THE whirlwind visits to London and Washington by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson immediately upon his election revived a diplomatic technique that has been unused since the latter days of the Roosevelt Administration. They were goodwill missions in purest and simplest form, not designed to negotiate settlements of Canadian-United Kingdom problems or Canadian-American problems, of which there are more than enough. Rather, they were intended to clear away the doubt and suspicion and irritability which have bedeviled Canada’s external relationships in recent years, to create an atmosphere of goodwill for the negotiations when they do take place.
It is in just such a mission that the contrast is the sharpest between Pearson and the man he defeated, John Diefenbaker. Pearson is at his best in selling himself and his ideas when he deals with individuals or small groups. He has a genuine talent for finding small areas of agreement and trying to enlarge them. Diefenbaker is at his best on the hustings with a large and partisan audience, which he can arouse as few other politicians can. It can almost be said that he has a talent for finding small areas of disagreement and building them into campaign issues.
In the last year, purposeful communication between Ottawa and Washington had broken down. The new Prime Minister visited President Kennedy to establish a personal rapport, and the degree to which he succeeded impressed even the most cynical correspondents at Hyannisport. The pipeline between Ottawa and Washington was thawed out and now can be filled with meaningful communications.
The problems which beset the two countries are so complex and so fundamental, however, that it took the two leaders the better part of two days just to catalogue and describe them. Washington, for example, wants Canada to join the Organization of American States and help to develop Latin America; it urgently wants ratification of the Columbia River treaty; it is seriously concerned about excessive Canadian borrowing in the United States; it wants Canadian support for President Kennedy’s proposed 50 percent cut in tariffs.
On some of these points, Canada will go along. On all it will be prepared to negotiate. The bargaining will be hard because some of the points touch the very heart of the Canadian economy. But the new Canadian Prime Minister is an ardent believer in the idea that it is possible to be a hard bargainer and an amiable good neighbor at the same time. Both countries were ready to make a fresh start, and the end of Canada’s second general election campaign within a year, on April 8, evoked the same reaction in Washington as in Canada — sighs of relief that it was over.
Never before had an American government intruded so deeply into a Canadian election. Its involvement in the debate over nuclear weapons helped turn out the Conservative Administration of Prime Minister Diefenbaker. The confusion over the controversy prevented the Liberal Party under Pearson from obtaining an overall majority with which to govern for the next five years. When the dust settled, the Liberals took office with 130 seats, the Conservatives elected 94, the Social Credit Party 24, and the New Democratic Party 17, in a Parliament of 265.
The causes of friction
The election was brought on by a chain of events which began with the visit to Ottawa of General Lauris Norstad at New Year’s. Then the obtrusion of the State Department in a Canadian parliamentary debate stoked the flames of controversy; and cloak-and-dagger stories of secret American papers falling into Canadian hands, gibes at Canada by a congressional committee, and official American deprecation of the Bomarc combined to give the Canadian election campaign an American tinge. The nuclear defense issue monopolized attention, and pressing Canadian economic and cultural problems were ignored.
Formulation of its own defense policy by the United States has been simplified by its development of the world’s greatest stock of nuclear weapons. But for Canada, with its large isolationist minorities, preoccupied as it is with maintaining its sovereignty, to work out a defense policy has been agonizingly difficult. Canada is irrevocably committed to the side of the United States, and geographically it is caught square in the middle between the United States and Russia. Thus, it comes naturally by its pathological pursuit of world disarmament and its often naïve commitment to the United Nations.
Until the arrival of General Norstad, all Canadian political parties embraced two contradictory articles of faith: that any enlargement of the nuclear club to include Canada was an affront to morality which would increase the risk of nuclear war; and that Canada must be prepared to help defend the free world and itself against Russian aggression, and the nuclear deterrent was the only effective defense.
In 1958 and 1959, the Diefenbaker government agreed to adopt four American nuclear weapon systems. These included the Bomarc in Canada and C.F. 104 Starfighter strike reconnaissance planes for its NATO squadrons. But none of the weapons could be effective without nuclear warheads. Before the warheads could be acquired, a bilateral treaty with the United States had to be negotiated for joint control.
As it would take several years to install the Bomarcs and build the planes, however, there was no rush to get on with negotiations. In the meantime, the government hoped the world would agree to nuclear disarmament, so that Canadian acceptance of nuclear warheads would be unnecessary. Unhappily, time caught up with the government. The Bomarcs were installed in 1962, and the NATO squadron took delivery of its Starfighters, both without warheads. The Cuban crisis focused attention sharply on these Canadianmade holes in North American defense.
This was the atmosphere into which General Norstad wandered early in January. The retiring commander of NATO, at an Ottawa press conference, was questioned closely, and his replies made headlines. Canada, he indicated, was reneging on its commitments to NATO because it was refusing to permit the Starfighters to be armed with the only effective armament they could carry — nuclear arms. He pointed out that, even when the planes were armed, it would take up to six months to train Canadian pilots, and training could not begin until the Canadian government signed a treaty with the United States.
The Norstad statement stirred up the nationwide newspaper argument, but neither the Liberal Party nor the government became immediately involved. Lester Pearson then went on a visit to New York and upon his return made a surprise public speech in Toronto. In a complete about-face, he called for Canada to honor its NATO commitments and acquire the warheads without which its weapons were impotent. The speech caused a turmoil inside the Liberal Party. There were resignations and dissension before the party closed ranks behind Pearson.
Diefenbaker reconfirmed the government’s position in a long speech on January 25. He laid great stress on modifications he hoped the Kennedy-Macmillan Nassau agreement would make in Western strategy. A multinuclear force within NATO, he said, would alter Canada’s obligations. He quoted Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to the effect that the Bomarc was becoming obsolete as new weapons evolved. The British had abandoned the Skybolt, and the switch to the Polaris submarine would likely modify the role of the Starfighter. In any event, he asserted, the government would change nothing and do nothing until the NATO Council met in Ottawa in May, four months hence. He bitterly accused Pearson of advocating a “made in Washington” policy for Canada.
The State Department jumped into the debate by issuing a long press release, in Ottawa as well as in Washington, in rebuttal of the Diefenbaker case. In Parliament, all parties instantly joined in protest against American interference in domestic Canadian politics. The Prime Minister’s emotion-charged statement that Canada was not going to be pushed around by the United States was echoed and endorsed with equal fervor by Pearson and other party leaders. Then the debate resumed as before and became angrier than ever.
Within a week the Diefenbaker government fell, and Canada was into its fourth general election in six years. But to attribute the parliamentary defeat to American intervention alone would be oversimplification. The most that could be said is that the American statements were the catalyst in the House of Commons motion which brought down the government.
The defense issue alone would not have defeated it. Social unrest in French Canada and Quebec’s noisy separatist movement, the steadily accelerating absorption of Canadian industry by American capital, the ever-present foreign-exchange crisis, the almost complete disenchantment of Canadian business with Diefenbaker were all of greater importance.
The Conservative split
The Conservative Party itself was split by the nuclear debate. Douglas Harkness had resigned prior to the vote. Within a week, George Hees, the highly popular Minister of Trade and Commerce, and Paul Sevigny, Associate Minister of Defense, also quit. Other Cabinet ministers resigned. In short order, newspapers which previously had been true-blue Tory switched to the Liberal Party.
It was surely a tattered, strifetorn, desertion-damaged remnant of a party which Diefenbaker led into the election. The wonder is not that he did so badly. The wonder is that he did so well at the polls.
When the election was called, Liberal leaders confidently talked of winning 180 seats in the house of 265. They won only 130, or three fewer than were needed for a majority. Instead of the 45 or 50 seats they conceded to Diefenbaker, the Conservatives won 94. The Liberals swept the large cities clear of Conservatives, but the latter retained their solid grip on the rural seats outside Quebec.
As the election proceeded, its antiAmerican overtones attracted unprecedented attention in the United States and gave outsiders a distorted impression of Canadian politics. To identify the Conservatives as an antiAmerican party would be no more accurate than to call the Liberals a pro-American party. The Conservative government had, in fact, leaned over backward to cooperate with Washington on the Columbia River treaty and in connection with crudeoil exports.
Except for the nuclear issue, Ottawa got along with Washington on defense without difficulty. Diefenbaker, fundamentally a Canadian nationalist, reacted with steadily rising anger to provocation from Washington. He directed his campaign to the people who admired him most — the Canadian farmers. He gloried in the fact that Canadian city newspapers, television commentators, Canadian business, American magazines and newspapers, and the American government were all against him.
“Everybody’s against me but the people!” he cried, echoing Harry Truman in 1948. He carried every farm riding in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, not because Canadians are anti-American — they are not — but because the Conservatives were superior wheat marketers to the Liberals. With considerable justification, the Conservatives boasted that the Canadian recession was over, for a while at least, with national income up a whopping 8 percent, and that they had done it all.
The Liberals wrote off the western farm vote and concentrated on the Pacific Coast and the east. Confidence was their main talking point, the restoration of confidence at home and international prestige abroad. Pearson endlessly deplored Canadian criticism of the United States and the United Kingdom and pleaded that his party would “get Canada going again.”
Halfway through the election, the polls found neither party was making any headway with the electors. With four parties clamoring for votes, it was at this stage that the prospect of having another election and another minority government came home to Canadians. In the end, the issue that proved decisive was the need for a stable government, and as the polls indicated that the Liberals would be the largest party, they got the benefit of the bandwagon vote. By election day, the nuclear issue which had started it all had become a crashing bore.
The new government
The Pearson Cabinet is one of the strongest ever put together in Canada. It contains a half-dozen top business executives and an equal number of experienced parliamentarians. That friendlier relations with both the United States and the United Kingdom will be achieved can be taken for granted. Both Pearson and his Minister of External Affairs, Paul Martin, are as skilled in international affairs as they are steeped in them.
But none of Canada’s basic problems was solved by the election. Its foreign-exchange problem, arising from the $19.2 billion invested in Canada by U.S. industry and commerce, will return to haunt it. It is significant that the man who regards Canada’s foremost problem as “How can we buy Canada back?” will fill Pearson’s most important Cabinet post. He is Walter Gordon, the Minister of Finance, whose responsibility it will be to devise fiscal policies and taxation policies which will do just that. Mitchell Sharpe, Minister of Trade and Commerce, probably knows more about the deleterious impact of American branch plants on Canadian exports than any other Canadian. He will be responsible for solving that problem.
The new Pearson Administration will move quickly to plug whatever holes exist in North American defense. It will assuredly take a leading part in expanding Anglo-CanadianUnited States trade. The search for solutions to Canada’s economic problems will no doubt be as painful below the border as it is above, for the root cause lies within the United States, in the form of American ownership of most of Canada’s resources, industry, and commerce. But the search will proceed in an atmosphere of peace and quiet for the next three or four years, which, essentially, is all that Canadians really voted for.