CANADA AND THE UNITED STATES—A TWO-WAY STREET?
February 14, 1985
The President Catherine R. Charlton, M.A., Chairman
Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen: Halfway through the club year, I have come up with what posterity will probably refer to as "Charlton's Law." It goes like this:
"The difficulty of adequately introducing an Empire Club speaker increases in geometric proportion, to the sum of that speaker's achievement."
The significance of Charlton's Law is, understandably, too profound to be grasped immediately, so let us just say that it is extremely hard to condense the achievements and the vividness of a life like Katharine Graham's, into the allotted two or three minutes.
The daughter of a highly successful Wall Street financier and national publisher, the late, great Eugene Meyer, our distinguished guest, when in her late teens, must have looked to an outsider to be inevitably destined for the cocooned life of most daughters born in the lap of luxury. But nothing could be further from the actuality. In her late teens she left, on her own decision, the cloistered and sheltered atmosphere of Vassar College and moved to the somewhat unsheltered campus of the University of Chicago. Soon, she was taking time out from her studies to hand out leaflets against sweatshops, and to serve coffee to striking steel workers.
On graduation, she took on one of the toughest beats a reporter can cover - the labour and waterfront beat for the San Francisco News, one of her father's most struggling publications. After this baptism, she joined the editorial staff of the doughty Washington Post, purchased by her father in the 1930s for the sum of $800,000. In 1940 she married Philip Graham, a man who six years later became publisher of this paper. After the death of her father in 1959, and of her husband four years later, Mrs. Graham met face on the challenge of being sole owner of the Washington Post Company. This includes a large network of associated companies, including several television stations in the United States, a major stock interest in two giant newsprint companies (one, the Bowater-Mersey plant in Nova Scotia), and several well-known publications such as the International Herald Tribune, Newsweek magazine and the Los Angeles Times. "Miss Kay" was at the helm in 1971, when the Washington Post and the New York Times broke the news of the Pentagon Papers, exposing the double talk of government officials during the Viet Nam War. Again, she was at the helm in 1972 through 1974 when the Post, with consummate journalistic skill, unveiled the Watergate scandal.
Clearly among the most influential people in the United States, Mrs. Graham is under continuous pressure from book publishers to write her autobiography. She replies that the only book she might be interested in writing would be one on management - and who could be better qualified than the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of a huge and very-much-alive complex such as the Washington Post Company?
Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Katharine Graham.
Madam President, distinguished guests and fellow North Americans. It is a great honour to be here today. I am especially pleased that my visit coincides with the tenure of the first president of the Empire Club since 1903 who is a ... person. (One can only imagine what sins the first woman committed to cause an 82-year hiatus.) In any event, my congratulations and thanks to you, Madam President.
Let us dispense for the moment with the well-worn phrases about our 4,000-mile undefended border and the harmonious relations between our two countries. Only fifty years ago Canada had, as part of its defence strategy, a plan to launch a pre-emptive strike into the United States. This suggests to me that we Yanks had better not take our relationship with Canada for granted. The problem is we so often do. So today I would like to talk about why we in the United States do not know or seem to care about Canada as much as we should, and I will give special attention to the role of the press in this state of affairs. Finally, I will suggest a few things I think we could do to make things better.
It occurs to me there are several impediments to our understanding and appreciating Canada. First there are the incorrect assumptions. As Walter Mondale quipped to Ronald Reagan during our recent presidential campaign: "It's not what you don't know that bothers me. It's what you think you know, but you don't." We think we know about Canada. Because we both originated as British colonies, share a continent and are committed to the principles of democracy, it is easy to assume we are alike. But, in fact, our national characters have been shaped by different events - such as a Revolution and Civil War, in our case; and the challenges of the Commonwealth, and the richness of two founding languages and cultures in yours.
Our two forms of government produce different attitudes as well. Canada has a tradition of Empire, a parliamentary system and strong provincial governments. Canadians accept governmental action to a degree not found in the United States. To some people in our country, it seems the Canadian social state resembles European, rather than American models. At the same time, the traditional U.S. separation of powers is difficult for those outside our country to understand - and even for some of us on the inside. If the President were a strong leader, people think, certainly he could achieve whatever he wanted, including a fishing treaty. However, the separation of executive and legislative branches, and the power of our courts, put a check on the unbridled flow of presidential goals.
Yet another obstacle to understanding Canada involves the nature of the strongest link between us. John F Kennedy said, "Geography made us neighbors. History made us friends. And economics has made us partners." But the nature of this partnership is not well understood. Seventy-five per cent of Canada's exports go to the United States and nearly one-third of your manufacturing takes place in plants controlled by U.S. companies. Total trade in goods between Canada and the United States exceeds $150 billion Canadian. However, I wonder if my countrymen know this is more than twice our trade with Japan, and is higher than U.S. trade with all ten countries of the European Community. I doubt if U.S. citizens realize that nearly twenty per cent of U.S. exports go to Canada, or that our trade deficit with our neighbour to the north was about $14 billion Canadian in 1983. 1 think we do not realize that direct U.S. investment in Canada is on the order of $60 billion Canadian, more than in any other country, and that Canadians have about $20 billion invested in the United States. If average citizens do not recognize these simple facts, how could they understand more complicated but equally important issues, such as the interrelationship of the United States and Canadian dollar, or why seemingly benign protectionist legislation can produce devastating effects in Canada, or why, to paraphrase Rowland Frazee, "When the U.S. economy gets the sniffles, yours catches pneumonia"?
... the unbalanced flow of information between our countries is a barrier to understanding ...
Finally, the unbalanced flow of information between our countries is a barrier to understanding. To keep our population of 235 million people informed, we publish nearly 20,000 newspapers and magazines. Our television programming goes around the world, at times more of an embarrassment than a source of pride. With a tenth of the U.S population, Canada produces a tenth of the newspapers and magazines. These must fight the tidal wave of U.S. output to attract our public's attention. We have little opportunity to watch Canadian television. Even the Canadian communications companies with large U.S. divisions, such as Thomson and Rogers Cable, necessarily play to the U.S. audience with U.S. news. If we are uninformed or, worse, misinformed about Canada, surely some fault must lie with our media. And I believe it does. On the whole, U.S. media have done an inadequate job covering Canada. And our own company is in the process of catching up. But doing better will take more than mea culpas and good intentions. Here is what we have to overcome.
First, the good news-bad news syndrome. Friendly relations and a stable economic partnership unfortunately do not make front-page news. Often, alas, good news is no news. Compare our coverage of Canada with that of-our neighbour to the south, Mexico. Its problems of poverty, illegal aliens and drugs do make headlines in our country. Second is the foreign news syndrome. The media try to keep the entire world in their peripheral vision. But this means we must stretch our resources thin. Today it costs over $250,000 a year to operate some foreign bureaus. We cannot put one wherever we would like. Nonetheless, the Washington Post plans to establish a bureau in Canada; it is at the top of our list and eventually we will do it.
... the U.S. public just is not all that interested in foreign news ...
But unfortunately, with a few exceptions such as the Soviet Union, the U.S. public just is not all that interested in foreign news. Editors are challenged by their U.S. audiences to relate foreign news more directly to domestic interests and concerns. Otherwise, it receives a lower priority. Then there is the television news syndrome. Television hungers for the visual and the dramatic. Good news rarely fits the bill. Nor does economics. As a result, the biggest stories involving the United States and Canada are the most difficult for the most popular news medium to get across.
A final obstacle to the media doing a better job is the regional nature - or at least the perceived regional, nature - of some of the thorniest problems between our two countries. Take acid rain. Prime Minister Mulroney has indicated he will put acid rain at the top of his agenda when meeting with President Reagan next month. However, it will not be easy to capture the attention of the United States public and Congress with this issue. Acid rain is created principally in our Middle West. It falls on eastern Canada and New England. The funds to attack the problem - once people can agree on its cause - must come from Washington. The beleaguered Middle West has not the resources to pick up the enormous tab. Not unexpectedly, the other regions of our country are not especially interested in chipping in to solve a problem that does not affect them directly. But the regional nature of the issue helps keep it out of the national limelight and out of the national debate. The Washington Post, addressing an audience that is interested, carried thirty-nine acid rain stories in 1984, and two of them were on the front page. But the national media gave it far less attention. Clearly Canada deserves more. What can be done? I believe there are ways in which both the United States media and Canada itself can heighten awareness.
For openers, I think the press can do, and is doing, a better job of reporting complex issues, such as economics. We are giving more space to the subject. Our reporters are becoming more knowledgeable, and they are more adept at relating economics to real life. In this we have been helped by some recent Canadian actions that revealed how our economies are locked in a mutual embrace. For example, when 36,000 Canadian General Motors workers went out on strike last October, they threatened to shut down General Motors' operations across the United States, throw 30,000 U.S. auto workers out of work, and cost the company nearly $40 million a week. That attracted everyone's attention, I assure you.
The press also must pay more attention to the increased diplomatic activity and better diplomatic climate between our two countries. As everyone knows, the differences between the Reagan and Trudeau governments were quite visible. Much of what mattered to Pierre Trudeau, such as Third World issues, was not high on the agenda of conservative Republicans in our country. The intellectual character of the Trudeaugovernment grated on the populist nerves of successive presidents, as did a more aggressively defined Canadian identity, including restrictive measures against U.S. business investment here. Even so, there was a real willingness on both sides to address mutual problems. President Reagan made Canada his first foreign stop after his 1980 election.
There was also a new commitment to CanadianUnited States relations inspired by our Secretary of State, George Shultz. He established for the first time a series of quarterly meetings between Canadian and United States foreign ministers to review our bilateral agenda on a regular basis. He created a special deputy assistant secretary for Canada, the only such position for a single country in the State Department. As a result, many things were accomplished, but they were less noticed than our differences.
... With your recent election, the atmosphere is thawing along the 49th parallel ...
However, the picture is changing. With your recent election, the atmosphere is thawing along the 49th - parallel. There is now a meeting of styles and outlooks between our two leaders - without, in my view, any less emphasis on national interest. What is more, recent Canadian initiatives have made the news and have increased our awareness of Canada. For example, when Prime Minister Mulroney came to Washington as his first state visit, that was news. Canada's new commitment to tackle its own air pollution problems - while pressing for U.S. action on acid rain in a more quiet voice - attracted our attention. And the steps taken by Prime Minister Mulroney to liberalize the Foreign Investment Review Agency and the National Energy Program regulations and thus encourage U.S. investment in Canada were well covered, too. Although it now appears that "no money bags are waiting at Canada's border" (to quote a recent Toronto Globe and Mail headline), these steps will improve the investment climate and ultimately will produce gains in trade. In short, these initiatives have advanced common interests and raised the public's consciousness about Canada. We must make sure the press continues to respond. The process is being aided, I might add, by the effective performance of the Canadian ambassador to the United States, Allan Gotlieb. The Ambassador is constantly harassing me about our Canadian coverage.
There is one final way in which you can increase our understanding of Canada. It is by permitting U.S. publications to be printed and published in your country. At the beginning of last year, our company received permission and began to print in Canada copies of Newsweek for Canadian readers. In November, we launched a special Canadian advertising edition of the magazine. You might wonder how producing a magazine like Newsweek in Canada will improve our understanding of your country. The answer is this: to serve Canadian readers and attract more of them, we want to report the news that interests them most - not just a reprint of a U.S. magazine, but more news about Canada and the world. To do the job, we will establish a Newsweek bureau in Canada later this year. This bureau will generate more news about Canada for the worldwide editions of Newsweek. We feel sure it will be a tremendous resource for news about your country for our readers in the United States and around the world. We hope it will serve you well.
Still our path is not without obstacles. I recognize the potential threat to Canadian identity if U.S. media drown Canadian media. And I sympathize with your determination to protect your national culture. But in free societies such as we both enjoy, the public needs a diversity of information. I believe Canada's culture and national identity are well served by support of Canadian media, but I hope this will not be at the expense of, or by placing restrictions on foreign media. Ultimately that would be counter-productive, in my view. Our publications can co-exist. And if the spirit of friendship and the ideals of democracy that bind us together are to flourish, they must.
In closing, I would like to return to that well-worn image I discarded at the beginning of these remarks - our undefended border. Canada and the United States are unique in their trust, friendship and even affection. We have achieved this envied state through the grace of history, the bounty of trade and the hard-earned currency of mutual respect. Shared knowledge and understanding underlie them all. If our future is to be as secure as our past, knowledge and understanding must grow. I pledge to you that we at Newsweek and the Washington Post shall do all we can to see that they do.
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Peter Hermant, a Past President of the Club.