It was a small, but possibly prophetic indicator of future Canadian American relations. The 50 governors of the United States were
meeting in Boise, Idaho, with seven Canadian premiers as their guests. But as the 1986 meeting progressed, the Canadians were clearly growing uneasy when the governors launched a bitter verbal attack against another foreign guest—the Japanese ambassador to Washington—over his country’s trade policies. Then, during a conference break, one of the governors approached then-New Brunswick pre-
mier Richard Hatfield, a longtime acquaintance, with words of assurance. “He said, ‘I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen to you, ”
Hatfield recalled last week. “And when our turn came to speak, he basically asked what I would call sweetheart questions. Of all the governors, he was the one who seemed to be the most favorably disposed toward us.” The friendly American governor was Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who is currently running 13 points ahead of George Bush, his Re-
publican rival for the presidency, in public opinion polls.
If Dukakis maintains that lead and wins the November election, Canadians may have the most sympathetic incumbent in history in the White House. Dukakis has taken a leading role on issues high on Ottawa’s agenda-urging strict federal emission controls to reduce acid rain and speaking out in favor of the Canadian-U.S. free trade agreement. And as a member of the New England Governors’ Association, he has met during each of his eight years in office with his Quebec and Maritime counterparts for a three-day annual conference on alternating sides of the border. Unlike many of his fellow governors, Dukakis never skipped a meeting. Said Hatfield: “Dukakis has a better appreciation of Canada than any American politician I know.” Agreed Nova Scotia premier John Buchanan: “He understands our problems.”
Friends: Those gatherings between the New England governors and the Canadian premiers—which Dukakis has called “one of the best things I think I do as governor” —have forged lasting friendships across the border. Dukakis knows the premiers by their first names, and to the former Quebec premier, René Lévesque, who died last year, he once showed the ultimate sign
of affection. When the chain-smoking Lévesque turned up in his State House office in Boston—where not even the governor’s wife, Kitty, dares sneak a cigarette—the militantly nonsmoking Dukakis personally went to find an ashtray for him.
But most important of all, the annual get-togethers have given Dukakis a firmer grasp on Canadian concerns than most Canadians have themselves. In an interview last week with Maclean ’s he could quote statistics on Canadian energy consumption and
health care costs with perfect recall. That expertise stood in marked contrast to Ronald Reagan’s performance during a Maclean's interview three years ago, when the president had to be briefed by an aide for 20 minutes beforehand.
Grasp: Thomas Axworthy, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who met Dukakis while teaching at Harvard’s Centre for International Affairs three years ago, says he is deeply impressed by the governor’s grasp of Canadian issues. Said Axworthy last week: “He has dealt with all these issues, from energy and the environment to fishing. He understands the Canadian nuances. For Canada, [his election] could not be better. You don’t want to spend most of your meeting with the President educating him about your region.”
As governor, Dukakis has been a leading critic of Reagan’s slow progress on acid rain. Said Dukakis: “I think it’s really sad when the Prime Minister of Canada returns from Washington, as he did the other day, and in effect says, T can’t report any progress.’ It’s an affront to you and very damaging to us.” Dukakis’s interest in the subject stems from more than neighborliness. As he pointed out,
“I have more acid in the rain falling on my state than any other state in the country.”
And he promised that, if elect ed, he would set a national goal of cutting sulphur diox ide emissions by 12 million tons a year over a 10-year peri od-the sort of precise target that the Reagan admininstra tion has avoided setting. As well, Dukakis noted that Mas sachusetts has reduced sul phate emissions from two of its major power plants by con verting them from oil to coal and adding costly smokestack scrubbers. "We've got to pay a little more for our electric-
ity,” he said. “But what are you talking about? A half a cent a kilowatt-hour more? The technology exists to clean this up and if it means we have to pay a little more, we should do so.”
Honor: Most Canadian politicians who know the governor appear confident that he would honor his undertakings on acid rain if elected to the White House. Said Quebec Environment Minister Clifford Lincoln, who meets regularly with Dukakis: “He always struck me as a doer, an achiever. I think on the environment he would be the very best person for us.”
On the Canadian-U.S. free trade agreement, Dukakis says that he believes the U.S. Senate will ratify the accord, “but that on the Canadian side there will be major political problems.” Added Dukakis: “I gather that is going to be a nasty fight.” But he hesitated on whether he would have endorsed a dispute-settling mechanism, as Canadian officials demanded. “If you approve an agreement and then you go to arbitration every time somebody has a problem, then it is going to be very difficult,” he told Maclean's.
Hatfield recalls that, despite crossborder disputes on potatoes or fishing on the disputed Georges Bank, Dukakis consistently tried to avoid confrontation. Said Hatfield: “He was more interested in good relations between the two countries than in fighting specific issues. He knows you cannot get anywhere beating your shoe on the table; you’ve got to work things out.” Gleam: Canadians who have spent time with Dukakis have been struck by his passionate interest in issues such as Quebec’s separatist movement. And Dukakis deluged Axworthy and others with questions about Canada’s health care system. Recalled Axworthy: “There was obviously a gleam in his eye. I was not surprised that two years later he brought out a [Massachusetts] health care bill.” Dukakis insists that the legislation—passed only last month and falling far short of Canadian universal coverage —is modelled on a bill proposed by Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. But, he added, “The fact that you have had a functioning and well-regarded health care system that provides coverage for all Canadians was an inspiration.”
Through a web of personal ties, both Kitty and Michael Dukakis also have a genuine affection for Canada. On a campaign plane two weeks ago, Kitty sought out a Maclean ’s reporter to reminisce about her girlhood summers spent at Notre Dame du Portage, Quebec. There, she first learned to ride a horse— and, she said, developed clever excuses for avoiding dips in the frigid St. Lawrence River. Years later when, as the governor’s wife, she became involved in the campaign to clean up Boston’s polluted harbor, she made a trip to Montreal to study what then-mayor Jean Drapeau had done. Said Clifford Lincoln: “She is very close to the way Canadians and Quebecers feel.”
The governor also forged a friendship with Barney Danson, the Canadian consul general in Boston from 1984 to 1986, and his wife, Isobel. The two couples dined frequently at each other’s homes. And Danson once invited the Dukakises to Toronto for a baseball game where the Blue Jays were pitted against the Boston Red Sox. Danson’s son Timothy, now a Toronto lawyer, remembers that Dukakis did his best to restrain his exultation when the Red Sox surged to victory. Recalled Danson: “You could see he was trying very hard to be diplomatic.”
Debate: On another occasion, the Dansons introduced Dukakis to one of their visiting house guests, Pierre Trudeau. They watched in fascination as the two cerebral leaders engaged each other in animated debate. Indeed, Axworthy regards Dukakis as the only politician he knows who could equal Trudeau in both intellect and grasp of public policy, although he says he lacks Trudeau’s “electricity.” It is an assessment with which Kitty Dukakis seems to agree. Said the governor’s wife: “Trudeau is one of the most charismatic men I’ve ever met.”
Still, some observers caution that Dukakis’s affection for and expertise about his neighbors to the north could also make him a formidable opponent. Said Hatfield: “If he becomes president, Canada will have to take him very seriously because he cannot be bluffed. We would have a friend in the White House, but not a sucker.”
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