Canada

Doin’ the embassy drag

Jane O’Hara November 12 1979
Canada

Doin’ the embassy drag

Jane O’Hara November 12 1979

Doin’ the embassy drag

Ottawa

When Prime Minister Joe Clark unexpectedly rose in the Commons last Monday, the red in his face rose not unlike a maiden’s blush. Within moments it was obvious why: once again, the fledgling PM had been caught with his election promises down, a posture as publicly embarrassing as it was politically unwise.

In his left hand, Clark held the interim report of special ambassador Robert Stanfield which recommended that the government abandon its campaign pledge to move the Canadian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Said Clark: “The government accepts the recommendation that no action be taken on the change in the location of the Canadian embassy until the status of Jerusalem is clarified.” With that, Clark sat down and listened as Opposition leader Pierre Trudeau and NDP leader Ed Broadbent berated him for everything from weakening foreign affairs to giving de facto recognition to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Although Stanfield’s advice came as no surprise—as one Tory aide admitted, “We knew that sooner or later we’d have to put that embassy thing on ice”—the timing of the report did. Stanfield was appointed to buy the Tories time at home and to put a pair of sunglasses on Canada’s black eye abroad. His report was not due until the new year. However, with the business community upset over trade disruptions with the Arab world—Canada did $890 million worth of business with Arabs last year—Clark and his advisers decided to act speedily. Or, as another illfated leader from an earlier time advised: “If it were done . . . then ’twere well it were done quickly.”* Besides, considering Trudeau’s recent statement that Zionist pressure in the U.S. is preventing a peace settlement in the Mid-

*Macbeth, pondering the pros and cons of assassinating King Duncan.

die East, one Clark aide admitted: “We might as well have Jews mad at us while they’re still mad at him.”

From the outset, the proposed embassy shift was ill-advised, Clark himself admitted last January after a

meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. “I would not move the embassy to Jerusalem,” Clark said at that time. “A move of that kind would be inopportune. It may well unbalance or set off the rails a process of achieving [a peace] agreement.” Despite Clark’s foresight, however, the embassy policy was strung together by his election advisers last April. It was designed to attract Toronto’s Jewish vote and bail out Tory candidates Ron Atkey, the new immigration minister, from St. Paul’s, and Robert Parker, who was defeated in Eglinton. Although the Tories got one seat for their trouble, the long-term effects of such transparent political opportunism remain unclear. It may be that Clark’s April folly will become the Tories’ October crisis.

Jane O’Hara