On why the primaries matter to Canada

Radio Canada International The Link ‘s Marc Montgomery (Monday, January 9, 2012) speaks with former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson, on why Canada has a stake in the party’s candidate selection process as U.S. Republicans preparing to vote in the influential New Hampshire primary.

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Canada in the Americas

Excerpted from Americas Quarterly Winter 2012 Diplomacy: Canada’s New Policies Toward Latin America

In August, on his fourth official visit to Latin America, Prime Minister Stephen Harper set out to reboot Canada’s on-and-off-again relationship with the region. In the first stop on a four-country tour that took him to Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras, Harper declared in São Paulo that “during too long a time we neglected relations[…]too much grass grows in the cracks on the road. It is time,” he added, “for increased ambition.”

Ambition is important. But so is perseverance.

Canadian efforts in the Americas are characterized by quixotic spasms of tango-like embrace: joining the Organization of American States (1990); negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, 1993–1994); and committing to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (1994)—all nearly 20 years ago. But this rush of engagement was followed by a long siesta until 2007, when the Harper government announced its Strategy of Engagement in the Americas, which emphasized democratic governance, prosperity and security. The plan is only now taking shape.

It does take two to tango, and Latin American governments share equal responsibility for failing to take advantage of Canadian interest and opportunities.

So what makes Harper’s newest effort different?

First, there is the economic malaise in the United States and the recognition that Canadians really do need options to the U.S. market. Agree or not with Standard & Poor’s’ reevaluation of American creditworthiness, there is no disagreement with its analysis that “the effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened.”

For Canadians, the U.S. market and the bilateral relationship will always remain primordial, but as the U.S. hunkers down and the administration focuses on a “jobs” agenda, there is a likelihood of renewed protectionism—which could affect the huge Canada–U.S. resource trade in everything from lumber to fish. Notwithstanding President Barack Obama’s promise to export his way out of the economic malaise, certain Democrats and Tea Party Republicans equate free trade with the outsourcing of jobs. And that may impede further efforts to broaden the opportunities for Canada under NAFTA.

While Canadian and U.S. negotiators are in discussions to ease border access for people and goods, these steps alone will not strengthen the Canadian market. Canada must look to new opportunities to hedge its bets.

That is being done slowly in Latin America. On August 15, a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia—an economy equal to the state of Connecticut—went into effect, and new implementing legislation for the Canada–Panama Free Trade Agreement (similar in economic weight to Vermont) is being introduced in Parliament this fall. Canada also has FTAs with Costa Rica, Peru and Chile.

Beyond FTAs, Latin American countries are making it easier for Canada to invest and do business in the region. A decade-long dose of the Washington Consensus, whatever its faults, has rinsed away the previous attachment to the Prebisch-inspired statism that stigmatized earlier efforts at boosting investment and terms of trade.

Mexico is a prime example. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation’s Doing Business 2011 report declared this NAFTA partner as the easiest place in Latin America to run a company. The International Monetary Fund says Mexico’s economic growth will eclipse that of the U.S. and Canada from now until 2015, and Goldman Sachs predicts that in 40 years Mexico will be the world’s fifth-largest economy—bigger than Russia, Japan or Germany.

Third, Canadian business is prepared for risk, recognizing that the options are either grow or get absorbed. Twenty years of freer trade have given Canadian companies, especially the larger ones, the confidence that they can compete internationally and the experience of operations on the global stage.

CTV network anchor Andrea Mandel-Campbell notes in Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson that Canadian companies are historically timid about venturing into international markets, but Mexicans ride on Bombardier-constructed subways and Scotiabank is the sixth-largest retail bank in Mexico. Where once Canada’s business associations focused almost exclusively on the U.S., their membership is now encouraging them to look beyond its neighbor to the south.

Fourth, the renewed Canadian approach melds trade objectives with development aspirations. Attitudes toward aid are changing with the increasing recognition that a job is the best form of development assistance. A key feature of the rebooted relationship with Brazil is a CEO Forum, staffed by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry.

This business-to-business dimension promises real gains, especially if Brazilians and Canadians can agree on a set of practical objectives such as increasing direct flights and identifying business impediments that can be addressed by working with governments. CEO forums should be included in every FTA negotiation and built into the existing relationships with Mexico and Chile.

To sustain the opening with Brazil and to move the relationships with key partners like Mexico and Chile to the next level will require a series of focused blueprints. These will have to address critical questions such as how to attract more Latin American investment in Canada and what barriers—especially those specific to Latin America—can be addressed by Canadian initiatives. The Canadian business community is engaged and should be a driving force for taking the relationship to the next level.

In every case, there needs to be a systematic plan of engagement starting at the most senior political level.

For one, the prime minister needs to block at least one week a year for visits to the region. To provide the needed intellectual capital, Canadians also need to actively support the work of think tanks and improve existing synergies among organizations.

The demise for lack of funding in September of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) research center, after 21 years of advancing Canadian interests, is a setback because it consistently provided useful intellectual heft and intelligent trend-spotting.

FOCAL had been largely dependent on Canadian government funding after it was created by an act of cabinet under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984–1993). In its next iteration it should look more like the Inter-American Dialogue or Americas Society/Council of the Americas, with strong private-sector involvement and a focus on investment and trade as the best means of generating development and creating long-term relationships.

The current Canadian government is not the first to promise a new look at the region, but all too often action never followed rhetoric. If the Americas are truly a priority, and Harper’s promise to be “ambitious” is more than just repetition of the old rhetoric, the prime minister’s continued attention to the region will be necessary.

Unless the Canada–Latin America relationship is given a place of priority on the agenda and moves from aspiration to pragmatic results, the grass will grow back in the cracks.

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Getting the Border Deal Done: Time for a Special Envoy

From Globe and Mail January 5, 2012 ‘How to get that border deal just right’
by Allan Gotlieb and Colin Robertson

With this week’s Iowa caucuses, the presidential season begins in earnest. An American presidential campaign is splendid entertainment, but it’s also diversionary and we can’t expect much attention to our agenda. If we’re to realize the promises of the December border agreement designed to improve our economic competitiveness, we have work to do in the coming months.

The Oval Office remains the best entry point for Canadian interests. It’s the one relationship that every prime minister has to get right, and Stephen Harper has demonstrated this ability both with George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Closing on the border deal is the priority for our embassy and our network of consulates. With their technical ability to demonstrate the linkage between jobs, exports to Canada (still America’s first market) and Canadian investment for each legislative district, Ambassador Gary Doer will be the chief advocate as well as the control point for a co-ordinated outreach to Congress and state legislators.

As we learned long ago with the experience of the still-born East Coast Fisheries Agreement, we need to make our case starting with Capitol Hill. This means a thousand points of contact: legislators and their staff, and also the permanent staff of the committees, agencies and departments within the Beltway. They’re critical on regulatory issues and the all-important “interpretation” of the rules for those in the field.

Passage of the free-trade agreement was a near-run thing, and it depended on the cultivation of “white knights” such as senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bill Bradley. We need to develop champions within Congress, and this is where Canadian ministers and legislators need to cultivate and solidify relationships, beginning with those representing the northern border states, where many of the pilots will take place.

The regional conferences of premiers and governors and provincial and state legislators are important forums. Given the deepening integration, we should aim to make a discussion of Canada-U.S. relations a standing item on the agenda of the National Governors Association. Intervention by the premiers with their governor counterparts was instrumental in securing the 2010 reciprocity agreement on procurement.

The long-term success of the deal lies as much in addressing the “tyranny of small differences” afflicting our goods, services and people as with the challenges they encounter at the border. While the deal was crafted by Barack Obama’s administration to avoid submitting implementing legislation to Congress, we would be making a mistake if we relied solely on the administration. Behind a regulation, there often stands a protectionist interest, and behind the protectionist interest stands a congressman.

Our success ratio rises in proportion to the perception that it’s both an American issue and vital to their national security, as we are currently witnessing with the Keystone XL pipeline debate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been especially vocal in encouraging the administration to approve the pipeline.

The Chamber of Commerce and like-minded associations, including the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, need to be encouraged to devote commensurate attention to highlighting the importance of cross-border supply-chain dynamics. So, too, with the union movement, a vital constituency in the Democratic coalition, that has also been active in support of the XL pipeline.

All of these initiatives will contribute to building the conditions for passage of the border deal. Given the immense complexity of the deal and the constraints of time and competition for time, we also recommend the appointment of special envoys. They would report directly to the President and the Prime Minister and drive its implementation during the next 12 months. The acid rain agreement wouldn’t have been achieved without the appointment of former Ontario premier Bill Davis and former transportation secretary Drew Lewis.

Such appointments would signal the priority the two leaders attach to the achievement of this deal. To represent Canada, we can think of no one possessing a better appreciation and the experience of successfully working both systems, as well as the gravitas, guile and good humour to get it done, than Brian Mulroney.

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Iowa Caucuses

January 4, 2012 Powerplay’s Don Martin interviews Scotty Greenwood and Colin Robertson. Scotty Greenwood with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP
says Iowa was important because it was first and it gives candidates momentum with fundraising and media. Former diplomat Colin Robertson says Canada should care about the GOP race because it could greatly affect U.S. relations.

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Iowa, Romney, Santorum and Paul and XL Pipeline

BNN Headline host Howard Green interviews Colin Robertson on on the Iowa caucuses and what it means for Canada, January 4, 2012

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Iowa caucuses matters to Canada

With the Iowa caucuses underway, Colin Robertson talks about what the race south of the border means to Canada with SUN-TV’s Daniel Proussalides, January 3, 2012

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Why the Iowa caucuses and primaries matter to Canada

From ipolitics.ca January 2, 2012 What the caucuses and primaries have to do with Canada

Canadians often think that we know all about America, while Americans think that they know all they need to know about us. As U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson has observed, we are both wrong.

Ties of history, culture and geographic propinquity, which facilitate trade and investment, mean that the U.S. will always be primordial to Canadian interests. We always have an agenda with the United States and because of the asymmetries in our relative interests and global positioning, the responsibility for initiative and action lies with us.

When we get it right we advance not only our own interests, but we gain additional leverage from our ability to explain America to the rest of the world and, when we properly manage our international diplomatic network, the rest of the world to America.

The 2012 American election has already provided both entertainment and an education in the politics of our southern neighbour.

The occupant of the Oval Office is still the most powerful leader in the world and the person who will take the oath in January 2013 matters to Canada. We need to know all about that person and their administration.

The issue matrix is different depending on who controls the agenda. Democrats tend to be more protectionist and emphasize environmental issues (e.g., Waxman-Markey would have potentially assessed a surcharge on oil sands products) while the Republicans put a higher priority on security, (e.g., Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative which obliges a passport or a ‘smart’ driver’s licence for cross-border travel.)

In the 2008 primaries, both major Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, promised to renegotiate NAFTA because of labour and environmental concerns. The subsequent leak of a Canadian diplomatic dispatch reporting that Obama campaign adviser Austan Goolsbee suggested this was mere electioneering on the part of candidate Obama caused considerable embarrassment. Goolsbee later became chair of President Obama’s Economic Advisory Council,

Deepening economic integration, including the new border initiative and ongoing regulatory reform means that more and more of the decisions that count take place at the state level, underlining the need for a Canadian 50 state strategy to complement our congressional outreach. Most of our trade disputes (e.g., lumber, beef) originated at the local level or have a local dimension (e.g., the XL pipeline and the original route through the Nebraska Sandhills) before they developed into issues on Capitol Hill.

Another example of how a local interest can stymie a bilateral issue is the long-planned second crossing between Detroit and Windsor. The business owner of the Ambassador Bridge has blocked approval of the second crossing in the Michigan state legislature, notwithstanding the strong support of Governor Rick Snyder and the continuing efforts of Ontario and federal government authorities who have offered to fund Michigan’s $550-million share of the new bridge (with the money to be paid back through subsequent tolls). The thousands of trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge each day carry about 25 percent of the annual merchandise trade between Canada and the United States.

The success of the new border initiative will require the collaborative efforts of the federal, state and province and municipal authorities on both sides of the border. The bailout and restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors, making possible the subsequent recovery of our auto industry, is a good example of tri-level and cross-border collaboration on the auto trade that dates back to the 1965 Autopact.

In pursuit of Canadian interests in the U.S., the presidency is our main entry point into the American system, itself a spaghetti bowl of competing interests and factions.

These include the members of Congress and their staff, the administration and its agencies, the lobbyists (there are now more than 33,000 in Washington), the lawyers, the think-tanks, the media and the other special interests that are constantly shifting, aligning and realigning on and around Capitol Hill. The internet and the rise of YouTube, blogs, and tweets have further “democratized” and “atomized” the political process.

The American political process has become polarized and even more partisan. “It’s not just a tug of war between left and right”, writes New York Times columnist Charles Blow, “It’s a struggle between the mind and the heart, between evidence and emotions, between reason and anger, between what we know and what we believe.” American politics, observes the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein “increasingly resembles a kind of total war in which each party mobilizes every conceivable asset at its disposal against the other. Most Governors were once conscientious objectors in that struggle. No more.” Or Newt Gingrich told ABC News on the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, “”Politics has become a really nasty, vicious, negative business and I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s dishonest.”

Within this fractious and often confusing context, a foreign power is just another special interest and, without the tools of money or votes, not particularly special. Working this system has become even more complicated because of the continuing dispersal of power in the U.S. and the legions of special interests armed with cheque books.

It makes it more difficult to build the necessary coalitions of cross-party support that we usually require to either prevent passage of legislation contrary to our interests or support for an initiative. But it starts with an appreciation of the American system. The excitement and passion of this latest exercise in their democratic process provides an ideal daily education to learn and understand better the country that continues to matter the most to Canadians.

This column draws from the CDFAI’s “A Canadian Primer to the 2012 U.S. Primaries and Caucuses”.

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A Canadian Primer to the 2012 US Primaries and Caucuses

Contents page from A Canadian Primer to the 2012 US Primaries and Caucuses published by the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute


Who’s running for the Republicans and what are their platforms?
Where do they stand?
What’s the difference between a primary and a caucus?
Is the process starting earlier than usual?
Are the Iowa caucuses (January 3) important?
What about the Iowa Straw Poll held last August?
And the New Hampshire primary (January 10)?
Do the parties do their primary process differently?
Haven’t there been a lot more candidate debates?

Do the debates matter?
Are all of the Republican presidential candidates on every ballot?
Are the primaries just for presidential nominees?
How are delegates apportioned?
Does the primary winner ‘take all’?
Does President Obama have to go through the primary process?
When are the conventions?
What are the chances of a convention fight?

What about a third party candidate?
What about Senate and House races?
And elections for Governor?
Do incumbents have an advantage?

How much does this all cost?
What is the mood of America?
Has Canada been a factor in the Republican race?
Why does this matter to Canada?
Want to know more?
2012 Election Calendar

See columnist Barry Cooper’s ‘In U.S. politics, ideas come second to money’ in Calgary Herald, January 11 2012

The Republicans have begun in earnest to choose a candidate whom they hope can defeat President Barack Obama. The procedure is remarkably complex. Colin Robertson, the first advocacy secretary in the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., called it a “spaghetti bowl of competing interests and factions.”

The various bits of spaghetti include elected officials and bureaucrats, lobbyists and think-tanks, mainstream media, along with bloggers and tweeters, party organizations and factions within them, all operating in an atmosphere of partisan intensity. As Newt Gingrich told ABC News, politics in America “has become a really nasty, vicious, negative business and I think it’s disgusting.”…

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