In her nearly seven years as a federal cabinet minister, Barbara McDougall says that she has absorbed an important lesson about the meetings she attends. “When there are many people at a meeting, there is a multilateral dynamic,” declared McDougall, who became Canada’s external affairs minister three months ago.
“But when you have only a few, and they are very senior, the personal chemistry becomes crucial.” As she prepared for her role in last week’s Group of Seven summit, she said, that consideration caused her both trepidation and exhilaration. Said McDougall of the London meeting, which included presidents, prime ministers and their finance and foreign ministers: “There are 21 people in a room discussing matters that affect the whole world, and three of them are Canadian. That is an enormous thing.”
In statistical terms, Canada’s presence at the summit was marginal. Its gross domestic product of $678 billion last year is the smallest among G-7 members. Because of that, Canadian officials acknowledged that Ottawa’s role is limited in G-7 decision-making. But they argue that Canada can—and, this year, did—play a key role in brokering agreements among larger countries and pushing for a handful of concerns that are specific to Canadian interests. Declared McDougall: “We achieved everything that we could reasonably hope for.” Fishing: In fact, the evidence appeared to bear out that claim. In pre-summit meetings, Canadian officials, including Finance Minister Donald Mazankowski, said that their major domestic goals were a successful resolution to the stalled trade talks under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), as well as new controls on maritime environmental protection and controls to prevent overfishing. On international matters, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said that he planned to press
for a greater role for the United Nations in global conflict resolution and a tighter rein on international arms sales. At the close of the summit, some progress was evident in those areas.
Members of the Canadian delegation ex-
pressed particular satisfaction with the inclusion of two little-noticed but potentially significant paragraphs in the summit’s final economic declaration. In one, leaders called for measures to protect “living marine resources threatened by overfishing and other harmful practices.” Another paragraph called for the development of a “comprehensive approach to the oceans and regional seas.” Of the seven summit members, Canada is most affected by overfishing, with foreign trawlers crowding the Canadian coastal waters.
As well, Mulroney made a passionate appeal for a solution to the GATT stalemate over the massive subsidies that some nations offer their farmers. At the close of the G-7 meeting, the leaders said that they were determined to resolve the issue by the end of 1992 and
declared their intention to become “personally involved if necessary” to reach that goal.
Senior Canadian officials also credited Mulroney with playing a key role in setting the tone for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit. In his opening remarks to other G-7 leaders, Mulroney suggested that they recall the state of global politics when Gorbachev came to power in 1985, when the Berlin Wall divided Germany, the Kremlin dominated Communist Eastern Europe and the relationship between Moscow and Washington was based on the strength of their then-growing nuclear arsenals. Declared Mulroney: “If we had known then that he would change all that, we would have been lining up in front of him saying, ‘How much [assistance] do you need to succeed?’ ”
Credits: When Gorbachev appeared in front of the G-7 leaders, a senior Canadian official, who asked that his name not be used, said that Mulroney took a “blunt but sympathetic approach.” The Prime Minister cited the difficulties that a number of Canadian businessmen have experienced in investing in the Soviet Union, including the Reichmann brothers of Toronto, who own real estate giant Olympia & York Developments Ltd. (page 31). Until Gorbachev dismantles the bureaucratic obstacles such entrepreneurs now face, said Mulroney, “investors will be discouraged, and you will be unable to help yourselves.” In a later one-on-one meeting, Mulroney told Gorbachev that Canada would lift a freeze it had placed on $150 million in food credits to Moscow. Ottawa had blocked that aid after a Soviet military crackdown in the Baltic republics earlier this year.
As well, Mulroney offered the Soviets technical assistance, worth an estimated $10 million, on six projects in agriculture, energy and the environment. Canadian officials argued that the aid, as well as improved ties with such international groups as the G-7, is more important to Gorbachev’s reforms than an immediate infusion of money. Declared McDougall: “He needs to be a player in world events.”
And that, added McDougall, is a consideration that Canadians should also make as they look at their own future. She added: “If we let our country break up, we no longer belong to this very exclusive group. People in Quebec and the rest of Canada should look at this meeting and ask if we really want to lose our place in it.” For her, and other members of the Canadian delegation, that is a reminder that a successful role in international problem-solving depends on similar successes at home.
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