A Joint Customs Plaza for Windsor Detroit

Joint Canada-U.S. customs plaza pitched for $1B bridge

Pre-clearance, pre-inspection already exists at Peace Bridge in Fort Erie and at airports

CBC News Posted: Apr 11, 2014 12:35 PM ET Last Updated: Apr 11, 2014 3:17 PM ET

The idea of a customs plaza on just one side of a new international bridge to be built between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit has been suggested, although the U.S. has yet to commit $250 million to its own plaza.The idea of a customs plaza on just one side of a new international bridge to be built between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit has been suggested, although the U.S. has yet to commit $250 million to its own plaza.

The idea of a single mulitmillion-dollar customs plaza built on one side of the new international bridge that will connect Windsor, Ont., and Detroit has been floated and is getting support from border experts.

Two years ago, Canada and the U.S. agreed on a new crossing to be built over the Detroit River and paid for by Canada. However, Canada expected the U.S. to build its own $250-million customs plaza in Michigan.

While Canada has moved ahead on the project, building a $1.6-billion, four-lane highway leading up to the site of the proposed bridge and acquiring land in Michigan, the U.S. has yet to announce funding for a plaza.

Canadian officials had hoped U.S. President Barack Obama would have earmarked money for the project in his federal budget last month. He didn’t.

‘Why don’t we just have one plaza?’- Colin Robertson of Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute

On Tuesday, Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and current vice-president at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, suggested the answer may be one customs plaza to serve both countries.

“If we’re thinking outside the box and more innovatively, and how we can save taxpayers money, why don’t we just have one plaza?” Robertson asked.

One of Canada’s leading border experts says the idea is “intriguing.”

“I think it’s an interesting idea. It’s consistent with the new spirit of co-operation on border issues between the U.S. and Canada,” said Bill Anderson, Ontario research chair in cross-border transportation policy at the University of Windsor.

Similar programs, circumstances exist

Two years ago, the Canada-U.S. Ship Rider Program was unveiled. The joint program underway in the Windsor-Detroit area allows law enforcement officers from Canada and the U.S. to ride together on the Detroit River, patrolling and chasing down criminals on both sides of the international boundary.

That joint initiative between the RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard essentially eliminates the imaginary border on the Detroit River and Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, at Pearson International Airport, for the majority of U.S. flights, guests leaving Toronto go through U.S. customs in Toronto, which allows them to arrive in the U.S. as a domestic passenger.

Sweetgrass-Coutts Alberta Border CrossingA shared port of entry already exists between Sweetgrass, Mont., and Coutts, Alta. (U.S. Government)

On the ground, a shared customs complex, also known as a shared port of entry, exists in in Alberta at the Coutts-Sweetgrass land crossing.

In Fort Erie, Ont., U.S. Customs officials already work on Canadian soil, “pre-processing” U.S.-bound trucks in Fort Erie.

In January, the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority finished a $1-million U.S. Customs and Border Protection pre-inspection pilot pad, inspection booths, offices, parking and secure access on Canadian soil. Pre-inspection is designed to increase traffic flow.

“Pre-inspection is an important component of ongoing efforts to advance several important projects at the Peace Bridge, all of which will lead to a more functional and efficient border crossing,” PBA vice-chairman Sam Hoyt said.

Trucker Robert Thorne, who was filling up in Windsor, Ont., on Friday said he likes the pre-inspection in Fort Erie and that it speeds up the customs process.

“They should have that at all of them,” Thorne said.

He doesn’t support one common customs plaza though.

“They should leave one on each because it would make too much congestion with just one,” Thorne said.

A spokesperson Canadian Trucking Association told CBC Windsor the association had “no comment during such an embryonic stage.”

The move in Fort Erie was made because of “available staging space” on the Canadian side of the peace bridge, according to the authority’s website.

The Canada Border Services Agency said it does do not operate in any co-located facilities at bridge crossings.

“The CBSA engages in regular discussions with partners to ensure that new CBSA facilities are a pillar of modern border management that meet the needs of both the Government of Canada and the local communities in which they are situated,” CBSA spokesperson Esme Bailey wrote in an email to CBC Windsor. “As construction of the New International Trade Crossing is a number of years away, no final designs or plans are yet in place for this facility.”

‘This is the best opportunity’

Anderson said Windsor has “a great deal of land of the Canadian side” of the proposed bridge.

“If you were going to do something like this, this is the best opportunity to ever come along to do it,” Anderson said.

Robertson said a single plaza would be “probably on the Canadian side.”

Anderson called the single plaza “difficult,” but “not necessarily insurmountable.”

He questioned “what’s legal to do in Canada versus the United States?”

Bill Anderson University of WindsorBorder expert Bill Anderson of the University of Windsor says a single plaza would not be impossible, but would be difficult to do. (University of Windsor)

“You’re going to either have CBSA officers on the U.S. side imposing their own laws, or the other way around,” he said. “What happens if you have the plaza in Canada and you have an American officer that wants to arrest somebody and bring them to the United States?”

Even Robertson said some issues would have to be ironed out, including U.S. borders guards carrying guns in Canada.

There were similar questions surrounding the Ship Rider program, but they were answered.

If a chase on the water leaves Canada and enters the U.S., the American law kicks in, but the Canadian officers would have arresting authority on the U.S. side of the river.

Canadian officers undergo a 10-day training course at the USCG Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, where they learn U.S. law. Americans are trained in Canadian law.

The RCMP said Canadian and U.S. officers have the authority to go ashore on each other’s country if they deem it necessary.

MP calls single plaza ‘very complicated’

Windsor West NDP MP Brian Masse, the party’s border critic, said a single plaza “sounds simple, but it actually is very complicated. It has been done in other areas. There’s actually joint border crossings across Canada and the United States, but this is very unique because of the volumes that we have and the types of things that we have going back and forth.”

The Ambassador Bridge, the privately owned international bridge currently connecting Windsor and Detroit, is one of North America’s busiest border crossings.

In 2010, it was reported that 28,814 trucks crossed the privately owned Ambassador Bridge on a daily basis.

DRIC Artist renditionU.S. President Barack Obama did not put money in his federal budget proposal for a customs plaza on the Detroit side of the planned bridge between the city and Canada, shown above. (File Photo)

The new crossing has been called “critical” by both Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and new U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman.

“Right there in Windsor, you have a signature automotive manufacturing capability and a transition of goods across the border. How do we keep enhancing that?” Heyman said.

“That might be something that would appeal to and Heyman could really champion,” Robertson said of the single customs plaza. “In the nuts and bolts of the relationship [between Canada and the U.S.] the ambassador plays a critical role.”

Anderson said the single plaza should be built for the right reasons, though.

“I would hate to see it done because there isn’t money to build the American plaza. I think it should be done because it’s a good way to operate the border,” he said. “Ultimately, I think the Americans should be expected to build a plaza on their side.”

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Harper in ukraine

Harper Visits Ukraine Amid Russia Moves Ahead of G-7 Meet

By Andrew Mayeda Mar 21, 2014 12:01 AM ET

Photographer: Stuart Davis/Bloomberg

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “Mr. Putin’s reckless and unilateral actions will lead only to Russia’s further economic and political isolation from the community.”

When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets his Group of Seven counterparts to discuss the crisis in Ukraine next week, he’ll be the only leader able to give a first-hand account.

Harper heads to Ukraine today, where he will cement his status as one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sharpest critics within G-7. He will meet Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kiev tomorrow and repeat his condemnation of Russia’s “illegal military occupation” of Crimea, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

The trip comes days before G-7 leaders meet during a nuclear security summit in The Hague to discuss how to respond to Russia’s actions. The dispute over Ukrainian territory has set off the bitterest confrontation between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

Harper’s animosity toward Putin and Russia is driven by a principles-based foreign policy and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind to his counterparts, said John Kirton, director of the G-8 research group at the University of Toronto.

“He’s regarded as a man of conviction who’s very clear,” Kirton said in a telephone interview yesterday. Paraphrasing former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Kirton said of Harper: “The man’s not for turning.”

There’s little doubt about Harper’s views. In June, he accused Putin of supporting “thugs” in the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and said the G-8 had evolved into the “G-7 plus one.”

Imposed Sanctions

Like the U.S. and other allies, Canada has imposed financial sanctions and travel bans on Russian officials. Harper’s government has also recalled its ambassador to Russia, suspended military cooperation and pledged C$220 million ($196 million) in financial aid to Ukraine.

“Mr. Putin’s reckless and unilateral actions will lead only to Russia’s further economic and political isolation from the community,” Harper said after Crimea voted to join Russia in a March 16 referendum.

Canada has also clashed with Russia over territorial claims in the Arctic. In January, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada planned to claim the North Pole, prompting Putin to promise to devote “special attention” to Russia’s Arctic military presence.

Trading Relations

Harper’s verbal attacks have come despite the relatively small trading relation between the two countries. Canada trades more with Peru and Algeria than it does with Russia, and Canada is the only G-7 country not among the list of Russia’s top 20 trading partners.

At the same time, Canadian companies such as Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (VRX) Inc. have seen an impact from the crisis in Ukraine. In Russia, Valeant sells $400 million to $500 million worth of over-the-counter medicines like AntiGrippin for treating colds. Sales growth in the country was as high as 20 percent and has slowed since the onset of the Russia-Ukraine dispute to low double digits, Chief Executive Officer Mike Pearson said.

The visit also gives Harper the opportunity to bolster political support among the nation’s 1.2 million Ukrainian Canadians, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who’s now vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. Canada had a population of 32.9 million in 2011, according to the last national census.

“It’s heartfelt, but it’s also very good politics,” Robertson said.

‘Energy Superpower’

Harper, who has called Canada an emerging “energy superpower,” may also use the trip to emphasize Canada’s potential as a reliable supplier of crude and natural gas. The European Union is looking at ways to reduce its reliance on Russian gas exports, according to a draft EU document released this week.

The crisis underscores the need for Canada to build crude pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals that would enable shipments to Europe, said former natural-resources minister Joe Oliver.

“A lot of countries are under the Russian boot,” Oliver said in an interview in Toronto on March 14, five days before he was appointed finance minister. “We present ourselves, not currently but hopefully, as a potential source of energy to Europe.”

As a member of NATO, Canada can play a “small but important role” in encouraging other countries in the alliance to recognize the threat posed by Russia, said Roland Paris, director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Strong Support

“I expect that he’ll offer very strong support of the Ukrainian government in Kiev and that he’ll lambaste Russia for its intervention in Crimea,” Paris said. “Whether that criticism goes beyond words, mild sanctions and the symbolism of recalling an ambassador remains to be seen.”

Harper will also meet Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and then travel to Germany for an official visit, where he’ll meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Harper, 54, has shown that he has a “binary” view of foreign policy that categorizes countries as good or bad, Robertson said.

“It’s the autocrats versus the democrats,” he said. “It’s the Cold War 2.0.”

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Trilateral Summit

CBC The National on Harper Visit to Mexico

Power Play: Frosty meeting in Mexico?

Carlo Dade of the Canada West Foundation, and Colin Robertson, a former diplomat, discuss the relationships of the free trade partners.

CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Monday, February 17, 2014 10:01PM EST

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has arrived in Mexico to meet with his North American counterparts with a plan to boost Mexican travel to Canada, despite the controversial visa requirements.

The Canadian Press reports that Trade Minister Ed Fast has been authorized to sign an expanded airline access agreement with Mexico.

The agreement would give Mexican airlines greater access to more Canadians cities, while Canadian travellers would benefit from more direct flights to Mexico, according to CP.

The expanded airlines agreement is seen as a pathway to eventually lifting the visa requirements Ottawa imposed on Mexican travellers in 2009 to deter bogus asylum seekers.

Senior officials have confirmed to CTV News that Harper is not expected to lift the visa requirements any time soon. But there are rumblings that a fast-track process for frequent, pre-approved Mexican travellers – similar to the Nexus program — could be put in place.

The visa issue has been a source of tension between Canada and Mexico and is expected to cast a shadow over the North American leaders’ summit. There are also tensions between U.S. and Canada over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said Monday that signalling an eventual lifting of the visa requirement is important because of the significance of Canada’s trade relationship with Mexico.

“I would be surprised if we don’t come out of (the summit) with at least something that gives the Mexicans what they are asking for, which is a pathway to lifting the visa,” he told CTV’s Power Play.

But Carlo Dade of the Canada West Foundation says the leaders of the three countries – often referred to as “the Three Amigos” – are now “perhaps worse than rivals.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more depressed about the state of relations,” he told Power Play. “The Mexicans are mad at us, and in Canada, we’re mad at the Americans and the Americans seem to have had it up to here with both of us.”

He said he doesn’t foresee anything positive coming out of the summit, and believes most of the time will be spent on “damage control.”

Harper will meet on Tuesday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, and then participate in the North American leaders’ summit with U.S. President Barack Obama.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper reviews the honor guard after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Ninos Heroes monument, or Children Heroes, in Mexico City, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. (AP / Eduardo Verdugo)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives in Mexico City, Mexico on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Piden a Canadá eliminar Visa para paisanos

17 / febrero / 2014Solicitan diputados y senadores eliminar el requerimiento de visa para los connacionales que viajen al país de la hoja de maple

VisaLa Visa es requerida desde junio de 2009.


Diputados y senadores mexicanos pidieron nuevamente a la delegación de parlamentarios canadienses que se elimine el requerimiento de Visa para los connacionales que viajen al país de la hoja de maple.

Al tomar la palabra, el presidente de la Mesa Directiva en San Lázaro, Ricardo Anaya recordó que la solicitud no es una concesión o una excepción sino que responde al restablecimiento de la buena y cordial relación que existe entre ambas naciones.

“La visita a México el próximo mes de febrero del primer ministro canadiense Stephen Harper, nos parece, sería un marco extraordinario para el anuncio del regreso a nuestra normalidad histórica, del regreso de lo que ha sido la práctica común, la no necesidad de una visa para que los mexicanos entremos a Canadá”, exigió el panista en el evento inaugural de la XIX reunión interparlamentaria México-Canadá y aseguró que quitar el visado aportaría beneficios por igual a ambos pues desde que se instauró la medida, en junio de 2009, la visita de paisanos se ha reducido en 50% pues pasó de una afluencia de 300 mil viajeros al año a 150 mil.

Sin embargo, el diputado también reconoció ante su homólogo canadiense, Andrew Sheer, que el gobierno ese país optó por esa medida debido al abuso de solicitudes de asilo político mal sustentado y al ‘boom’ de oficinas de intermediarios que hacían negocios con el trámite de los documentos.

Al respecto la prensa canadiense de corte liberal y algunos órganos empresariales, también ha presionado por la eliminación de la Visa pues considera que “si Canadá quitó el requisito a la República Checa para concretar su acuerdo de libre comercio con la Unión Europea, debe hacer lo mismo con México”, opinó Colin Robertson, vicepresidente del Instituto Canadiense de Defensa y Asuntos Exteriores en una entrevista.

En tanto, el Consejo Canadiense de Directores Ejecutivos, principal organismo empresarial de esta nación, advierte que México y Canadá “no podrán reimpulsar sus relaciones diplomáticas y de inversión hasta que la visa sea modificada o eliminada”.

Sin embargo, a días de que el primer Ministro Stephen Harper arribe para la cumbre de Norteamérica, una fuente gubernamental adelantó que el Gobierno no prevé cambios próximamente “No tenemos la intención de quitar la vis. Hemos implementado numerosas medidas para facilitar la entrada a visitantes legítimos”, dijo un funcionario anónimo a Canadian Press.

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Congressional visits to Canada…few

U.S. foreign relations scorecard: Burkina Faso: 2 Canada: 0

Washington politicians weren’t inclined to venture north of border last year

By Ian MacLeod, OTTAWA CITIZEN February 15, 2014
U.S. foreign relations scorecard: Burkina Faso: 2 Canada: 0

U.S. Sen. John McCain was among a small group of American politicians who came to Canada last year — Halifax, in particular — but it wasn’t for official government business.

Photograph by: THE CANADIAN PRESS , CP

OTTAWA — We’re the world’s largest trading partners, with the world’s longest border, a common heritage, an extensive security and military alliance and neighbours for more than two centuries.

So, guess how many times elected politicians from Washington visited Canada on bilateral, government-to-government business last year?

Zip. Zero. Nada. Rien.

Not that those working on Capitol Hill don’t like to travel. U.S. senators and congressmen are world-class globetrotters, according to congressional records.

Even Burkina Faso, the diminutive and destitute western Africa nation, saw two U.S. congressional delegations arrive last year.

Yet the Americans seem to have cold feet when it comes to our fair land.

The 2013 foreign travel financial reports for the Senate and House of Representatives show not a single member of Congress ventured north of our shared border on official U.S.-Canada business.

“This is, unfortunately, illustrative of congressional and administration attention to Canada. They take us for granted and think they know all they need to know about Canada,” says Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

Canadian politicians, he adds, are good at legislative exchanges at the state level, “but terrible in working Congress.”

A U.S. delegation of four senators and one congressman did travel to Nova Scotia in November for the Halifax International Security Forum. But that was to address global security issues with 300 other delegates from 50 nations. (Even the name is a bit misleading. The Halifax International Security Forum is actually a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.)

It’s doubtful the likes of delegation leader Sen. John McCain would have buttonholed then-defence minister Peter MacKay or Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to discuss the Keystone XL pipeline, or a new Windsor-Detroit bridge or other issues languishing in the Ottawa-Washington relationship.

The post of U.S. ambassador to Canada has also been vacant for six months now, awaiting Senate confirmation of nominee Bruce Heyman.

To be fair, for the day or so they were in Halifax, the U.S. lawmakers did contribute $5,086.77 US to the Canada-U.S. economic partnership for hotels, food, taxis and tips.

One was Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger. He represents the 16th Congressional District of Illinois, which includes the city of Ottawa, county seat for LaSalle County. (Ottawa was the site of the first of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 and where William Dickson Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America in 1910.)

But, perhaps fittingly, Kinzinger’s office ignored repeated requests from the Citizen here in Ottawa, Canada this week to comment for this story.

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Stephen Harper and foreign policy


By jennifer campbell, Ottawa Citizen December 10, 2013

Does Prime Minister Stephen Harper have a foreign policy? Former diplomat Colin Robertson says he does indeed.

“It’s brash, it is bold, it is ideological and in some ways, it’s a departure from (traditional) Canadian foreign policy,” Robertson said, naming departures from old practices that include sticking with traditional allies, adhering to rules-based institutions and committing to the United Nations and the Commonwealth. A major thrust of his foreign policy, Robertson said, is driven by his desire to see Canada do well economically.

Robertson was speaking as part of the Canadian International Council’s National Capital Branch program titled Making Sense of Harper’s Foreign Policy. Also discussing the issue was Roland Paris, director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Paris, who worked in the Privy Council Office for a time, called Harper’s foreign policy more incoherent than ideologically based. “With the exception of a few areas and a few relationships and a couple of issues, it’s been more defined by neglect and a lack of attention to how the little pieces the government is focussed on fit together,” Paris said.

Paris garnered a round of applause from the audience when he talked about how the Harper government hasn’t used its diplomats to full advantage.

“I think the prime minister has a bit of idée fixe, to his own detriment, about diplomats and diplomacy as being kind of unnecessary luxuries,” Paris said. “I don’t think he’s serving his own interests or our nation’s interests by downgrading diplomacy in this way.”

Commenting on the trade file, Paris said Canadian trade policy has to be about two things: getting the Canada-U.S. relationship right and taking advantage of rapid growth in the Asia-Pacific area.

“To my knowledge, the government has not concluded a single free-trade agreement with an Asia-Pacific country yet,” Paris said. “Secondly, the core economic priority between Canada and the United States — the border. There were initial gains, but things have really stalled on Beyond the Border, and third, there’s failure on the Keystone Pipeline. If (the prime minister) fancies himself a CEO, that would be a firing offence for a company. CETA is lovely and important, but will the European area grow at 10 per cent per year? No.”

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Awaiting a US Envoy to Canada

U.S. Envoy To Canada: Nomination In Limbo As Obama Weighs Keystone

CBC |  Posted: 08/07/2013

The fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which has become a thorny issue in Canada-U.S. relations, could be holding up U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision for the next U.S. envoy to Canada.

Obama may be holding off on a nomination because he doesn’t want to have the U.S. Senate “hold that candidate hostage,” Colin Robertson, a former diplomat, now working as the vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute told CBC News.

While the nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, U.S. senators can place a hold on presidential nominations, a practice that can be used as a tactic to advance policy or political goals regardless of party lines.

Diplomat Richard Sanders will mend the gap and serve as the newest American representative to Canada until a new ambassador is confirmed, the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa announced last week.

Sanders, who arrived in Canada on July 22, will act as chargé d’affaires in the interim as a matter of due course, following the departure of outgoing U.S. ambassador David Jacobson, whose term ended on July 15.

According to Robertson, Jacobson’s own nomination was delayed when then Democrat Senator Chris Dodd put a hold on it because he was unhappy with another appointment.

In this case, it may very well be that Obama doesn’t want any U.S. senator to hold his next ambassador to Canada as leverage to force his hand on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Robertson said.

“This isn’t a slight against Canada, it’s U.S. politics.”

Keystone XL the ‘dominant issue’

CBC News reported in April that Obama had picked Bruce Heyman, a partner from the investment firm of Goldman Sachs in Chicago, for the Canadian post.

Heyman, one of Obama’s top fundraisers, was set to be vetted and nominated for the job, but four months later there is still no word on Obama’s nomination.

It’s possible Heyman backed out of the nomination of his own accord before the vetting process was complete, but even if Obama had made Heyman’s nomination official, any hope that a new U.S. envoy could get the nod this summer evaporated last week when Congress headed into a five-week summer break pushing all confirmations to the fall.

A decision over the controversial pipeline could also come this fall.

Uncertainty over the fate of the pipeline project may be affecting other aspects of the Canada-U.S. relationship.

TransCanada’s $7-billion proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta’s crude south to refineries in Texas, is “the dominant issue” between the two countries right now, said a former U.S. ambassador to Canada.

In an interview with CBC News, David Wilkins, Jacobson’s predecessor, said Keystone XL has “sort of sucked the air out of the room.”

The former ambassador, appointed by George W. Bush, is now a partner at the U.S. firm of Nelson Mullins, where he chairs the public policy and international law practice group. Its primary focus is on representing businesses on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

“It’s imperative the U.S. go ahead and make a decision on that.”

Otherwise, “it’s tough to tackle other issues,” Wilkins said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated last Friday the Canadian government’s assertion that the proposed pipeline would boost employment “on both sides of the border.”

Harper’s comments came days after the U.S. president downplayed the number of jobs that might result from the building of the pipeline, citing vastly lower numbers than supplied by the U.S. State Department’s draft environmental analysis of Keystone XL.

Canada, eh?

Although Ottawa isn’t London or Paris, being appointed to serve in Canada does not appear to be a hard sell south of the border.

Gordon Giffin, who was appointed ambassador to Canada by president Bill Clinton, said that “to be U.S. ambassador to Canada is one of the premier opportunities any president can offer someone.”

In this country much is made about Ottawa’s reputation as a boring city, but in the U.S. a posting in Canada is “something that is sought and competed for,” Giffin said in an interview with CBC News.

According to Wilkins, about one-third of American ambassadors are political appointments. “That is, they generally have a relationship with the president, they are not career foreign service officers.”

Perhaps it’s not so surprising then, that Obama has consistently rewarded his top fundraisers with political appointments.

Whoever the next U.S. ambassador is, both Wilkins and Giffin agree it’s imperative that the next envoy have the ear of the president.

“Some of our ambassadors drink wine and hold cocktail parties for a living. In a Canada-U.S. dynamic, you have a full-time job. It’s not just a ceremonial position,” Giffin said.

Wilkins, who is from South Carolina, conceded that our Canadian winters “would be the only hesitancy somebody from the south may have about coming to Canada.”

Even Giffin, who grew up in Canada for 17 years before returning to the U.S., admitted “Ottawa was a little bit colder” than he expected.

The only way around that, Wilkins said, was to “embrace the weather, not the TV.” Wilkins said part of the Canadian experience was to skate on the Rideau Canal, even if it was just once a year.

“I stumbled around and looked pretty awful, but I got off without ever getting hurt.” If anything, it made for “good speech material,” Wilkins joked.

The Republican from South Carolina said he became “very familiar with Canadian maple syrup” and did try poutine at least “one time.”

Wilkins said the best thing he did was to visit Canada’s 13 provinces and territories during his first six months as ambassador, and he offered this simple advice to the next U.S. ambassador: “Get out from behind your desk, get out from the embassy.”

see also

U.S. envoy post to Canada in limbo as politicians duke it out over Keystone XL project

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On Public Diploamcy at our Washington Embassy

War of 1812 commemorations, Strange Brew screening among Washington Embassy’s activities last year

by Lee Berthiaume Postmedia, August 8, 2013

OTTAWA — Canada’s embassy in Washington hosted a half-dozen visits to the oilsands last year, inviting not just congressmen and their staff, but U.S. Department of Energy officials, think-tank experts and even journalists.

Yet as important as those visits were to promoting the oilsands and the Keystone XL pipeline, they represented only a fraction of the embassy’s activities when it came to promoting Canada — and advancing the federal government’s agenda.

Newly released records show the embassy sponsored a congressional visit to Alberta during the Calgary Stampede, fitness sessions featuring the creator of the popular P90X exercise program, and even a screening of the movie Strange Brew, complete with Tim Horton’s donuts and Canadian beer.

There were also nearly half-a-dozen events promoting the War of 1812, including an art show and a lecture by a prominent military historian and adviser to former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who says Canada won the conflict.

The oilsands tours were the most expensive activities undertaken by the embassy at a cost of between $20,000 and more than $90,000 each.

The rest of the initiatives were relatively small, with the majority costing less than $10,000, with the embassy seeking partnerships where it could.

The documents, obtained by Ottawa-based researcher Ken Rubin, do not give a clear total of how much the embassy spent on advocacy last year, though one planning estimate puts the number between $500,000 and $800,000.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, who served much of his career in the United States, says the federal government actually used to spend much more on these types of activities, which together are called public diplomacy.

And while some Canadian taxpayers may be upset that the embassy hosted a “tailgating party” during U.S. President Barack Obama’s inauguration, or that congressmen took in the Stampede on their dime, Robertson says these things do work.

“My own observation is that these things do have effect, even if it is very difficult with an individual event to say A, B and C happened,” he said. “This is all subtle and you don’t move by great leaps but by inches.”

Using the War of 1812 to advance Canada’s interests might seem a curious choice, but Robertson noted the military is a key part of the American culture and that one in five members of Congress has military experience.

According to the documents, the subtext of the War of 1812 events was to highlight the 200 years of peaceful co-existence between Canada and the U.S., while highlighting Canada as an important friend and ally in North American and global security.

It was the same message Canadian diplomats hoped to convey when the embassy hosted a reception in honour of the Devil’s Brigade, a group of Canadian and American elite commandos who served together in the Second World War.

Similarly, the embassy “disguised an intense fitness workout” featuring P90X creator Tony Horton last September to highlight the strength and readiness of Canada’s military, according to the documents.

“Sprinkled throughout will be a strong visual of Canada’s military men and women who are dedicated to physical and mental well-being. There will be reminders of our evolving role in Afghanistan and our partnerships with other countries to engage in hot spots worldwide.”

The embassy also donated several P90X workout videos to the Washington, D.C., school system, which officials said would reinforce the priorities of both governments, namely Michelle Obama’s exercise campaign and Health Canada’s fight against child obesity.

The total cost of the event was $1,500.

The vast trading relationship between Canada and the United States, as well as the integrated nature of the two countries’ economies, also featured prominently in the diplomatic events.

This included VIP receptions held to mark the opening of an exhibit on Canada’s 50 years in space as well as visits by the National Ballet of Canada and Cirque du Soleil, all of which were seen as an opportunity for Canadian diplomats to talk trade.

Trade was also the impetus behind the Stampede visit, which also included a tour of beef and cattle operations in a bid to eliminate a new rule that would require Canadian beef and other agricultural products to be labelled.

That tour cost $28,852, though the number of participants was not indicated.

Canadian Taxpayer Federation president Gregory Thomas said he would like to see a line-by-line tally for the events to ensure “they weren’t doing the job in a way that was lavish or unseemly and makes you want to shake your head.”

But he also said selling Canada is an essential objective for the federal government and Canadian diplomats, and that he supports activities that go towards meeting that goal.

“When you see the way Canadian industries like the oilsands are misrepresented on the world stage,” Thomas said, “obviously Canadians have to push back against that kind of thing and our diplomats abroad have a tough job.”

A number of other countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and even China have dedicated agencies devoted to public diplomacy efforts.

Former Canadian diplomat Daryl Copeland, who has written a book on new ways of doing diplomacy, said Canada used to be a leader when it came to public diplomacy but has fallen behind the pack under the Conservative government.

Some Canadian diplomats have also quietly complained that the government is muzzling them when they are working abroad, which Copeland said undercuts the potential benefits of activities that are undertaken by embassies.

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CIDA Integration into DFAIT

Excerptedd from Embassy

How to avoid merger mishaps

Ally Foster Wednesday, 05/29/2013

Foreign affairs experts speaking to the House foreign affairs and international development committee on May 23 said they support the Canadian government’s plan to merge the Canadian International Development Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, but with a few caveats.

“Reorganizations are dangerous,” cautioned Paul Chapin, a retired civil servant with more than 30 years experience at DFAIT-. “They aspire to improving matters, but the disruption they produce, and the productivity losses that they cause make a shambles of the great majority of reorganizations.”

The success of the CIDA-DFAIT merger, which is included in the 2013 budget implementation bill, hinges on several stipulations, the witnesses said.

The foreign affairs and development committee was tasked with studying the merger part of the legislation in two sessions, on May 21 and 23, and can now make recommendations to the House finance committee.

The witnesses expressed hope and optimism that the amalgamation would go more smoothly than in the past, when international trade was re-merged with foreign affairs in 2006.

Colin Robertson, who was a Canadian foreign service officer for more than 30 years until 2010, told the committee that the 2006 re-integration of the divorced departments was a move that “sapped energy,” because, “the best talent was devoted not to advancing the national interest, but moving boxes around in what was a rather painful, and draining bureaucratic odyssey.”

To avoid a repeat of past merger mishaps and mismanagement, the three witnesses—which also included Lucien Bradet, president and CEO of the Canadian Council on Africa—made several key recommendations including that Canada is in dire need of a cohesive and clear foreign policy strategy.

Foreign policy plan needed

“If this is to work, I think the government needs to articulate, at least in broad terms, what it’s hoping to achieve—not necessarily with the restructuring, but in its international agenda,” said Mr. Chapin.

“We need to do a much better job of exploring big trends in places like Africa and Latin America, and others, then select the ones that matter to Canadians,” he added. “There is a Canadian interest here. The Canadian taxpayers are shelling out this money, so they’re entitled to know that there’s something in it for Canada, and it’s not entirely altruism.”

Mr. Robertson, who is currently a Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute senior fellow and vice-president, raised similar concerns.

“It’s one thing to say we’re going to align development to foreign policy interests, but in doing so are you de facto reviewing your foreign policy?” he questioned.

Policy formation is a key role of the department, said Mr. Robertson, who added that it is the committee’s responsibility to bring in policy experts from DFAIT to present current trends and priorities.

During the meeting, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar also questioned how international development priorities could possibly be aligned with the rest of Canadian foreign policy, when he argued there isn’t one.

“You’ll hear [in] speeches…comments like, ‘We’re in favour of freedom and democracy,’ as if anyone isn’t,” he said.

“I would challenge anyone around this table to tell us exactly where you go and find [on the] Foreign Affairs…website anywhere, what is our foreign policy.”

In response, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Co-operation Lois Brown wrote in an email to Embassy that “Canada’s foreign policy rests on the Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Our foreign minister consistently keeps Canadians up to date.”

Media reports have detailed that the Conservative government started working on creating a foreign policy plan after John Baird was named foreign minister in 2011. The Canadian Press later reported on a draft plan that indicated that China is key among more than a dozen priority countries, as well as India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, North Korea, and South Africa.

Silo-breaking is key

Mr. Robertson raised another question that still hasn’t been answered: where the physical fusion will take place—or will it?

Mr. Robertson recommended that CIDA employees not be left isolated across the river at the agency’s current headquarters in Gatineau, Que. DFAIT’s headquarters is on Sussex Drive in Ottawa.

He suggested that employees working on the trade, development, and diplomatic files for a certain country or region should all share a common workspace so they can collaborate.

Mr. Robertson said he has seen this done in the past, and “it meant that you lunch together, and it meant that when you walked down the hall, you talked together. The worst thing we can do in this integration would be to leave the silos.”

“I think that’s an extremely important point,” said Hélène Laverdière, the NDP critic for international development and a former DFAIT employee, in a later interview.

“So many issues are solved around the coffee machine or in the corridors.”

Mr. Robertson stressed that there needs to be a clearer outline of how the move will actually work, in terms of combining priorities, administration, staff, physical space, and policies.

Ms. Laverdière said she also found this suggestion extremely important. She lamented what she said was a lack of details coming from the government.

But Ms. Brown wrote, “The budget is simply the signalling of the start of the amalgamation process, to comment on timeframes would be premature at this point.” She added that all options, including changes to physical space, are being examined to find an effective and efficient structure for the new department.

Mr. Chapin also stressed the need to maximize people-potential in the new department.

“It’s going to be people who make this work,” he said. “Structure and reorganization is not going to cut it by itself.”

And bringing the right people around the table is what makes the merger a good idea, added Mr. Bradet. The ministers and top officials for all three files related to foreign affairs need to sit around the same table regularly and talk, he argued.

Building a fence around budgets

The last issue raised by the witnesses was a lack of clarity in the legislation on how the new department will deal with doling out money.

“It’s a question of appropriation and budgetary allocations,” said Mr. Bradet. “I’m nervous about that.”

Mr. Bradet questioned whether there would be a fence around each portfolio’s budget at the new department.

“I think Canadians will want to be assured that in the new department, there are no grey zones when it comes to the use of funds for international development,” he said.

Ms. Laverdière said outlining the protocol in legislation for this is difficult, but that there needs to be a discussion about creating a framework for budgets and transparency for spending.

Mr. Robertson also raised an eyebrow at how the new department will handle the influx of money.

“With an extra $4 billion of the [Canadian] people’s money in its wallet, will the new Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Development Department’s culture be up to the task?”

He pointed out that “CIDA has embraced results-based reporting and open data,” and asked, “will the new department embrace this approach?”

Embassy Photo: Ally Foster
Former DFAIT official Paul Chapin, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute vice-president Colin Robertson, and Canadian Council on Africa president Lucien Bradet, at their committee appearance May 23.

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On Ship Procurement Project

Excerpted from The Hill Times

Heavy lifting just beginning on $33-billion ship procurement deal

Monday, 05/27/2013

The heavy lifting is just beginning on the procurement of new military and civilian vessels as the government prepares to pick the winning design for the first planned replacement ships this summer.

There should be sufficient funding set aside for unexpected costs and building quality ships, said Mr. Perry and Colin Robertson, a fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

Since no designs have been finalized, it’s too early to tell whether the money allocated is enough, said Mr. Perry.

“Until that’s done, there’s no way of assessing if the way the project money allocated is good, bad, or ugly,” he said.

There is also a cost premium for building the ships in Canada, noted the PBO, because of the relatively inexperienced shipbuilding industry.

“We have chosen to rebuild our ship industry. This is a conscious policy decision. You can buy these things abroad at a lot less money. But when you build it in your country you create a whole bunch of jobs,” said Mr. Robertson.

The government estimates the shipbuilding could contribute as much as $2-billion to the economy and 15,000 jobs over 30 years.

“Some have raised the suggestion or the criticism that these ships could have been built cheaper or purchased perhaps offshore in other countries. We disagree. We feel it’s important to support the Canadian shipbuilding industry, as well as giving the Royal Canadian Navy a ship that is up to the task,” said Mr. MacKay.

This project is the first major shipbuilding initiative in Canada since the 1990s. The industry is ramping up its skills and capacity. The Vancouver shipyard is currently investing $200-million in upgrades. On the East Coast, the provincial and federal governments are investing in skills training and other initiatives to make sure the region is ready.

“These are not skills you acquire in a day,” said Mr. Robertson.

He explained the industry would build its proficiency as it goes, and starting with the support ships, science vessels and icebreakers would allow them to work towards increasingly more complex vessels.

“We had this capacity during the Second World War. We were building a ship in 183 days,” said Mr. Robertson.

The PBO cited an industry survey of employee technical skills in the United Kingdom’s naval industry, which found it took workers between six and eight years to reach 90 per cent of their optimal productivity levels.

The PBO notes its estimate is only useful if the ships are started and finished on time, and any delay would affect the estimates.

Delays significantly drive up the cost of any military procurement, as military inflation can be as much as 10 per cent annually, noted Mr. Robertson.

A scheduling conflict with the icebreaker may cause the support ships to be delivered later. The projects are scheduled to be built simultaneously, but the Vancouver shipyard can only handle one at a time.

“We’re in very high level discussions about the sequencing. Clearly, we have a preference. The Department of National Defence would like to see our ships built as soon as possible given the importance of replenishment at sea,” said Mr. MacKay.

Unless there are clear advantages to building one before the other, ultimately, it will be a political decision, said Mr. Perry.

“Whether or not you would need refuellers first, or whether or not you need the ice breaking capacity first, … they both are urgent requirements so it’s going to be a tough call about which one gets into service ahead of the other,” he said.

The two keys to avoiding unnecessary delays are stick to the schedule and buy off-the-shelf as much as possible, said Mr. Robertson.

“Keeping to schedule is really vital. The problem comes when, and this is natural enough, the Navy says, we’ll, something new is out, we’d like to have that on the ship. We’ll, if you want to have that on the ship, it takes you longer to do it. If it takes you longer to do it, you’re going to have to pay a premium,” he said.

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On ‘working’ the Canadian message in Washington

Canada’s Keystone XL pitch goes into overdrive

Officials have been averaging a trip to Washington every two weeks in 2013, but some insiders warn that they could be wearing out their welcome.

by CHRIS PLECASH |  The Hill
Last Updated: Wednesday, 05/01/2013 9:43 am EDT

Federal officials are stepping up efforts to make the case for the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington D.C., but some experts warn that the frequent public visits could be doing more harm than good.

Between federal Cabinet ministers and Western Canadian premiers, Canadian representatives have been averaging a trip to Washington every two weeks in 2013, with a focus on making the case for the Keystone XL pipeline and addressing concerns over Canada’s environmental record.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) is the latest federal minister to make the trip. Mr. Oliver was in the U.S. capital on April 24 and 25 to speak at the Center for Strategic International Studies and meet with senior officials in the Obama Administration, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. State Department under secretary Robert Hormats, as well as the chairs of the House and Senate Energy and Commerce committees.

In a teleconference following his speech last week to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in which he accused former NASA climatologist James Hansen of “exaggerating” the impact of oilsands development on climate change, Mr. Oliver told media that part of the reason for his visit was to dispel “myths” about Canada’s environmental record.

“It’s important to be here because Washington is presenting an important opportunity to have a fact-based discussion about Keystone XL which will enhance national security and environmental cooperation, create jobs, and foster long-term economic prosperity,” he said.

Mr. Oliver’s trip came two weeks after Environment Minister Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.) was in Washington, D.C., to attend the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy and discuss Canada’s environmental record.

Two days before Mr. Kent’s visit, it was Alberta Premier Alison Redford, along with Environment Minister Diana McQueen and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Cal Dallas making the rounds in Washington.

Ms. Redford, who also attended the National Governors’ Association winter meeting in Washington in February, spoke at the Brookings Institute during her latest visit and more recently contributed an op-ed to Congressional newspaper Roll Call making the case for Keystone XL and highlighting her province’s commitment to sustainability.

“We await the State Department’s decision on the project, and we know approving the Keystone XL pipeline is the choice of reason,” Ms. Redford wrote.

Canadian officials have been going out of their way to get Washington’s ear on Keystone now that the U.S. election is over and the State Department’s Environmental Impact Assessment for the TransCanada project has been released.

While official visits are essential to diplomacy, it’s unclear whether the frequent appearances are helping or hurting the case for Keystone XL.

Retired diplomat Colin Robertson told The Hill Times that it is important for Canadian officials to maintain their presence in Washington and complement the work done by Canada’s diplomatic mission.

“If you’ve got a big issue, you have to play by Washington rules, not Canadian rules,” said Mr. Robertson, a former minister of Canada’s Washington Embassy and former consul general in Los Angeles. “That means being in Washington and being up on the Hill, going to the think tanks, being visible to make your case, and talking to editorial boards.”

Even if Keystone isn’t the primary reason for a ministerial visit to Washington, the project is still likely to be discussed informally, Mr. Robertson said.

“It may not be on the official agenda, but it certainly is our number one ask,” he said. “You’re never sure which intervention you make is actually going to be the one that persuades them.”

David Manning, who was appointed as Alberta’s Washington envoy in February, agreed that it is important for Canadian officials to be “incredibly active” with U.S. officials in making the case for Keystone XL, but also avoid getting caught up in U.S. domestic politics.

Mr. Manning, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and a former deputy minister of energy for Alberta, said there’s been a conscious effort to keep Ms. Redford’s Washington meetings “bipartisan.”

“When [Premier Redford] came down, we were very careful that her meetings were bipartisan,” Mr. Manning said in an interview with The Hill Times. “Alberta thinks that a bipartisan approach is critically important. The issue has become somewhat partisan — this is Washington.”

U.S. politics has become intensely partisan in recent years and at points in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election, Keystone XL risked becoming a serious campaign issue. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney went as far as saying that he would approve Keystone XL “on day one” of his administration.

President Obama turned down the initial Keystone XL proposal in January 2012, but TransCanada reapplied with an alternate route soon after. The President did approve TransCanada’s 780-km long Gulf Coast line from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf Coast in March, 2012. Construction began last August and the line is expected to be in service later this year.

If approved, the 1,897-km keystone pipeline would have the capacity to deliver up to 800,000 barrels of western crude daily to Steele City, Nebraska where it would feed into existing pipeline infrastructure bound for the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The federal government made a deliberate effort throughout the U.S. election campaign to avoid making statements on Keystone that would be used as political fodder.

Mr. Oliver said that the government is going out of its way to be “respectful of the U.S. process.”

“They certainly have welcomed our involvement and in a number of cases have encouraged us to continue in that regard. I haven’t had any signals, direct or indirect, nor to my knowledge has anyone else in the government, that the advocacy on our part is unwelcome,” Mr. Oliver said.

However, one Washington-based consultant said on background that the Keystone XL debate has led numerous U.S. state and federal lawmakers to address “ill mannered letters” to President Obama, and that attacks by Keystone advocates in the U.S. have done little to help the project’s chances for approval.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall recently made a point of joining 10 U.S. governors in signing a letter to President Obama urging that Keystone XL be approved “swiftly” — a move that the source described as “not helpful.”

The source said that visits by federal and provincial officials are important, but they needed to be “measured” in their frequency and tone.

“You can only go to the well so many times and one has to be really careful,” the source said. “What’s really valuable is the visits by senior public servants who have come to Washington. They know the details, they know the science and the economics, and they’re speaking to counterparts who ministers aren’t talking to.”

The consultant is optimistic that Keystone XL would likely be approved, and added that in the meantime, Canadian officials need to continue to talk about their environmental efforts because the President “doesn’t want to be the guy making the case for Canadian environmental policy.”

“Every time the Prime Minister has talked to [President Obama] in a bilateral discussion or on the margins of an international meeting, the Prime Minister has been very direct on this and very straight and consistent in talking quietly to the President,” the source said. “The President gets it, but he doesn’t want to be the guy to defend [Keystone].”

One former diplomat was more blunt on the recent public push from Canadian officials.

“[F]amiliarity breeds contempt,” said the ex-foreign service officer. “Visitors from Canada constantly importuning Congress and the Executive Branch can be perceived as somewhat tiresome at best, counterproductive at worst.”

There is greater consensus over Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer’s ability to represent Canada’s interests in Washington.

Mr. Robertson said that the former Manitoba premier “gets it” when it comes to working with the U.S. on shared interests.

“[A]s premier he was constantly going south of the border,” said Mr. Robertson. “That’s paid off in spades because governors he got to know when he was premier are now people like [Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano, Agriculture Secretary [Tom Vilsack], and Health and Human Services Secretary [Kathleen Sebelius].”

Mr. Manning credited the ambassador for being “a strategic operator.”

“We have an ambassador that understands provincial issues, this is his background,” he said.


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