CANADA

A SYMBOLIC VISIT

MULRONEY: ‘A VERY MEASURABLE PROGRESS.' BUSH: IT IS ‘TOO EARLY’ TO SET A TIMETABLE

THERESA TEDESCO February 20 1989
CANADA

A SYMBOLIC VISIT

MULRONEY: ‘A VERY MEASURABLE PROGRESS.' BUSH: IT IS ‘TOO EARLY’ TO SET A TIMETABLE

THERESA TEDESCO February 20 1989

A SYMBOLIC VISIT

CANADA

MULRONEY: ‘A VERY MEASURABLE PROGRESS.' BUSH: IT IS ‘TOO EARLY’ TO SET A TIMETABLE

With a quick tug at his grey wool overcoat and a shiver to acknowledge the -18°C cold of Ottawa, George Bush descended from Air Force One last week in Ottawa to begin his first workday abroad as president. Accompanied by his wife, Barbara, and five of his senior staff members, the 64-year-old Bush waited for several minutes while Canadian Forces officials wrestled with an unwieldy, windblown red carpet on the tarmac. As he walked toward a welcoming Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila, Bush was clearly impressed by an honor guard of twelve scarlet-jacketed Mounties. Marvelled the President to Mulroney: “They look so beautiful standing at attention like that.”

The first Bush-Mulroney visit lasted just six hours. It was organized by U.S. officials in 10 days instead of the month or more of preparations that preceded each of former president Ronald Reagan’s five visits to Canada over eight years. Beginning at Government House guest lodge, where they sipped Montclair mineral water, and later over a lunch of seafood bisque, garnished with roasted pumpkin, and roast lamb at 24 Sussex Drive, Bush and Mulroney talked for four hours about EastWest relations, U.S. policy in Central America and the global environment. The highlight of the event: Mulroney obtained the President’s firm, but undefined, commitment to enter a bilateral accord to curb acid rain after he obtains tougher domestic legislation to deal with the emotionally charged issue. Bush had first pledged to take action a day earlier in an address to a joint session of Congress (box, page 12).

Mulroney began the Government House guest lodge meeting—an official who attended told Maclean’s that the only light moments revolved around talk of their election victories

last November—by congratulating Bush on the speech and reminding him that he expected concrete American action on air pollution. In his response, Bush made no mention of the issue, saying only that he chose to visit Canada early in his four-year term to underscore the importance of the relationship between the two countries. But Mulroney refused to be sidetracked. Said the Prime Minister: “We have taken steps to get our own house in order, and that is obviously what you intend to do first.” He praised Bush’s plan to introduce

domestic legislation to curb sulphur dioxide emissions as a first step in securing a bilateral accord.

But when the two men emerged after lunch, a restrained Mulroney told reporters that he would have preferred a commitment from the United States with firm targets and dates. He added: “While I suppose I’m like a lot of people who would like it done tomorrow in this area, I know it’s not going to happen, but this represents a very measurable progress.” When Mulroney called for one last question, Bush, who is

recovering from laryngitis, switched unexpectedly to French: “C’estfme pourmoi”(“Fine by me”). Then he turned to Mulroney and said, “It’s colder than hell out here.” Asked in English when the United States would begin to reduce acid rain emissions, the President replied: ‘‘Qu’est-ce que c’est la question? Je ne comprends pas” (“What is the question? I do not understand”). Bush added that it is “too early” to set a specific timetable for reductions. Then, replying to a question about whether he and Mulroney generally agreed on issues of East-West relations, the President

again switched to French, replying, “ Certainement.” At that point, Mulroney stepped forward and said, “May I introduce you to my new Quebec lieutenant?”

With the Free Trade Agreement secured, Mulroney and Canadian officials are now demanding quick, effective action on acid rain. Just before the President’s visit, Canada’s new ambassador to the United States, Derek Burney, told Bush that he was under strict orders from Mulroney to secure a commitment from Washington to offer cleanup subsidies to U.S. industry and a timetable for tough emission standards. Said Burney: “Acid rain is the one

anomaly in our otherwise remarkable record.” In his speech to Congress, Bush repeated his campaign declaration on acid rain, saying that “the time for study alone has passed, and the time for action is now.” Still, he did not indicate when the proposed initiatives would begin, although he announced that he would soon propose a new, updated Clean Air Act to Congress. The proposal was greeted with cheers on the congressional floor, but it remains a controversial issue among congressmen from the industrial Midwest and autoproducing regions.

On the trade front, the leaders avoided specific discussion on individual bilateral disputes. But Bush and Mulroney did exchange congratulatory remarks on the merits of the FTA and pledged to ensure its proper implementation. To that end, International Trade Minister John Crosbie and U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, who also met privately last week in Ottawa, will host on March 13 the first meeting of the Trade Commission, the body that will oversee the implementation of free trade.

The first real test of the FTA could emerge soon, with Canada seeking to use the dispute settlement mechanism to resolve its objections to the U.S. grading systems for plywood and wool. Canadian steel exports could also pose another problem. A voluntary export restraint imposed by Washington against foreign steelmakers in 1984—which has exempted Canadian steel—has to be renewed this year. During his election campaign, Bush said that the Canadian exemption should be extended, but members of the American steel industry, which has launched antidumping petitions against Canadian steel exports, are demanding its removal. After the Ottawa meeting, however, Mulroney said that he was reassured that the exemption will continue.

In contrast to the four summit meetings between Mulroney and Reagan, last week’s get-together was a low-key affair. There was no repetition of the spontaneous enthusiasm that marked the first ReaganMulroney meeting, in Quebec City on St. Patrick’s Day, 1985, where the two leaders, who share Irish backgrounds, joined in singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.

In the days before Bush’s trip, officials from both sides repeatedly cautioned against expecting any concrete results from the meeting—particularly on acid rain. And in the United States, there appeared to be only a passing interest in Bush’s preparations for his first foreign trip as president—partly because of his absorption in domestic politics. For one thing, he had to prepare his congressional speech. For another, he was besieged with questions

about the ethical and moral conduct of his nominee for secretary of defence, John Tower, a former Texas senator who is facing allegations that he has a history of alcoholism, philandering and accepting payments from defence contractors.

At the same time, the process of appointments to the new administration has been slow, and no one had been named to head the Canada desk at the state department—the most critical position for co-ordinating relations with Ottawa. Said one White House media official on the eve of the visit: “It has been very difficult to get people to focus on Canada. First, they don’t know what they need to focus on, and second, there’s no one to do the focusing.”

As a result, details of Bush’s visit accounted for just 11 minutes of the weekly 90minute briefing for White House reporters—compared with the hour-long briefings Canadian officials gave reporters in Ottawa. Said Stephen Clarkson, political science professor at the University of Toronto: “Bush wants a quick, cheap and easy foreign-policy victory. What better place for him to go?” Added a senior Canadian official: “The point of the summit is to maintain the precedent because of the special relationship. We would be wounded if he went to Italy first.”

Officials from both countries also described

the visit as a signal and a gesture to any Canadians who might still be bitter after last fall’s inflammatory federal-election debate over free trade. In fact, Rozanne Ridgway,

assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, said at a Washington media briefing that U.S. officials were taken aback at some of the anti-American rhetoric during the campaign. Added Ridgway: “There was surprise at the extent to which there was a rather

passionate feeling about the relationship.” To that end, Canadian and American officials announced last week in Ottawa that they had reached an agreement on the establishment of a binational commission to foster educational and cultural exchanges—modelled on the U.S. Fulbright Fellowship, a well-respected academic exchange program.

While their husbands huddled in their working sessions, Mila Mulroney and Barbara Bush visited some preschool children at the Mont Saint-Joseph convent. The leaders’ wives took turns reading a story about owls to the children, who were clearly pleased with Bush’s compelling imitation of an owl’s “woo, woo.” Asked by a precocious child what she did for a living, Bush replied: “I spend three hours answering my mail and I work with the hungry, the homeless, people who have AIDS. But it’s all so much fun and it’s so important, that I don’t feel it’s work.” Mulroney res plied that she took care of a î big house and arranged din¿ ner parties. The two women 5 appeared content to enjoy their initial official encoun-

ter—which, observers

agreed, was what their husbands would have to settle for as well.

THERESA TEDESCO

MARCI MCDONALD

HILARY MACKENZIE