Foreign affairs, defence and international trade issues have played a greater role in the governments of each of the six prime ministers being appraised than any of them would have wished. Usually this was because of devel- opments outside Canada over which none of them had any control, and sometimes, particularly on defence and trade issues, where they did have some control, but felt the con- straints of domestic politics or the budget.
Any analysis of how each of the six Prime Ministers operated in the fields of foreign, defense and trade policy has first to take into account the significant changes in the world and Canada’s role in it over the past fifty years. Canada came out of the Second World War with the fourth largest armed forces in the world, a role to which we had never aspired and which was clearly unsustainable except in wartime. Europe and Japan were in ruins after the war.
While not part of the occupying forces in Germany Canada had played a key role in the development of the institutional framework for the post-war world, including the UN system, the Bretton Woods institutions, the GATT and NATO. The Cold War lasted for over forty years and was a constant preoccupation of five of the six prime min- isters, increasingly because of different perceptions of the nature of the threat as opposed to a shared common view. St- Laurent sent Canadian troops to Korea to fight Communist aggression there and back to Europe, where they would remain for forty years as part of a NATO force to deter Soviet aggression. He broke with the two mother countries over Suez and authorized Pearson’s proposals for peacekeeping, which would gain Pearson the Nobel Peace Prize. Periodic uprisings against the Communist yoke of oppression in Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Poland (1980) also played their part in Canada and the West. The Peoples’ Republic of China would not gain its seat at the UN, with Canada’s support, until 1970.
The number of countries which were members of the UN and the GATT when St-Laurent took office was less than a third of what they are today. The first elements of decolonization of the British Empire in Asia only happened in 1947 with the independence of India and Pakistan. The decolonization of Vietnam involved wars with France and the United States, with Canada being dragged into the international supervi- sory commissions. Most of Africa would gain independence in the 1960s, which transformed the Commonwealth and left ongoing tensions because of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. The creation of the institutions of la Francophonie resulted in battles between Canada and France over the role of Quebec which lasted two decades. Decolonization gave rise to the Canadian aid program, first through the Colombo Plan (Commonwealth), and to a rapid expansion of Canada’s diplomatic pres- ence throughout Asia and Africa.
The creation of the annual G-7 Economic Summits in 1976 (the first in Rambouillet, France in 1975 was a G-6 affair without Canada), provided the Canadian prime inisters, along with their ministers of foreign affairs and finance, with a new world stage on which to play. While originally conceived as an attempt to deal with the economic impact of the oil crisis, the summits have inevitably dealt with major political issues and have provided an opportunity for Canada to have its say and play host every sev- enth year (Montebello 1981; Toronto 1988; Halifax 1995; Kananaskis 2002). The biannual summits of the Commonwealth (for all six PMs) and la Francophonie (for only the last two) also provided the PM with an oppor- tunity to play an international role in a forum where our southern neigh- bour was not present. NATO Summits, which Trudeau abhorred as being nothing more than set-piece speeches, evolved into something else in the late 1980s and 1990s. In 1989, faced with an impasse between the US and Europe on whether to include short range nuclear missiles in the negotia- tions between the US and the Soviet Union, Mulroney reminded Bush in front of the assembled leaders, but away from the cameras, that ”œleader- ship to be effective has to take into account the views of others.”
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Empire presented both the euphoria of victory over the ”œevil empire,” the turning back of the nuclear doomsday clock, and the eruption of racial and ethnic violence in the Balkans and Africa on a scale not seen since the Second World War. In the early 1990s Canada sent peacekeepers to Namibia, Somalia, Cambodia, Central America, and the Balkans, as well as participat- ing in the Gulf War as part of a UN sanctioned coalition.
International trade, which had traditionally been left to the bureau- crats and played within multilateral negotiations, became highly politi- cized and negotiated bilaterally with the United States and then trilaterally with the United States and Mexico. The United States became Canada’s largest trading partner in the late 1940s and with that came all kinds of new strains and tensions in the bilater- al relationship, even when relations at the top were particularly good. That was due in large part to the fundamen- tally different systems of government in the two countries. In Canada power is centralized, with the government having the support of the legislature. In the United States the executive and legislative branches are separate and the latter is not dominated by the for- mer to the extent it is in any country with responsible government. Efforts by Diefenbaker and Trudeau to diversi- fy trade away from the United States failed, for different reasons, and Mulroney, stealing a long-standing Liberal Party policy, took Canada into a free trade agreement with the US and then into NAFTA.
All six of the PMs had foreign pol- icy, defence and bilateral trade disputes with the United States, some more important than others and some designed mainly to show the differ- ence between the countries (e.g. Diefenbaker’s refusal to break with Cuba was followed by all his succes- sors, and indeed most of the world). The two basic tensions in the Canadian psyche " a determination not to become part of the United States, but a strong wish to share the economic benefits of close association with it " played out as a key issue in the governments which they led. The degree to which they were perceived to have successfully managed rela- tions with the United States became an important benchmark against which the success or failure of their administration would be judged. That is the prism through which my assess- ment is being made.
St-Laurent was one of the archi- tects of NATO, who engaged Canada in fighting in the Korean War and in stationing troops in Europe as part of NATO without the type of internal rancour from Quebec that had hap- pened during the two world wars. He agreed to Canada’s participation in the International Control Commission in Vietnam, a role which would continue for almost twenty years. He broke with the two mother countries over Suez and declared that ”œthe era when the supermen of Europe could govern the whole world has and is coming pretty close to an end.” The Canadian peace- keeping resolution which Pearson introduced into the UNGA, and for which he was to later win the Nobel Prize, was in fact drafted by American officials. St- Laurent maintained excellent relations with President Eisenhower, including golf games, which Ike always won.
But St-Laurent challenged the American view on the dangers of Communism by sug- gesting that ”œit is not helpful to preach the abstract advantages of freedom to men and women who are suffering from misery and starvation.” St-Laurent also resisted strong American pressures to reject the admission of 15 new members to the UN in 1955. He was furious that Senator McCarthy’s witchhunts pre- cipitated Canada’s ambassador to Egypt to commit suicide in 1957. St- Laurent also convinced Eisenhower to back the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, by threatening to go it alone if the Americans did not back it. He authorized the creation of NORAD and the building of a series of distant early warning radar stations, (DEW Line), manned mainly by American forces, across Canada’s north. Canada had a merchandise trade deficit with the US during the St- Laurent era, and many bilateral trade disputes, but there was a perceptible shift in trade away from the UK and towards the US. The phenomenal growth of the Canadian economy dur- ing St-Laurent’s administration was due in large part to the influx of American investment, which gave rise to concerns that Canada was losing control over its economy.
Diefenbaker came to office deter- mined to restore relations with the UK over Suez and to try to divert 15 per- cent of our trade with the US towards the UK. His efforts failed on both fronts. He fiercely resisted the UK’s entry into the European Common Market and wanted to reinforce the Commonwealth connections. Diefenbaker had good relations with Eisenhower, and basked in the official opening the St. Lawrence Seaway with Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. But the Chief’s relations with Kennedy were decidedly cooler. Diefenbaker’s refusal to put Canadian forces on alert during the Cuban missile crisis caused problems, as did his refusal to accept nuclear weapons for the Bomarc anti- aircraft missiles which Canada had bought. Diefenbaker found a briefing note which Kennedy left in an Ottawa wastebasket and threatened to make its negative comments about him public. Diefenbaker’s government imploded, with a bit of help from an American press release, and he lost the general election which followed. But two of his foreign policy decisions lived on for many years: his initiative to expel South Africa from the Commonwealth and his policy on continuing relations with Cuba. He also resisted American pressures not to sell wheat to China, and started the expansion of Canada’s diplomatic presence in Africa.
Pearson had made his name in for- eign affairs as deputy minister and minister, yet his most lasting accom- plishments as PM, apart from the Auto Pact, are in the domestic field. Following the strains caused by Diefenbaker, he worked hard to restore relations with the US and Kennedy, with whom he developed excellent relations, which were cut short by Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. Pearson accepted nuclear weapons not just for Bomarcs in Canada, but also for the Canadian forces stationed in Germany in both attack and defensive roles. Pearson agreed to Canada sending troops to Cyprus as part of a UN peacekeeping force there, which had to shoot its way to establishing credibility with the bel- ligerents. Pearson achieved the ratifica- tion of the Auto Pact with the US by the Congress, notwithstanding having pub- licly entered the American domestic debate on Vietnam in a manner which highly irritated President Johnson, who physically manhandled Pearson to show his displeasure. Pearson’s rela- tions with Johnson never really got back to normal after that. Pearson’s pol- icy of accepting draft dodgers from the US also caused tensions in one direc- tion, as did his policy of permitting Canadian business to supply the American war machine there in anoth- er. Pearson agreed to have the Canadian representative on the ICC, Blair Seaborne, pass messages from the Americans to the North Vietnamese. Pearson’s greatest challenge in foreign policy was Charles DeGaulle’s open support for Quebec’s independence, which put strains in the bilateral rela- tionship for almost three decades and saw French interference in Canadian affairs in Quebec and elsewhere. Pearson widened Canada’s diplomatic presence in Africa to counter the French threat and broke diplomatic relations with Gabon, which had sided with France in inviting Quebec to a conference of tion ministers without inviting Canada, to show that Canada meant business.
Pierre Trudeau came to office highly sceptical about the benefits to Canada of Pearsonian multilateralism, but left office with his own vision of Pearsonianism, his ”œpeace initiative”. Early on he threatened to withdraw all our troops from NATO and conducted a foreign policy review which pro- claimed foreign policy to be simply an extension of domestic policy " a mindset which still prevails in the Privy Council Office in Ottawa " and which failed to even mention the US. Trudeau quickly moved to recognize Communist China, ahead of Richard Nixon, and supported China regaining its seat at the UN, against US opposi- tion. Trudeau kept Canadian forces in Europe at a reduced level and eliminat- ed their nuclear capability. Canadian Forces in Canada maintained a nuclear defensive role (CF-101 aircraft) until Trudeau left office in 1984. Nixon’s economic shocks of 1971, which included a 10 percent surcharge on all imports, and his speech to the Canadian Parliament in 1972 declaring the special relationship to be dead was one of the low periods in Canada-US relations. Trudeau felt he had no alter- native but to seek a ”œThird Option” of diversifying trade with Europe and Japan. Trudeau agreed to the American request that Canada be part of the new international supervisory commission in Vietnam in 1973, but quickly with- drew when it was clear the commission was not working any better than the first one. The failure of the Third Option and the resulting increasing dependence on trade with the US at the end of the Trudeau era was one of the building blocks which led to the FTA.
Relations with Carter improved over those with Nixon. Carter never visited Ottawa, cancelling a 1979 trip because of the hostage crisis at the US Embassy in Teheran, but Trudeau was invited to address a joint session of Congress. Relations between Trudeau and Reagan, while always cordial at the per- sonal level, were strained because of his nationalistic economic policies, partic- ularly the National Energy Program, the Foreign Investment Review Agency, and his last term ”œPeace Initiative.” In 1982 Trudeau initiated the practice of quarterly meetings between the Canadian and American foreign minis- ters as an attempt to better manage the bilateral relationship.
During his last year in office Trudeau embarked on trying to lower the tensions of East/West relations, with his ”œpeace initiative”. His motiva- tion was partly as a quid-pro-quo for agreeing to test the cruise missile in Canada and partly because of his con- cern that ”œmegaphone diplomacy” was threatening to turn into a nuclear con- frontation between the two super-pow- ers. Agreeing to test the cruise as an act of political courage and statesmanship in the face of majority Canadian public opinion opposed to it. Trudeau private- ly urged the G-7 leaders at the 1983 Williamsburg G-7 Summit that ”œwe should be busting our asses for peace.” He pressed for a separate communiqué on East-West relations at Williamsburg and again in 1984 at the London Summit, much to Margaret Thatcher’s displeasure. Canada was the first coun- try to take measures against the Soviet Union following its shooting down of a Korean airliner on which ten Canadians perished. Trudeau was suc- cessful in convincing Reagan to change his rhetoric and together with the arrival of Gorbachev in the Kremlin, (after Trudeau left office), Reagan changed the world.
The promotion of national unity was a major thrust of Trudeau foreign policy, and he was not invited to visit France until after he had won his third general election. He refused to make the concessions to France and Quebec concerning Quebec’s role in la Francophonie, which would have per- mitted the establishment of Francophone summits.
Trudeau cochaired a major North- South dialogue meeting and gave strong direction to increasing Canada’s level of foreign aid. Trudeau never addressed the UN General Assembly, but did speak twice to UN special ses- sions on disarmament. Canada was excluded from the first Economic Summit held in France, but President Ford invited Trudeau to the second. Trudeau was criticized by the Americans for not spending enough on defence, particularly once Reagan began his massive defence expenditure in the early 1980s.
Brian Mulroney’s foreign policy priority was relations with the United States. He implemented annual summits with the president, continued the quarterly meeting exercise between the two foreign ministers, and promised to give the Americans the benefit of the doubt on some issues. However, he ended up challenging the Americans on many issues, both bilateral " acid rain, Arctic sovereignty, trade irri- tants " and international. His coun- sel was valued, especially by Ronald Reagan and George Bush. The FTA with the United States was his great- est accomplishment. The FTA did not solve all bilateral trade disputes, nor was it intended to do so, and even President Reagan was unable to resist Congressional pressures to impose duties on Canadian soft- wood lumber in 1986.
Mulroney increased defence spending, but refused to accept Reagan’s offer to join the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). Mulroney promised to build the world’s largest icebreaker and to acquire nuclear submarines to protect Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and the North Atlantic sea lanes, but the budg- et wouldn’t allow for either. He unblocked the France-Quebec-Canada dispute, which allowed for biennial summits of la Francophonie, now a permanent feature of Canadian for- eign policy alongside the longstanding biennial Commonwealth Summits. He decided Canada should join the Organization of American States, something from which previous gov- ernments had shied because of fear of having to choose between the United States and the Latin American coun- tries. He addressed several sessions of the UN General Assembly, and Canada’s bid for membership on the Security Council won the largest num- ber of votes ever. Mulroney supported the addition of Germany and Japan as permanent members of the Security Council, a commitment on which his successor reneged because of delusions of grandeur by some of his officials that Canada deserved a permanent seat as much as either of these two countries. Mulroney engaged Canada in various UN peacekeeping and peacemaking operations in Namibia, Somalia, the Balkans, Central America and Cambodia. He supported the UN sanctioned action against Iraq in 1991, voted for it as a member of the Security Council, and sent some Canadian forces to participate.
One of Jean Chrétien’s first acts as PM was to cancel a contract for military helicopters because he claimed they were too expensive. Ten years later there is still no replacement for an aging Sea-King helicopter fleet, which gives rise to serious questions about the ability of the Canadian Armed Forces to carry out many of the international roles taken on by the government. Chrétien’s ongoing neglect of the man- power and material requirements of the Canadian Forces will be one of his legacies, as will his successful fight to eliminate the deficit (the two go together). His government’s foreign policy review of 1995 focused on eco- nomic security, international security, and culture and the promotion of Canadian values. Chrétien’s relations with French President Chirac started out rather askew, but they became good friends. Chrétien was welcomed to France almost every year during his first term of office. He continued Canada’s commitment in the Balkans including participation in a non-UN-sanctioned war in Kosovo in 1999. He tried to establish a non-UN operation to stop atrocities in the Congo in the mid-nineties, but lacked the physical military resources to do so and could not convince the US to partici- pate. Chrétien did not continue annu- al summits with Presidents Clinton or Bush, and the quarterly meetings between foreign ministers lapsed, as well. Chrétien clearly was more com- fortable with Clinton than Bush, and welcomed Clinton’s assistance to fight the separatist Premier Lucien Bouchard in Quebec. His unwillingness to partic- ipate in an American-led coalition of the willing against Iraq without UN sanctions was supported by a clear majority of Canadian pubic opinion, and perhaps was also dictated by some calculation of not wanting it to become a divisive issue in the Quebec provincial election. Two of his major foreign policy successes, the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel land mines and the International Criminal Court, were achieved despite American opposition (which was not the reason Canada proposed them). But Chrétien’s failure to curtail a rise in anti-Americanism within his party and caucus has plagued his long farewell. It has already led to pledges from two of the contenders to replace him that they will reinforce the relationship at the top, and that they are also prepared to look at some far-ranging changes in the relationship to take account of the new threat to North America from international terrorism and the increased pace of economic integration in North America.
While the Liberal party under John Turner had opposed the FTA with the United States in 1988 and Chrétien had promised major changes to the NAFTA during the 1993 election campaign, in office, he became an ardent supporter of free trade. In 1994 he suggested to the French Senate the negotiation of a free trade agreement between the EU and NAFTA. Later the same year he heartily endorsed the Free Trade in the Americas initiative (FTAA) and a similar initiative among APEC countries. Negotiation of a free trade agreement launched by the Chrétien government with the four countries of the European Fair Trade Association (EFTA) (Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland) got hung up over Norwegian ship- building subsidies and a lack of politi- cal impetus by either side, while negotiations for bilateral FTAs with Chile and Costa Rica were successful. Another element of Chrétien’s legacy will be to have made free trade ”œpoliti- cally correct”.
Each of the six prime ministers faced several foreign and defence issues specific to their time and all of them faced the task of managing Canada’s most important foreign, trade and defence priority, which is relations with the United States. All had their differ- ences with aspects of American policies and none of them shied away from making those differences known. Some were better than others at ensuring a solid relationship with the American president, thereby ensuring that Canada’s viewpoint would be better taken into account than by those who tended to discount the importance of personal relationships to the overall management of the relationship.
While Canada’s role in the world and the world itself changed greatly over the last fifty years, several things remained constant: Canada has never sought to be a military power, except in times of world war; however, Canadians want an engaged, outward-looking Canadian foreign policy, which includes having to spend enough resources on both the diplomatic service and the mili- tary to enable that role to be played in many parts of the world as well as in the defence of North America against the new threat of international terrorism.
Canadians want to maintain their independence vis-à-vis the United States, but get worried when manifestations of anti-Americanism come to the fore with- in a government; getting this balance right is one of the main challenges any PM faces; notwithstanding several attempts at trade diversification, Canada has become increasingly dependent on the US for our economic well-being, almost 90 percent of our exports, which account for about 40 percent of our GDP, comes from trade with the US.
There are many aspects to foreign policy, defence and international trade, but the most important criterion in each of these areas, by far, is the man- agement of Canada’s relationship with the United States. On my scorecard, on that basis, I would rank Mulroney first, St-Laurent second, Pearson third, Trudeau fourth, Chrétien fifth and Diefenbaker sixth.