Monday, November 29: In the wake of WikiLeak’s release of confidential diplomatic cables, CPAC Prime Time Peter Van Dusen welcomes Colin Robertson, former Canadian envoy to Washington and Michel Juneau-Katsuya, security intelligence specialist discuss the implications on U.S. foreign relations.

Excerpted from News Staff Mon. Nov. 29 2010 9:19 PM ET

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson agrees that the diplomatic tradition should emerge from these revelations intact, if slightly red-faced.

“It’s not going to shake our relationship…. they represent a picture in time of a perspective of the relationship,” Robertson said in an interview from Ottawa on Monday.

Robertson expects the documents to cover a broad range of subjects including border issues, the Alberta oilsands and the U.S. president’s recent visit to Canada.

Even if unflattering portrayals of Prime Minister Stephen Harper emerge, Robertson says they are unlikely to impact his ongoing working relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama.

“They have a personal relationship,” Robertson said, noting that their two governments are echoing the reaction from leaders worldwide: that such communications are par for the course.

“These things are not intended to be made public … you do so with candour and trust thinking that what you write for your leadership is never going to be revealed to the other leadership. That’s how diplomatic relations have been conducted for centuries.”

Comments Off on Wikileaks

U.S. braces for diplomatic crisis over leaked files

On CBC Connect with Mark Kelly Monday, November 29, 2010

Excerpted from News Staff Date: Sun. Nov. 28 2010 6:58 PM ET

The United States rushed into damage control Sunday as media around the world began reporting on thousands of classified diplomatic documents released to a handful of news organizations by WikiLeaks.

Colin Robertson, the vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, said the leaked cables could be dangerous for U.S. officials because of their degree of detail.

“They’re pretty explicit about who was at the meeting and who was accompanying who,” he said. “Certainly in the context of the Middle East, where the objective of the United States is to reach a peace settlement… these cables are actually very high-level.”

They could even pose an obstacle, he said, to making headway in already fraught, U.S.-brokered negotiations for a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“When you make all this stuff public in the midst of ongoing negotiations, it certainly does a lot to undermine trust, which is really the basis of international negotiations,” Robertson told CTV News Channel.

Comments Off on U.S. braces for diplomatic crisis over leaked files

Wikileaks: ‘Public right to know’ vs ‘Government stewardship on behalf of the public good

Powerplay November 26 with Paula Newton in discussion with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Harlan Ullman

Comments Off on Wikileaks: ‘Public right to know’ vs ‘Government stewardship on behalf of the public good

Will a Republican House be Good for Canada-U.S. Trade Relations?

November 9: Will a new Republican dominated congress be good for Canada, or will the emergence of the Tea Party push the U.S. to a more protectionist stance? BNN finds out from Allan Gotlieb, former Ambassador to the U.S. and Colin Robertson, vice-president, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

Comments Off on Will a Republican House be Good for Canada-U.S. Trade Relations?

U.S. midterms and Canada: We must defend our interests

Excerpts from the Globe and Mail, November 4, 2011 by Allan Gotlieb and Colin Robertson

The U.S. Congress has undergone another sea change as a result of Tuesday’s midterm elections and the Republican wave with a Tea Party crest. What has not changed is the requirement for vigilance in defence of Canadian interests. Those interests are our economic prosperity, our need for a wider and enhanced international trading system, and an open border between our two countries.

From the standpoint of our interests, Congress is the organ of government of greatest concern to Canada. In the U.S. system of checks and balances, the three branches of government are said to be co-equal, but they’re not, by constitutional design of the Founding Fathers. Congress, not the presidency, is primus inter pares

If the mood of Americans continues to turn inward because of fatigue with foreign wars and “unreliable” allies, we can anticipate more security measures and thus a further thickening of our border. The passport requirement for Canada and U.S. travellers was a profoundly retrograde step, curbing tourism and the flow of service clubs and youth sports that created unique bonds of friendship. The Republican “Pledge to America” promises to further “secure our borders with strong enforcement of the law.”

Mythologies about 9/11 and Canada’s leaky borders persist. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate who almost defeated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is only the latest to voice the canard that “our northern border is where the terrorists came through.” Meantime, that border continues to choke with its aging infrastructure, new rules and regulations, fees, inspections and redundancies. Our common frontier is probably the least open among any two industrialized countries anywhere, and no way to manage the world’s biggest bilateral trading relationship. A more open border between our countries needs to be a top priority.

While recognizing the advantage of divided political power in Washington, Canada should greatly intensify our efforts to find new global markets for our resources, especially energy. It should be a matter of the highest national priority to develop the policies and to create the necessary infrastructure.

Regrettably, President Barack Obama seems to lack any strategic view of Canada’s value from the standpoint of U.S. national interests. While it may be tempting, Canadian interests are too important for us to drop anchor and stay in safe harbour. Ad hocery and incrementalism will not stem decline. Open trade and borders are the proven path to jobs and mutually reinforcing growth and prosperity.

The most effective way to reverse the trend line is through bold, energetic Canadian initiatives. We should start by reminding Americans that, if they’re to trade their way out of recession, the first step is to build on our deep, integrated supply chain dynamic with their biggest market and to renew the partnership with Canada.

Comments Off on U.S. midterms and Canada: We must defend our interests

Midterms Commentary coverage

excerpts from Campbell Clark Globe and Mail With new Congress, Canada can expect trade, border flare-ups

“It was not the Republican Party we’ve known in the past. I think that’s Tea Party influence,” said Colin Robertson, a fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, and a former Canadian diplomat in Washington. “And the Democrats who are left are now very much beholden to the unions.”

He expects to see cross-border trade disputes over issues such as lumber and agriculture, fuelled perhaps by industries that will soon lose stimulus-bill subsidies and seek trade protection instead.

For decades, the Canadian strategy to counter U.S. protectionism and post-9/11 border blockages was to pull Americans closer with new deals to increase co-operation on trade or at the border.

Reciprocity will be the buzzword, Mr. Robertson argues, and Canada will have to come up with a broad strategy to sell its interests in the United States, or see them chipped away one by one.

Excerpted from Mike Blanchfield Canadian Press Alberta’s dirty oil image cleaned by U.S. midterms in Toronto Star

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who served in Washington, said special interests groups will still keep up their lobbying efforts against “dirty oil” while the Obama administration tries to tackle the issue through federal regulations rather than getting Congress to pass new laws. But he added: “Climate change legislation is dead for now and this puts back into the box the border levy on ‘dirty oil.’”

Excerpted from Juliet O’Neill Postmedia News GOP tide expected to wash across Canadian trade

Experts noted Obama’s signal that the administration’s battle against carbon now will shift from the legislative to the regulatory front where Democrats are waging battle with Republicans over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s powers over industrial polluters. “What they can’t do through legislation, the administration will try to do through regulation,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who specializes in Canada-U.S. affairs.

While the record suggests Republicans are less protectionist than Democrats in terms of traditional trade barriers, Canada has faced a decade of border management issues with the United State that are in some cases — such as clogged border crossings — tantamount to trade barriers.

“For us, the border stuff won’t get any easier as the GOP (Republicans) puts big emphasis on ‘security’ and enforcement — it’s a basic piece in the Pledge to America,” said Robertson, citing the frequently resurgent myth, resurrected during the midterm election campaign, that terrorists travel to the U.S. via a porous Canadian border.

Comments Off on Midterms Commentary coverage

Morning after the Midterms

By Barbara Yaffe 3 Nov 2010 

Election results Tuesday night showed that Americans are interested in jobs, jobs jobs and, if Canada is smart, it will get out front with a big lobby campaign south of the border to point out how many American jobs are dependent on trade with Canada.

That’s the view of U.S. policy expert Colin Robertson, vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute who has done diplomatic stints in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.

“We need to underline to every new legislator the jobs in their district that depend on trade with Canada,” Robertson said on Wednesday, “and point out the jobs created by Canadian investment.

“What we need in Canada is a strategy that is big and bold and built around jobs … We’re their number one market because of the deep integration.”

Canadian politicians also need to get over their allergy to dealing with “evangelicals and conservatives” in the U.S. “Get over it, and get knocking.”

Robertson also warns:

* While a U.S. carbon cap and trade system has been sidelined, expect “what they can’t do through legislation, the Administration will try to do through regulation and the Environmental Protection Agency.”

* Expect the GOP to emphasize security and enforcement at the border. “There is a Pat Buchanan/Ross Perot strain within the new Republican coalition that is isolationist. This won’t help us.”

* Expect that any cooperation on a security deal by Arctic nations will be delayed as the American Senate probably will not now ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Bottom Line: Canada better get busy to ensure its own interests are protected.

Comments Off on Morning after the Midterms

After the Midterms: Analysis

November 3 2010: Powerplay with Janis Mackey Frayer interviews Colin Robertson a former diplomat says the shift in the U.S. was due solely on the economy. When there are not enough jobs the people will vote out the incumbent party, which is what happened to the Democrats.

From Barbara Yaffe, ‘Bad news for Obama might not be so bad for Canada’ in the Vancouver Sun:

Republicans took control Tuesday night of the U.S. House of Representatives, shifting the game plan for Ottawa on several key Canada-U.S. issues.

The Democratic defeat will have come as no surprise to the Harper government or any other America-watchers.

“Americans are sick and tired and scared about the direction of the country, about debt and deficit and about terrorism,” former diplomat Colin Robertson said this week.

Robertson, who has done stints in Canada’s Washington, D.C. embassy and the Los Angeles consulate, pointed out that polls had shown “60 per cent feel the country is headed in the wrong direction … [and] want a smaller government, lower taxes and fewer services.”

What was bad news for Barack Obama, however, might not be so for Canadians.

On the two pre-eminent bilateral issues of trade and energy, Republicans generally are kinder than Democrats to the interests of their biggest trading partner and energy supplier.

Republicans bill themselves as champions of free trade and may be less apt to build “Buy American” provisions into new U.S. legislation.

Comments Off on After the Midterms: Analysis

Election Day: Midterms analysis

November 2, 2010 CBC News: Lang and O’Leary Exchange: Colin Robertson and Birgit Matthiessen discuss trade implications of midterms for Canada with Amanda Lang .

CTV News Channel: Colin Robertson, former diplomat discusses the U.S. midterm election. He explains how the Tea Party is picking up speed, as Americans are fed up with the high unemployment rate.

Comments Off on Election Day: Midterms analysis

Midterms: A Primer for Canadians and discussion with CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen

Americans vote tomorrow in the U.S. midterm elections. Republicans hope to take back control of Congress and deal a blow to President Barack Obama’s power and prestige. As the American economy continues to struggle, Democrats are seeking to avoid the historic maxim that incumbents fare poorly between presidential elections. What do these votes mean for Canada, and what should we expect tomorrow night? CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen gets analysis from former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, and Christopher Sands, senior fellow with the Hudson Institute.

Excerpted from 2010 Midterms A Primer for Canadians

After having believed ourselves capable of transforming ourselves, we now believe ourselves incapable of improving ourselves; after having had an excessive pride, we have fallen into a humility that is just as excessive; we thought that we could do everything, and now we think that we can do nothing…This, to put it simply, is the great malaise of our age…”

– Alexis de Tocqueville

“The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best.”

– Will Rogers

American politics at the dawn of the 21st century is a brutal, bloody, winner-take-all game. As it should be. The stakes in political combat are not multi-billion dollar mergers or championship rings…There are no higher stakes than determining who runs the only superpower on God’s earth. Politics…is the only game for grown-ups…”

– James Carville

Forget the Giants and the Rangers, although that contest, too, has blue-red overtones, America’s real secular sport is politics. Thanks largely to television’s desire to distinguish between parties, each party has a colour: red for Republicans and blue for Democrats (the opposite of Canada’s Liberal red and Conservative blue). The parties even have their own bestiary. Thanks to the popularization of Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly,  a mid-19th century American caricaturist, the Democrats have been associated with the donkey, while the Grand Old Party (GOP) rides the elephant.

The Democrats are the oldest political party in the world and John F. Kennedy used to take great pride in telling of the trip in 1800 that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison made up the Hudson River on a botanical tour searching for butterflies that ended up in New York City where they formed the Democrat Party.  The original plans for the Republican Party were drawn up at a meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin at the First Congregational Church in 1854 in an action to stop the spread of slavery that united Whigs, Free Soilers and northern Democrats. The Republicans lost their first election to the Democrats but came back in 1860, led by a rail-splitting lawyer from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. The Republicans would dominate American politics for much of the following seventy years. In the face of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt became president and from 1932 to 1980, the Democrats were the majority party, especially in Congress. Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the GOP has won the presidency five out of eight elections. The Democrats have mostly been the majority in Congress except for an interregnum occasioned by one of the great ‘wave’ elections in American politics, when Newt Gingrich’s 1994 ‘Contract with America’ swept the Democrats from both the House and Senate.

De Tocqueville’s tour of Jacksonian America established the view of a populist, democratic and exceptional nation. Since the Revolution, Americans have delighted in mocking their politicians and for wit and insight Will Rogers remains the greatest American political humorist. Today’s political info-tainment has reached a new level as we saw at the recent ‘Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear’ hosted by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart at the Lincoln Memorial. But American politics is also, as James Carville reminds us, a blood sport…

Elections occasionally surprise pundits and pollsters alike. ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ was the famously inaccurate banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1948. Few expected the breadth or depth of the  ‘Contract with America’ Republican 1994 win in both the House and Senate.

Midterm elections are important but they rarely forecast the next presidential election. They are usually a referendum on the main issue of the day – usually the economy and occasionally foreign policy, the direction of the nation and, presidential leadership. Since 1900, the party in the White House has lost seats in the House of Representatives in every Midterm except for 1934 and 2002. Presidents who lost big in Midterms (Harry Truman in 1946, Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1994) bounced back to win re-election.

In 2006, unhappiness with the war was a big factor in Democrats taking back the House of Representatives. In 2008, they enlarged their majorities in both houses. Voters were fed up with George W. Bush, worried by the collapsing economy and inspired by the hope generated by Obama’s ‘change that you can believe in’. Change came on health care, economic stimulus and financial reform but continuing high unemployment is hurting the Democrats. It’s a reminder of James Carville’s famous exhortation to Bill Clinton’s team in 1992: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’

In 2008, the Democrats picked up 21 seats in the House, having gained 30 seats in the 2006 Midterms. In a sense, if the Republicans regain the House and the Senate is a near draw, we are back to the future. It will be even more so if Jerry Brown wins in California. In a couple of days, the 2010 Midterms will be history, but if you are feeling political withdrawal, then stop by your favourite bookstore on November 9th for a new political memoir, Decision Points. And the author? George W. Bush.

Comments Off on Midterms: A Primer for Canadians and discussion with CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen