It was on this date in 1987 that Vice President George H.W. Bush arrived in Ottawa, where he received one of the toughest messages an American official ever has from a Canadian Prime Minister.
Brian Mulroney, who had come to office three years before pledging a more positive approach to Canadian-American relations, was, in a word, mad. Three of the Prime Minister’s personal bilateral priorities – a free trade agreement with the USA, the fight against acid rain, and, a deal between Canada and the U.S. that would protect Canada’s interests and sovereignty in the Arctic – were stalled for various reasons in Washington.
Deftly, Mulroney contacted Ronald Reagan’s Vice President, George Bush, and firmly laid out Canada’s concerns. “These are grave issues that are getting worse,” PM Mulroney told Bush by telephone a week earlier. “Unless the United States comes through, you’ll never have a more friendly prime minister for decades and beyond.”
When Bush briefed President Reagan on Mulroney and Canada’s views, Bush was immediately ordered to visit Ottawa. On a cold Ottawa day Bush told the press that he had indeed received “an earful” from an angry Canadian Prime Minister.
And, within days, the Reagan Administration began to demonstrate positive movement on Canada’s concerns and priorities. It was a masterful move by Mulroney, and by the end of his years in office America had indeed delivered on these three priority areas for him and Canada.
Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.