Yes, we deserve a seat

Excerpted From the Ottawa Citizen, Thursday, September 30

First, what the critics ignore is that it is not Harper who is seeking a seat on the Security Council but Canada. As prime minister, Harper is our principal spokesman. Next year it could well be Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae delivering the Canadian perspective.

Second, we’ve doubled our food aid to Africa since 2002, making us a leader in the G-8, and fulfilling a pledge made by Jean Chrétien. Canadian food aid is now completely “untied,” and we are on track to fully untying all of our aid by 2012.

But Canadians need to see that our aid is working, otherwise we risk skepticism about its utility and donor fatigue. After half a century, we have learned a lot about how to deliver development assistance. Putting in place rigorous accountability makes a lot of sense. We need to demonstrate, as Harper put it in the case of the Muskoka Initiative that we can, “measure progress, monitor results and ensure that funds intended for aid really contribute to a reduction in the mortality of mothers and children on a lasting basis.”

Third, we’ve always “tilted” towards Israel, especially in standing with Israel and other like-minded nations. We’ve always been against the double standard by which those nations in which there are few violations of human rights are condemned, while those in which such violations are part of a day-to-day system of government, are allowed to be the accusers and sponsors of resolutions like those targeting Israel around “Zionism as racism.”

In spite of a relentlessly hostile and ruthless neighborhood, Israel is a vibrant democracy whose people have turned desert into one of the most remarkably innovative nations in the world. We may not always agree with the actions and policies of its government, but with the Israeli people we make common cause.

Fourth, notwithstanding its ever-present “crisis of relevance,” the UN still counts. In his memoir, one of our most distinguished UN ambassadors remarked that the public sometimes assumes that the “endless debates replete with grievances, self-glorification, and vitriol” are a “tedious exercise in futility.” Yet this “caravanserai of conflicting interests and ideologies,” he continued, “can act as a catalyst in negotiations and settlements, which, ostensibly, have nothing whatever to do with the organization.”

The remarks are from The Making of a Peacemonger and its author is George Ignatieff, father of Michael Ignatieff. Bob Rae’s father, the impressive Saul Rae, also served with distinction as Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.

The United Nations matters. Its alphabet soup of specialized agencies deal with the big issues of global development including refugees, disease and famine. Their efforts remain essential even if their work is mostly unseen.

Read more:

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On Prime Minister Harper’s UN Speech

Canada AM: Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, told CTV’s Canada AM that Canada will be well-served by its strong history with the United Nations. Robertson said Canada has the “best little army” in the world, and once the Canadian Forces are clear of Afghanistan there will be a laundry list of missions they can assist with.

“As the day is long, there is going to be other crises around the world that are going to require the kind of capacity that Canada has developed, particularly in Afghanistan with years of peacekeeping. We have a good reputation,” he said.

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Working with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives

September 23, 2010

CCCE Partners With Ambassador Gordon D. Giffin To Strengthen Engagement On Canada-U.S. Issues

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) is pleased to announce that it will be working closely with Ambassador Gordon D. Giffin to strengthen its engagement with policy makers in the United States on key bilateral and international issues.

Ambassador Giffin, Chair of the Public Policy and International department at McKenna, Long & Aldridge LLP, will collaborate with the CCCE’s policy staff on all matters related to the Canada-U.S. economic and security partnership, including cross-border trade, energy, the environment, intellectual property, procurement and regulatory affairs.

From August 1997 to April 2001, Ambassador Giffin served as the nineteenth United States Ambassador to Canada. As Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, he managed U.S. interests in the world’s largest bilateral trading relationship, as well as U.S. collaboration with Canada on a wide range of global issues.

“Ambassador Giffin’s deep knowledge of, and commitment to, the Canada-U.S. relationship are second to none,” said The Honourable John Manley, President and Chief Executive Officer of the CCCE. “I look forward to partnering with him and his team in seeking public policy solutions to the shared challenges facing our two countries.”

At McKenna, Long & Aldridge, Ambassador Giffin heads an outstanding team that works seamlessly on a wide variety of matters for businesses and governments on both sides of the border.  In addition to the U.S.-based professionals, Ambassador Giffin’s team includes distinguished former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who established Canada’s first Advocacy Secretariat in the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C….

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Canada’s campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council

From The Canadian Press Wednesday Sep. 22, 2010

…One seasoned international observer says it is silly to expect Canada will come up short next month, arguing that Portugal’s recent economic performance will be an impediment.

“The Portuguese have got some big problems,” said Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat and research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. “Do you really want that many Europeans on the Security Council?”

Canada’s perceived pro-Israel tilt in the Middle East, or complaints that it has been inattentive to Africa, won’t hurt next month, he said.

Harper’s growing stature as international statesman, Canada’s recent record hosting the G8 and G20 summits, as well as the Olympics, will ultimately win votes at the UN, said Robertson.

“He’s five years in the ring as prime minister. He’s now seen three Japanese prime ministers. He’s now seasoned,” said Robertson.

“We’ll be judged on our Canadian reputation and our record. The Canadian record is a good record, notwithstanding the domestic critics.”

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‘You can’t change geography’: Taking the Canada-US Relationship to the Next Level

Excerpts from Remarks on Trade Innovation and Prosperity Working Paper 14 of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity Toronto, September 22, 2010

We are blessed to be beside the US – the biggest market in the world and likely to remain so until at least 2025. I realize there are those, especially in this town, who lament our propinquity to the colossus to the South. To them, I respectfully repeat what a Polish diplomat said to me when I was posted to the UN. “Would you rather be us?”

I don’t subscribe to the declinist school on America. I lived in New York City during the late 70s when there were gas lines, graffiti covered the subway cars and, an epidemic of crime. The Big Apple was rotting and the country was in a malaise.  Jimmy Carter encouraged us all to wear cardigans to keep warm. Arab money was going to buy America. But a funny thing happened on the way to Madison Square Gardens. By 1984,  it was ‘morning again’ in Ronald Reagan’s America. Thanks to Rudy Giuliani, Bill Bratton and Comp-Stat, the Big Apple would get its shine back.

Then came Irangate and the 1987 market crash.  Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of Great Powers was a bestseller. This time, the Japanese were about to become ‘masters of the universe’.  Mitsubishi bought the Rockefeller Centre and Sony bought Columbia Pictures. I worked in the Exxon Building – the name came off the building as the oil giant retreated to Dallas.

But you know what? America came back and the nineties launched a decade of growth that we in Canada especially enjoyed thanks to the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and its stepchild, NAFTA. There were certainly elements of ‘irrational exuberance’ – as I witnessed before the bubble burst in Silicon Valley. But when it did, the Valley climbed back by ‘boot-strapping’ and reinvention.

… Having spent most of my professional life living abroad and much of that in the United States, I agree with Alistair Cooke, who after 3000 broadcasts on the BBC between 1940-2000, concluded that “in America, the race is on between its decadence and its vitality, and it has lots of both.”

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CPAC Broadcast on Canada and the future of NATO

CPAC Broadcast: On Septemer 21st, 2010, Paul Chapin, former director general for international security at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Lieut.-Gen. (Ret’d) Michel Maisonneuve, former chief of staff at NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, with moderator Colin Robertson took part in a  lively conversation on NATO’s future direction at the opening session of the Canadian International Council’s National Capital Branch. The session was broadcast by CPAC. The report is available at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.

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On the US Midterms with Alan Gotlieb and David Wilkins

On BNN Tueday, September 21: A three-part part one, part two, part three: panel discussion With the rift in the Republican Party and the rise of the Tea Party, Headline examines the political climate in America and what it could mean for relations with trading partners like Canada. BNN speaks to David Wilkins, former US Ambassador to Canada, Allan Gotlieb, former Ambassador to the U.S. and Colin Robertson, vice-president, Canadian Defence and Foregn Affairs Institute and First Head of the Advocacy Secretariat in the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

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Interview with bout de papier on Canadian International Council and diplomacy

bout de papier interview on Canadian International Council and Diplomacy

Excerpts from the interview that can be read in full above:

On life after the Foreign Service:

Retirement from the Foreign Service liberates you to speak your mind. As we baby boomers leave government service you’ll find there is a community of like-minded who share an appetite for policy debate and discussion like the CIC and other organizations – RHOMA is another obvious example. The academic community can make a contribution but with some notable exceptions, many don’t seem to realize the importance of policy relevance.  This presents an opportunity for those who have served in the Foreign Service. We understand government. We have developed networks of contacts, nationally and internationally.  We appreciate policy relevance and understand the importance of connecting the dots. We learned how to write and present policy options. I think we make a valuable contribution on issues of public policy – as did a number of our former colleagues last fall around Afghanistan in speaking out on the principle of independent reporting by officers in the field. Nothing is more debilitating for an organization as when the bosses are perceived as looking out for themselves and leave the junior officers hanging in the wind.

On punditry:

Just as government has hollowed out its policy development capacity, so the media have hollowed out their research staff, producers and reporters. This opens opportunities for those of us who believe we can serve the public interest by sharing our knowledge and experience. Mind you have to be comfortable sitting on a high chair in a dark room, speaking into a camera with no one behind it, listening for your cue through an earpiece to someone who might be thousands of miles away and then speaking in 10-15 second chunks to someone who often has no idea of what you are talking about. Then be hustled out without ceremony for the next guest. In short: Be Brief, Be Blunt, Be Gone. Briefing ministers was excellent training ground.

Any reflections on Foreign Service?

Yes. It matters more than ever. As we enter a multi-centric world, geography and demography gives Canada unique advantages. First, our proximity to the United States – if not the ‘hyperpower’ then the ‘default’ power and hungry for the kind of intelligence we can bring to the table because we belong to almost every organization going. Second, thanks to intelligent immigration policy ‘we are the world’. Most importantly, we’re part of the Indian and Chinese diaspora. Through a century and a half of hard work we understand pluralism.  We have the capacity. We have the talent. Now we have to apply it. It means resources. With vision and direction from management and our political leadership.

When I joined in 1977 it was like joining the Habs in their heyday. We were on the Security Council. Bill Barton was our ambassador – like Scotty Bowman, his quiet diplomacy had real effect. Basil Robinson was undersecretary.  Allan Gotlieb would follow a couple of years later. The place buzzed with ideas. Marcel Cadieux and Klaus Goldschlag holding forth in the Library where you were encouraged to spend time. Young Turks like Bob Fowler and Jeremy Kinsman. Officers with panache and an uninhibited elegance in putting forth ‘truth to power’. No ‘group-think’ in this band. A premium on ideas including a much-respected in-house journal, International Perspectives, in which officers were encouraged to write. Consorting with journalists and political staff (I would later marry one with both qualities) was encouraged because they brought intelligence and political nous into the equation. We played hard. We rocked. We made a difference for Canada.

Foreign service is ultimately about foreign policy. Ideas matter. Process and accountabilities are means, not ends. Bulking up on bean-counters and coaching staff doesn’t win games. And you have to keep bringing up new talent every year. Adjustment at the ministerial and political level of ‘Canada’s New Government’ accounted for some of the challenges but senior management also has much to answer. Throwing cultural funding and public diplomacy onto sacrifical alter without a squeak was unforgivable (Last time it was attempted we fought through PAFSO and RHOMA. The Senate  subsequently refused legislative passage). But when they cut post operational budgets last summer because they couldn’t count – in any other business they’d be shown the door. The enthusiasts for ‘transformation’ (remind me what version we are on) and the ‘New Way Forward’ should recall that ‘business process reengineering’ and Mao resulted in Enron and the Cultural Revolution. Brave ‘new’ worlds but not perhaps what the planners had in mind.

Sloganeering matters less in international relations than the hard language of priorities, requirements and resources, tradeoffs, and limitations. Knowing your ask. Knowing what you are ready to give to make a deal. Then, as Derek Burney famously puts it, ‘getting it done’.

I’ve spent the last couple of years at the university and I can tell you that this incoming generation is internationalist, green and believes in service. Really smart women and men. They’ll give you new ideas and improve your technique. And we need to get them out quickly and give them ice time to learn how to skate and play as a team – they’ll soon put the puck in the net for Canada.

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Canada AM interview on Nancy Pelosi visit and the oil sands

September 9, 2010 interview on Canada AM: Colin Robertson, an expert on Canada-U.S. trade says U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to hear that we’re America’s biggest energy supplier, and get a sense Canadians know how they’re going to handle the oilsands.

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Alberta’s office in Canadian embassy ‘has opened can of worms’

Excerpted from report by Lee-Anne Goodman of The Canadian Press published in the Globe and Mail on Friday, Sep. 03, 2010

Think-tank seminars on Canada-U.S. relations are usually as polite and uneventful as the relationship itself, but there were rare flashes of temper this week at the Hudson Institute when pointed questions surfaced about the wisdom of Alberta’s presence at the Canadian Embassy.

Alberta is the only province with an office at the embassy, although Ontario is rumoured to be setting up shop this fall. Other provinces, including Quebec and Manitoba, have trade officials in D.C., though they don’t work out of the embassy, where Alberta pays a hefty price for office space in the architectural jewel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Glen Anderson, a Canada-U.S. relations expert at the University of Alberta, told the event that trouble could arise when provinces at odds with the federal government are also talking to White House officials.

“What if Ontario and Alberta have very different approaches and interests?” he asked. Alberta’s presence on the scene, he added, “has opened a can of worms.”

The former Liberal government under Paul Martin opened up the embassy to the provinces to enable them to help advance regional issues in Washington. Alberta set up shop in the Capitol Hill locale in October 2004, apparently the only province that could afford to be there.

The idea had previously met with staunch opposition from some Canadian officials in a town where it’s notoriously difficult to get Canadian issues on the radar. In the 1980s, ambassador Allan Gotlieb was dead-set against the notion.

Colin Robertson, who was the embassy pointman in D.C. under Mr. Martin, defended the practice on Friday.

“My view is that we need 1,000 points of contact with the U.S. system and the provinces are key players, especially the growing relationships between governors and premiers,” said Mr. Robertson, now an adviser to the U.S.-based law firm McKenna, Long and Aldridge.

“It’s not a question of speaking with one voice but rather a consistent message carried by many voices. Think hockey – you play with several lines to put the puck in the net.”

If things get messy, he added, it’s the ambassador’s job to co-ordinate the message.

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