We hew wood, draw water and where does it get us? On the cutting-room floor at NBC

Walter Stewart February 23 1976

We hew wood, draw water and where does it get us? On the cutting-room floor at NBC

Walter Stewart February 23 1976

We hew wood, draw water and where does it get us? On the cutting-room floor at NBC

Walter Stewart

“There is very little rape in Canada,” the girl said. “You know why—’cause they electrocute the guys up there. That cools the bastards out.” We were standing in downtown Pittsburgh, near the site of what had been Fort Duquesne, when the French held it, and Fort Pitt, when our side took over. I was talking to a high-school student, and she left me feeling the way British General John Forbes found the place in 1758—sacked and gutted. It has been happening a lot lately, and I blame myself. I have been going around asking Americans what they think of Canada.

They think we’re cute, if they think of us at all. Cute and cool, from all that snow. We speak French, struggle across the tundra to work every day and never go swimming—it’s too cold. We are terrible cooks—“talking about Canadian cooking is like talking about Italian war heroes”— and our president has a very young wife. We have a kind of screwed-up geography, too—“not all the provinces are islands, but all the islands are provinces.”

Who can blame the Americans? We learn more about their country than we want to, because it looms so large: it is on ourTV, in our newspapers, sprawled across our trade figures. We sell them more than one third of all we produce; they sell us about 2% of their production. We are just the kid next door, young, friendly, dumb and harmless.

In part, the fault is ours. In Ottawa recently, a Senate committee released an 89page report pointing out that Canada spends about $2.3 million annually on information programs aimed at the United States. That’s 10 cents per (Canadian) capita. The report said “there is widespread unawareness, disinterest and misunderstanding of Canadian viewpoints and policies in the United States. Much more needs to be done by Canada to combat this.”

God knows, I’ve done my bit. I harassed a desk man on the Washington Post one day because I had been reading long stories about Guatemala and not a word about Canada, except when a killer was captured in northern Ontario. He explained that the Post had trouble keeping stringers in Ottawa, because it couldn’t pay enough and a full-time staffer was out of the question “because not enough happens.” I told him that plenty happened and he smiled, leaving me with the notion that the Post will appoint its first Ottawa man about the time we sizzle our first rapist.

Then I went after NBC-TV, blunting my lance in an exchange of letters that is worth

putting on the record, just to show how right the Senate committee is. I had been watching a highly touted, three-hour program on U.S. foreign policy and I wrote to the host and narrator, John Chancellor, thusly: “I hesitate to intrude on your busy day, but you cost me 25 cents, so we are out of the realms of diplomacy and into those of hard cash.

“When we sat down to watch the threehour special on foreign policy last night my wife said she would bet me two bits that Canada would not be mentioned, not even once. I told her, of course, that she was full of peach fuzz. Not only is Canada the single largest trading partner the United

States has, not only are we her closest friend and ally, but we are the beneficiaries, and victims, of a ‘special relationship’ with the United States. I pointed out that we were bound to make it, if only in the section on clichés.

“Three hours later, I passed over the two bits. I thought you were going to slip us in, after maybe Brazil or Belgium, or where you got talking about vital imports, or multinationals. When Switzerland made it, then Yugoslavia, Mexico, Taiwan and Jamaica, I was sure we were next. No. You gave the closest friend and ally cliché to Ja-

pan, Western Europe and Israel—one of the neatest parlays of all time—and you gave the ‘special relationship’ to Japan. May she wear it proudly.

“Poorer and wiser now, I have a few questions, asked not as a sorehead but as a journalist and the loser of two bits: (a) In production meetings, was Canada mentioned and rejected or (b) did you just forget about us? (c) Are we not a foreign country? (d) Would it help if we blew up the Peace Bridge?”

I got a reply from the show’s producer, Daniel O’Connor: “ ... in the interest of peace and friendship between our two countries, I’ve attached a 25-cent coin to this letter since I did not want you to be out any cash because we failed to mention Canada on the show.

“Answering your questions in the order they were given: (a) Canada was mentioned very often in our production meetings. (b) We didn’t forget about you. (c) Canada is a foreign country, (d) Please don’t blow up the Peace Bridge.

“One of our first considerations in researching this show was the treatment of Canada . . . but we finally decided that Canada would have to be left out because of time considerations. You must admit it was a tight show. There were three or four other countries we had to leave out, one of them despite the fact that we filmed there 14 days—that was the Philippines, another old and close friend. My decision was based on the fact that though Canada and the United States may have some problems in their diplomatic relations these problems are nothing compared with the difficulties the United States is experiencing in relation to the rest of the world. I think you will agree to that. So we decided that our good friends to the north would have to be covered elsewhere at another time...”

I was grateful for the two bits, but not disarmed. We are bracketed among the nonstarters with the Philippines, an American colony until 1946, and now a client state. I also noticed that O’Connor didn’t deny it would help to blow up the Peace Bridge, he just asked me not to.

Well, it’s not NBC’S job to stand up for Canada—that is the job of our government, and it can’t be done on the lousy dime-a-head now available. Canada-U.S. trade now comes to $42 billion annually and we often get beaten in negotiations because we are so easily taken for granted. We owe it to ourselves to do a better job.

And, heaven knows, we owe it to our rapists.