THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING (VIA TELEPHONE) BY AMBASSADOR JAMES JOHNSTON BLANCHARD
The Briefing Room 2:10 P.M. EST
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: I will try to speak slowly and succinctly, which is contrary to my nature. Do you read me?
MR. SPALTER: Yes.
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Let me say that this upcoming trip of the President to Canada comes at an ideal time. It may be cold here, but relations have never been warmer. Most of you know that we cooperate with Canada on almost every issue, from the world's largest trading relationship, to space station, to restoring democracy in Haiti, to improving Great Lakes water quality, to having the closest security alliance the world has ever seen.
There is hardly an issue that we're not involved with Canada on. And while the President and Prime Minister Chretien have met many times and had two meetings in the United States, this will be his first state visit to Ottawa, and we are very excited.
The President is very popular in Canada. The two of them -- the two leaders -- communicate by phone very frequently. And, among other things, this trip will be a celebration of a partnership that works. It works in all phases that creates millions, or, at least, I should say, sustains millions of jobs on both sides of the border. Indeed, since the free trade agreement, trade has gone up by 50 percent.
So, I think the President will be stressing all the areas we cooperate. It will be a celebration of this special relationship. And, of course, one thing we will do is also sign a new aviation agreement which has been an issue for a decade. So we're looking forward to that as well.
MR. SPALTER: Okay, why don't we -- Governor, are you done with that statement?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Yes. I can hardly hear you. Yes.
MR. SPALTER: Why don't I just take questions on your behalf.
Q What about the border fee? What effect is that having on -- will they talk about that? Is it a source of controversy?
MR. SPALTER: Did you hear that, Governor?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: No, I can't.
MR. SPALTER: What about the border fee? Is that a source of controversy?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Well, yes and no. I think, frankly, most Canadians believe it's a dead issue. They don't like it. I think the leaders here understand that it's designed to deal with a very serious illegal immigration problems in the southern part of the United States and not directed at them. So our plan here is to talk about how we can facilitate border movement, and that will be, I think, the emphasis in any discussions here.
Q Do you think that everything is rosy, we have no problems?
MR. SPALTER: Helen Thomas asked, do you think everything is rosy? Do we have no problems?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: There are always, with the world's largest trading relationship -- this year or last year $270 billion. That's more trade than we do with all the European Union. There are going to be some trade disputes, trade irritants.
But, no, there really aren't any major problems. In fact, my own thinking is that's why this is a good time for trip, because the time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining and to make sure we take stock of where we've been, where we are, where we're heading. And there's been a lot of developments, of course, this past year with the Summit of Americas, with the restoring democracy to Haiti, and with an expanded trading relationship.
Q Why is the President so popular there --
MR. SPALTER: Why is the President so popular in Canada?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Well, it is a more liberal country. (Laughter.) I also believe that Canadians, they get every T.V. station known to man and woman. And they watch a lot of T.V., but they don't watch our T.V. as much as we do. So, I've indicated to my friends there that the President is not overexposed here. And Canadians like what they see.
Q Will the President be as popular after he has met with separatist leader -- (inaudible) -- in Canada?
MR. SPALTER: Will the President be as popular after he has met with the separatist leader when in Canada?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Well, assuming that the meeting is the normal regular courtesy meeting, which will be brief, with both opposition leaders, both Lucien Bouchard and Preston Manning, I don't see that affecting his standing here. And I don't know that we're worrying about it. After all, the President does not run for election in Canada, anyway.
Q What does the -- what can the President do to bolster the government's efforts to retain a united Canada in the face of the secessionist movement in Quebec?
MR. SPALTER: What can the President do to bolster a united Canada in the face of a separatist movement in Quebec?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Well, first, I think it's important to point out that we stress that we have enjoyed excellent relations with a strong and unified Canada and we have no intention of interfering in a provincial referendum or in a domestic question. Secondly, since this trip is a celebration of the special relationship between Canada and the U.S. -- no other relationship like it in the world -- I think that speaks more loudly than any political statement could be made. And I think that, frankly, underscores how important Canada as a nation -- as a total nation -- is to the people of the United States.
Q Will the President take advantage of his visit to give the Prime Minister the U.S. agenda for the G-7 meeting in Halifax, particularly Clinton's idea that he propounded in Naples last year to have a new Uruguay Round, a new GATT Round?
Q The question was, will the President use the visit as an opportunity to preview the G-7 Halifax agenda, specifically with reference to the introduction of a new Uruguay Round?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Well, that may be something that the President and/or Mickey Kantor, who will be coming up here, will want to raise. We are going to have extensive private working sessions, both with Secretary Christopher and his counterpart, Andre Ouellet; with Mickey Kantor and his counterpart, Roy MacLaren; and Federico Pena and his counterpart, Doug Young. And that may well be discussed.
You may know that in Toronto, about two weeks ago, Bob Rubin discussed at length with Paul Martin, his counterpart here, plans for Halifax. And, of course, the principal focus that the Canadians are stressing, and we, I think, concur is international financial institution reform.
Q What does he think of the Canadian health system? (Laughter.)
MR. SPALTER: What does he think of the Canadian health system?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: What does --
MR. SPALTER: The President.
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Well, I don't know. We'll have to ask him.
Q What does this man -- this man think of the Canadian health system is what I'm asking.
MR. SPALTER: Excuse me, what does -- Governor, what do you think of the Canadian health system?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Well, I use, of course, the U.S. system -- (laughter) -- because I'm insured down there. They would take care of me here, and I have no concerns about that. The health care system here appears to be very good. I will tell you this, that it is extremely popular. Polling data I've seen shows that about 85 percent of the Canadians feel very well satisfied with their health care system. It has some problems that will need to be fixed; they talk about them; my guess is that they will deal with them.
But there is a lot of misinformation in the United States about the Canadian system -- a lot of misinformation -- just as there is some misinformation here about our system.
Q Have any Canadian government officials expressed dismay, publicly or privately, with the fact that the President is meeting with someone committed to the separatist movement?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: No, not at all. The -- I must say that the Canadian leadership here felt strongly that we should meet with Bouchard and Manning, and to not do so would break with the tradition of meeting the opposition leaders; indeed, may create more of an issue by not meeting with them. And I know that because I've consulted with all of them very closely and have for some time.
Q Since Secretary Rubin is not on this trip, will the President and the Prime Minister be discussing the Peso crisis and what is now in the markets, at least speculated to be an implied similar threat to Canada?
MR. SPALTER: Since Secretary Rubin will not be on this trip, will the President be discussing with his counterpart, the Peso crisis and the implied -- repeat the second part of the question.
Q There's talk about, is Canada, you know, Mexico to the north, the dollar being --
MR. SPALTER: And the question -- the collateral question -- is Canada the Mexico to the north?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Well, I'm not worried about -- no one -- there are such fundamental differences between Canada's exchange rate and the Mexican Peso and their economies that I don't think it would be wise to compare the two.
As to the handling of the Peso crisis, I think we should really let Bob Rubin or his people talk about that. There is no question in my mind, however, that Canada's underlying economic fundamentals are positive, but they are expected to come in with a very, very tough budget to deal with their economic issues within the next 10 days.
Q The Governor seemed gloss over the border fee issue. Is the U.S. going to raise or eliminate that border tax at this summit?
MR. SPALTER: Are we going to raise the border fee issue at the summit? You seemed to have glossed over that in your first response, this reporter suggests.
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: Yes, I glossed over it deliberately. (Laughter.) I don't think it will come up because the Canadian leadership assumes it's probably a dead issue with regard to Canada. I think we'll be talking instead about smoothing border access.
Q What does he mean by dead issue?
MR. SPALTER: Can you elaborate, Governor, what do you mean by dead issue?
AMBASSADOR BLANCHARD: I don't believe the Canadians, and there are many down there as well, believe it will be enacted. It would have to be enacted by Congress. And while the initial idea came from Senator Feinstein, I think there's been enough feedback to realize that there was never an intention to apply it to Canada. So while it may be a very live issue there, I'm not so sure Canada is worrying that they will get caught up in it. I think the key for us is to talk about how we can smooth border movement.
MR. SPALTER: Thank you very much, Ambassador Blanchard.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:27 P.M. EST