, his stand-in at receptions, national days and other tribal rites.

Johnson spends most of his time overseeing the conduct of the embassy, chairing meetings, and deciding what matters should be forwarded to Schmidt for attention. Occasionally, he goes calling on Canadian officials, and a strict pecking order is rigorously observed; the ambassador calls on cabinet ministers, the minister on cabinet ministers and deputies, the counselors call on deputies and assistant deputies, and the lower ranks call on other orders. (In Washington, our diplomats observe a similar order on a lower level; the ambassador calls on White House aides, cabinet members, their deputies and Congressmen, the ministers call on assistant undersecretaries, and the counselors on desk officers and senior aides. The ambassador has not called on Nixon since he presented his credentials three years ago, although he is sometimes summoned into the Presence and questioned after a state dinner.)

Below the minister are counselors for administration, economic affairs, political affairs, commercial affairs and what’s called consular matters — that is, passports, visas, and whatever happened to Aunt Harriet? The most important of these men are Emerson Brown, the economic counselor, a large, rumpled, shrewd native of Michigan who says that his job is “just finding out what the hell goes on around here,” Goodwin Cooke, acting political counselor, Walter Collopy, first secretary for economic affairs, continued on page 52

WASHINGTON continued

who worked as an insurance adjuster before he donned striped pants, and Harry Montgomery, the second economic secretary, who reports on resources, minerals, fuels and energy.

In addition, there are specialists in labor, science, agriculture and military affairs. Finally, there is the U.S. Information Service, which reports through the ambassador to the U.S. Information Administration in Washington and is charged with coordinating cultural exchanges (not much work there; it’s already done by TV), running a library and conducting liaison with newsmen (translation: buying drinks and muffling whines). The new Counselor for Public Affairs, Ben Fordney, came here from postings in Bangkok and Dublin, and provides a fascinating glimpse into how Canada strikes strangers. “You must be a highly educated people,” he told me, “even the cabdrivers and hatcheck girls speak two languages.”

Most of the diplomat’s work consists of observing and reporting, with a little cocktail-drinking, hand-shaking and contract-pushing on the side. In Ottawa, the reporting task is made easier by the parliamentary Question Period, which has no U.S. equivalent. “If we’re in doubt about something,” says Emerson Brown, “we can simply hike up the Hill and wait until somebody asks the right question. Then it all comes out.”

Question Period, news clippings, cocktail gossip, official notes, all form grist for the information mill which is the heart of the embassy. So do confidential reports and exchanges among military personnel and policemen. (At one time when the FBI was trying to trace draft dodgers in Canada, there were six FBI agents stationed in RCMP headquarters.) The material is all filed home, according to its urgency, either by telegram, Telex or letter. (The Americans don’t count the number of telegrams sent from Ottawa, but our embassy in Washington files home between 1,000 and 1,500 wires a month.) The U.S. communications normally go in the ambassador’s name, although he seldom signs them or even sees them; those that carry his personal stamp use the first person; those that don’t refer to “we” or “in our view.”

Next to information-gathering and ceremonial functions, the diplomat spends most of his time on routine jobs, anything from consulting Canadians about a common approach to the problem of Pakistan’s unpaid debts to finding out, for a little old lady in Iowa, how much the mining stocks she found in her attic are worth.

The American diplomats in Ottawa wear white shirts and pinstriped ties, keep their hair short and their voices cheerful (“Hiyuh, Charlie, how’s it going? Say, do you happen to know where

Turner is? We’ve got a message for him . . . Thanks, Charlie, see yuh.”) They have abandoned much of the advocacy role to the three top officials, Schmidt, Johnson and Brown, and concentrate on filing reports and maintaining a low profile. “We have to,” complained one of them mildly. “You guys are a little bit paranoid about us.”

The Canadian embassy in Washington presents a picture that is not nearly so cheerful and much more complex. The chancery, at 1746 Massachusetts Avenue, about two miles from the Capitol, was originally built for an heiress to the Swift Packing Company fortune. Vincent Massey, the first Canadian ambassador, persuaded the government to put up $475,000 for the property in 1927 — $375,000 for the building and $100,000 for its elegant furnishings — and it carries an air of hauteur in its main rooms, with their elaborately

carved walls and Adams ceilings, that contrasts sharply with the functional look of the top three floors, where most of the work is done.

We have three locations in Washington; the chancery, the Defense Liaison Staff building at 2450 Massachusetts, and an Information Office, which occupies a floor of the National Association of Broadcasters Building on N Street, just around the corner from the chancery. The staff is large, 302 government employees, 11 of whom are Americans (chauffeurs, typists, etc.) and the rest Canadian. Many of the staff are experts rather than diplomats; they are commercial attachés, agricultural specialists, communication technicians, who are either here to sell something, like the travel bureau staff and the defense production staff, or to learn at the feet of the Americans, like the soldiery.

The organization is much the same as that in Ottawa, with an ambassador, two ministers (one for economics and one for politics), bolstered from below by a clutch of counselors and attachés for economics, finance, agriculture, commerce, labor and science.

The ambassador is not, however, a political appointee; he is a civil servant, Marcel Cadieux, a vigorous former undersecretary for External Affairs, with

two books on diplomacy to his credit. He divides his time between the chancery in Washington and trooping around the U.S. to talk to service clubs, businessmen and influential editors wherever he can run them to ground. Cadieux couldn’t find any Americans to talk to, however, after the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution this January deploring the renewal of U.S. air raids on the Hanoi-Haiphong area of North Vietnam. There was no official U.S. response to the resolution, which was supported by all parties, but Canada’s ambassador was given the cold-shoulder treatment in Washington and, at a couple of American receptions, found himself utterly alone, trading bon mots with waiters and potted palms.

Because of his background as a career diplomat, Cadieux has a much more direct role in the day-to-day running of the chancery than Schmidt has in Ottawa. For instance, he sees most of the telegrams that go out, and all that carry his signature. But he still leans for help in dealing with minor matters on Russ McKinney, the economics minister. McKinney, a small, squarish man (if you can imagine a cultured James Cagney, you get the idea), came to Washington less than a year ago from a post as ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and is still struggling with the mosaic of Canada-U.S. relations.

The chief political officer is Ken Williamson, a dark, slender and guarded diplomat with 26 years of experience and an impressive grasp of U.S. politics.

One of the most influential of those who work under the two ministers is Dick O’Hagan, Minister-Counselor (Information), a former press aide to Prime Minister Pearson. O’Hagan’s information and public relations office is notable not only for the steady drum roll of press releases and special papers it turns out, but for the depth of “penetration” — the de ri geur Washington word — it has achieved for Canada in the U.S. press corps. Everybody knows O’Hagan, and most are impressed by him. O’Hagan arranges occasional visits of U.S. journalists to Ottawa, which are anything but junkets. “We work our butts off, but we learn a lot,” said one reporter who went. He also gives the local press rundowns — strictly neutral — on the current state of play in Canadian politics.

Canada’s military presence in Washington is maintained by 28 officers, 46 other ranks and one civilian, a sad comedown from the days (1960) when there were 213 Defense Department employees here, and the army, the navy, the air force and the general staff each occupied one floor of the Defense Liaison building. However, of the 28 officers, four have the rank of general (while the top-ranking Americans in Otcontinued on page 54

WASHINGTON continued tawa are mere colonels). Major-General Dick Stovel, the ranking officer, explains that, “If a colonel calls a colonel, he may or may not call back; if a general calls a colonel, the call will be returned.”

Our military men are thoroughly meshed with those of the Pentagon. “Your military animal,” says General Stovel, “tends to get along better with another military animal than with the civilians.” The U.S. argument that North America needs an ever-expanding catalogue of weapons therefore receives a friendly hearing at 2450 Massachusetts. General Stovel says he knows of “no case where strength created a war, whereas I know of many cases where weakness has caused a war.” Apparently if there’s one form of provocation your military animal can’t stand, it’s those damn troublemakers who won’t come out and fight.

As General Stovel explains it, our role in Washington is to “keep the doors to the Pentagon open, so we can be in on the decision-making process.” And what decisions have we influenced? “For example, we’re trying to persuade the Americans not to use the word ‘offensive’ to describe attacks. Canadians don’t like to be offensive. Instead, we try to get them to say ‘strategic,’ and, by golly, they’re coming around.”

General Stovel’s awestruck approach to the Americans is typical of the prevailing tone of our diplomatic corps. Some of our envoys appear to arrive in the U.S. capital with their mouths open and only close them long enough to swallow whatever is being proffered. This feeling was formerly reserved for the British; it has been transferred, along with our colonial allegiance, to the U.S., and persists in disquieting measure at the top of the External Affairs totem pole. Reinforcing this trend is the new integration of the foreign service, which has the commercial, agricultural and other attachés yoked to the diplomats in stations abroad. Thus, the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce has a strong contingent in Washington largely devoted to flogging our goods and keeping conflict to a minimum.

But there is a contrary trend, which holds some hope if it can be encouraged, and which is reflected in three ways.

The first is the impatience of the younger envoys, who were schooled in a more nationalist Canada than their elders. One day, trudging back to the embassy from a Senate hearing on energy matters, a young diplomat told me, “We have been too damn soft-spoken for too long. There are a number of issues on which we and the Americans will never agree, and it’s time we said so.” On another occasion, another young officer — who was highly praised to me by his superiors — said, “To watch some of the old hands here sucking up to the Ameri-

cans would just turn your stomach.”

In addition, there is a feeling, slower to penetrate the green baize doors of External Affairs than the clearer air of the rest of Canada, that perhaps the Americans are not, after all, the striding giants we took them for. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t want to be like them. Ambassador Cadieux, who, in earlier interviews, stressed the close bonds that tie us to the Americans, our essential sameness, our inescapable conjunction on this continent, is suddenly exploring a different line of country: “I take great pride in telling Americans that I speak French and therefore my country is different from yours; some of us are Latin people, and you are not, some of us are in the Francophonie, and you are not. It’s not that we don’t want to be friendly, it’s just that we want to go a different way.” Finally, we appear to be a little more canny about trying to influence the Americans. We have, for the first time, our very own lobbyist in Washington, although he is not called that. Lome Clark, a young (33), long, lean native of Arvida, Quebec, is a political secretary who spends most of his time in “liaison”

with Congressmen, lunching with senate aides, buying drinks for key officials on the important committees, writing letters to public figures who make speeches about Canada, and even preparing material for politicians interested in our way of doing things. For example, Clark produced a voluminous file on the operation of Canada’s medicare scheme for a committee chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy, who would like to see such a plan adopted in the U.S. This excursion brought an American complaint about “outside interference,” which had some validity. (How would Canadians react to the news that an official in the U.S. embassy was preparing dope for Robert Stanfield?) Still, it’s nice to think that we are occasionally vigorous enough to inspire someone to complain about us pushing the Americans around.

It seems clear that our Washington embassy is at a point of balance. It should be strengthened, if it is going to play a central role in the clashes with Americans over trade policy and energy resources. (Professor James Eayrs of the University of Toronto has suggested that the way to do this would be to make the ambassador a cabinet minister.) Or, if it is not, it should be cut back. The taxpayer could save a lot of money, for a start, by having the Pentagon send its briefs directly to Ottawa, without the intervention of four boosting generals.

A case can be made for either course — building up or trimming down. The essential requirement is to move the advocacy function out of the realm of the diplomat and into that of the politician. After all, if we are going to share energy resources with the Americans — to take only the most obvious example — the repercussions extend far beyond the world of striped pants and stiff memos. Elected members, who are responsible to Canadians as a whole, will make far better advocates for this country than bureaucrats, who are responsible only to more senior bureaucrats; and in the new mood of Canadian nationalism, politicians are much more likely to speak sharply across the border.

We can meet this political requirement either by putting a cabinet minister in charge in Washington, and strengthening his staff, or by clearing away some of the useless diplomatic deadwood in the U.S. capital and arguing our case directly from Ottawa.

The only policy that cannot be defended is the one we appear to have now, with our diplomats divided and confused, reacting in quite different ways to the American challenge which is before us for the next decade.

What we cannot abide, after all, is a situation in which the American arguments are hustled for them by our own officials at the heart of the decisionmaking process in Ottawa, fl