Aftermath of the Economic Summit

July 1 st 1988
Guests of MPs had better learn what most Canadians already know—Parliament is the last refuge from straight talk or honest debate in this delicate land. RSVP, but for heaven's sake, don't speak your mind. (Globe & Mail, June 24, 1988)

So editorialized the Globe and Mail about the overwrought response of the opposition parties to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's speech in the House of Commons. What provoked the ire of the Liberals and New Democrats was the British prime minister's praise of the Canada-U.S. free trade accord and Canada's participation in NATO. Liberal leader John Turner thundered about Thatcher's attack on Canadian sovereignty. NDP Chief Ed Broadbent spluttered: "What right does she have to come here and meddle in Canadian affairs?" The last of the seven Economic Summit leaders to leave Canada on the evening of June 22, Margaret Thatcher had managed to do what she often does, create controversy and strong reaction, when she addressed the Canadian Parliament that afternoon.

Prime Minister Thatcher, the senior Summiteer, set the tone for the Economic Summit held in Toronto from June 19-21. The Summit's carefully phrased, final communique expressed agreement on conservative economic policies, including "a commitment to improve efficiency and adaptability through greater reliance on competitive forces and structural reform."

Two controversial issues dominated the discussion: the impossible debt load faced by the Third World countries, and the messy problem of agricultural subsidies. The Summiteers agreed to a program of debt relief that involved a "menu approach," allowing member countries to choose from a variety of possibilities to help relieve the debt burden of the poorest countries.

The Summit leaders agreed that all agricultural subsidies must be eliminated in the future to make the agricultural sector more responsive to market signals. They passed on to their "negotiators in Geneva" the task of developing a framework to reach that long-term goal.

Prime Minister Brian "Mulroney was delighted with the Summit's statement that "we strongly welcome the free trade agreement between Canada and the U.S.A., and the steady progress towards the target of the European community to complete the internal market by 1992."

Generally, Brian Mulroney, host and chairman of the proceedings, received high marks for his competent leadership. Hordes of media people spent their time consuming the free refreshments and churning out reams of articles and reports, polishing and fluffing up small nuggets of news. But did the Summit really accomplish anything worthwhile?

Some, including Prime Minister Thatcher herself, have called the Summit a media circus. It was very much a media event. Cynics and a group of anti-Summit protesters, who ranted about the heartless policies of the government leaders, were quick to write off the Summit as an exercise in make-believe and futility. It's good to be realistic on this score. Much of the work was done behind the scenes and well ahead of the Economic Summit meetings. Diplomatic niceties, showmanship, and ambiguously worded consensus abounded. Nonetheless, face-to-face meetings among the seven leaders of the most powerful democratic nations may well have certain benefits. Especially when we remember that a little over four decades ago three of the Summit nations were engaged in a murderous war against the other three, while the seventh (France) was occupied territory. Polite and diplomatic talk among government leaders may not produce sensational results, but it is certainly an improvement over a shooting war.

Now that the big actors on the world scene have departed, we Canadians can concentrate on playing our domestic games again. Ed Broadbent and John Turner now face the task not merely to defend our little Canada against Uncle Sam, but they must do battle with the Iron Lady who had the temerity to simply speak what was on her mind and proclaim such heresies as:

We have come a long way. We have learned that it is not governments which create wealth but people—provided we have policies which encourage them to do it.

How dare she?

 

Harry Antonides came to Canada in 1948, initially working as a farm hand and railway labourer. After over a decade working in a chemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Harry joined the newly forming Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1962 as a field representative. By 1970 Harry became director of research and education. In 1974, he was a founding member of the Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) and publisher of their sole publication, Comment magazine. A prolific writer and dynamic speaker, Harry delivered lectures all over North America and published numerous articles, reviews, and essays. He is author of several books on Christianity, labour, and economics, including Multinationals and the Peacable Kingdom (1978) and Stones for Bread: The Social Gospel and its Contemporary Legacy (1985). Harry is retired and lives with his wife Janet in Willowdale, Ontario.

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