CANADA

A WORKING HOLIDAY

BETWEEN FISHING AND TENNIS, NORTH AMERICA’S TWO MOST POWERFUL LEADERS DISCUSS THE ISSUES

HILARY MACKENZIE September 11 1989
CANADA

A WORKING HOLIDAY

BETWEEN FISHING AND TENNIS, NORTH AMERICA’S TWO MOST POWERFUL LEADERS DISCUSS THE ISSUES

HILARY MACKENZIE September 11 1989

A WORKING HOLIDAY

CANADA

BETWEEN FISHING AND TENNIS, NORTH AMERICA’S TWO MOST POWERFUL LEADERS DISCUSS THE ISSUES

With any other two families, the 40-minute boat ride last week might have been simply a carefree outing in the late New England summer. But they were not ordinary families. On the seats of the 28-foot speedboat Fidelity, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, his wife, Mila, and their four children—Caroline, 15, Benedict, 13, Mark, 11, and Nicolas, 4— huddled together out of the wind as President George Bush pulled hard on the throttle, sending up a wave of chill Atlantic spray from the craft’s sleek blue bow. In high-speed pursuit of Fidelity were two other boats, crewed by Secret Service bodyguards. A United States Coast Guard dinghy loaded with radar and filled with agents wearing trademark dark glasses pushed some 30 knots to overtake the Presi-

dent’s craft, and a white Coast Guard cutter plied the horizon. Three more speedboats carrying American television crews and a fourth manned by print reporters joined the armada—under strict instructions to stay at least 300 feet away as the two leaders unexpectedly discussed several serious issues.

On the nearby shoreline, a heavily armed counter-assault team stood by in black vans, and a team of frogmen periodically combed the ocean floor around the $2-million presidential retreat at Kennebunkport, 40 km south of Portland, Me. For the two most powerful politicians in North America, it was all part of the routine of a working holiday, freighted with the agenda of international affairs.

The 26-hour trip was at first billed by Canadian and U.S. officials as a private visit

between the leaders and their families, but the realities of government intervened. When they were not fishing, swimming or playing horseshoes or tennis, Mulroney and Bush spent more than four hours discussing common concerns. High on the list were Bush’s plans to step up his campaigns against the Colombian drug trade and Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. The two men also talked over recent free trade irritants, including last week’s confirmation of a punitive U.S. duty on Canadian pork (page 17) and complaints among some of Bush’s Maine neighbors that imported Canadian lobsters have driven down prices for the local catch.

The visit to Kennebunkport, a coastal resort dotted with ornate Victorian clapboard hotels, mansion-style cottages and exclusive yacht clubs, marked the fifth meeting between the two leaders in eight months, but it was the first time since 1956 that a Canadian prime minister had visited a president on a social call. In December of that year, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, vacationing in Florida, was invited to play golf with then-President Dwight Eisenhower at the president’s favorite winter course in Augusta, Ga.

As the new site of the Summer White House, Kennebunkport, once a sleepy refuge for wellheeled gentry from New York and Boston, has become a world power centre. Security around the 11-acre Bush compound is tight: armed Secret Service agents search cars for bombs, pass metal detectors over visitors and subject media equipment to the sensitive noses of sniffer dogs. State troopers often close Ocean Avenue, the road that runs past the Bush compound on Walker’s Point, for the arrival of visiting dignitaries. In contrast to the heavy security blanketing the President, Mulroney and his family travelled with a minimum security detail of six RCMP officers—and the agents were required by U.S. law to check their weapons at the border.

Against a backdrop of icy North Atlantic breakers pounding the rocky Maine shoreline, the Mulroneys and the Bushes were nearly always occupied. After arriving at the Pease air force base in New Hampshire on Wednesday afternoon, the Mulroney party was flown by Marine helicopter to the Bush compound, where they were greeted by George and Barbara Bush, a five-year-old granddaughter, Ellie, and the family springer spaniel, Millie. The group boat ride was followed by a swim in a saltwater pool, after which the two families sat down to a dinner of grilled swordfish, broiled lobster, fresh beets, Maine corn and a meringue fruit dessert. Before retiring for the night, the Prime Minister and the President snatched their first opportunity to talk privately during a stroll around the compound.

The casual surroundings cast the two leaders in a light very different from the formality that dominates Ottawa and Washington, revealing very distinct personal styles. Presidential aides warned Mulroney’s assistants in ad-

vance that the Bush family dresses—and behaves—casually at the summer retreat. The Mulroneys obligingly packed jeans for the children, whites for the tennis court, walking shorts for Mila and an array of casual sweaters for the Prime Minister. Still, in comparison with the sweat pants and Texas Rangers sweat top sported by the American First Lady, Mulroney’s family never shed its svelte urban air. Mila Mulroney arrived wearing a checked green pantsuit, a hot-red bow in her hair matching her red handbag and low leather pumps. Mulroney sported his trademark Gucci loafers and thick wool socks.

It was equally clear that the two leaders have very different tastes in recreation. Bush, an avid sportsman, was visibly embarrassed by his failure to hook a fish during his 14-day vacation. Mulroney, by contrast, has never seemed entirely at home with cottage life. Asked what outdoor activities Mulroney enjoys, a close friend remarked, “He likes to talk on the telephone.”

The two men did discover one common routine on the morning of the visit’s second day—they both rose before 8 a.m. and wandered downstairs alone for breakfast. The two leaders shared the meal—an egg and a muffin for Mulroney and bacon and eggs for Bush—on the terrace, where the President briefed the Prime Minister on the strategy he planned to announce this week to combat the international drug trade. Later, Mulroney sat in while National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft gave Bush his regular morning briefing on international developments.

At a brief news conference after lunch, Bush and Mulroney met reporters on the compound lawn. His back to the ocean, Mulroney committed Canada to support Bush’s fight against the Colombian drug barons. “Venal, corrupt individuals,” declared Mulroney, are destroying the youth of both Canada and the United States. Mulroney added that he would not be satisfied with Bush’s U.S. Clean Air legislative package until Canada and the United States had signed an accord limiting the amount of acid rain emissions crossing the border into Canada. But the two leaders did resolve to settle outstanding irritants in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Said a clearly conciliatory Bush: “There are still bumps in the road, areas that he [Mulroney] and I need to discuss to iron out these bumps.”

As the two men headed off for a game of Bush’s beloved horseshoes in the late afternoon sun, they appeared genuinely comfortable with each other. While much was made of Mulroney’s friendship with former president Ronald Reagan—based largely on their shared Irish ancestry—the goodwill was not always reflected in relations between the two countries. With Reagan’s unpretentious successor, there may be more room for constructive cooperation toward solving the many problems that confront the continental neighbors.

HILARY MACKENZIE

LISA VAN DUSEN

BRIAN BETHUNE