Do foreign diplomats need the help of consultants and lobbyists in Washington? Canada figures it does and hired Michael K. Deaver & Associates. However, undoubtedly to the relief of External Affairs officials here, that controversial contract expired Monday. Mr. Deaver has indicated he will not seek its renewal.
The opposition Liberal Party suggested that the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney may have been party to a breach of United States law in its dealings with Deaver.
But the government denies such charges.
``We are satisfied we were in compliance with the law,'' says Paul Frazer, director of media relations for the External Affairs Department. ``One assumes the person you were contracting with was carrying out his obligations within the norms.''
A three-judge federal panel in Washington last month appointed Whitney North Seymour Jr., a Manhattan lawyer, to investigate the charge that Deaver, a close friend of the President and Mrs. Reagan, violated conflict-of-interest laws in his work for Canada and other clients.
Aside from the simple legality of Canada's tie with Deaver, Mr. Frazer maintains Canada acted within the ``accepted bounds'' of Washington behavior. He said he would be ``hard-pressed'' to find a government whose diplomats in Washington do not hire American consultants to aid them in their job.
``It has become a part of the way of doing business,'' the chief foreign affairs spokesman added.
External Affairs Minister Joe Clark made a similar case in a statement June 17 to the Canadian Parliament's Standing Committee on External Affairs and International Trade. ``It is important to remember that our embassy in Washington has to deal with a situation which is quite different than the parliamentary process with which we are so familiar here,'' he said. ``Because of the separation of the legislative and executive branches of the US government, our embassy has no alternative but to take our case to the Congress as well as to the administration.''
Mr. Clark held that, while observing US law, Canada needs to engage professional help to defend its interests.
``Specialist law firms with their extensive knowledge of US law, their knowledge of particular economic and social sectors, their knowledge of Washington officials and of the Congress, can be invaluable in providing intelligence on a given issue and in developing strategies to influence the US legislative process,'' he said.
Under the previous Liberal government, the Canadian Embassy engaged such American consultants, Clark added. He listed such contracts in detail in his statement.
The external affairs minister also noted that such consulting services were employed by the governments, state corporations, or private sector entities of 154 countries in 1984. And, he added, the US Justice Department estimates that some 800 firms or individuals are registered as so-called ``foreign agents.''
Canada's year-long contract with Deaver called for a payment of $105,000 in return for his ``expert advice'' on the ``substance'' and ``most appropriate means'' of conducting Canada's public affairs and communications activities in the US. The contract also speaks of providing advice and assistance ``in pursuit of Canadian interests generally in the United States.''
Frazer pointed out that the acid rain issue -- a key element in the Deaver investigation because of his involvement in that topic while serving in the White House -- was not mentioned in the contract.
Canada's federal government spent some $600,000 on American consulting services in 1984, according to the US Justice Department. Provincial governments expended another $380,000 and private business more than $4 million, including legal representatation in US courts and quasi-judicial regulatory processes.
Such costs, Frazer argued, are lower than the spending that would be needed for the Canadian Embassy to maintain a larger staff of its own experts in Washington.
And External Affairs Minister Clark noted that Canadian expenditures on consultants are dwarfed by the estimated $50 million spent by Japanese interests for similar consulting or lobbying efforts.
Clark last month managed to head off a full-scale parliamentary investigation into the Deaver affair. However, if the US investigation ``reflects unfavorably on Canada, it then would be appropriate for the Canadian Parliament to undertake an investigation of this issue,'' he stated.