The congressional aides worked quickly. Moments before Prime Minister Brian Mulroney stepped into the 500-seat House of Representatives chamber for his first address to Congress, and the first by a Canadian prime minister in 11 years, rows of seats remained empty. Only 28 of the 100 senators had arrived for the speech. And the turnout from the 435member House was proportionately even smaller. But just before Mulroney’s arrival through the main entrance, a side door opened and several dozen congressional pages and staff members filed in to occupy the empty seats. And although they were few, the politicians who attended were enthusiastic about Mulroney’s 25-minute speech. Declared Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas: “This guy is a salesman, I want to tell you that. He charmed us like nobody since Cory Aquino.”
Mulroney scored personal popularity points rivalling the Filipino leader’s on his two-day visit to Washington. Still, in the fourth and likely final bilateral
summit with President Ronald Reagan, Mulroney was unable to make any significant headway on the issue of acid rain. Some progress was apparently made over the issue of Canada’s selection of a design for its nuclearpowered submarines, but a drama played out in the Senate chamber immediately after Mulroney’s congressional address may cause difficulty for the Canadians. In a 63-to-36 vote, the Senate gave final approval to a sweeping trade bill that Reagan has vowed to veto, probably this week. Still, Canadian officials downplayed the possibility that Reagan’s rejection of the legislation could delay or even prevent congressional approval of the CanadaU.S. free trade agreement.
In contrast to the first three summit meetings between Mulroney and Reagan, last week’s get-together was a low-key affair. There was no repetition of the spontaneous enthusiasm of the Quebec City summit on St. Patrick’s Day, 1985, where the two leaders, who share Irish backgrounds, joined in singing When Irish
Eyes Are Smiling. And there was little of the glitter that frequently accompanies official events in Reagan’s Washington.
But some of Washington’s elected and unelected power brokers were on hand for a ceremony on the second morning of the visit. Vice-President George Bush—who is now almost certain to be the Republican presidential candidate (page 34)—joined Mulroney in dedicating the new Canadian Embassy in Washington. Among those attending that event were Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post, Daniel Moynihan, the Democratic senator from New York, and Robert Strauss, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Conspicuously missing from the social agenda this time was the customary reciprocal dinner hosted by Mulroney at the Canadian Embassy residence. Visiting leaders usually give such dinners on the second day of their visit. But Mulroney returned to Ottawa just before dinnertime, causing speculation in Ottawa that
Canadian officials wanted to avoid reviving embarrassing memories of an incident that marred a visit by Mulroney to Washington two years ago. In March, 1986, just before a dinner that Mulroney was hosting for the President, Sondra Gotlieb, wife of Canadian Ambassador Allan Gotlieb, slapped the face of the embassy’s social secretary in full view of a reporter and several photographers. The episode raised eyebrows in diplomatic circles and set off speculation that Gotlieb might be replaced. But he remained and is now expected to stay on in Washington.
When the two leaders met for talks, the Canadian side was prepared for another defeat on acid rain. The White House position on the issue was clearly signalled even before Mulroney flew to Washington. In Geneva last week, U.S. representatives at a United Nations-sponsored meeting on global air pollution flatly rejected a Canadian proposal that would have required Washington to limit increases in emissions of nitrogen oxide, one of the main pollutants in acid rain.
Instead, the American team said that U.S. sources —mainly automobile exhaust—would produce 20 per cent more of the substance than it did last year.
In his private White House session with Reagan and in his address to Congress, Mulroney focused on controlling sulphur dioxide, the other key ingredient in acid rain, which comes mainly from coal-burning power stations and other industrial sources. Pointing to the Canadian goal of a 50-per-cent reduction in sulphur dioxide emissions by 1994, the Prime Minister urged the United States to adopt similar targets. At lunch the next day, Reagan told Mulroney that he would have Secretary of State George Shultz make the issue a priority in his upcoming discussions with External Affairs Minister Joe Clark. And he said that Shultz would re-examine the Canadian plan for reducing industrial emissions that Washington rejected outright in January.
Mulroney described the offer as a step forward and the best that Canada could expect. Asked Mulroney: “What do you do? Do you declare war?” But Michael Perley, a co-ordinator of the Toronto-based Canadian Coalition on
Acid Rain, said, “It is a repetition of exactly the same things we have done before without taking into consideration that the previous efforts have resulted in nothing.”
Meanwhile, Mulroney had something to offer the Reagan administration on one of its long-standing grievances. During the last summit meeting in Ottawa in April, 1986, Reagan—a former Hollywood star who has maintained close ties with the movie industrycomplained about Ottawa’s plan to help Canadian-owned film distributors. The proposed legislation, announced by Communications Minister Flora MacDonald more than a year
ago but never presented to Parliament, was intended to encourage the distribution of Canadian movies in Canada. To accomplish that, the government planned to reduce the control that large U.S.-owned distributors have over which movies appear on Canadian movie screens.
The U.S. distributors protested loudly, and Canadian and U.S. officials confirmed last week that Ottawa had worked out a compromise. They refused to give details of the new proposal, but one Canadian distributor welcomed the fact that at least an agreement had been reached. Said Victor Loewy, president of Toronto-based Alliance Releasing Corp.: “Even if it is watered down, it would be better than nothing. The situation for English-language film distributors is pretty bleak.”
Mulroney’s visit also appeared to help clear the way for Ottawa to purchase up to a dozen nuclear-powered submarines for the Canadian Forces. Ottawa has been looking at French-
and British-made submarines. But Ottawa had faced a political obstacle had it wished to choose the British Trafalgar-class vessels. Under an agreement between Britain and the United States, Congress would have to approve their sale to Canada because their nuclear reactor is partly based on U.S. technology. And some senior officers in the navy have expressed strong opposition to any sale of the Trafalgars to Canada.
But in a statement issued by the state department last week, Reagan said that his administration would support Canada if it decided to buy British. Mulroney welcomed that assurance, but it is not a guarantee. Reagan’s influence over Congress is declining as his term enters its final months.
Reagan’s relations with Capitol Hill will likely be more strained than ever when he vetoes the trade bill that was almost three years in the making. The principal thrust of the bill is to punish partners deemed unfair traders. But Reagan’s main objection to the legislation has nothing to do with trade. The bill contains a measure —strongly supported by labor but bitterly opposed by business —that would require large companies to give employees six months notice of plant closings. White House officials have called on Congress to pass another trade bill—without the notice provision —after the veto, but last week that apppeared unlikely to happen. And as the two sides battled, the trade agreement with Canada remained on hold. Congressional leaders who met Mulroney last week were no longer following an earlier schedule of voting on the free trade agreement before the August recess. Instead, they were careful only to commit themselves to a vote by the end of the congressional session in January.
While last week’s summit heralded the end of the Mulroney-Reagan era, the Prime Minister clearly was covering his bets for the future. He met alone with Bush two times and made many references to Bush’s presidential campaign. Clearly, he was already working on perpetuating the annual summit tradition.
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