Trudeau’s triumph, at home and abroad

ROBERT LEWIS March 7 1977

Trudeau’s triumph, at home and abroad

ROBERT LEWIS March 7 1977

Trudeau’s triumph, at home and abroad


Before Pierre Trudeau went to Washington late last month the “irritants” between Canada and the United States were mostly buried in a flurry of diplomacy. By the time the Prime Minister got to the White House, where he acknowledged he is “always a little bit moved and perhaps even intimidated,” they seemed to have vanished completely. “The elephants are gone,” President Jimmy Carter proclaimed in a neat play on Trudeau’s metaphor for the United States and the Republican Party’s symbol. “The donkeys [the Democrats’ symbol] are here. And the donkeys are much more companionable.”

So the stage was set for a rapprochement that both sides wanted, the Americans for strategic reasons, Trudeau for political ones. Because of his own performance and the eager orchestration of mood by his hosts, T rudeau’s trip was a tour de force. It didn’t play in Peoria or in the Parti Québécois, but it had an extended run where it counted most—back home, particularly among the rank and file of the Liberal Party. Trudeau aides and party officers were inundated with approving calls and several pleas for an immediate election.

The prospect of going to the people soon was dismissed by senior Trudeau staffers. “One speech does not an election make,” said one of them, reciting a list of organizational work still to be done. But Trudeau had lifted the mood of his followers, many of whom had become despondent during the past year of sagging fortunes. Said a Trudeau adviser: “The mood is up in our party, which is a pleasant occurrence. Things are going well. We haven't had a screw up since the Auditor General and we’ve been doing some good things.”

Perhaps a more lasting benefit of Trudeau’s visit, however, is that CanadaU.S. relations have been restored to a solid footing. Trudeau has Carter’s personal invitation to “pick up the phone” to discuss g world issues and has been encouraged to react candidly to policy ideas Carter might float with him. For their part, the Americans are now seized with the possibility of Canada’s breakup. They are also concerned about North American air defense and security of Arctic energy supplies, and boosting Trudeau’s stock is a handy way to help themselves.

It was the Americans, in fact, who indirectly laid the groundwork for the lovefeast in the first place—by proclaiming through their former ambassador to Ottawa, William Porter, that the relationship had taken “a bad turn.” Porter’s successor, Thomas Enders, then traveled throughout

Canada listing the irritants that worried the United States. He generated considerable sympathy through the diplomatic road show and encouraged the view that Canadian foreign policy was anti-American—a notion that hurt Trudeau politically. So the PM gradually began retrenching and has now reasserted the preeminence of the relationship with Washington as “the most important of all our foreign relations.”

The positive developments came at a furious pace during the 50 hours Trudeau was in Washington: there was Carter’s support for a united Canada in a CTV interview; the cordial atmosphere of the talks; the PM’s effective speech in Congress; affirmations of warmth that matched the glow of the roaring fire in the Oval Office; two celebrity studded parties; and Trudeau’s appearance on NBC’s Sunday news conference, Meet The Press. Some of Trudeau’s aides couldn’t quite believe the scene unfolding. When a Canadian television reporter told one of the PM’S advisers that there had been a big reaction back home to the speech to the joint meeting of Congress, he asked inquiringly, “You mean negative?” The U.S. Senate and House, technically, were recessed to hear Trudeau. By official count there were 50 empty seats. Of the others, 72 were occupied by foreign diplomats, 31 by House pages, and about 200 by Senators and Congressmen. (There are 535 Senators and Congressmen.) The galleries were packed.

Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stepped forward to stress that having watched Carter closely “I haven’t often seen him relate so freely and so quickly as he did to Pierre Elliott Trudeau.” The Prime Minister told guests at a Canadian embassy reception that he admired Carter’s “non-stereotyped” and “systems” approach to policy.

On Capitol Hill the reviews on Trudeau were effusive. Senator Pat Moynihan, who jotted notes on Trudeau’s speech to prepare for his appearance later on CBC television, described the PM as “a very impressive man from a very impressive country.” A frail and embattled Hubert Humphrey summed up Trudeau’s pitch with characteristic plain talk: “I don’t know whether you call it a federation or a confederation but whatever you’ve got, 1 like it. He said all the things we wanted to hear.”

That was a view shared widely in Canada, with the exception of René Lévesque (see following story) and some others who resented Trudeau’s simplification of issues and his description of separation as “a crime against the history of mankind.” Liberals, who have had little to crow about in the past year of sagging fortunes, were ecstatic. Said one Toronto activist: “One speech doesn’t make a country, but he showed he’s the only one who can do it.”

Carter’s welcome wasclear and genuine. He welcomed Trudeau as one of the industrialized world’s leading “understanders” of problems in less developed countries and expressed the hope that “the commonwealth [he meant Confederation] stay as it is.” Earlier Carter told Bruce Phillips of CTV, “The stability there in Canada is of crucial importance to us, and the Confederation is obviously of importance to us.”

At the White House the word was that Trudeau had made Carter and his cabinet more aware of the Quebec issue. “When the cabinet knows that the President has an interest,” an aide notes, “it goes down the line.” Trudeau used his NBC appearance to stress that he wasn’t kidding when, earlier, he had suggested that separation “would be much more grave than the Cuban missile crisis.” When columnist Rowland Evans wondered why it would be so grave for Americans, who stood to gain a couple of new states in the deal, Trudeau replied: “If the second largest country in the world, the country that is north of you, breaks up, it seems to me it will send shock waves in a lot of capitals in the world. I would be very surprised if Washington would not be somewhat concerned.”

There was a curious preoccupation in the “style” sections of Washington newspapers about the length of Margaret Trudeau’s dress (it ended halfway between her ankles and knees) and the books nineyear-old Amy Carter took to read during the State Room dinner ( The Story Of The Gettysburg Address and Charlie In The Glass Elevator). Margaret, who charmed the locals with her beauty, allowed that she had assured Rosalynn Carter she had not intended “to create offense” by her dress and that the President’s wife was totally unconcerned. To criticism from such major designers as Bill Blass, Margaret says it’s time that women stopped being dictated to by the fashion industry and its promoters in the media. The next evening the PM’S wife compared notes with Elizabeth Taylor who is active in the as yet unofficial Senate campaign of her latest husband, John Warner, former secretary of the navy.

On NBC, Trudeau pointedly noted that the application of U.S. laws to American subsidiaries in Canada was “largely responsible” for supposedly anti-American actions in the past. “We don’t like you to tell us what we can do,” said Trudeau. Those remarks, however, were taped after Trudeau’s last meeting with Carter. Even so, the Americans are in a tolerant mood these days. An anti-war protest song,

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, was included in the repertoire of a young group of singers who performed for the Carters and Trudeaus at the White House. Harry Belafonte was also there, making his first appearance since the Kennedy years. Carter himself directly proclaimed the healing of the scar left by Lester Pearson on the late President Johnson when he criticized U.S. bombing during the Vietnam war, by noting with his toast: “When our nation has made a mistake because of an excessive dependence on our own military strength, Canada and its people have maintained the kind of a standard of ethics and morality and commitment to unchanging truths that are a sober reminder to us to reassess our own position.”

Canada’s relatively favorable supply of natural gas has also been another lesson for the administration. Originally Washington bleated about increases in Canadian prices and a ban on export shipments of supplies required in Canada. With Americans in a deep, dark freeze this winter, which was relieved somewhat by emergency release of Canadian gas, Canada’s policy seemed prudently self-interested—a principle Washington clearly understands.

Self-interest, in fact, is what motivated American approval of Trudeau’s commitment to decide among various Arctic gas pipeline proposals by next September, at which point Carter has his own deadline on the issue. The American establishment and the U.S. Federal Energy Administration appear to be leaning toward the application of Canadian and U.S. companies for a joint line down the Mackenzie River Valley. While Trudeau asserts that it isstill not clear if there will even be a pipeline approved in Canada because of native land claims and potential environmental damage, an official spokesman for the PM says. “We would like to be in a position not to embarrass Carter” by failing to make the Canadian decision before Carter has to make his.

On other outstanding issues, Canada embraced Ambassador Enders’ conception of the relationship as “managing our joint affairs.” In that light. Canada has halted the deletion of television commercials on American signals carried by Canadian cable companies: downplayed the screening role of the Foreign Investment Review Agency and subtly de-emphasized the so-called Third Option policy which Americans viewed as stressing ties with other nations at the expense of the United States. For their part, the Americans have shelved the Garrison River diversion project in North Dakota which threatened to pollute Manitoba rivers; agreed to Don Jamieson’s pitch to continue existing fishing regulations in coastal waters to avoid another cod war. although new 200-mile limits proclaimed by both countries now overlap, and agreed that, while Canada faces an internal crisis, there should be no emphasis on unsettled problems extant between Carter’s Washington and Trudeau’s Ottawa.

The most immediate benefit of the trip, however, was the improvement in Trudeau’s domestic image. It allowed him to continue a recent trend toward conciliation rather than confrontation with labor, Atlantic premiers and Quebec. Intriguingly, for the first time Trudeau’s official party included citizens outside the Liberal party, most notably Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau, Dennis McDermott of the United Auto Workers and University of Toronto president John Evans.

When he stood in Congress and declared crisply, “I say to you with all the certainty I command that Canada’s unity will not be fractured,” the applause was immediate and sustained. Wisconsin Democrat Clement Zablocki observed later, “some members of Congress didn’t think a Canadian could speak such good English. He speaks better than most of us.”

Trudeau had nothing new to offer domestic consumers in terms of statements. But as he once said, “Style is the man himself.”