Canada-United States Relations in the Eighties
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Mar 1981, p. 316-327
MacDonald, the Honourable Flora, Speaker
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Item Type
A look past constitutional reform to Canada's global position. A review of Canada's foreign policy and its implications for Canadians. International trade and the rise of protectionism. The current need to wait and see what the Reagan administration will do in the immediate future, and how it will react to Canada's concerns, especially with regard to issues of the fisheries, pollution, and national energy policy. The low cost of oil in Canada and how that may lead to protective measures in the United States. The right of Canada to control its own energy resources. Canada's reaction to foreign policy of the United States, with specific examples. Canada's responsibilities in terms of developmental aid to Third World countries.
Date of Original
26 Mar 1981
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Full Text
MARCH 26, 1981
Canada-United States Relations in the Eighties
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald Stackhouse


Ladies and gentlemen: Name recognition is one of the most sought after prizes by any politician, but it is a prize well secured by today's distinguished speaker. Go anywhere in this great country and mention the name, "Flora," and your fellow Canadians will know whom you mean.

This is not to be wondered at in view of her long and effective service to her country. She has played a part in no fewer than forty-four federal and provincial general elections and by-elections, as well as three national leadership conventions. Her entire career, in fact, has been devoted to political action with the exception of years as an administrator-tutor at Queen's University, appropriately in the political science department.

In 1972 she sought elective office for the first time after many years as a party official. Elected Member of the twenty-ninth Parliament of Canada for the historic constituency of Kingston and The Islands, she has been returned in three elections since then.

In 1979 she was appointed Secretary of State for External Affairs, the first woman to hold that prestigious and strategic portfolio. Although like the rest of her colleagues she was privileged to keep that ministry only a matter of months, they were long enough for her to make her mark on the country and on the international community.

Perhaps this was because she is richly endowed with qualities the rest of Canada has come to identify with Cape Breton Island. These are a sense of justice that demands wrongs be righted, a sense of conviction that threats should be answered, and a sense of humour that demands challenge be moderated by good cheer.

In foreign policy she showed all these. Whether it was moderating a Middle East policy that would not have worked, authorizing a brave but hazardous escape for American diplomats from Iran or calling for Russian retreat from Afghanistan, her voice was always clear, was always heard, and was always respected.

Today she comes to us as the opposition critic on external affairs to speak on Canada-United States Relations, and it is a great privilege to present to you the Honourable Flora MacDonald.

THE HONOURABLE FLORA MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman: It is about eighteen months since I last addressed this gathering. I was then Secretary of State for External Affairs.

At that time, October 1979, the government of which I was a member had been in office for exactly four months. Those months had been, as I described to you then, four months of relentless meetings, consultations, briefings, and international meetings.

For us as new cabinet ministers, there were great challenges involved in mastering our individual portfolios, creating the legislative program for the government, and getting a grip on the budgetary process which, we felt, was and is out of control.

These essential activities left little time for reflection on what we ought to be doing in foreign policy and yet such reflection is essential if we are to have a framework within which we can respond to problems and challenges as they arise.

In my speech to you at that time, I set out what I considered to be some of the international developments to which our foreign policy ought to respond. And as you may recollect, I proposed and had initiated a review process of our foreign and aid policies in which all groups were invited to participate.

As I said at that time, foreign policy

has enormous implications for each and every Canadian--for our security, for our economic well being, for our contribution to the rest of the world. Given the international pressures which exist, we must realize that if we don't exert every possible effort to devise the kind of foreign policy most appropriate to Canada in the 80s, others may.

The events of the past year persuade me that that statement is just as relevant--indeed just as pressing--now as then. I for one consider it a great mistake that the present government seems unable to clarify its position on the direction of Canada's foreign policy; rather, it shifts from one problem to the next, merely reacting to external events, with little thought for anything but the justification of its present policy.

As we now move into a world where our international trade is jeopardized by the rise of protectionism, where the Western Alliance shows all the marks of a developing split between the United States and the West Europeans, and where even our bilateral relationship with the United States is under considerable strain, now more than ever it is important for us to clarify our policies and establish our goals.

That is what I hoped the foreign and aid policy review I had under way would achieve. It is not my intention to attempt today to review the full range of issues in our foreign policy, but any reassessment must begin with our North American relationship, both bilaterally and in the context of the Western Alliance.

The recent election of President Reagan has, of course, brought home to all Canadians the importance of our special links with the United States. Despite some apprehensions, and despite the lengthening list of disagreements with the administration in Washington, we have the great advantage of a long tradition of friendship and cultural familiarity with the United States.

The mood of Parliament when President Reagan made his speech to the joint gathering of the Commons and the Senate reflected this. It was, I think, very important that we showed our respect to a man who represents the United States not only as its chief executive, but also as its Head of State. It is, after all, of great importance that the President chose Canada for his first trip outside the United States.

At the same time, the Canadian mood at that gathering in the House of Commons was sober and concerned. For if the President's visit was desirable and successful, we must also admit that it was only about style and atmosphere, and not about substance. After the departure of the President, the substantive issues remain.

What should we now do about the most immediate problems on the bilateral agenda? I suggest that we must wait to see how the Reagan administration responds to the issues of greatest concern to Canada--to see how his thinking and policies are affected by his visit here.

In regard to the east coast fisheries, for example, there is no sense now in continuing to complain about the loss of the treaty. Instead, we must see how the President responds to the need for parallel measures of conservation and control applied by both countries

to the George's Bank. If he acts to persuade the New England fishermen that there must be restraint and conservation in their practices, then I think we can feel some confidence, first, that President Reagan has acted upon the views expressed to him here in Canada, and secondly, that the procedure that he now intends to follow--namely, the submission of the boundaries dispute to arbitration and then the negotiation of an agreement on the fisheries--will be a satisfactory resolution to the conflict.

In the question of transboundary and Great Lakes pollution, we ought now to give President Reagan time to absorb and assess the importance of these issues to Canada. We should realize that, with the greater part of our population so close to the border and the Great Lakes, where the effects of pollution are greatest, what for us is an issue of direct concern is a very distant and obscure problem for the great majority of Americans. For the most part, they live far from the border and have no sense of the severity of the damage caused by industrial pollution.

Now that the administration has heard our views on this matter, let us see how the President responds. If he takes the necessary measures, including joint regulation, that are required to prevent the deterioration of the environment, then we can again measure the success of his visit to Canada.

There was, of course, another issue in the background of President Reagan's visit. It is the national energy policy. On this question, pretty clearly the President is looking for some signs of change on the part of the Canadian government. And it is not too fanciful, I think, to recognize that the very limited promise on the financing of the northern pipeline also constituted a warning. Will it be possible to raise twenty-five billion dollars of private financing in the United States if Canada is seen at the same time to be discriminating against American-based multinationals in the oil and gas industry?

Even more ominously, there are many suggestions now in the United States that the low cost of oil in Canada constitutes a subsidy to Canadian industry which may call forth protective measures by Washington. And our low prices have been even more underlined by the recent deregulation of oil prices in the United States.

I need hardly say that there are many aspects of the national energy policy which are thoroughly opposed by my party. We have major objections to the unilateral methods pursued by the present government, and we do not think that their policies will produce either self-sufficiency or self-reliance within the necessary time period.

However, there is a principle at stake here on which all of us should be very clear. There must be no question as to the Canadian response if what is at issue is the right of Canada to control its own energy resources. And there can be no disputing our sovereign right to develop our energy supplies in a matter which best meets the interests of Canadians.

A North American accord which seeks to promote co-operation in energy matters may be an interesting prospect to explore. An accord which makes Canada and Mexico junior partners but major suppliers to the United States is completely unacceptable. On this basic point I very much trust that, if the issue is joined, we shall see the federal and provincial governments speaking with one voice.

But I am sure that you would not want me to treat Canadian-American relations only in the bilateral context. In the broader framework of the Western Alliance, the Reagan presidency requires us to respond to new initiatives, and to assess our own position in the counsels of NATO.

In this regard I am bound to register my misgiving and uncertainty about some recent policy pronouncements of President Reagan and his Secretary of State. General Haig's stiffening attitude towards social unrest in Third World countries is causing increasing concern in London, Paris and Bonn.

In regard to El Salvador, for example, I do not dispute the Soviet capacity for mischief making. But to see the issue there, and in other Central American states, as one of superpower confrontation only, is surely to ignore history.

In El Salvador the fundamental conflict is between the campesinos--the large mass of the people who are poor with no prospect of improvement--and the all too visible minority of wealthy middle-class citizens.

It is a conflict which has been going on for many years. If we want to help resolve it, then we have to address the need to raise the living standard of the people. This cannot be accomplished by military intervention, or by providing to the government of that country military equipment which may be used merely to repress the problem. We are all too familiar with the consequences of the repression of peoples whether by the right or by the left. Sometimes such situations impose obligations on us which we cannot avoid.

One of the most challenging problems that I faced in office was the need to respond to the horrendous flow of political refugees from Vietnam and Kampuchia, the direct result of communist Vietnam's determination to impose a military solution in that part of the world. We would be blind to ignore the possibility that we might be faced with a similar flow of refugees if a military solution is pursued in Central America.

To see El Salvador as one of a row of dominoes, or as a test of American resolve vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, is a great over-simplification. It is dangerous in that it colours our response to the economic and social problems of Latin America. It creates hostility in other Third World countries with whom we seek to develop common policies. And most importantly, it is highly divisive within the Western Alliance.

We ought to remind ourselves that the principal threat to our collective security lies not in Central America, but in Europe. For surely the present situation in Poland is sufficient to indicate the fragility of peace in Europe and indeed the possibility of a superpower confrontation.

It may be that the Soviet Union can for a time contain the desire of the Poles for independence, but it is clear that in a fundamental economic sense the Russians cannot control the situation. Their own economic system has proved capable of producing advanced military weapons, but incapable of providing the food and basic consumer goods which would make life more acceptable for ordinary people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The Russians, already stretched beyond capacity domestically, are incapable of responding to the political and economic unrest which stems from so much personal frustration in Poland and, less obviously at the moment, in other East European countries.

They cannot respond, but they cannot let go. The remedies sought by the Poles--free trade union movements in industry and agriculture--are seen by the Soviets, no doubt correctly, as the first steps towards independence.

But the remedies sought by the Poles may have gone too far or too fast. Experts are agreed that we are dangerously close to a Soviet military intervention of one kind or another.

What can we do, and what should we do in this situation? I want here to draw to your attention my response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a little more than a year ago.

As Secretary of State for External Affairs, I was convinced that we ought not to remain silent in the face of that invasion. In fact, although we were much criticized by the Liberal opposition of the time, we sought positive ways in which to communicate to the Soviets our determined opposition to their behaviour.

I strongly supported the boycott of the Olympic games as the most visible and politically damaging symbol of our opposition. We immediately announced our support for the partial grain embargo. We restricted the Soviet use of Canadian ports and air space. We cancelled or curtailed exchange programs of a cultural and scientific kind, even though it had taken us many years to bring these exchanges to reality.

These were not insignificant or purely symbolic acts. Our purpose was to let the Soviets know that their conduct was unacceptable and that by their actions, they had threatened detente--that process which it was hoped would lead to a progressive relaxation of tensions in Central Europe.

In the case of Poland, we have a similar need to impress on the Soviets our unshakable opposition to a military intervention in Poland. But this time there are other factors at play than in the case of Afghanistan.

President Reagan has indicated that he intends to take severe measures if there is a Soviet attack on Poland. These may include the restriction of financial credits to Poland and additional embargoes on food and technology exports to the Soviet Union.

President Reagan has also stressed the idea of linkage. He does not intend to deal with the Soviet Union issue by issue. Instead, he has said that any arms control negotiations will be much influenced by how the Soviet Union behaves in Poland, or in Central America, and yes, even how its surrogates such as Cuba behave in the Caribbean and in Africa.

The implications of this approach for Canada are very serious. We are by choice and conviction an ally and friend of the United States. As such, we must make every effort to promote the co-operation of Western countries in global policy designed to counter direct Soviet military adventurism.

The European members of NATO, however, are by no means in agreement with Washington in their interpretation of Soviet behaviour and in their response to it. More so than the United States or Canada, they have built up trade and political connections with East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Soviet Union.

The West German government, for example, believes that a retaliation which isolates the Communist bloc is harmful precisely because it drives the East Europeans back into the arms of the Soviets.

It is easy to dismiss this as self-interest. The West Germans now import a significant percentage of their natural gas from the Soviet Union, and with France they share lucrative business ventures in Eastern Europe.

But this cynical view, I think, ignores the deep feelings of the West Europeans, and particularly of the Germans. Any conflict in Central Europe, even a socalled conventional one, will devastate West Germany, and possibly much of Western Europe besides. It is not surprising, therefore, that they see the security situation in Europe in a different light than North Americans. Besides, we cannot forget the unnatural division of Europe which irrevocably splits Germany. They have problems of family reunification, of forced separation from old homes and friends, on a much larger scale than any other Western country.

Détente for the Europeans, therefore, has a very different reality than for the Americans. We should not be surprised if they are unwilling to give up the progress of the past fifteen years. Returning to a situation where tension is high and all contacts are broken with the Soviet Union is surely an unwelcome prospect for them. This leads me to a view of Canada's place in the Alliance.

We are now watching a process in which the policies and interests of the United States and of the Common Market members Of NATO are increasingly divergent. It is quite possible, for example, that the Europeans will not support President Reagan if he takes very strict measures against the Soviets, or if he attempts unilaterally to introduce new weapons into the European theatre.

More and more in the decade of the 80s I think we shall see emerging what Pierre Hassener, the French political analyst, has called "two centres of decision" within NATO: one in the United States, the other in an increasingly dynamic European community with progressively greater ties to the Eastern bloc countries. Canada has a firm understanding of the one--the European community--because of our deeply embedded roots in a European past. We have an equally firm relationship with the other, the United States, because of geography, history and shared values.

In the 1980s, Canada could well emerge as the bridge, the connecting link, between these sometimes divergent views within the Alliance. It is a role which our foreign policy and defence advisers should be addressing with much greater attention. This role will only be possible if we make sure that our military contribution to NATO, though small, is efficient and valuable.

But having noted the importance of an efficient military contribution, I must add my view that when it comes to Alliance co-operation in regard to areas outside NATO, we have major responsibilities of a different kind.

Like a number of the smaller European countries, I feel that our influence can best be exerted in properly selected, properly administered developmental aid programs rather than through military intervention in Third World countries. To focus national opinion on these issues, it is time all Canadians were persuaded to elevate foreign and defence policies to a much higher priority on our national agenda than they have been accorded in recent years.

Our debates on constitutional reform are important. But we should recognize that in the wider world there are issues of such great moment that they transcend our internal divisions. If we were to turn our eyes for a while to external affairs, and to accept that we have a responsibility to help with the solutions to global problems, then we might also come to realize our good fortune in being Canadians.

The thanks of the club were expressed to Miss MacDonald by Robert Robertson, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Canada-United States Relations in the Eighties

A look past constitutional reform to Canada's global position. A review of Canada's foreign policy and its implications for Canadians. International trade and the rise of protectionism. The current need to wait and see what the Reagan administration will do in the immediate future, and how it will react to Canada's concerns, especially with regard to issues of the fisheries, pollution, and national energy policy. The low cost of oil in Canada and how that may lead to protective measures in the United States. The right of Canada to control its own energy resources. Canada's reaction to foreign policy of the United States, with specific examples. Canada's responsibilities in terms of developmental aid to Third World countries.