CANADA

Across the land by tightrope

JOHN HAY May 3 1982
CANADA

Across the land by tightrope

JOHN HAY May 3 1982

Across the land by tightrope

NATIONAL

French Premier Pierre Mauroy wisely came prepared for the treacherous rituals involved in the diplomacy of Franco-Canadian relations. Forewarned of the risks in making the slightest slip of the tongue, Mauroy commented, “I have a small lexicon of things to say and not to say.”

Thus equipped, Mauroy skilfully navigated the opening days of a visit intended to improve France’s relations with the Trudeau federalists in Ottawa without damaging links with the Péquistes in Quebec City.

Mauroy chose to stress the potential economic benefits of fuller contacts with the rest of the country—trade and investment—while affirming the importance of the obvious cultural connections with Quebec. Canadian sources said Mauroy privately praised Pierre Trudeau for the recent constitutional settlement (even though it was repudiated by the Quebec government). In public, however, Mauroy was discreetly mute on the subject. By the end of his 26-hour stop in Ottawa, Mauroy had won Trudeau’s approval.

Relations between Canada and France have become palpably warmer since President François Mitterrand’s Socialists were elected a year ago. For the first time in 15 years, French policy

is being made by a government unburdened by the legacy of Charles de Gaulle’s infamous “Vive le Québec libre” speech in 1967. Mauroy repeatedly made reference to the Canadian federation, usually with a balancing bow to Quebec. “It is natural, in fact, that ties of affection unite francophones,” he told an Ottawa black-tie dinner audience last week. “It is no less obvious that these sentiments need not in any way taint our relations with Canada.”

The message seemed clear: there would be no more Gaullist meddling in Quebec-Ottawa troubles. Giving emphasis to the message, Mauroy and his wife, Gilberte, flew from Ottawa first to Toronto, with a scheduled second stop in Moncton, before landing in Quebec. Meetings with businessmen and local francophone leaders, and greetings from Ontario’s William Davis and New Brunswick’s Richard Hatfield, were built into the itinerary.

Economics consumed much of Mauroy’s time with both federal and provincial hosts. Still in the study stage is a possible Canadian investment in the European Airbus consortium. Even more pressing was a $1.2-billion deal being readied for signing between Hydro-Québec and a French group planning an aluminum refinery in the province. Inevitably, however, the visit was not entirely clear of diplomatic hitches—the red-carpet wars played out habitually between Ottawa and Quebec City. Under terms of a 1965 Quebec-France agreement, in fact, federal representatives were kept out of the Quebec part of the tour. External Affairs protocol officers relinquished their charges to provincial officials, and the RCMP handed security over to the provincial police.

Fortunately, both sides found a way to avoid repeating the embarrassment caused in 1979 when Premier Raymond Barre was caught in a ludicrous dispute over which government would see him off at the airport. This time, provincial ministers agreed to wave goodbye at Quebec City. The Mauroy plane was then to land at Mirabel (a so-called technical stop) for a second farewell by an Ottawa emissary. It was a distinctly Canadian solution which even Mauroy’s lexicon probably did not have words to describe.

JOHN HAY