An agenda to take to Washington

Sept. 12, 2009 National Post

Wednesday’s White House meeting between Barack Obama and Stephen Harper is unlikely to ripple the surface in Washington. Unlike the president’s February visit to Ottawa, with its breathless and blanket coverage, most Americans don’t pay much attention to relations with the northern neighbour. Not because they don’t care or we don’t matter, but because we are not a vital problem. For the most part, this serves Canadian interests – when America focuses on a problem the first instinct is often to reach for the hammer.

For Canada, we only have one neighbour and, like it or not, it is the one relationship that we have to get right. Time with the president is valuable. The first rule of preparation is to differentiate between the transactional and the important and to delegate as much of the transactional – the small irritants and stocktaking in the bilateral relationship – to the cabinet and ambassadors for resolution. The second rule is to offer constructive solutions on international issues where America bears the burden of global primacy. Read more…

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Benefits of Empire: A review of Matthew Lange’s Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power

Excerpts from the Literary Review of Canada September 2009

As a young boy I collected stamps, a hobby I shared with my paternal grandmother. Every Saturday we would delve into a black trunk full of stamps – a legacy of my grandfather, who had died on the operating table in 1944, while my father was serving in the RCAF. Amongst my favourites was the two penny Canadian ‘XMAS 1898’ featuring a map of the world with the British possessions inked in red. Its inscription: ‘We hold a vaster empire than has being’ was drawn from Sir Lewis Morris’ Song of Empire, an ode written for Queen Victoria’s 1887 Silver Jubilee. The map, a Mercator projection that made the Empire look even bigger, was based on a design by Sir George Parkin, then principal of Upper Canada College (and maternal great-grandfather to Michael Ignatieff).

The stamp is testimony to one of the advantages of Empire –  the Imperial Penny Post, a ‘freer trade’ idea to lower the tariff on postage to two pence within the wider Empire. Proposed at the 1898 London Postal Conference by Canadian Postmaster General, William Mulock, it caught the imagination of British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain. Chamberlain saw it as another means of cementing imperial ties at a time when writing letters was as popular, at least amongst the elite, as today’s e-mail. As historian Peter Waite’s tale in the Beaver (December 2007) records, Muloch triumphantly sent the first letter bearing Parkin’s map on Christmas Day 1898 to his British counterpart, the Duke of Norfolk.

It was, arguably, yet another example of the kind of positive imperial initiative that gave meaning to one of our enduring colonial legacies, our constitutional mantle of ‘peace, order and good government’. It is the colonial legacy that McGill sociologist Matthew Lange examines in Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power…

My own experience in colonial Hong Kong, especially in the period after Tiananmen Square, suggested that the vast majority of Hong Kongers, if they had been permitted a vote, would have happily chosen to retain colonial rule. The vast majority, after all, had already voted with their feet when they left the Mainland and crossed into Hong Kong. Indeed, the fences in the northern territories, manned by the celebrated Gurhkas, were there to keep the flow at bay although the British devised, at least in the early years after Mao consolidated his hold, a kind of Darwinian safe touch policy whereby if you made it to the island you were considered ‘home free’. Is it any wonder that Milton Friedman considered Hong Kong the epitome of free enterprise?

When considering the developmental impact of institutions, however, it is also worth noting that adopting either the Westminster model or its American derivative is clearly not enough to guarantee success.  With some notable exceptions, including Hong Kong and Singapore, post-colonial states in Asia, Africa and Latin America have mostly failed to achieve levels of growth or political stability associated with the United States or the ‘old Dominions’ such as Canada and Australia.

In a celebrated 1994 interview in Foreign Affairs, Singapore’s founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, provided his own explanation for the state’s unusual success.  He attributed it to ‘Confucian values’ and lectured the West on its failures, arguing that “We use the family to push economic growth. We were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop: the belief in thrift, hard work, filial piety and loyalty and the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning.”Lee Kwan Yew is right –  at least in his larger argument that culture does matter.

The late American political scientist Samuel Huntington had a similar view, arguing in favour of the centrality of culture in shaping institutions and, subsequently, political outcome. In Who are We? Huntington (p.59) asked: “Would America be the America it is today if in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.”

Frank Fukuyama points out that successful governance also depends on religious and cultural traditions. In an essay in his edited Explaining the Development Gap Between the United States and Latin America (2007), Fukuyama argues that “the informal matrix of norms, beliefs, values, traditions, and habits that constitute a society are critical for the proper functioning of formal institutions, and a political science that pays attention only to the design of formal institutions and fails to understand normative and cultural factors will fail.”

While Lange doesn’t deal with the ‘old dominions’ the British experience, especially in America, had a significant influence on its governance patterns in the rest of the empire. The debacle in 1783 at Yorktown, where “almost barefoot,” British officers behaved like “whipped schoolboys” while the British military band played a dirge titled “The World Turned Upside Down” significantly changed British colonial strategy. Canada became the first beneficiary with the Quebec Act’s recognition of diversity in language and religion. A similar pragmatism influenced the substantial self-rule that was subsequently conceded to Canada and other white-settler dominions…

see also comment Re: “Benefits of Empire” by Colin Robertson

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Our chance to get back in Uncle Sam’s embrace: Canada’s new ambassador has his work cut out for him

The appointment of Gary Doer as our next ambassador to the United States is inspired. His experience, progressive credentials and can-do attitude are what we need for Barack Obama’s Washington. Mr. Doer is forthright but affable. He has a network of contacts at the state level. Now he needs to reach out to congressional chairs and the czars in the White House. In the short term, he can play point in more effective co-ordination of infrastructure development – road, rail, ports, pipelines and the “smart grid,” and provide a more sensible approach to our irregular but de facto common market. He can also get out in front of some of the mischief about the border and our health-care system.

Two of our past three ambassadors to Washington have been premiers, and Mr. Doer’s appointment is a reminder of the vital role these provincial leaders play in the hidden wiring of the Canada-U.S. relationship. They are sensitized to the efficient flow of goods and people across our borders, what with trade representing employment for more than seven million Americans. They actively reach out to counterpart governors, state and local legislators on practical matters such as reciprocity in procurement. Working together, they created the so-called smart driver’s licence as a passport alternative for land crossings. They have also been incubators for climate-change initiatives, an area where Mr. Doer has solid credentials.

Business and labour play a critical role in reminding their American cousins that our economic integration creates mutual benefit. That we trade more with Home Depot than with France is a reminder that almost 40 per cent of our trade is intrafirm. A third of Canadian labour unions are affiliates of U.S.-based internationals, which gives us a natural entrée into this key element of the Democratic coalition. It is a card Mr. Doer (a former labour organizer) will need to play in what will be his abiding preoccupation: battling protectionism, be it dressed as “Buy America,” national security, environmentalism or health and safety.

Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador-designate to the United States, laughs after speaking to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Aug. 28, 2009. Also pictured are Prime Minister Stephen Harper's deputy press secretaries Andrew MacDougall and Karine Leroux. Reuters

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares for his meeting with Mr. Obama in Washington this month, we need to give thought to Canadian-U.S. relations in the longer term. Canada is unique among major industrialized countries in that it has only one neighbour. We always feel that Americans need to know more about us, without acknowledging that we don’t know as much about them as we think we do. We forget, for example, their burdens of global primacy. Or that their southern neighbours, beginning with Mexico, require more attention.

From Confederation on, Canadians have always been anxious to keep Uncle Sam at arm’s length. Since 9/11, Uncle Sam has been more than happy to agree, creating a “real border.”

Now, we want back into Uncle Sam’s embrace – or at least into his pockets, so that we can share in his industry and investment. Protecting our gains will require a smart approach to integration, including a complementary approach on immigration and refugee policy; harmonization of standards and regulations; and a robust security arrangement that includes law enforcement, intelligence sharing and adding maritime and land forces to our continental air defence arrangement.

Unfortunately, the time is not right for a bold initiative. Mr. Obama is preoccupied with the most ambitious presidential agenda since Franklin Roosevelt: managing the stimulus and its “exit ramp,” plus health care and climate change, with education and immigration reform promised for next year. With an anxious public and the 2010 mid-term elections on the minds of congressional leaders, there is no appetite for a grand design, especially given the situation in Mexico.

This doesn’t mean we should give up. Rather, Canadians should use this time to focus on what we want and how to get there. Develop a national consensus on longer-term goals. Play to our strengths – energy generated by Canadian oil, gas, uranium and hydroelectricity is reliable, safe and secure. Rather than apologize for our energy development, we should aggressively market this capacity. Point out our investments in environmental sustainability. Trumpet our remarkable technological and engineering achievements in hydro and the oil sands.

Build our standing as a reliable friend, ally and neighbour by looking actively to see where our objectives complement those of the United States, especially in the intersection of international security – Afghanistan, WMDs, the Americas.

Geography, history and circumstance may shape the contours of our relationship, but with preparation and timely initiative, we can be game-changers. The new ambassador has his work cut out for him.

Colin Robertson, a career foreign service officer, is a fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and distinguished senior fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

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The road to Huntsville: restoring Canadian leadership on the global stage

Excerpted From Policy Options September 2009 The road to Huntsville: restoring Canadian leadership on the global stage

As host of next year’s summit of major world leaders in Huntsville (June 25-27, 2010), Canada should seize the initiative, in bridging the evolution of the G-8 to a more representative summit of leaders. What Kinsman calls our ‘multilateralist wiring’ – we have amongst other organizations, a voice in the Commonwealth, Francophonie, APEC and OAS – gives us place and standing and makes us especially well suited to the task. As the long-time beneficiary of the Chinese and Indian diaspora – since 1980 over half our new settlers have migrated from Asia changing both how we look and how we think – we are especially well placed to bridge between the shifting balance in world order and especially the relationship between Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Canada has been an active participant in the creation of the post-war architecture and we have played the role of ‘helpful fixer’ through creative initiatives including breaking the log-jam on UN membership, the development of peacekeeping, building a north-south dialogue, creating a representative Commonwealth and Francophonie and, in the creation of the G-20 in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. Once again we have an opportunity to apply our constructive internationalism and engage on a broad canvas of issues with a range of countries. It will require much hard work. We will have to raise our game and devote sufficient resources to the task. But it will be worth the effort….

For Canada the months before Huntsville are an opportunity to reinforce the emerging consensus for a transformation from G-8 to a more representative meeting of leaders as well as to establish an agenda for progress. Events will likely reinforce the opportunities that, for convenience, can be loosely divided into three, inter-connected baskets.

First, the economic situation. Aquila was essentially a ‘take note’ discussion papering over the differences between those who would argue for a second stimulus (UK and Russia), those who want to assess the effect of the first tranche of which considerable monies are yet to be expended (Canada, USA) and those who are already frightened about the longer term impact of so much spending (France, Italy, Germany)….

The second basket is climate change. At Aquila the seventeen countries in the G8 and Major Economies Forum responsible for about 80 per cent of the world’s emissions agreed to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Scientists reckon that it has risen about .8 degrees since 1850 but that at 2 per cent we’d face the kind of catastrophic events predicted by Al Gore and depicted in the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster (filmed in Montreal) The Day After Tomorrow.

Third, the peace and security basket of issues, notably nuclear proliferation. At Aquila the leaders condemned “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches in defiance of UN resolutions…

In his conclusion to Diefenbaker’s World, Basil Robinson, who would go on to become undersecretary of state for external affairs, observed that the two constants to Canadian policy have been consistent support and active association with the major institutions and alliances, and a solidarity in global affairs with the United States, “modified by a spirited nationalism in bilateral matters.” It continues to be a sound coda for the conduct of Canadian foreign policy. Those who think Canada is taking a vacation from international involvement need only read the daily headlines detailing the blood and treasure we spend in Afghanistan to appreciate that when it matters we can be depended on to stand up.

Basil Robinson was a member of a generation in which Canada’s diplomatic service and foreign policy was muscular, nimble and imaginative. They understood that ‘being there’ required a contribution – ideas and initiatives on peace, security and economic well-being. It meant a commitment to hard power and the application abroad of soft power. As a ‘middleweight’ we recognized that to compete in the global arena with the ‘heavyweights’ required international institutions with rules to even the odds. Canadian efforts to engineer multilateralism, through the UN and its alphabet soup of agencies and, to create collective security. regionally through NATO and bilaterally through NORAD, are a part of our history. Initiative and adaptability in the face of change has been a Canadian characteristic. It is time to apply it again.

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