‘The best job in my life’

Robert Lewis September 17 1979

‘The best job in my life’

Robert Lewis September 17 1979

‘The best job in my life’


By Robert Lewis

For more than an hour Tom and Gaetana Enders stood at the head of the receiving line, which wound out a side door of the U.S. ambassador’s spacious Ottawa residence onto the veranda, greeting a Canadian Who's Who one last time. Harrison McCain, chairman of the New Brunswick frozen-food empire, arrived in his private jet for cocktails and canapés. From Montreal there were economist Carl Beigie and former Trudeau adviser Richard O’Hagan. From Ottawa there were ambassadors from Morocco, Britain, Japan, the U.S.S.R. and Saudi Arabia; cabinet ministers past and present, including Flora MacDonald and Marc Lalonde; Robert g Falls, chief of the defence staff; Gordon z Robertson, dean of the mandarinate— g even the brassy National Press Club z band. In a rare personal reflection a few § days before his teeming last bash, ~ Enders allowed wistfully that being Washington’s man in Ottawa had been “the best job in my life. You’ve got a great country.”

What a difference 3V2 years have made. When Enders arrived in February, 1976, there were menacing clouds in the diplomatic skies between Ottawa and Washington. In response to the Vietnam War, Watergate and the chill of Richard Nixon*, Canada pulled back. With its “Third Option” policy, the Liberal government opened doors to Europe and the Pacific, legislated nationalist measures on foreign investment, publishing and broadcasting and reduced oil exports.

Before outgoing ambassador William Porter left Ottawa he publicly beefed— with backing from Henry Kissinger’s state department—about “a bad turn” in relations, after being rebuffed in attempts to arrange a private, farewell chat with Trudeau. While Trudeau dismissed Porter’s utterances as “beyond acceptable bounds,” Enders picked up the theme upon his arrival and warned bluntly: “Canada can’t simply unilaterally cut back in its relations with the United States and expect

*In addition to imposing surcharges on imports, Nixon mistakenly labelled Japan instead of Canada the No. 1, trade partner of the U.S. and, as recorded on the Watergate tapes, dismissed Pierre Trudeau as an “asshole. ”

there won’t be a reaction from us.”

It seemed to matter little that Canadian policy then mainly reflected the legacy of U.S. indifference toward Canada—best exemplified by former secretary of state Dean Acheson’s concession that “Americans assume Canada to be bestowed as a right and accept this bounty, as they do air, without thought or appreciation.” The double diplomatic whammy by Porter and Enders had the effect of stampeding Canadian public opinion against Trudeau’s policies. While a variety of factors—from bleak energy/economic prospects to the new threat of Quebec independence—inevitably would have produced greater harmony, Enders accelerated the pace by personally out-campaigning Pierre Trudeau in his own land.

His base directly across the street from the Peace Tower gave rise to the embassy’s unofficial designation as the “South Block.” When the lights weren’t burning late, Enders usually was at home entertaining lavishly, or travelling the nation in the manner of a leadership contender. In 12 months ending last April, for example, he logged 76,545 miles, establishing first-name rapport with premiers, politicians, businessmen and editors in every province and territory. In the past year, 2,500 guests were

royally entertained at the residence. On at least two occasions before the election, Pierre Trudeau dined alone with Enders, in a kind of personal mea culpa for snubbing Porter.

The mouse that roared is now back in bed with a more domesticated elephant, on the eve of the arrival of the new American envoy, former Maine governor Kenneth Curtis (see box). Enders is scheduled to leave Ottawa this week to take up his new post as U.S. ambassador to the European Community in Brussels, although there is speculation about a hitch because of the supervisory role Enders played in the U.S. bombing of Cambodia when he was deputy chief of mission in Phnom Penh from 1971 to 1974, new details of which are contained in Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia by William Shawcross. In an interview with Maclean's before Enders’ departure, ironically, he cited the end of the war as one of the factors that had improved Canada-U.S. affairs, and he could fairly conclude over-all: “In practically every field, we’ve been able to make important new agreements.”

The most striking example is the deal struck by the two governments in 1977, which opened the way for a $10-billion natural gas pipeline down the Alaska Highway. Typically, Enders immersed himself in every detail as the two sides

bargained to balance U.S. insistence on lowest-possible-cost energy and Canadian demands for highest possible benefits in construction and job contracts. At one point in the final stages of negotiations, Enders was literally down on his knees on his office floor, poring over project maps with former U.S. energy secretary James Schlesinger. At another point he challenged U.S. Coast Guard calculations on tanker traffic for an oil proposal—and the double-check proved him right.

Such preoccupation with substance left Enders little time for small talk— or suffering fools. He was a demanding workaholic who thought nothing of launching an emergency project at the cocktail hour, which is savored on Embassy Row. “Tom is not cuddly,” notes one associate. “He is so intent on his own priorities that he forgets that other people have theirs.”

People who have worked closely with Enders, however, observe a certain tempering of his pursuit of U.S. objectives. In the early days his pronouncements had the ring of a pro-consul in the colonies as he talked up the need for joint “expansionary solutions” and the imperative of “exploiting” energy opportunities. More recently, he has been less hawkish about foreign investment laws—perhaps because their enforcement has slackened—and more willing to concede the evident self-interest of Canada’s desire to conserve depleting fuel reserves. That his daughter Alice, 21, married a Canadian in Ottawa’s wedding of the year may have been another factor.

Such is the new tone in affairs, however, that there is no need for a big stick. Potentially explosive disagreements, whether on fishing rights or air

fares, have been downplayed as matters between bureaucrats. The recent liberalized trade agreement in Geneva, Enders notes, “takes Canada and the United States a long way towards open trade.” Canada’s defence commitment has been increased with the purchase of $1 billion in U.S. patrol aircraft and an undertaking to spend $2.3 billion on fighter jets. Indeed, only two issues threaten to disturb the new pattern of dealings: the deletion of American commercials from U.S. television signals by

Canadian border cable systems is being used by hostile congressmen as the reason for holding up a softening, as proposed by the Carter administration, of restrictions against tax-deductible convention-going by Americans in Canada. It is this “linking” of issues that Canadian and U.S. authorities are anxious to avoid.

All the signs point to even closer ties under a Conservative government led by a westerner. Even as Opposition leader Joe Clark denounced the Liberals’ Third Option, which turned out to be mainly hot air in any event, he talked about bringing the Canadian tax structure into line with the U.S. one—and mortgage deductibility is a prime example of the tilt. There has been no change in the pattern of lock-step hikes in Canadian interest rates in response to U.S. increases, the aim of which is to keep attracting American capital at the cost of promoting faster economic growth in Canada.

When U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrives in Ottawa in November for a belated first official visit, says Enders, “one of the messages he’s going to bring is our desire to move on to higher levels of co-operation. Both governments are looking for opportunities and are very anxious to take them when they come.”

While officials on both sides submit that closer links were a natural evolution, Enders is given substantial personal credit. Observes one Canadian official: “He’s the biggest man, in all respects, they’ve probably ever sent here.” None of the 320 guests who gathered in Enders’ long shadow last week to say good-bye would disagree.