Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Canada and Gerald Ford

The memorial service for former U.S. president Gerald Ford was today. This has been shown a lot on television. From a personal standpoint it was an inconvenience; the post office was closed today, much to our consternation. Other folks at the post office were not happy with the impromptu closure.

So there are some people in Monroe, LA who will look at Gerald Ford's passing as a minor inconvenience. This contrasts with television coverage that has been quite thick with praise for the unelected ex-president. (Ford was the only president to hold office after never having been elected vice president or president. He was appointed vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 over charges of tax evasion, and he became president after Richard Nixon's Watergate resignation.) Ford's term in office was short. He is best known for pardoning Nixon, an act that was much reviled at the time though it has now been termed "necessary" to heal the country after Nixon's scandal.

I saw PBS's coverage of the eulogy service today. They didn't mention the presence of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (who was not in power when Ford was president) and Canada's ambassador to the U.S. Michael Wilson. I'm guessing this was missed by the major networks, too. Also missing is mention of the fact that Canadians are flying the Canadian flag at half staff in memory of Ford, a rare occasion when a foreign country gives tribute to the death of a former leader.

Ford was known as a friend to Canada. He grew up in Michigan and visited Southern Ontario frequently. More importantly, it was through Ford's efforts that Canada became a member of the G7, now the G8.

The G8 is the self-proclaimed group of the most powerful nations in the world. The G8 consists of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, and Russia. Russia was invited to the G7 meetings starting in 1991, and by 1997 it became a member of the Group of Eight (though it is still excluded from the G8 financial discussions because its economy isn't strong enough, thus the G7 still exists as the financial component of the G8).

Canada has a strong economy. According to Wikipedia, Canada is between 8th and 12th in the world in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), depending on whether it is calculated based on exchange rates (the former number) or "purchase power parity" — the ability people have to purchase things — (the latter number). In terms of exchange rates, the top 8 include all members of the G7 (G8 minus Russia) and China, thus Canada is — by this calculation — one of the Group of Seven. Based on purchase power parity, Canada is only 11 or 12, with Brazil, India and sometimes Spain ahead of it. So, depending on how it's calculated, Canada does fit the criteria of having one of the strongest economies in the world while also being an industrialized democracy (a term stretched in Russia's case, but Russia was allowed in a) because membership was seen as a carrot to help them with the reforms that broke down the iron curtain, and b) Russia has nukes, lots of nukes).

(If you calculate GDP per capita — by person — Canada is either fourth or second among the G8 nations, depending on how GDP was calculated. The U.S. in both lists is number 1, at least it was before the national debt started climbing astronomically under Bush.)

So, a good case could be made for including Canada in the initial group of nations that met in the mid-70s. It was not. In 1975 the G5 nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan, met to discuss the problems of inflation and the oil crisis. French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing invited the Group of Five to the meeting, but he was adamant that Canada be omitted from the group. This apparently peeved Ford, who thought his friend to the north should be there. In fact, Ford was even considering not attending over the issue. France invited Italy to the meeting, and the group was dubbed the G6. In 1976 the meeting was held in Puerto Rico, so Ford got around the issue by inviting Canada, thus forming the G7.

In a very real sense, Canada's stature on the world stage is in large part due to Gerald Ford. Ford got along well with the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a rare case where Canadian and American leaders of opposite party leanings had a warm relationship. Canada remembers Gerald Ford this week by flying its national flag at half staff. Not that most Americans will even know that...

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