You don’t do diplomacy out of the basement

excerpted from June 30, 2011 Winnipeg Free Press Canada Day in D.C. just one victim of cuts to embassy hospitality budgets by Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON – The downsizing of the annual Canada Day celebrations at Canada’s flagship embassy in the U.S. capital may seem like sensible belt-tightening to some, regardless of the griping by ex-pats about this year’s much smaller Pennsylvania Avenue shindig.

But Canadian diplomats past and present say it’s a symptom of a much bigger problem: the Conservative government slashing of hospitality budgets at embassies and high commissions around the world, which they warn is dramatically hindering Canada’s ability to drum up trade, advance Canadian interests and raise the country’s international profile.

“I can only tell you we are in a period of fiscal restraint,” Alain Cacchione, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said in an email Thursday when asked about the downsizing. He provided no further comment.

The current state of affairs seems a decided shift in attitude from Jean Chretien’s years in power.

The former prime minister often asserted that “you don’t do diplomacy out of your basement.” Stephen Harper, the diplomats suggest, seems to disagree.

“Bottom line is that you can’t do diplomacy without a budget to market and influence,” said Colin Robertson, a former senior diplomat who was known as a master of Capitol Hill networking during his years at the Canadian embassy in Washington.

“We generate over a million dollars a minute in trade with the U.S., yet we are faced with a thickening border. The investment by our embassy and consulates in reaching out to legislators and businesses — who will then pressure their legislators — is minuscule compared to the trade and relationship at stake.”

The Canada Day event may seem like small potatoes, but it’s a chance for Canada to publicly sell itself in the most powerful nation on Earth, Robertson added.

The event traditionally features a barbecue, with Canadian treats like beaver tails and poutine also on offer and Canuck beer available for tipplers. A Canadian musical act usually performs and RMCP officers in their iconic scarlet serges mingle with the party-goers.

American legislators are on the invite list and often show up for the festivities. Three years ago, the Washington Capitals hockey squad was in attendance.

“Canada Day is the ideal occasion to bring together people in business and government around Canadian beer, Canadian chips from Canadian potatoes, and Canadian burgers from Canadian beef — all products that have successfully found a market in the U.S. because we actually marketed,” Robertson said.

Canadian heads of mission were stunned during a conference call in July 2009 when they were told that the so-called program budgets for all missions were being immediately slashed by 50 per cent. Many ambassadors and high commissioners were already struggling after being ordered to cut their budgets a year earlier by 25 per cent.

Among other things, program budgets pay for diplomats to attend and host events and to travel beyond the embassy, as well as for public diplomacy efforts and human rights initiatives.

Since then, diplomats have complained to Foreign Affairs that the cuts have made it difficult for them to make crucial contacts and build solid relationships abroad.

Lawrence Cannon, who was foreign affairs minister at the time, defended the cuts as “a re-allocation process to make sure resources are being used as effectively as possible.” Government officials also insisted embassies could be flexible and prioritize so that missions could continue to advance Ottawa’s objectives without a problem.

That apparently has not been the case.

In Washington in the aftermath of the cuts, Canadian diplomats could not attend a security conference because they couldn’t afford the US$30 entrance fee, let alone travel outside D.C. to the 50 American states.

It was a similar situation in embassies around the globe.

“In every Canadian embassy around the world, the gates came down,” said one Canadian diplomat stationed abroad who requested anonymity.

“All of a sudden, it was: ‘Sorry, we’re broke. There’s no more money for you for anything.’ We were all blown away. Some colleagues couldn’t do their jobs any more. We’re supposed to be a G8 country, but sometimes we act like we’re in the little leagues.”

Paul Frazer, a one-time diplomat who now heads a consulting business in the U.S. capital, said the Canadian embassy in D.C. in particular — located almost next door to the Capitol building — was meant for entertaining.

“It was in fact designed precisely for the purpose of hospitality. It has all sorts of reception rooms, a spacious terrace overlooking the Capitol, and it’s located in a spot that was meant to encourage legislators and their staff to come by and meet with the Canadian mission.”

Slashing the D.C. budget to the same extent as other missions around the world made little sense, Frazer added, given the importance of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship. He points the finger at those who mind the purse strings.

“We aren’t talking about lavish feasts or parties; they don’t happen anymore and they haven’t in years and years and years,” he said.

“But if you’re sitting in Ottawa, hospitality for a lot of those bean-counters might seem a foolish, wasteful expense. When it’s managed properly, however, it can be extremely effective and one of the most important elements of diplomacy.

“Those out in the field know that, but the bean-counters don’t.”

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Detroit River International Crossing

Excerpted from Windsor Star editorial Lakes Summit June 21, 2011

Today, about 250 individuals from business, government and non-profit sectors will meet in our community to lay out a game plan for the future of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. As much as it is a discussion, the summit will hopefully set the stage to ensure a climate of prosperity and health for our children and their children…

As a whole, the Lakes region represents the fourth largest economy in the world -$4.6 trillion in economic output in 2009. More than $2 billion in good and services goes back and forth across the border every day, including $356 million through Windsor-Detroit.

That trade is also the reason the region needs a modern, publicly owned bridge built on Detroit River. And the case for a new bridge was eloquently argued by former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard and Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and senior strategic adviser with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, also in the Post last week:

“But the 105 million people living in the region today need their respective governments to continue to work together on the border. To remain the world’s fourth largest economy, the region needs a second Detroit-Windsor crossing.

“The Canada-U.S. Auto Agreement set the course for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and subsequently NAFTA, back in 1965. Our most integrated trade industry by far, the production and assembly of automobiles is concentrated in the Great Lakes region. This ‘industry of industries’ draws in hundreds of feeder manufacturers in dozens of locations in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

“But the top priority has to be the construction of a second bridge between Windsor and Detroit. In the 7,000 trucks that daily cross the Ambassador Bridge are contained over a quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the U.S. Any interruption in traffic on this 80-year-old, privately owned bridge means layoffs: thousands in the first day and tens of thousands stretching south to the Carolinas by day two. Resiliency, national security and the national interest of both countries requires us to build a second crossing, the new International Trade Crossing.”

All that’s needed for the much-needed project to get underway is the final approval of Michigan lawmakers. We hope the new bridge -which governments on both sides of the river have been planning for years and is literally shovel ready -figures prominently in the important discussions that will take place over the next two days.

Excerpted from Windsor Star June 21 Michigan DRIC vote delayed until fall Politicians slam Ambassador Bridge ‘misinformation’ campaign By Doug Schmidt

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are trying to block construction of the proposed downriver public crossing in favour of their own proposal to twin the existing, private span that is over 80 years old.

The summit, being hosted by the Toronto-based Mowat Centre and the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, is being held to look at ways to untap the economic potential of a region that, if it were a country of its own, would boast the world’s fourth-largest economy.

“It’s crazy that the world’s greatest trading relationship is being held up in the way it’s being held up,” Mowat Centre director Matthew Mendelsohn told The Star.

“It’s real, real important that we win this battle,” William Rustem, Gov. Snyder’s director of strategy, told one of the summit sessions.

“We have to be optimistic — certainly on the Ontario side, we’re ready to go,” said cabinet minister Smith.

Colin Robertson, a career foreign service officer and senior research fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, told delegates he was recently in China where “they built a bridge in six months.” Referring to the 10 years of debating a new Windsor-Detroit crossing, he said: “The rest of the world is not waiting for Canada and the U.S. to get its act together.”

The summit concludes Wednesday.

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Canada’s International Role with David Bercuson, Jack Granatstein, Denis Stairs

On June 14th, 2011, the National Capital Branch of the Canadian International Council held a panel discussion on Canada’s International Role. David Bercuson, Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, Jack Granatstein, Senior Research Fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and Denis Stairs, Professor Emeritus in Political Science at Dalhousie University discussed the impact of the Conservative government on Canada’s international policy. It is available at CPAC.

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The Great Lakes: Trade and Commerce

Let the goods flow

Traffic backs up on the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge, connecting Windsor to Detroit.

Colin Robertson And James Blanchard, National Post · Jun. 14, 2011 | Last Updated: Jun. 14, 2011 2:03 AM ET

Ever since Samuel de Champlain and his First Nations guides canoed down the St. Lawrence and into the Great Lakes, these waterways have been critical in bringing trade, people and prosperity to the people of both Canada and the United States. In the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, the only barrier to cross-border migration and trade was the water itself.

Once the site of fierce naval battles and the sacking of city of York (today’s Toronto) during the War of 1812, the far-sighted decision to demilitarize the lakes through the 1818’s Rush-Bagot Treaty continues to be an important precedent in the negotiation of contemporary disarmament agreements.

The region has been the cradle of “good neighbourly relations,” particularly around water stewardship. The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 was one of the world’s first environmental agreements, and its implementing institution, the bi-national International Joint Commission, is a model for binational stewardship. The Great Lakes Water Quality agreements (1972, 1978), along with the Compact (2005) signed by the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers, protects the Basin and prevents any future water diversion.

But the 105 million people living in the region today need their respective governments to continue to work together on the border. To remain the world’s fourth largest economy, the region needs a second Detroit-Windsor crossing.

The Canada-U.S. Auto Agreement set the course for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and subsequently NAFTA, back in 1965. Our most integrated trade industry by far, the production and assembly of automobiles is concentrated in the Great Lakes region. This “industry of industries” draws in hundreds of feeder manufacturers in dozens of locations in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Although global pressures had once put the automotive sector in peril, today the industry is on the road to recovery thanks to the collaborative efforts of our federal, provincial and state governments. It also represents the evolution in North American business from trading separately to making things together.

However, industrial co-operation requires border co-operation.

Before a car is assembled in Michigan and Ontario, the component parts have criss-crossed the border an average of seven times. The Michiganbased Center for Automotive Research recently concluded that 61% of a car or truck rolling off the assembly line in Ontario is “Made in U.S.A.” -now that’s making things together!

It is no surprise then that the Great Lakes region contains our busiest border crossings, presenting unique challenges for just-in-time delivery. The first step to making the border work better for people across the region should be the easiest: having inspection for all government services at each of the region’s crossings available 24/7. Our competition overseas does not work 9-5 -neither can we.

But the top priority has to be the construction of a second bridge between Windsor and Detroit. In the 7,000 trucks that daily cross the Ambassador Bridge are contained over a quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the U.S. Any interruption in traffic on this 80-year-old, privately owned bridge means layoffs: thousands in the first day and tens of thousands stretching south to the Carolinas by day two. Resiliency, national security and the national interest of both countries requires us to build a second crossing, the new International Trade Crossing.

We also need to invest in the crossings and customs plazas between Port Huron and Sarnia and along the Niagara River from Buffalo-Fort Erie to Lewiston-Queenston. Rail and waterways are cost-efficient and low emissions. They need our attention too.

For nearly 200 years, we have enjoyed good relations across our land and maritime borders, and the commensurate benefits in jobs and growth that has resulted from our close ties. Now we need to meet the challenges of the 21st century by thinking like a region and making sure that a choked up border doesn’t get in the way of our shared vision and mutual prosperity.

Governor James Blanchard is a former U.S. ambassador to Canada and co-chair of DLA Piper, LLP. Colin Robertson a former Canadian diplomat and senior strategic advisor with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. To learn more, visit

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Defence and diplomacy in an age of austerity

As part of their background series on the Canadian budget ipolitics published ‘Defence and Diplomacy in an Age of Austerity’ and in The Mark as Defence in an Age of Austerity: ‘Projecting Canadian ‘soft power’ means developing ‘hard power’ first’

Posted on Mon, Jun 6, 2011, 12:22 am by iPolitics special report

To slay the deficit and at the same time create jobs and sustain growth is now the abiding leitmotif of western governments living in an age of austerity. It is a tall order, especially given globalization and the competition from India, China and Brazil, and, in most western nations, the challenges of an aging population.

Approaches vary. The British are applying a latter day version of Thatcheromics. In France, Sarkozy has rolled back benefits and the retirement age. The Greeks, Irish and Portuguese are enduring IMF-imposed restraint; they are likely to have more company in their misery. For now the grumbling German taxpayers keeps afloat the idea of Europe. A divided America is debating all options but eventually they’ll have to settle for a combination of less services and more tax.

In this slough of western despair, the Canadian situation is comparatively better, but the Harper Government’s deficit commitments means hard choices.

The only federal program with some immunity will be the First Nations, for whom most Canadians, including the prime minister, acknowledge an abiding obligation. The burden will be shared with the provinces and municipalities, but the effective counterweight lobby of teachers, nurses and the public on their local MPs will mitigate some of pain on the biggest spending programs.

Foreign and defence policy lack natural constituencies, although both the development assistance and, especially, defence procurement, spend billions in contracting for goods and services.

Yet surveys regularly tell us that Canadians care about the wider world. More so than most other countries we derive our sense of national identity from our internationalism. In part, this is a reflection of the fact we are increasingly a people with roots in every corner of the world.

Once the tide of settlers flowed across the Atlantic, since 1980 newcomers have crossed the Pacific and we now have a strong representation from the Indian and Chinese Diasporas. Our pluralism is a source of pride and envy – if the Canadian experiment in federalism and diversity can work so can others.

A strong defence and activist diplomacy should enjoy non-partisan interest and support. But the case has to be made. 
Joe Nye once lamented that while we had demonstrated an abundance of ‘soft power’ we had forgotten that its successful application first required sufficient ‘hard power.’ Comparatively, we do defence on the cheap, spending a little over one per cent of our GDP. The Americans, by contrast, spend about 5 per cent and the British about 2 per cent.

As Gen. Walt Natynczyk has observed, we have the best ‘little’ Navy, Army, Air and Special Forces in the world. The Canadian Forces have performed marvelously abroad – fighting on the ground in Afghanistan, providing relief in Haiti and now in the air and sea Libyan campaign – and at home, as demonstrated most recently in flood relief on the Richelieu and Assiniboine.

The creation of Canada Command and the correct priority we put on the home front also underlines the importance of our putting resources and attention toward our Reserves – Canada’s ‘citizen soldiers.’

Ours is the longest coastline in the world – enough to circle the equator six times. Always a sea-trading nation, we have become a nation of traders, with a record number of discussions underway to further trading opportunities with, for example, the European Union, China and India.

There have been more changes to the ocean’s regulatory regime in the last 30 years as coastal states extend their jurisdiction than in the last three centuries.  The oceans carry 90 per cent of global traffic including over half of Canadian trade. The maritime estate on which we claim jurisdiction is about 70 per cent of our land mass and the developments in the Arctic are a parable for what is taking place around the world.

We need to make the investments and break the keels on our promised icebreakers and the new destroyers that will put muscle into our eloquent words about how much the North means to Canadians. 

The Government’s re-election should mean a re-affirmation of the Canada First Defence Strategy, including meeting the new recruitment levels. These are good jobs that directly contribute to the national interest.

Building supply ships and new fighter jets is expensive but necessary because no one knows either the nature of the next threat but when it comes we need to be ‘ready, aye, ready.’

We still need a sensible industrial defence policy to complement the Strategy and a first priority for both Peter MacKay and Julian Fantino must be to address the impenetrable and opaque procurement process because it is neither transparent nor cost-efficient.

And delay in defence puts lives at risk. 
In his elegant farewell remarks to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, former Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon re-enunciated the Harper governments’ foreign policy priorities: the United States, the Americas, global economic opportunities and Afghanistan with special attention to the Arctic.

The most important of these priorities is the United States. Mr. Harper recognizes the wisdom of Brian Mulroney’s rule about good relations with the U.S. – it starts with a friendly and constructive relationship with the president. The Mulroney corollary is equally important: our influence in the world is measured to a significant degree by the extent to which we are perceived as having real influence in Washington.

The Harper-Obama initiative to re-create a continental security perimeter to unplug the border and to take a machete to the tyranny of small regulatory differences that hobble business, especially SMEs, must proceed.

The imposition of drones, guards and passports at the border has disrupted the benefits of the FTA and NAFTA. American tourism has fallen back to levels not since the 1970s. More dangerous to jobs and growth has been the disruption the flow of goods and services from the once rapidly developing North American supply chains.

If President Obama is to export his way out of recession, he must recognize that the place to start is with his two biggest trading partners, Canada and Mexico. 
The trade agenda remains the same:  the Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement by 2012, and creating a formal framework with India by 2013.

We need a deal with China and, in the wake of the abortive BHP potash takeover, clarity around foreign ownership of resources and the role of the provinces and federal government.

The test for Ed Fast and the government will be their willingness to re-engage Canada as a leader, rather than a follower, in trade policy.

The Doha Round is on life support and its failure will have implications for us. We are a trading nation – nearly half of our GDP derives from what we buy and sell across our borders. Its time we put supply management on the table. It will cost us billions to pay off the favoured few but it is necessary.

During the lead up to the FTA I heard the same squawking from the wine industry. Today our wine industry is competitive and world class. Both the Australian and New Zealand diary industries went through a similar exercise; today, both export their produce to the world.

The Harper commitment to re-engage with Latin America has been strong on rhetoric. Our relevance in the region will depend on our ability to participate in the broader social, political and economic agenda. Americas Minister Diane Ablonczy has made a good start with the promise in Vancouver (May 26) to help with training for police, justice and border management and to strengthen security cooperation.

Embracing the Americas should start with Mexico. Its growth rate, improving literacy and location make it a prime market that Canadian companies are embracing, notwithstanding the drug cartels. We need, as a recent study for the Department of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed, “more concrete evidence on the ground of Canada’s interest.”

Start with Mexico and move south. Aid to Latin America should become the new priority as we draw down in Afghanistan. The cabinet needs to revise our development assistance criteria to ensure that we can lend a helping hand to Mexico.

Unlike our Armed Forces, our Foreign Service has suffered from neglect and a management that has preferred process to policy. In its zeal for bean counting and ‘accountabilities’ it has forgotten that foreign policy is about … foreign policy.

‘Whole-of-government’ should not mean a thousand miniature foreign services in every government department. The conduct of foreign policy requires coherence and consistency with the foreign ministry empowered as a central agency of government in the same fashion as the Department of Finance, Treasury Board and the Privy Council Office.

While a National Security Council may make sense for the United States with its checks and balances and separation of powers, for reasons of efficiency, economy as well as the exigencies of Westminster-style executive government argue against a similar experiment in Canada. 
But this does not mean a Fort Pearson with its back against the town reflecting on a golden age that has become more romantic than reality. Happily, there is considerable talent in the Foreign Service.

The challenge for Mr. Baird will be to cultivate it, encourage it and then lead it on those issues that matter for Canadians and on those initiatives where Canada can make a difference.

Getting our way in a difficult world requires a coherent foreign and defence policy. It means investment in our Forces and our Foreign Service. As a regional power we should play off our geography. This means first and constant attention to the United States. But we also need to invest and intervene in our other regions of interest – the Americas, in the Arctic and those on the other side of our Pacific and the Atlantic oceans.

In an age of austerity, everything becomes sharper in definition because the margins for error are too costly. It means looking through the right end of the telescope – that of the national interest. It requires recognition that foreign and defence policy is about power and the projection of power in the places that count.

Get this right and the rest will fall into place.

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