Canadians frown at Reagan's smiles and promises
Ottawa — While hoping for the best, Canadians are preparing for more rough weather in their dealings with the United States following President Reagan's recent visit to Canada.
Mr. Reagan's charm and the newness of his administration have created a breathing space in the brittle relations between the two countries. But Canadians are wondering what happens next.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Mr. Reagan got along famously during the March 10-11 talks in Ottawa. But everyone realizes it will take a great deal more than cordiality to solve the many issues bedeviling bilateral relations.
In fact, it wasn't long before the warm glow faded once Mr. Reagan departed. Within hours, Mr. Trudeau was under fire in the House of Commons from opposition party spokesmen who accused his government of selling out to the Americans on crucial issues.
Mr. Trudeau denied it, but it was a feeling shared by many Canadians. They felt this way even though they fully realize that Canada, with only once-tenth of the population of the US and an economy closely linked to American markets, is hardly in a position to drive a hard bargain with Mr. Reagan.
"We're easy pickings," said one Ottawa resident. "Reagan's visit was a masterful exercise. He got the desired response. We said, 'We're glad to see you, we'll try to to cooperate, and we'll go along with you on a North American accord.'"
This last reference is to Mr. Reagan's proposal for regular consultations among Canada, the US, and Mexico. Mr. Trudeau agreed after the Ottawa meeting to explore this possibility, which had been suggested by Mr. Reagan during his presidential election campaign.
But on this topic, as on others, Mr. Trudeau sounded considerably less conciliatory after the presidential party had reurned to Washington. He said at a press conference March 12 his willingness to enter into three-way talks should not be construed as a commitment to a North American common market in energy and other commodities, as advocated by some politicians here and in the US.
Asked if he would rule out the discussion of energy in trilateral talks, Mr. Trudeau snapped, "If I didn't, I'm sure the Mexicans would."
Mr. Trudeau raised the possibility of a Canada-US fish war as a result of the Reagan administration's dropping an East Coast fisheries treaty. In place of the treaty, escrapped by Washington because of a lack of support for ratification in the US Senate, the Americans promised a conservation program to protect valuable fish stocks in the Georges Bank area of the Atlantic.
Unless an American conservation program is put in place quickly, said Mr. Trudeau, Canadian fishermen might be turned loose to catch all they can.
"If the stock is going to be depleted and made extinct, courtesy of the American fishermen, why shouldn't we grab as much as we can while there's still some around?"
On this and other issues, come Canadians were angered that Mr. Reagan, for all his friendliness, delivered few specific promises.
The visit left many Canadians as worried as ever about pollution of the Great Lakes and about acid rain, a form of industrial pollution that drifts into Canada from US factories destroying lakes and fish.
US officials told the Trudeau government it can expect full cooperation on environmental issues. But in view of Mr. Reagan's concern from industrial revitalization, there is widespread doubt here that much will be accomplished in this area.
Mr. Reagan said his government favors construction of the $20 billion Canada-US northern natural gas pipeline, using private financing. Many Canadians questioned if this assurance from Washington would be enough to guarantee that the enormous project will be completed.
Despite expressions of concern from Canadian leaders about the course the US is following in El Salvador, Mr. Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. showed little inclination to alter their policy or even tone down the bellicose rhetoric used in discussing the situation in Central America.
Of Mr. Reagan, an official of the Canadian External Affairs Department said, "With him there's a lot of difference between what's going on on the surface and what's going on behind the scenes. He likes to play the press for all it's worth, but to me he seems untrustworthy."
He added, "Reagan doesn't know anything about world affairs. I don't like the heavy-handed attitude of his administration. Look at El Salvador. He's going to get into a lot of trouble there before he's through."
But, for the majority of Canadians, the Reagan visit was a good start between Mr. Trudeau's government and the new administration in Washington. It offered a chance to put aside the bickering that sprung up repeatedly between the two countries during the Cart er presidency.