Engaging the Americas

Excerpted from Recent government efforts fail to engage Canadians in activities in Americas by Laura Baziuk, Postmedia News.  Friday, July 22, 2011

OTTAWA – The federal government’s efforts over the past few years to engage Canadians in its activities with the Americas aren’t working, according to a public-opinion poll.

The Ipsos Reid survey was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to determine how much attention Canadians are paying to its re-engagement strategy with the Americas, as announced in 2007 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.About 84 per cent of Canadians surveyed said that what happens in Central America, South America and the Caribbean is important to Canada, citing reasons such as impact on the economy (52 per cent) and humanitarian concerns (18 per cent).

More people said the Americas are important because of economic reasons as well as a sense of interconnectedness – up from 44 per cent and 19 per cent in 2008 respectively – but “very little has shifted,” the survey suggests.

Harper announced his re-engagement strategy with the Americas in July 2007, while on tour stop through the continent in Santiago, Chile.

“We are a country of the Americas,” Harper said. “Re-engagement in our hemisphere is a critical international priority for our government. Canada is committed to playing a bigger role in the Americas and to doing so for the long term.”

It was built on three pillars: security, the promotion of values such as freedom and democracy, and building sustainable economies through free trade.

The strategy was reiterated during the 2008 Speech from the Throne, after Harper’s Conservatives had won a minority government.

The survey did find that more Canadians believe the country’s interest are linked to the United States and Mexico, at 96 per cent, than in 2008, and that Canadians agree that the government’s foreign policy goals, such as controlling drug trafficking, are important.

But the pollster ultimately concludes: “The public are not actively engaged or concerned with Central America, South America or the Caribbean.”

“The government is right here. We should be doing more with the Americas because we’ve got significant interest,” said Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat and current vice-president with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. “It serves our interests with other relationships as well,” such as with China and the United States, who eye the continent for its natural resources.

“You can’t change geography,” he added. “Therefore we should be putting significant weight and emphasis on what takes place.”

As well, new to the survey this year were questions about Haiti, which was added after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated that country.

Four in five Canadians agree the government should continue to send aid to Haiti for the next five to ten years, while one in five (18 per cent) do not agree.

As many Canadians view the country’s interests to be linked to Haiti as linked with Mexico, the survey also reported, which has a much larger population and economy.

Ipsos Reid polled 1,000 adults over three weeks in January. The survey has a margin of error or plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The data is weighted to ensure the survey sample’s age and gender composition reflects that of the actual adult Canadian population according the Statistics Canada census.

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In Praise of the Hidden Wiring

Canada-U.S. relations: In praise of the ‘hidden wiring’

By Colin Robertson, Special to The Vancouver Sun July 20, 2011 (also in the Ottawa Citizen, July 22 as ‘U.S. relations much more than Obama, Harper’
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire (left) and then-B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, pictured last October, exemplified the merits of inter-governmental ‘hidden wiring’ when they cooperated on the smart driver’s licence for easier passage across the border. Photograph by: Lyle Stafford, Reuters files
Words and deeds of prime ministers and presidents dominate the headlines in international affairs. But in the world of Canada-US relations, where the relationship is as much domestic as international, it is the “hidden wiring” of premiers and governors and legislators that merits more attention. Their behind-the-headlines efforts are where a great deal of problem-solving gets done.
Take the smart driver’s licence. It was the brainchild of former British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire who recognized that requiring a passport was an expensive and time-consuming obstacle for those who wanted to attend the 2010 Olympics. Championed by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER), especially the legislators that make up the partnership of the ten states, provinces and territories, their efforts persuaded the Department of Homeland Security to accept the new license containing an embedded RFID chip. Now it is available in most border states and provinces, although we need to do more to promote its use.
The asymmetries of the relationship — the US market provides half of our GDP — means that Canadians usually have to take the initiative with the US. Fortunately, we’ve created a series of fora where leaders and legislators at the state, provincial and territorial level get together to discuss and resolve shared challenges.
Earlier this month New England governors met with Atlantic premiers in Halifax, something they have done since 1978, pioneering agreements on acid rain and the development of ‘smart’ energy. The Compact (2005) between the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin governors and premiers provides for ongoing stewardship of these waters and prevents any diversion. Western governors and premiers have long attended each others’ summer sessions and over the barbecue pit they’ve dealt with everything from wildlife to water and helped make progress on the Canamex corridor and the Hydrogen Highway.The provinces have embedded themselves as affiliates into the Council of State Governments that meet regularly in their regional fora. This week legislators from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta met with their Midwest state counterparts in Indianapolis and adopted resolutions in support of Beyond-the-Border and endorsing for air travel the smart drivers license that is now accepted for land and marine travel. It’s practical problem-solving at the grass roots level.
Much of the work is informational — few Americans appreciate the importance of Canadian hydro-power or the oil and gas that flows through our pipelines. Americans are surprised when told their biggest market is Canada and that their trade with Canada continues to outpace, by a wide margin, that with the EU, China or India. Legislator-to-legislator these are vital word-of-mouth conversations that serve Canadian interests.
Cultivating relationships with governors and state legislators is also smart for the longer term. Eight years ago, Barack Obama, was a state senator from Illinois. Four of the last six presidents — Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush — served as governors.
The premiers meet this week in Vancouver and the United States relationship is a standing item on the Council of the Federation agenda. Both U.S. Ambassador Jacobson and Canadian Ambassador (and former Premier) Doer will be there. Their efforts in tandem with those of the premiers and governors made the difference in securing easy passage of the 2010 reciprocity agreement on procurement.
Now we need to get Americans enthused and committed to the Beyond-the-Border and the regulatory initiatives launched by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama. The Canadian business community is engaging their American counterparts but success requires ‘all hands’, especially at the state and local level. Our message is simple: supply chain dynamics is what creates jobs and revenue and keeps us globally competitive. Business gets it, but the politics of local and special interests are a powerful countervailing force to mutual benefits of deepening integration.
A priority for the premiers should be to persuade governors to institutionalize the Canada-US agenda within the National Governors’ Association (NGA) meetings, as legislators are doing through the councils of state governments. If the premiers could get the NGA to make the Canadian relationship a standing agenda item at its annual summer meeting, it would be a big step forward. Regularizing the dialogue is how we ‘level the playing field’.
Another way to look at the Canada-US relationship is through the prism of the 64 states, provinces and territories that make up our two federations. The people-to-people relationships, and the mutually dependent jobs — 11 million in Canada and another 8 million in the US – have always outpaced the politics. Since 9-11, the political level has been playing catch-up. The collective work of the “hidden wiring” — premiers and governors, state, provincial and territorial legislators — is advancing our shared interests.

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Could the Great Lakes be a model for Canada-US regional cooperation?

From Canadian International Council Think Tank: Could the Great Lakes Represent Canada’s Economic Future? July 6, 2011

While he didn’t get the details right, Joel Garreau was onto something when he wrote Nine Nations of North America in 1981. Too often, we look at North America as three nations, when in fact it is also comprised of 94 states, provinces, and territories. In economic terms, supply-chain dynamics have made North America a series of regions.

The most dynamic is the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region (GLSLR). Home to nearly 35 million people, and with a population slightly larger than Canada, the two provinces (Ontario, Quebec) and eight states (New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota) of the Great Lakes region constitute a super “economy,” which is only eclipsed in gross domestic product by the U.S., Japan, and China.

Regions deserve greater attention, especially into the vital supply-chain dynamics that sustain them. Last year, the Brookings Institute’s Jennifer Vey, John Austin, and Jennifer Bradley co-authored a paper that argued that, notwithstanding the affliction of the “Rust Belt,” the GLSLR “still has many of the fundamental resources – top-ranked universities, companies with deep experience in global trade, and emerging centres of clean-energy research, to name just a few – necessary to create a better, more sustainable, economic model.”

Building on this work, the Mowat Centre’s Joshua Hjartson, Matthew Mendelsohn, Allison Bramwell, and Kelly Hinton released The Vital Commons, in which they argue that “the wealth and infrastructure built over the 20th century” in the GLSLR “created the foundation for new emerging sectors” in areas including financial services, health care, food processing, energy, aerospace, information and communications technology, transportation, and pharmaceuticals. But a shared future for the GLSLR requires a shared vision “to act and think collectively, transcending national boundaries to address shared problems, manage shared resources, and take advantage of new economic opportunities.”

With this objective in mind, under the umbrella of the Mowat Centre and Brookings Institute, over 300 participants met in the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts, a short walk from the banks of the Detroit River looking north to Detroit. Over two days (June 21-2), we listened, discussed, and debated through a couple dozen plenaries, keynotes, and idea labs constructed around issues in the GLSLR, including human capital, transportation and infrastructure, water, trade and border issues, agriculture, innovation, manufacturing, clean energy and electricity, the blue economy, and tourism.

The challenge of the border for the GLSLR was brought home on the first evening, when delegates crossed the frontier and, notwithstanding the hope of pre-clearance, were obliged to go through a secondary search before re-boarding the buses taking them to enjoy the hospitality of Canadian Consul General Roy Norton in downtown Detroit’s Max Fisher Music Center.

If we are to be truly competitive, we must find a better way of managing the legitimate passage of people and goods. The Beyond the Borders Initiative launched in February by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama offers promise, but as former premier Gordon Campbell told delegates, political will also requires considerable behind-the-scenes work by business and government.

The GLSLR contains our busiest border crossings and, because so much of the boundary line is on water, the border is dominated by bridges. This presents unique challenges for just-in-time delivery. The first step should be the easiest: having inspection for all government services at each of the region’s crossing available 24/7, because our competition overseas does not work 9-5.

But the top priority in the GLSLR has to be the construction of the New International Trade Crossing between Windsor and Detroit, especially as the recovery picks up speed – trade between Michigan and Canada rose 43 per cent from 2009 to 2010. The 7,000 trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge daily contain over a quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the United States. 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 into day two.

The need for a new crossing was one of the key themes of the two-day conference, and was driven home by both American and Canadian participants. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville acknowledged that special interests and the spending of lots of money have circumvented and delayed what should be an obvious task, but he promised delegates that, by the fall, he and Governor Rick Snyder should have the votes to secure passage through the Michigan legislature.

It can’t be soon enough for those who live and work in the GLSLR. The international competition is not waiting for us to get our act together.

Knitting the various components of regional co-operation together is the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). Its core is the continuing support of legislators in five states (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana), three provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan), and two territories (the Yukon and the Northwest Territories). This year, it celebrates its twentieth anniversary. Based in Seattle, with a small, very efficient secretariat, it works because it is a true non-partisan, bi-national, public-private partnership. As former premier Campbell acknowledged, it was PNWER, working, under his direction and that of Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, with a grassroots movement, that persuaded Homeland Security to accept the “smart drivers’ licence” as a practical means to address cross-border traffic during the Vancouver Olympics. The “smart drivers’ license” has seen been rolled out by states and provinces on both sides of the 49th parallel. It confirms another observation from the Windsor Summit: When provincial and state legislators get their acts together, federal governments join the parade.

Conferences are brain food, but it is the follow up in ideas and proposals that makes them practical to policy-makers. The Windsor Summit leadership of John Austin and Matthew Mendelson intend to carry the momentum forward and, in October, release a revised version of The Vital Commons that will identify actionable agenda items for various sectors in the GLSLR.

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