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Canadian Foreign Policy and the Seven Power Summits

Timothy Heeney

Country Study Number One
Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto
May 1988

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The Ottawa summit signalled a turning point in the agenda of the summit, with a shift from energy, collective economic recovery, and the weak dollar to the 'new' issues of American interest rates, East-West trade and political topics.(64 )This was principally because the new Reagan Administration was dedicated to pursuing fundamentally different economic and political/ security policies than Presidents Carter and Ford had been. Reagan was not the only new leader at Ottawa. Indeed, five of the eight leaders were attending their first summit. Only Schmidt remained from the original Library Group and Ramboulliet which made he and Trudeau (the next most experienced summiteer) the deans of the Ottawa summit. Trudeau has had the added responsibility and prerogative of being host in 1981. Many commentators to dubbed this the "getting to know you" summit and predicted that this would inhibit the prospects for serious progress on the issues. The American sherpa was quoted as saying before the Ottawa summit that "there will be no concrete conclusions, no numbers in the communiqué, no specific policy agreements. (65 )He was right and Putnam and Bayne have concluded that "nothing significant" was achieved at Ottawa in 1981.(66)

The summit was not viewed as a failure, however. Its "nondecisional" character was generally accepted by the participants. It allowed for lively discussion and the leaders did actually to know each other - a worthwhile exercise in itself. The issues nominally on the agenda and in the communiqué were "the economy" (particularly American interest rates), North-South relations, energy (very briefly), trade and East-West economic relations. There were also a broad range of political topics discussed and released as a "Chairman's Summary of Political Issues". These included terrorism, Middle East, East-West relations, Afghanistan, arms control, and refugees.

The most significant aspect of this summit for Canada was that it acted as host. The decision to hold the bulk of the meetings in the secluded Chateau Montebello while keeping the journalists in Ottawa was universally praised by the participants at the time. However, it has been speculated that Reagan would not allow such an informal meeting again.(67) Trudeau wanted a more modest and informal setting in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the earlier summit and thus to produce free flowing discussion without the media panting outside the door.(68) He had hoped to make this a summit devoted almost entirely to serious progress on the North-South dialogue. This was a goal which one would believe was achieved by looking at the communiqué only, but one which was frustrated in reality by the more social distractions mentioned above.

Prior to the Ottawa summit Trudeau undertook a shuttle between the summit seven countries in an attempt to get a preliminary agreement on "global negotiations" about underdevelopment. He did make some progress. He secured, most notably, a mention of support for the upcoming Cancun Summit, an informal promise from President Reagan to attend Cancun, and a general summit commitment to "participate in preparations for a mutually acceptable process of global negotiations."(69) While these were not stunning results they were the most that could be expected considering the conditions in which the summit took place. The summit leaders also gave general approval for an affiliate of the World Bank to be established to aid non-oil developing countries finance their energy supplies.(70) Both Trudeau's pre-summit shuttle and his efforts to bring the North-South issues to prominence in Ottawa received substantial coverage in foreign as well as domestic print media.

In addition to North-South issues, Trudeau wanted to 'protect' Reagan from being ganged up on by the other summiteers, a reaction evoked by both his position as a summit "dean" and Canada's close relationship with the USA.(71)If Reagan had a bad experience at his first summit, he might not be disposed to take the summits seriously in the future. Trudeau was largely successful in this regard as Reagan and Mitterand got along quite congenially and there were no reported 'blow-ups'. Canada was also successful in broadening the range of political topics on the agenda and in the final statements of the conference. This was very much in Canada's interest as previous summits had been marked by separate meetings of the 'Berlin Four' to which Canada was not invited. In addition, Canada was applauded for its role as host which solidified its membership in the summit seven even further.

Source: Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

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