World

‘Hello Joe? This is Jimmy’

Jane O’Hara November 19 1979
World

‘Hello Joe? This is Jimmy’

Jane O’Hara November 19 1979

‘Hello Joe? This is Jimmy’

There was confusion in the cool marble corridors that link the offices of Prime Minister Joe Clark when, late Thursday afternoon, word came from Washington that “the president of the United States would be calling.” The confusion was not over why Jimmy Carter was calling. He merely wanted to apologize personally for cancelling his visit to Ottawa and to explain that the occupation of the U.S. embassy in Iran would keep him at home. Rather, the mixup was over where he would call. Earlier in the week, a special hot line had been installed in Clark’s parliamentary compound with direct access to the White I House. Would the call come there or on ! Clark’s own office phone? Within minutes the White House hot-line phone rang ! through. Clark, accompanied by External Affairs Minister Flora MacDonald and a convoy of advisers, rushed down the hall to answer it. Embarrassingly, it wasn't for Clark. Seconds later, Clark’s personal phone jangled and, like a family of ducks, the group turned and trooped down the corridor again. Clark picked up the receiver and heard, “Hello Joe? This is Jimmy.”

Half an hour later, Clark abruptly interrupted the business in the House of Commons to announce officially Carter’s elevI enth-hour decision. It was neither the first j nor the last time that the topic of Iran surfaced in the House last week. Tuesday, Conservative MP Bob Corbett proposed a motion (subsequently adopted) protesting "the latest acts of criminal aggression” in j Iran. On Friday, Minister MacDonald reassured the House that "there was no real cause for concern" for the estimated 60 Canadians living in Iran (while Kenneth Taylor, Canada’s ambassador in Tehran, was privately urging Canadians who have no “pressing business" to evacuate).

Later in the day, Energy Minister Ray I Hnatyshyn had to do some reassuring of

his own when faced with the announcement that Iran will divert five per cent of its oil to the more lucrative spot markets. The news resurrected the chilly fears of last winter when Exxon redirected Canadian shipments of oil to other international customers willing to pay a higher price. As well, it followed on the heels of Clark’s own promise to set up an emergency supplies allocation board and seemed to fulfil a prophecy, in a pessimistic report by the Na-

tional Energy Board, of “real difficulties ahead” should Canada experience an abnormally cold winter or disruptions in the flow or refining of oil. Hnatyshyn maintained, however: “In Iran, loading is proceeding in a normal fashion," and added that “we are watching very carefully any diversion which would be detrimental to the country."

While Conservatives in the House were laying to rest the fears caused by the trouble in Iran, Tory aides were working to salvage what they could from Carter’s pullout. Ottawa's hoteliers were on the phone to the Prime Minister’s Office seeking some compensation for the more than 500 rooms that had been booked for the entourage and thus remained vacant. "It will cost us about $8,000," said Rick Thiel of the Château Laurier. “We got burned.” As Thiel complained, a team of White House

communications experts were dismantling more than seven tons of equipment in what was code-named “Ottawa Station"—a temporary command post that took up more than 37 rooms in an isolated wing on the second floor of the hotel. Meanwhile, 42 ducks, destined for the 120 plates at Carter’s state dinner, were slipped back into the freezer at Government House and costly Bird of Paradise flowers were rescued from the room where Carter was to

have met with cabinet ministers and present the blooms to the cast of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, who were scheduled to dance for the president. A silver-framed picture of Joe Clark, along with “personal gifts” for Carter’s mother and daughter, Amy, were put in storage ready for the next Carter visit, tentatively in the new year. (Canada did end up playing a host of sorts, however, when an Iran Air jumbo jet on a flight from London to New York was diverted to Montreal after union workers at Kennedy airport refused to service the craft.)

That anyone was really unhappy about the outcome of the Carter visit is debatable. In many ways, Carter needed the 27hour trip much as he needed another Kennedy challenge. And Clark? Although he had pushed for the visit after the Tokyo summit in June, one adviser reflected: "This trip isn’t a pain in the neck. The pain’s a little bit lower."

Jane O’Hara