Canada and the United States in the 1980s: The Fifth Lester B. Pearson Conference, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, October 14-17, 1981


48 pages




Reviewed by Graham Adams, Jr.

Graham Adams, Jr., is a professor of American history at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.


Canada and the United States in the 1980s deals with the fruits of the Fifth Lester B. Pearson Conference held in October 1981, jointly sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Canadian Institute of International Affairs. Participants at the assembly examined a broad range of topics pertinent to current Canadian-American relations. This study consists of a digest of the discussions plus two essays, one written by David Leyton-Brown of York University, associate director of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, and one by Alexander C. Tomlinson, director of First Boston Inc.

Most of the participants in the discussion and both essayists agreed that Canadian-American relations have progressively deteriorated during the last five years. From the start, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau had initiated a policy purposely designed to create a more independent role for Canada in world affairs. Canada’s new economic nationalism promoted takeover of potash in Saskatchewan, of asbestos in Quebec, and of Texas Gulf by the CDC, all of which irritated the United States; the activities of FIRA and the NEP further increased tensions. Rejection of the Fisheries Treaty by the United States Senate drove the two countries further apart until their relations, in Tomlinson’s view, “had never been worse.”

While the two essays in this book rise to the occasion, the sections which digest the actual discussion fail to maintain the same quality. None of the speakers are quoted directly nor are any of them identified by name in the text. An open relaxed discussion among so many highly qualified, articulate experts must have produced enough wit, wisdom, and insight to make reading their remarks an unalloyed joy. Unfortunately, the digest drains all of the liveliness, individuality, and sparkle from the talks and leaves us with a rather poorly organized, somewhat desiccated mass of material. This may reflect less upon the reporter than upon the constraints placed upon her by the two sponsoring institutions. Why do they fear to quote their invited authorities? Why do they shrink from identifying them with their own words and ideas?

Despite its limitations, the book makes a contribution to an understanding of current Canadian-American affairs. It serves to spotlight the major problems of the two nations as they enter the uncertain closing decades of the twentieth century. Regrettably, with the exception of the two essays, the digest of the discussions tends to minimize rather than maximize the book’s educative value.


“Canada and the United States in the 1980s: The Fifth Lester B. Pearson Conference, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, October 14-17, 1981,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,