As diplomatic debuts go, it had been a star turn. In Paris on her first official state visit since taking office a day after her 53rd birthday last June, External Affairs Minister Flora MacDonald had barely stepped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport when she was greeted by the usually sombre French daily Le Monde with a gush of hearts and flowers. “A woman ^ sensitive to the distress of the Third World,” it bannered its two-column profile welcoming her, and the rave reviews continued.
French Foreign Minister Jean François-Poncet—clearly a fan from their five previous meetings at the United Nations and Tokyo summit—ran down the steps of the Quai d’Orsay to embrace her and ended their two days of talks with a flourish, saluting her as
“my sister.” Another Quai official unabashedly rated her as “certainly more charming than Mrs. Thatcher.” By the time she checked out of the Hotel Crillon, no one could quibble with MacDonald’s own assessment—that relations between France and Canada
“couldn’t be better than they are today.”
With that, she flew off to Brussels for the NATO ministerial meetings which approved the deployment of an updated nuclear strike force in Western Europe by 1983 and scored another hit. Hailed by Secretary-General Joseph Luns as the first female minister to grace the chambers of the military alliance, she
won applause by retorting that other women had played war games with the boys: Joan of Arc, Brunhild and Queen Boadicea.
But as MacDonald was bringing down the house in Brussels, her own troops back in Ottawa were fighting off a bitter Opposition assault over Finance Minister John Crosbie’s budget. By noon Thursday, when she got word that the vote would be close, she slipped out of the meetings and into the NATO wings, trying frantically to arrange for a flight back to Ottawa.
When those attempts failed, she went tensely off to a formal dinner hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, dreading the transatlantic call which finally arrived at 4:10 a.m.—with the news that the Conservatives had fallen.
For the rest of the sleepless night, she packed her bags and ordered a Canadian Forces Falcon jet from the NATO base in Lahr, West Germany, to ferry her back to Paris in time for the first Air Canada flight home. At dawn, journalists found her commiserating with aides in her dressing gown—a quick change from the spiffy new wardrobe she had ordered from Canadian designers in a special showing at Toronto’s Trinity College only the week before.
She was obviously shocked and crestfallen. But disappointment is hardly a new emotion to Flora MacDonald and, despite persistent differences over Canada’s continued refusal to sell France uranium without certain guaranteed safeguards, she had obviously enchanted her hosts with her elegant side-
stepping through the thornier issues on the diplomatic boards, including a deft promise of “more imagination” in finding a way for Quebec to attend a proposed summit of francophone countries.
Back in Brussels, the 18 Canadian ambassadors from Western Europe who had been summoned to Brussels for a weekend introduction to their new boss and a briefing on her script for foreign policy had to settle for a meeting with External Affairs Deputy Minister Alan Gotlieb. But there was not much to be learned from the unveiling of a plot line which threatened never to see production.
As the movement of Canadian international policy was once more suspended, the most disappointed observers were the French, who had been anticipating a February mission from Senator Robert de Cotret in the longheld hopes of expanding their trade with Canada. After the long misunderstandings, France had finally seemed to find a Canadian ear which promised more suppleness on certain matters dear to the Gallic heart, not to mention one which, unlike former Liberal minister Don Jamieson’s, was attuned to the native tongue.
Still, as one diplomat shruggled philosophically, there was no use lamenting MacDonald’s hasty exit too soon.Only on Feb. 18 will it be known whether her diplomatic debut was also a swan song—or whether she was merely taking a brief intermission.
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