After months of preparation as chairman of the 14th annual economic summit, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney outlined his hopes for the Toronto meeting in an interview with Maclean’s. During the two-hour exchange—one day before his anniversary as Conservative leader—Mulroney discussed his relationships with the other summit leaders and some domestic issues. Excerpts:
Maclean’s: How would you describe the mood of the summits?
Mulroney: I have a very good relationship with President Reagan—very friendly. I know Margaret Thatcher on a first-name basis. So we talk about families, children, various problems that we all encounter. These are countries that we have everything in common with—the most prosperous in the world. There is a commonality of lifestyle, of values, of military perceptions and of defence arrangements.
Maclean’s: On a personal level, what effect does that have?
Mulroney: There is a great understanding of one another as politicians. The only way you get there is by being elected head of one of the seven most powerful countries in the Western world. There is a healthy respect for anybody around that table who can do that. But there will also be a sharing of anecdotes, funny stories and some very robust, vigor-
ous exchanges of views. Everyone there knows all about politics. We have been up and down and kicked around, and sometimes admired and oftentimes criticized, but we are all in the same boat. We understand the fundamental rules, and rule No. 1 is if you get elected, you’re there. Maclean’s: How have the summits changed over the years?
Mulroney: Originally, they were much more informal. But they have become over the years bureaucratized. Some
would say that the atmosphere is stultified. If we wanted to put a comma into the communiqué, that would take five advisers; a “notwithstanding” would take a couple of dozen; and to put it in English, French and Japanese, that would take a small army. I said, this thing is crazy.
Maclean’s: Will this summit differ from previous summits?
Mulroney: This is supposed to be an economic summit, but in the past you
would arrive and go straight to a working dinner to deal with politics. So, right off the bat, you were removed from the key agenda. Now, to avoid that, after everybody checks in on Sunday there will be a separate session with the leaders alone to talk about economics —dull, unglamorous, indispensable economics. No one is coming there with any speeches. I have asked Margaret to lead off here. She is a good spontaneous speaker, which not everybody is.
Maclean’s: If your goal is to keep the summit informal, was it a mistake to hold it in downtown Toronto? Mulroney: No. Toronto is the bestkept secret of the industrialized world. It is one of the most civilized, cultured, attractive places to live, and it ranks, in my judgment, at the top of the league in terms of quality of life, economic progress and multicultural vitality. So I want them to see Toronto and to work in it. Also, Toronto has the facilities which are needed for these things to run efficiently. After the Commonwealth summit in Vancouver last year, Margaret wrote me a long handwritten note saying that she thought it was one of the most efficiently run meetings. And, quite frankly, I want Toronto to get a head start in [its bid for the 1996 Summer] Olympics. Maclean’s: Are there other changes in the way you are going to run the meeting?
Mulroney: On the second day, there is a separate informal session. This is an opportunity for the leaders to speak to the future. This session came about because of a concern I have about the kind of problems that never get attention in Canada. For example, illiteracy—one out of four Canadians is functionally illiterate, and this is astonishing. We are also inviting their views on issues such as education and training. It is openended. At dinner, we can deal with related concerns like the environment arid drugs. Drugs are a major problem for all of us.
Maclean’s: Will that restore the credibility of economic summits?
Mulroney: I think it will help. When I went to everyone with these suggestions, they were enthusiastically received. Everyone said, ‘Thank God for that. This is going to be great— and, by the way, I want to talk about such and such.’
Maclean’s: You have called for a reduction in agricultural subsidies, particularly in Europe. When you were in Europe last month, you disputed OECD
figures showing that Canadian farm subsidies differ little proportionately from those in Europe. Do you expect any breakthroughs at the summit? Mulroney: I don’t think anything will happen overnight. The Canadian farm community is very supportive of what we are trying to do. They know bloody well that they are not in the same league as the Europeans. Everyone knows that. They are very saddened by the unfairness of that claim.
Maclean’s: But if the Europeans refuse to budge, will Canada act on its own to reduce agricultural subsidies? Mulroney: No, no, I’m not saying that. This can only be done in tandem. This is why there has to be common action. I will not let a single Canadian farmer go down the chute because he and his family have been put out of work by an artificial, trade-distorting subsidy paid by one of our competitors. Having said that, if we agree that we have got to change our attitudes and begin pumping some of this money into other areas, then Canada will be a part of it. Maclean’s: Are you worried that the European nations will launch yet another counterattack on Canadian agricultural subsidies?
Mulroney: No. The only negative review that we received was from a few Canadian reporters who accepted a piece of paper from a faceless bureaucrat in the European Community. That was the ultimate in unprofessionalism, and it did a grave disservice to Canadian farmers. If a Canadian reporter went to see the Germans or the French and said, ‘By the way, the Canadians are as bad as you are,’ they would laugh them out of town. I have acknowledged many times that we are in the subsidy business. We’re in the business because we were driven into it. Aid to agriculture under my government has increased very dramatically, and one of the reasons has g been this war, this shootout.
Maclean’s: Recently, § Canada announced that it was writing off a substantial percentage of loans to the poorest African countries. Are you planning any new initiatives? Mulroney: I think Third World debt is probably one of the most urgent matters confronting us. My point is that if some dramatic gesture is not begun by somebody, nothing is going to happen. The Canadian initiative is already done. The French are now coming forward with their own plan to forgive African debt, the Germans are on to it, and this is tremendous. I think we can expect some progress on the debts of the poorest of the poor countries. Not that I am expecting any miracles, but we have irons in the fire, and I am encouraged.
Maclean’s: In the past few weeks, interest rates have risen in Canada in an apparent attempt to hold down prices. Are the seven leaders worried about a new spiral of inflation?
Mulroney: The principal objective of the summit is to sustain a climate of noninflationary economic growth. This is what it is all about. I am concerned about interest rates, and everybody is. But Canada’s economic growth in the next two years will be second only to Japan’s. Our unemployment rate is continuing to fall. Where the problem comes is in some of the Euro-
pean countries where there is strong growth but fewer jobs. So a key consideration has to be to get inflation down.
Maclean’s: Some people have suggested that little can be accomplished at this summit because the head of the world's most powerful economy, Ronald Reagan, is, in effect, a lame-duck president.
Mulroney: It has always astonished me, that expression dame duck. ’ Here is a guy who has just come back from the Soviet Union and who is pushing through the free trade agreement with Canada. He is as vigorous as you are ever going to see anyone, even close to that age. He’s leading the most powerful economy in the world and he is the most popular president in the recent history of the United States, and some people think he’s a lame duck. I can only speak for myself, but I can tell you when Ronald Reagan shows up at a meeting—maybe somebody else can give another point of view, but I want to give you mine—believe me, you’re not talking to a lame duck. You’re talking to a vigorous, very dynamic guy who is in charge of his business and knows what he wants to do. Maclean’s: From a domestic political standpoint, what do you expect to gain from the summit?
Mulroney: With foreign affairs, I believe politically that you gain very little by doing a good job. That’s what Canadians expect—to conduct yourself with dignity and some class. So you gain very little politically, but let me tell you, you can lose a hell of a lot if something is improperly handled.
This is Canada’s summit. There’s going to be a special focus on Canada and a unique focus on Toronto. I want the mechanics to go well. I want the leaders and the world’s press to speak well of Canada and of how they are treated. And, on the substance, I hope that what we put together will be a little more informal, a little more spontaneous, a little more productive.
Maclean’s: But will that lead to anything concrete?
Mulroney: It’s not that kind of thing. An unheralded accomplishment for Canada is that we are there. And it’s important for President Reagan, Mrs. Thatcher, Chancellor Kohl to understand the nuances of what is going on. To say ‘Look, I was in Toronto, and Chancellor Kohl said he was going to do a, b, c and d. And that’s what he did—or didn’t do.’ So a summit has its own special value beyond the kinds of accomplishments to which we can point. □
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