OTTAWA — Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told Vice President George Bush on Wednesday that the Reagan Administration has broken its promises to Canada regarding trade and pollution and that failure to move quickly on restoring the commitments will seriously damage relations between the traditionally close nations.
Mulroney and key aides spent more than five hours lecturing Bush and Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, who were invited here by the prime minister to hear Canadian concerns about the pace and style of U.S.-Canadian free trade negotiations as well as President Reagan's failure to push for effective controls on acid rain pollution.
Although the Canadian fears and doubts are sincere and of long standing, the timing of Mulroney's complaints have a great deal to do with serious domestic political problems he faces.
His political popularity has declined sharply, with polls placing him third after the country's two other national party leaders. The polls place his Progressive Conservative Party far behind the Liberal Party and even with the socialist New Democratic Party.
The polls indicate that the prime minister suffers because of his failure to deal effectively with the United States on acid rain and trade, despite his boasting about close personal and diplomatic ties with Reagan. Mulroney aides acknowledged privately that the prime minister called Bush and Baker to Ottawa "to do some America-bashing" in order to prove he is tough.
Mulroney publicly underlined this approach when he told reporters at a brief news conference that although "I don't throw hand grenades at the U.S. . . . I'm very big on protecting the interests of Canada; I'm good at defending Canadian interests."
Seems Almost Bellicose
He seemed almost bellicose when he stated that "I don't want to be on anybody's back burner or taken for granted at any time"--a pointed reference to constant Canadian perceptions about Washington's attitude toward the bilateral ties.
The danger to the relationship, which is already at one of its lowest points in a decade or more, was put into even sharper focus by a ranking Canadian official who privately told reporters after the meeting that the Wednesday talks were "about commitments that have either been neglected or have fallen short on the American side."
Failure to correct the situation, the official said, "can't help but affect the tenor and tone of the relationship as a whole."
This is surprising coming from a ranking official in a government that came to power partly because it promised to improve relations with Washington by acting as Reagan's best friend.
Two recent developments account for the Canadian anger. First, Reagan declined to prevent the imposition of a 15% duty on Canadian softwood exports unless Mulroney gave in to American lumber industry demands that he levy an equivalent tax on the timber products. This amounts to nearly half a billion U.S. dollars and may cost several thousand jobs.
Second, Reagan, in his budget message to Congress earlier this month, failed to request money for an acid rain control project, as he had promised at a meeting with Mulroney in Washington last March.
In fact, he seemed to twist the knife by renewing doubts that acid rain is even a problem, a stand he had dropped last March, to Mulroney's relief.
Mulroney showed his discontent Wednesday as he stood before reporters with Bush nearby. "Absolutely not," he answered vigorously when asked if the United States has lived up to its commitments to control American-originated acid rain--airborne sulfur dioxide emissions that are blamed for already destroying the ecosystem of 14,000 Canadian lakes and endangering 40,000 others.
He added that "I'll believe it (Reagan's sincerity) when I see the money."
Official More Candid
Another official who sat in on the meetings was more candid. "What they have done (regarding trade and acid rain) falls way short (of U.S. promises). . . . It is not a repudiation, but it has fallen substantially short."
However, as the official continued to talk, his impatience overcame his diplomatic reserve. He would not believe U.S. promises about acid rain, for instance, until "there is real money directed at the emissions and . . . tangible actions are imposed to control" acid rain.
Bush tried to calm the atmosphere by repeating historic U.S. pledges of support and friendship. "There is no relationship more important to the United States," he said, promising to pass on Mulroney's concerns during a meeting with the President today.
But in spite of his smiles and easygoing assurances, the vice president gave no specific assurances that the United States would alleviate Canadian complaints, particularly by spending more money to control acid rain.