Let’s act like an energy superpower: This is not just an Alberta fight. We need to wage a campaign in all 50 states around Canadian interests

Published in Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Jul. 27, 2010

It’s time for Canada to play the energy card and announce the fast-tracking of a new pipeline to the Pacific, and to encourage Asian investment in our oil patch. The Americans, especially those charged with national security, will get the message.

When you’ve got only one market, the buyer sets not just the price but the conditions of sale. Harassment of our energy exports by environmentalists and U.S. protectionist interests, often garbed in green, is entering a new phase. If we don’t act strategically, it will create instability in our energy sector.

Henry Waxman, chair of the U.S. House committee on energy and architect of earlier efforts to curb or levy a surcharge on our energy exports, has joined with 50 other congressmen who wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding an environmental assessment of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude to U.S. refineries. Their attitude is reflective of a mindset articulated at a recent Washington conference by John Podesta, who dismissed “Greening the Oil Sands” as an oxymoron. Mr. Podesta headed President Barack Obama’s transition team, and many of the alumni from his Center for American Progress are now in the administration.

Until now, Congress has been the preferred playing field for the Obama administration’s plans on climate change. Democrats in the House delivered legislation last summer, but the Founding Fathers designed their system to frustrate radical change. Even if the Senate is able to agree on an energy bill, reconciling the various factions on a carbon cap is unlikely.

With the legislative route gridlocked, the White House has begun to regulate change through the Environmental Protection Agency. Its compliance and enforcement branch has already put a spoke in the Keystone application. With administrators schooled in Hetch Hetchy and dams that are deadly to all things bright and beautiful, regulatory fiat will also affect hydro exports. But their main target will be the oil sands that National Geographic and Avatar have branded as “dirty oil,” although the real “dirty tricks” are billboards linking the oil sands and the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Alberta is right to remind Americans that we’re a good neighbour making major investments in cleaner carbon technology and land reclamation. But that’s not enough. We need to make our case around jobs and national security and reframe it from a Canada-U.S. dispute to one about American interests.

With 40 million Americans on food stamps, the administration will listen to any plan that creates jobs. The AFL-CIO will understand the thousands of jobs that are at stake whether in the construction of the pipelines or in the manufacturing of steel and pipe. Identifying allies – and they can be found in Congress, industry and labour – who will make it an American debate significantly raises our odds.

Americans are waging two costly, unpopular wars in part because of Middle East oil. Few appreciate that Canada is America’s main source of oil and gas, hydro and, with the resurrection of nuclear power, uranium. Canadian energy could eventually reduce American dependence on what is truly foreign oil by half. This geopolitical fact needs repeating. The Pentagon knows solar-powered tanks are still a dream, and wind no longer sails battleships.

This is not just an Alberta fight. It has to be an all-Canadian effort. It’s yet another reminder of why we need to wage a public diplomacy campaign in all 50 states, as well as in Washington, around Canadian interests. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the premiers need to map out a co-ordinated strategy. Bring in business and labour. Turn to Canadian ambassador Gary Doer and U.S. ambassador David Jacobson; their quiet work sealed the deal on reciprocity procurement.

Too often we play defence with the Americans when we should be taking the initiative. Learn from the BP experience and get ahead of the game on health and safety issues. Raise the stakes at the U.S.-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue and, in addition to carbon capture and storage, focus on “smart grids.” We’ve made progress since the Northeast blackout of 2003, but the lights going out during the Queen’s visit to Toronto reminded us we’ve a long way to go.

Think about how a joint energy strategy fits into shared economic recovery. There is lots of homegrown knowledge, especially the superb research of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Confound the critics who think we’ve become the dog in the environmental manger by playing host to an international energy and environment forum in our new Canada School of Energy and Environment.

Stephen Harper once proclaimed Canada to be an “emerging energy superpower.” Let’s act like one.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, is a senior strategic adviser on energy and environmental issues with McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP and a senior fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

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US Starting to work collaboratively on the border

From Embassy US starting to work collaboratively on the border, instead of alone: Experts by Anca Gurza July 21, 2010

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, now a senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute…”Countries move unilaterally,” he said. “We pass legislation in the interests of Canadians, the Americans pass legislation in the interests of Americans, but it does impinge sometimes on other countries.” It is not surprising Canada is in response mode sometimes, since it is the US that was attacked and it is now taking measures to protect its homeland, Mr. Robertson said. Mr. Robertson said he has also noticed an improvement with the recent announcement of infrastructure information sharing, but said there’s always been an element of collaboration between Canada and the US after 9/11. “Even though the closed things down, there was a recognition certainly in the Bush administration and now in the Obama administration that we have to make sure we balance our security requirement with our largest security requirement, which includes economic prosperity,” he said.

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Facing the geopolitical perils of being an ‘energy superpower’

From Embassy Facing the geopolitical perils of being an ‘energy superpower’: Are the oil sands roping Canada into a dangerous game between China and the US? July 14, 2010 by Carl Meyer

“There will be forces in the US, especially those concerned with national security in Congress, the Pentagon and NSC, that will be quietly making the case for Canadian oil,” says former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who has also worked in public affairs for Petro-Canada’s International Assistance Corporation.

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‘Indispensable Ally’? Better to be a ‘Reliable Partner’ published in The Mark

July 12, 2010

If Canada wants effective foreign policy, we need a new approach and a strategic relationship with the United States.

“The ultimate narrative of the new multipolar era will not be written for decades. Will the U.S. decline in the way of the British Empire? Will China’s rise burn out in the way of Japan? Will they stand above the rest in a functional dual-superpower system? We simply don’t know, which is why Canada needs to hedge its bet on the U.S. and make new friends elsewhere, while deepening our relationship with our best friend.” – from “United States: The Burning Platform,” Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age

Writing a foreign policy review in a foreign ministry is like a visit from Harry Potter’s dementors: the energy is sucked out of the system. It inevitably becomes an exercise in corporate justification and an effort to rationalize the current state of affairs, rather than innovate.

Written by a committee and subject to a thousand compromises, the tone is aspirational and the language is couched in the conditional and the subjunctive. Smart officers soon learn that any really good idea drowns in a sea of banality, political correctness, and faddism. The gestation period is twice as long as anticipated. “Experts” are called in for a re-write. No one is happy with the final product. In content and context, it too often resembles an orphan turd floating at the top of the toilet bowl. Quickly flushed into oblivion by the regretful commissioning minister or his successor, the review finds an after-life in the dissecting chambers of academe. They ascribe too much value to it, clamour for more, and thus begins a new cycle that leads to … another foreign policy review.

The Open Canada report released by the Canadian International Council is none of these things, and should enjoy a much different fate. Indeed, it obviates the need for a foreign policy review because the foreign ministry, and the 23 other ministries that have a hand in international policy development and delivery, can react to these fresh and provocative ideas.

Principal author Edward Greenspon is a stylist whose prose is easy to digest. The group of Generation Xers that co-signed the document are not the usual suspects, rather a shrewd selection of those just coming into their own. In a clever, pragmatic solution to the challenge of consensus, the bar for signature was sensible – co-signers only had to concur with 80% of the final report. The Great and the Good – including the practicing doyen of Canada-U.S. relations, Allan Gotlieb – were consulted and appropriately referenced in the report’s acknowledgements. Prime ministers, of course, would do well to remember Gotlieb’s advice on foreign policy reviews: “Don’t study foreign policy. Conduct it. And justify it when you stand in Parliament and when your party goes to the polls.”

This document provides a lot to chew on. The game-changers that formed this piece sound the alarm starting with the potential impact of the United States decline on Canada. Their prescriptions are forthright. Open Canada reminds Canadians that moralism is not a policy and that a country that speaks loudly and carries a little stick has no weight. As such, we need to plan and make it a Team Canada effort because “the line between domestic and international has blurred to the point of being almost meaningless.” Further, once a plan is made, Canada must stick to it, since we are seen by many, particularly Latin America and Africa, as fair-weather friends.

The recommendations regarding Canada’s relations to the United States are sensible; while Open Canada favours a “‘big bang”’ approach that would create a customs union with the United States, it recognizes that that road will require a series of “little bangs” to build confidence. It draws from a lot of prevailing wisdom and past practice. For example, Open Canada underlines the value of building consensus at the grass roots, which was the premise behind the Canada-United States Smart Border Accord. It suggests a joint approach to border infrastructure and sharing common space at gateways, drawing on the work of the Chamber of Commerce and a very good study by former Ambassador Michael Kergin and my former Embassy colleague, Birgit Matthiesen, who is now with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Promoting labour mobility will be easier when the guilds – doctors and lawyers and other professions – adopt joint recognition of standards. Standards today are like the tariffs of yesterday – an impediment to the flow of goods and services. The Government of Canada should unilaterally declare mutual recognition of new standards, especially as they relate to health and safety.

While I like the sound of “indispensable ally,” it has about it the whiff of Arthur Meighen’s too-sure “ready, aye ready” – an earlier misadventure, led by the British, in the Near East that Canada did well to avoid. Every generation or so, America goes into crusader mode, as John Quincy Adams warned long ago, “in search of monsters to destroy.” Vietnam and Iraq are salutary reminders that the Canadian penchant for sober second thought is a useful habit. “Reliable partner” would be a more appropriate moniker for Canada in dealings with the U.S., since Americans put a higher priority on national security while our principal interest is in market access and a border that gives easy access to people and encourages the flow of goods.

Life with Uncle Sam can be frustrating. Too often we play our hand too defensively. Complaints and whining usually guarantee a series of increasingly irrelevant diplomatic notes that wind up in the dead letter box at Foggy Bottom.

There are really only three things to know when dealing with the Americans:

First, situate your ask into their agenda. America’s Founding Fathers created a system of brokerage politics with checks and balances designed to frustrate radical change. For that reason, Canada should frame its issues as part of an American debate. When it becomes “Canada versus the U.S.”, the only place we can be reasonably certain of victory is on the hockey rink. Our success rate rises if it is championed by American allies. Never forget that, on almost any issue, there are always more Americans who think like Canadians, than there are Canadians; yet another reflection of our asymmetry.

Second, think big. Americans like big ideas, especially those that have a national security dimension. This helped us achieve both the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

Third, be very well prepared. When America eventually puts its mind to a problem, they play hardball. As former Ambassador Frank McKenna observed in Washington, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”

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