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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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This summit came only six months after the first summit at Rambouillet, only lasted twenty-four hours, and has been widely considered a failure. The communiqué was short, bland and contained nothing new or of mayor significance. This was mainly because it came too soon after the very productive Rambouillet summit and because 1976 was an election year in the USA, West Germany, and Japan - the three most powerful economies of the group. The inhibiting effect of domestic elections would become a permanent feature of the summits, with the big election year summits of 1976, 1980 and 1984 all ranking very low on Putnam and Bayne's "summit scorecard".19)

From a Canadian viewpoint, however, the Puerto Rico summit was of the utmost importance. Its significance came in terms of membership rather than issues. Canada had apparently been excluded in 1975 at the insistence of the French who feared that we would side with the USA on all of the important issues. At this early stage it was not obvious that the summits would become an annual event, so public reaction in Canada to its exclusion was not one of outrage or indignation. When the Puerto Rico summit was called, however, Canadian officials became concerned about being left out of the club, primarily because of the extreme importance of trade in the Canadian economy.(20) It also seemed somewhat unjust that Italy had been included at Rambouillet despite its incredibly weak economic and political situation. Some commentators have claimed that if Italy had been excluded from the outset, Canada would not have tried to gain entry into the summit seven.(21) Yet as the summit grew in importance Canada would probably have had to have tried to get involved purely to protect our trade interests. In terms of membership, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium also tried to be admitted into the club in 1976, with Australia sponsored by Japan. But none of them had the necessary economic power.(22) And none of them received the all-important invitation from the support of the Japanese. The as the largest power of the President Ford combined with American prerogative as host and as the largest power of fine group made Ford's insistence that Canada be admitted stronger than continuing French resistance to our membership.(23)

At the summit itself, Prime Minister Trudeau did not act as a timid newcomer worried about keeping his membership, but rather behaved with the self-confidence of a senior statesman. He is reported to have "called on the leaders to abandon set speeches and participated in the type of open and informal exchange that is so dear to his heart and that he has promoted with considerable success In other forums - most notably the Commonwealth. (24) He had a very good relationship with President ford despite reports that he "crossed swords" with the American leader over the easing of barriers to foreign investment. Trudeau had claimed that such protection was not unreasonable if dictated by domestic political concerns.(25) This sort of brash self-confidence could have infuriated the other leaders. But as Canada's membership was not seriously disputed after Puerto Rico, it seems to have at least subconsciously convinced the others that Canada deserved to be a full member of the summit club. Regarding the personal relationship between Trudeau and both Ford and Carter at the summits and elsewhere, a Canadian participant claimed that both of these Presidents admired Trudeau's sophistication In international affairs, a quality which they lacked.(26) Personal appeal to the American presidents was an important factor in consolidating Canada's membership in the summit seven, and the importance of personality in general is central in analyzing the dynamics of an institution which is based on relatively informal face-to-face meetings between such important world leaders.

Source: Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto

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