It took less than an hour last week in the first-ever meeting between Canada’s 20th Prime Minister and the 42nd President of the United States to signal an end to the backslapping bonhomie that has existed between the two country’s leaders during the past nine years. Surrounded by more than half a dozen aides each and shoehomed into a small room in a Seattle hotel, Jean Chrétien and Bill Clinton smiled awkwardly, struggled for small talk and seemed most comfortable when they discussed the policy issues that divide them. After long discussion of their disputes over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Clinton allowed that “we’ve got a good shot at working it out.” An equally restrained Chrétien said that he was “optimistic”—but gave few other details. And with that—and several other equally vague and cautious remarks—the meeting between the two men heading the world’s largest trading partnership was over.
Welcome, then, to the New North American Order. Under Chrétien, Canada’s approach to the United States will be more formal and less publicly enthusiastic than it was under Brian Mulroney.
Those qualities, in turn, will likely be reflected in Washington’s approach to Canada. And both sides, while deepening their trade ties, appear likely to spend more time publicly emphasizing new
ties with other countries. As prime minister, Mulroney sought and succeeded in forming friendships with both Ronald Reagan and George Bush. One reason was Mulroney’s personal admiration for the United States, another was his oft-repeated belief that “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar”— meaning that the strength of such bonds would benefit Canadians. After meeting thenPresident Bush in a visit to Washington in February, 1992, Chrétien offered a scathing
comparison between Mulroney’s style of diplomacy and his own. “Mulroney,” said Chrétien, “cares more about getting other leaders to like him than about getting the things that Canada needs. Me, I understand that in politics there is no room for friendship.” Furthermore, Maclean’s has learned, the change in government in Ottawa may also mean a change in the top Canadian representative in the United States. Some senior Liberals speculate that Chrétien will replace John de
Chastelain, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, after an “appropriate delay” that would probably extend no more than six months. De Chastelain, the former chief of Canada’s defence staff, was appointed to the position by Mulroney last January. Although he has been generally praised by many Canadian and American observers for his performance, some liberais feel that he has insufficient training in economic issues at a time when that is crucial. Most of the change in the bilateral relationship will be cosmetic: analysts on both sides of the border, as well as senior Liberals, agree that the close economic ties and essentially warm feelings between the two countries will remain unchanged. And most of the impetus for any changes will come from the junior partner—Canada. Despite the fact that both coun-
tries have elected new political parties to lead them within the past year, one state department official told Maclean’s: “We do not foresee any notable differences in the way we will get along.” One cause of relief, say American analysts, was Chretien’s decision to name such pro-business fiscal con-
Chrétien signals a new reserve in Canada-U.S. relations
servatives as Finance Minister Paul Martin, International Trade Minister Roy MacLaren and Industry Minister John Manley to key portfolios.
Still, there are some concerns on both sides of the border. For Canadians, the biggest worry came as a result of the protectionist mood in the United States reflected in the debate
over NAFTA. That threatened to affect Canada’s huge merchandise trade surplus with the United States—which, since the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement went into effect on Jan. 1,
1989, has grown from $13.8 billion annually to $16.8 billion last year. As well, Clinton recently showed a willingness to succumb to protectionism when he promised to pursue charges by American farmers that Canadiangrown dumm wheat is sold at unfairly low prices in the United States.
In turn, Washington also has some adjustments to make to the new Canadian government. Unlike the previous Conservative administration—but in keeping with traditional Liberal views—Chrétien is interested in emphasizing distinctions between the two countries. In the early days of his gov-
ernment, one favorite topic of discussion among liberals is the revival of the “Third Option”— the Trudeau-era notion that the key to Canadian economic expansion lies in increasing ties with Pacific Rim countries and others beyond the north Atlantic axis and, consequently, decreasing dependence On traditional partnerships with the United States and Europe.
That, say some observers, merely amounts to accepting an idea that is already becoming increasingly true. In terms of immigration
and trade, “the Pacific is already becoming narrower and the Atlantic Ocean wider,” said Michael Hawes, a political science professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and an expert in Canada-U.S. and Canada-Asia trade relations. In fact, one Chrétien adviser made a point of emphasizing that last week’s Clinton-Chrétien meeting took place “as just one component” of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Seattle.
In part, Chretien’s actions are in keeping with traditional Liberal philosophy that prevailed in his own previous days in cabinet under both Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Both men staked out foreign policy programs that at times differed sharply from American goals and interests. Among those steps: Trudeau kept open ties with the former Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War in the early 1970s; formally recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1970 when the United States still refused to do so; and visited and warmly praised Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro, in 1976.
Still, a divergence on foreign policy between Ottawa and Washington now is unlikely to evoke nearly as much controversy in Washington as it did then. One reason is the demise of communism and the end of the Cold War. Another is that Chrétien and Clinton both appear far more interested than their predecessors in domestic affairs and less passionate about international diplomacy. Although Mulroney and Trudeau held sharply different views, both enjoyed international policy debates and delighted in boasting of their relations with other leaders. Chrétien, by contrast, seldom talks of his brief
stint as external affairs minister in 1984 and demonstrates little interest in the affairs of other countries. Equally, Canadian-American relations do not arouse nearly as much political heat now as they once did in Canada. For years, the New Democratic Party served as the anti-American voice in the House of Commons. But in the new House of Commons, the NDP has been reduced to nine seats, and one of the few points of agreement between the main opposition leaders, Lucien Bouchard of the Bloc Québécois and Reformer Preston Manning, is that both emphasize U.S. relations.
All of that means that Chrétien is likely to speak softly—but wield the biggest stick he feels he can manage towards an infinitely more powerful neighbor. Chrétien and Clinton’s small talk bordered on the painful last week: the best the Prime Minister could manage in expressing enthusiasm for the United States to Clinton was a reference to the fact that his late father, Wellie, was bom in New Hampshire. But aides suggest that Chrétien is content to make his points to the Americans with a minimum of fanfare. A Chrétien aide said that, shortly after taking office, the Prime Minister spoke with a senior U.S. state department official to express his concern that the White House is trying to chip away at sections of the Free Trade Agreement protecting Canadian cultural institutions. Now, it is Washington’s turn to come to grips with a Prime Minister who prides himself on speaking from the heart.
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