For an entire day before his first official visit to France this month, Canada’s new external affairs minister, Don Jamieson, was discreetly cautioned by Canadian embassy officials that diplomacy must be danced in Paris to a slow and rigorous minuet. But Jamieson’s 36-hour tour was barely underway when it became clear the bulky, ebullient Newfoundlander had some choreographic ideas of his own. Ruddy-faced and fresh from a week of downing vodka with the Russians as head of a government trade mission to Moscow, he breezed into a private meeting with embassy staff the first morning only to warn them that he was there to turn “shalls” and “mays” into “wills” and “cans.” Next, over a press conference-luncheon, he told some of the most distinguished members of the French press corps—in unremitting English—that it was time France started to make good its year-old trade agreement with Canada, which so far had been “more shadow than substance.” Then, still beaming broadly, he set off on a round of wideranging talks with French foreign minister Louis de Guiringaud and Premier Raymond Barre, and wound up by pointing out to each of them that “there has been invented something called the telephone. We needn’t wait for all kinds of formal communications if there is a problem.”
If such plain speaking was all somewhat startling in the ritualistic world of pomp and politesse, it was even more extraordinary considering that Jamieson is the first Canadian foreign minister to be invited on an official visit to France since President Charles de Gaulle uttered his four fateful words—“Vive le Québec libre”—in Montreal nearly a decade ago. In fact, the invitation had been negotiated as much as six months earlier by his predecessor, Allan MacEachen, and Jamieson had reportedly given serious consideration to canceling it because it didn’t fit his schedule—until the Canadian embassy in Paris went into shock. After years of diplomatic fancy-dancing and Trudeau’s celebrated French visit two years ago, the old scars of France-Canada relations have only recently begun to fade. But even today the slightest suspicion of a snub, such as President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s two-month delay in accepting the credentials of Canadian ambassador Gérard Pelletier or his exclusion of Canada from last year’s economic summit at Rambouillet, can still stir up rumors and old wounds.
Indeed, Jamieson’s visit found the Canadian embassy in an especially sensitive mood. Last month, François Cloutier, the dapper onetime psychiatrist who piloted Quebec’s explosive Bill 22 through the legislature, arrived to take up his reward as the province’s new man in Paris, an appointment that was obviously intended to counterbalance Pelletier’s ambassadorship. Cloutier has never been known to shy
from the limelight and for weeks the Quebec papers had been brimming with tales of his private château outside Paris and his sumptuous new official apartments on the Palais Royal, with hints that a fresh rift between the two legations was just beyond the horizon. But three weeks after Cloutier’s installation, Pelletier was able to assure Jamieson that the new Quebec delegate general was behaving “like a lamb.” As if to prove it, the lamb himself pilgrimaged to Jamieson’s elegant suite in the Hotel Crillon for what both sides termed a normal courtesy call.
For his part, Jamieson waved off any talk of old wars to the French press with the folksy rejoinder: “I see no point in rethreshing old straw.” The French press responded by ignoring the former rift completely and according the visit modest and sombre coverage. The Paris newspaper Le Monde reported that matters “without seriousness” had been discussed, and it was not difficult to see why Le Monde failed to get excited by such weighty subjects as the battle bubbling in Canadian courts over the right of Niagara winegrowers to use the word champagne, or over the tricky business of fishing rights for the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon with Canada’s newly proclaimed 200-mile coastal zone— a problem in which Jamieson claimed a personal interest. As a federal MP from the south shore of Newfoundland, he quipped: “I’m the only Canadian with a constituency nine miles from France.”
If Jamieson returned home without a single commitment from the French—not even a firm date for Giscard’s long-promised Canadian visit—his trip was never
really intended to accomplish that. From the outset it was meant as a general process of “nicing.” And before diplomatically hopping on the controversial France-British supersonic Concorde jetliner for his return flight, he could justifiably claim that “there was no question of the amiability.”
The most significant aspect of his visit, however, may have been to confirm that, after less than two months in the traditionally fusty external portfolio, the 55-yearold minister is determined to bring to it a refreshing new personal style that is less reminiscent of a minuet than a downhome jig. “I don’t look like someone who could do a minuet,” he admitted, patting his ample girth. A former broadcaster who made himself a fortune as president of the Newfoundland Broadcasting Company before winning his seat in a 1966 by-election, he is given to bustling into rooms oozing grins and goodwill patter in his radio announcer’s pear-shaped tones. Asked by a French journalist whether he had read President Giscard’s new book, French Democracy, yet, Jamieson was, as usual, not lost for a reply. “I’ll read his when he reads mine”—an opus on broadcasting called The Troubled Air—he shot back.
As former minister of industry, trade and commerce, Jamieson was typecast as the perfect pitchman for Canada, but his new post as diplomatic Czar was one of the bigger surprises of Trudeau’s September 14 cabinet shuffle. The pundits rallied to explain that Ottawa’s new emphasis in foreign affairs was obviously on trade and forecast Jamieson’s appointment as an essentially conservative thrust, with little prospective boat-rocking. Already Jamieson seems to be proving them wrong. “As a Newfoundlander, I know that there is a difference between rocking boats and just
tipping them ever so slightly,” he says. Already, after years of Canada selling CANDU reactors, he has ordered a thorough reassessment of Canadian policy toward nuclear exports, and in his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, he warned Third World nations in no uncertain terms that Canada would not tolerate further moves to eject Israel from the UN—the frankest speech there by a Canadian in many years.
He promptly went on to strike an acquaintance with Henry Kissinger on a first-name basis and has taken to inviting a whole new crowd into Ottawa’s usually closed diplomatic circle. “I don’t see it’s a rarefied kind of climate where we can’t use the normal amount of common sense and straight talk,” he says. “I hope it will be increasingly possible to talk with world leaders and foreign statesmen just as I would with anyone else.” Whether that approach will work with European leaders, who feel more at home with the time-tested formalities, has yet to be seen. As one longtime observer of the French diplomatic scene noted: “It’s an interesting approach, and the French will get used to it, I guess. At least, they now know his phone number.”
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