The Canadian Way: Shaping Canada's Foreign Policy, 1968-1984
The Canadian Way: Shaping Canada's Foreign Policy, 1968-1984

The Canadian Way: Shaping Canada's Foreign Policy, 1968-1984

January 1 st 1996

McClelland and Stewart Inc., 1995, 361 pp., $30.00

When Messrs. Head and Trudeau held a televised news conference in Ottawa in November 1995 to unveil their jointly authored book, the questions asked were directed to the problem of Quebec, not foreign policy. The former prime minister, obviously riled, made a justifiably rude exit. But then the same problem could be said to apply to the book itself, which speaks more through its omissions than through what it says. If one had to judge by the book, it would seem that throughout all those years Canadian foreign policy paid scant attention to the bread and butter issues of Canadian life, be they economic, industrial, or commercial. That alone speaks volumes. After all, the foreign policy of any competent country must be as encompassing as the full range of domestic interests. The new Europe, for example, is only now moving toward political union; for decades the agenda was primarily driven by economic concerns.

What excited the authors of these memoirs most were such things as the passage of the American tanker, the Manhattan, through the northern ocean, and the subsequent creation of the Law of the Sea; nuclear weapons and disarmament; the politics of the Commonwealth; the Canadian rapprochement with the Soviet Union; and the diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China. Indeed, the last mentioned was the new prime minister's top priority when he took office. While much attention is paid to the bilateral relationship with the United States and while that relationship is primarily commercial—so that issues of that nature could hardly be avoided—nothing of particular importance jumps to attention. The controversial National Energy Program is hardly mentioned.

More realism, less idealism

The two broad issues of an economic nature that are dealt with at some length are the so-called Third Option, and the so-called North-South situation. The former refers to a proposal to diversify investment and trade activities away from the United States and back toward Europe, but not much effort was put into it and it soon fizzled out, notwithstanding that common sense alone dictates that no country should have more than 80 per cent of its economic and trade interests concentrated in one basket.

As for the North-South issue, the main concern was the obvious and growing economic disparity between rich and poor. Preferential tariffs for Third World products was a clearly humane objective. But what were the real economic advantages to Canada of a special relationship with poor countries? It would seem that Canadian officials were anxious for Canada to rather put greater efforts into its economic relations with the rest of the industrialized world, but on this score they conducted a running—and losing—fight with Messrs. Head and Trudeau, whose agenda seemed to be more political. More than a whiff of that comes through when, for example, the authors remark that "the profound ignorance of [President] Reagan about circumstances in the developing countries, and his naive belief in the ability of free-market mechanisms to solve all problems everywhere, was a depressant." This is only one instance of the extraordinary extent to which the authors brandish judgemental adjectives, something that one would normally associate with weakness, not strength. This tendency seems to surface especially when ideology obtrudes. With respect to the recognition of communist China: "The manipulation of the UN Credentials Committee by the United States was as blatant as it was unconscionable and self-defeating."

No, this book is as good a justification as any for the growing suspicion among Canadians that the Trudeau regnum was an expensive roller-coaster ride for their country, a ride that lasted far too long. Domestically, Canadian energies were consumed and diverted by Canada's cultural revolution, to the virtual exclusion of its economic and industrial development. On the constitutional front, the priorities were to get out from under the British yoke (so to speak) and to entrench an ideology-driven Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The most important part of the constitutional agenda, namely, the concomitant renegotiation and rearrangement of the so-called "economic powers" (needed to bolster Canada's international industrial competitiveness) was soon abandoned. Instead, Canadian governments put in place so large a national financial deficit that the compounding interest payments soon grew beyond their means.

The Canadian Way concludes by opposing the aspirations of idealism ar\d the dictates of realism, arguing that those two elements ought not to be contradictory. The book implies that Messrs. Head and Trudeau were driven by the former more than the latter. In that respect, and to that extent, the book is at least honest. Canadian taxpayers, investors, and workers, however, would have wished for more realism and somewhat less idealism because, by 1995 and 1996, the chickens had come home to roost. The irony is that when Mr. Trudeau and his colleagues issued their own political, ideological, and world-transformative manifesto in 1964, the chosen title had been "A Call for Realism in Politics."

Dirk de Vos
Dirk de Vos

Dirk de Vos


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