"Free trade with the United States is like sleeping with an elephant. It's terrific until the elephant twitches, and if the elephant rolls over, you are a dead man. I'll tell you when he's going to roll over. He's going to roll over in times of economic depression and they are going to crank up the plants in Georgia and North Carolina and Ohio, and they're going to be shutting them down here." -Brian Mulroney to the Globe and Mail in 1983, quoted on page 230 of Mulroney's memoirs. Before he championed free trade with the United States, Brian Mulroney ran hard against it in the 1983 leadership race. He based his opposition to John Crosbie's calls for a trade deal on the risk inherent in preserving open markets and stable investment during a downturn, precisely the challenge we are currently facing. Addressing that risk - and the attendant challenges of protectionism - would require a highly focused and disciplined team in the PMO, Foreign Affairs and the D.C. Embassy. Instead, it appears the focus was on photo-ops, not substance. Even Mulroney, who worked to build a cordial relationship with the Americans despite the political fall-out such actions inevitably exact at home, was brutally frank and single-minded in his meetings with Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Former Defence Minister Perrin Beatty is quoted in Mulroney's autobiography at one point: "I had no idea the PM was so direct and tough in these meetings. The CBC should televise any one of those sessions and Mulroney would be elected forever." Judging from the transcript of the White House press briefing, Stephen Harper could use some advice from Mulroney (or Jean Chretien, who was equally tough-minded in private meetings with Clinton and Bush Jr.). Too many topics were touched on that were tangential to Canadian interests, and the threat to Canada's economy - as Mulroney alluded to - is dire. On a day when we needed a cannon fired across Obama's bow, we got the PM (and opposition leader) more concerned about taking their photo with the famous new President.
Follow us on Twitter: