Eight statesmen, scores of aides, hundreds of press, and thousands of security personnel will all descend on Kananaskis, Alberta, in late June 2002. For the fourth time since 1976, but the first time in Western Canada, a Canadian prime minister will be hosting the G-8 leaders summit.
The G-8 is the most exclusive club in the world. There are 190 nations in the UN, 54 in the Commonwealth, 19 in NATO, but only the United States, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Canada in the G-8. How did Canada come to be a member of this political "directoire" when economic giants like China and Brazil are excluded?
In 1975 President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing of France had a good idea. In that era of energy crisis and galloping inflation, France recognized that the world economy required the most important states to work in concert. To develop a coordinated strategy, the French president recommended that the world's leaders meet to debate forcefully and informally the issues of the day free from the protocol and vast organization of most internal organizations. There was ready agreement to the concept and the agenda. But a major issue arose - who would be invited to be a member of this new club?
Invitations were extended to France's partners in the G-5 economic consultative group, and as a neighbourly gesture, Giscard d'Estaing also invited Italy. Canada, however, was left out. France's decision may have been a continuation of the Gaullist campaign to diminish Canada that had begun with General Charles de Gaulle's "Vive Quebec Libre" speech in Montreal. Or France may not have wanted to set a precedent for other middle powers, but the French president was adamant - No Canada!
Prime Minister Trudeau, however, launched a quick and effective counteroffensive. At that time, Canada had a larger GNP than Italy and we still had significant military and foreign aid assets. In short, Canada then had more relative capability than we do today. Trudeau's good personal relations with the leaders of that time also came into play. James Callaghan of Great Britain intervened with France, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt told the French he would not attend any future meetings unless Canada participated, and the Japanese made it known that another non-European voice would be welcome.
But Canada's key friend was President Gerald Ford of the United States. As a longtime representative of Michigan in the Congress, Ford knew Canada well. When he became president, through the accident of the Watergate scandal in 1974, Ford and Trudeau immediately hit it off. President Ford was irate about Canada's exclusion, and he briefly considered refusing to attend the summit. A more positive approach, however, was chosen. The United States was to host the next summit, and just as France had invited Italy in 1975, the United States would invite Canada to attend the 1976 summit in Puerto Rico. Once invited, President Ford concluded, you would not be excluded in the future. So it has proved.
The G-8 is one of the most important forums in the world. In 1983 Prime Minister Trudeau persuaded his partners to endorse his peace mission, in 1987 Prime Minister Mulroney led a dialogue on South Africa, and in 2002 Prime Minister Chrétien has made African development the centrepiece of the agenda. Through the G-8, Canada is part of the major leagues of international diplomacy. Canada's membership is probably the most significant foreign policy achievement of the Trudeau era. We owe this elevated status, however, to a decent man largely unrecognized in his own country's history, President Gerald Ford.