The only precedent for the glow of amicability that surrounded last week’s Shamrock Summit in Quebec City was the trade and defence pact negotiated in shirt-sleeves by Mackenzie King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the tense spring of 1941.
By the time they got together at the President’s home at Hyde Park, N.Y., the two men had developed something of a diplomatic love affair based on a shared New Deal ideology and mutual political respect. When the Canadian Prime Minister showed the U.S. President a draft of what he thought the historic treaty should include, Roosevelt crossed out the word “draft” and scribbled in pencil on the original Canadian document: “Done by Mackenzie and FDR on a grand Sunday in April.”
Nearly half a century later, the issues have changed only in their complexities, and the two men who head the governments which share most of the North American continent have struck up a friendship that rivals the entente of the Roosevelt-King era.
Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan are dissimilar in age and background but they share an unlimited tolerance for ambiguity and the belief that politics is the art of making the necessary possible. Both of these political hoofers subscribe to the notion that their guiding policies should be to foster moods of civility and reconciliation within their own countries and with each other. They view their individual constituencies with equanimity, determined to achieve peace through strength, maximum growth with minimum inflation, and voter support through tax simplification and other measures designed to ease bureaucratic influence on people’s lives.
Watching the two men pirouette through the weekend’s festivities, it was nearly impossible to stay immune to the infectious good spirit that pervaded their every enounter. Here were two leaders who believe in their countries and in themselves. Their contented aides basked in the residuals of all that bonne entente. Except for Nancy Reagan, who seemed determined to bless every pillar in the Château Frontenac dining room with her cool nearsighted smile, the occasion was genuine enough.
Mulroney and Mila displayed a finely honed sense of choreography, moving through the crowds with disarming magnetism. It was amusing to watch the gawkers swaying to get a better look, their collective heads moving like a wheat field ruffled by Quebec City’s strong March winds. The tuxedoed men at the Sunday night gala clutched their gowned wives as if they had designed and invented them to enhance the hardsell glory of the spectacle.
The summit conference actually ran on double tracks. Alongside the high tones of international diplomacy could be heard the echoes of some highly ef-
fective parish pump priming. The presidents of every one of the 22 ridings held by the Tories east of Quebec City, for example, were given four tickets to distribute to their key poll captains. While Reagan was building his dream of a Fortress America, Mulroney was strengthening his own version of Fortress Quebec. The latest CROP poll shows that an astonishing two-thirds of the province’s voters now consider themselves to be federal Tories.
Credit for the success of the summit’s arrangements belongs mainly to Fred Doucet, the senior adviser to the Prime Minister who is emerging as one of the top negotiators in the preconference consensus-building that has characterized the major meeting of Ottawa’s calendar. But it was the impact of Mulroney’s personal diplomacy that won the concessions which turned the summit into a semblance of a give-and-take bargaining session.
Although the billboard issue of controlling acid rain on this continent cannot be resolved overnight, it would be difficult to pick a public figure who has wider political access than former Ontario premier Bill Davis, whose job it will be to push provincial and federal governments toward action. On trade, Mulroney appears to have achieved the impossible: a pledge by the U.S. administration to exempt Canada from some of the more stringent protectionist measures to come down from U.S. legislators over the next 18 months.
Any bilateral treaty between partners of such unequal clout depends on the goodwill of both parties. Many Canadians still fear that any such partnership is bound to end up like feminist Germaine Greer’s description of the perfect, male-oriented marriage: “If you do exactly what I want, dear, we’ll have a really good time.” The problem is that the goodwill between Mulroney and Reagan may not be enough; it is all too often a Congress dominated by narrowminded Republicans that calls the shots.
Defence was the most complex and least settled issue. Canada may well be asked to assume an as yet unstated ground function in Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Having only a year ago jettisoned the last atomic warheads stationed on our soil, Canadians still refuse to recognize any moral inconsistency in their proud claim to being nuclear virgins while they live smugly under the protection of American missiles. The Quebec City accords will grant us, for the first time, a measure of sovereignty over what happens north of 60. No document signed with the Americans—or the Soviets—can guarantee that Canada will not become a nuclear battleground. Only if we could somehow opt out of the strategic hunk of geography we occupy would we be safe.
Meanwhile, a close study of what really happened in Quebec City leaves little doubt that we got more than we gave away.
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