On Canada’s Submarines and defending our maritime waters and commerce

From the Ottawa Citizen, July 30, 2012 and the Vancouver Sun July 31

Ruling the waves: Canada’s ability to defend its shores will be vital in the coming years

This month a Canadian submarine sank a U.S. warship. It was not part of the events around the commemoration of the War of 1812. Rather, HMCS Victoria demonstrated Canadian submarine capability by torpedoing the decommissioned USS Concord in waters off Kauai, Hawaii, as part of this year’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises.

Begun in 1971, RIMPAC is designed to enhance the interoperability of participating forces in operations ranging from full combat, mine clearance, anti-submarine warfare, piracy interdiction and disaster relief. As Washington cements its strategic shift toward the Pacific, and we pay more attention to the North Pacific and the South China Sea, muscle-flexing exercises like RIMPAC will only grow in importance.

RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime exercise. It lasts six weeks and involves 42 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 men and women from 22 nations in addition to the U.S. and Canada.

Canada has participated in every RIMPAC and this year 1,400 Canadian sailors, soldiers and air staff are part of the exercise with Canadians in senior command positions. Governor General David Johnston witnessed part of the operations while aboard HMCS Ottawa.

With the rise of Asia, more and more commerce transits the Pacific to North America. It is the world’s busiest container route and this will only increase with the negotiation of trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Vancouver is the busiest port in Canada and we are making improvements to this vital gateway as well as to Prince Rupert. Regardless of oilsands pipeline proposals, shipping in and out of our West Coast ports is going to increase.

It is estimated that 90 per cent of international commerce moves by sea. We look to our Forces, especially the Royal Canadian Navy, to secure the safe passage of our sealanes and to contribute to collective security on the high seas.

Our refurbished submarines are an important addition to our naval capacity and our ability to both defend our waters and to project power. In his splendid The Price of Admiralty, military historian John Keegan describes the submarine as the “predominant weapon of power at sea.”

Looking forward Keegan concludes, “it is with the submarine that the initiative and full freedom of the seas rests.” This is the strategic context in which HMCS Victoria and her sister boats, Windsor, Corner Brook and Chicoutimi will operate. This is the strategic reality Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognized in his May speech when he said that, “Canada and its economy float on salt water.”

That is why the government has committed to cutting steel on a new generation of warships with the announcement in June of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). It would be the largest military procurement in modern Canadian history.

Our national motto, From Sea to Sea, celebrates our oceans and our coastline — the longest in the world, enough to circle the equator six times.

But for too long we have done defence, especially of our waters, on the cheap. We spend about 1.4 per cent of GDP: well behind the United States (4.7 per cent), the United Kingdom (2.6 per cent) and even Australia (1.7 per cent). In terms of usable naval power we are situated in the bottom half of the second 10.

The Canada First Defence Strategy aims to redress this and earmarking the dollars through the NSPS should re-establish our shipbuilding capacity and bolster our naval power into the mid-century.

Yet we live in an impatient age.

The time and cost that it has taken to refit and make operational our submarines has stretched beyond what was originally envisaged but, in underwater operation, there is no margin for error.

Defence procurement is a mug’s game that frustrates all involved because of the long time horizons and the sophistication of the weapons systems. Who can predict, for example, the price of copper in 2020? Or a game-changing new technology or shift in the strategic environment, including climate change?

Squaring the circle between defined budgets, constantly evolving weapons systems and the strategic environment is the unhappy dilemma of defence establishments in democracies.

But prepare we must because when disaster or mayhem strikes, whether natural or man-made, Canadians expect that we will be “Ready, Aye, Ready.”

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‘Hot Potato’ Award


Colin Robertson, a Senior Strategic Advisor for  McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP was given the “Hot Potato Award” for helping to increase collaboration between U.S. and Canada organizations and stakeholders at the 2012 Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) Summit in Saskatoon, July 16.
Each year, PNWER has bestowed the “Hot Potato Award” to someone who has provided exemplary leadership in reducing tension between the U.S. and Canada in the Pacific Northwest, or played a major role in bringing greater awareness and collaboration across the border.

The award takes its name from the Pig War, also called the Potato War, a confrontation in the San Juan Islands in 1859 between America and the British Empire over boundaries. The incident was triggered after an American farmer shot a pig that was eating his potato crop. The pig belonged to an employee of the Canadian-owned Hudson’s Bay Company and was the only casualty of the otherwise bloodless-conflict. For more information visit the National Parks website.

A former Canadian diplomat, Robertson is Senior Strategic Advisor for  McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP working with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. He is Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, an Honorary Captain (Royal Canadian Navy) assigned to the Strategic Communications Directorate. Living in Ottawa, Robertson writes and speaks on international affairs and is a commentator on CTV, CBC, CPAC and SUN-TV and a contributor to the Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen, ipolitics and a contributing writer to Policy Options.

Last year’s Hot Potato Award winner was Don Alper, Director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies and Beyond Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University.

For more information, contact: Gabrielle NomuraNWER Media Relations Summit cell phone: 306-539-7039 Email: gabrielle.nomura@pnwer.org

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In dealing with the US: ‘Be Blunt and Direct’

excerpted Excerpted from Canadian Prss:  ‘Buy Canadian energy, Sask. premier urges U.S’  July 16, 2012.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has made a blunt appeal to the United States to buy Canadian energy, which he says is as clean as that from many American sources.

Wall delivered the keynote address Monday at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, a bi-national working group of state and provincial officials, business leaders and academics….

Wall called on Americans to curb their “protectionist instincts” and said recent trade headaches have both Canada and Saskatchewan “looking at all options” on the trade front.

At the four-day conference, officials will search for ways to speed up the Canada-US border, reinforce energy and food security, and improve livestock health.

Former Canadian diplomat and bilateral relations expert Colin Robertson said Wall’s blunt tone is often what is needed to get through to the Americans.

“Its good for them to be reminded in direct terms, because that’s how Americans talk to one another — it’s much more direct,” he said.

Top trading partner in 37 states

Americans must constantly be reminded, Robertson said, that some eight million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada, and that Canada is the number one trading partner for 37 states.

“He reminded Americans that they matter to us, but we also matter a lot to them,” he said. “That’s a message Americans need to hear because there’s not always that appreciation.”

At the this year’s meeting, officials will search for ways to speed up movement on the Canada-U.S. border, reinforce energy and food security and improve livestock health.

Conservative MP Rob Merrifield, a member of the Canada-US Interparliamentary Group, said problems along the border cost Canada between $16 billion and $48 billion a year — the equivalent of one to three per cent of Canada’s GDP.

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States and Provinces and regional co-ordination

From the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, July 16, 2012

Expediting trade focus of PNWER conference

By Colin Robertson, The StarPhoenix

When it comes to foreign affairs and relationships between nations, the tendency is to frame issues in terms of the personalities of our respective leaders.

This is natural as the tough decisions, especially those around war and peace, are made at the top.

For big initiatives such as the current border and regulatory framework agreement with the United States, or participation in the trans-Pacific Partnership, the prime minister and the president need to be working from the same page. They must provide the political leadership in Parliament and Congress as well as drive the bureaucratic engine that sets in place the new rules of the road.

Canada and the U.S. are federations. In the case of trade and commerce, authorities are shared among levels of government. But when it comes to the rubber hitting the road or enforcing the practical side of work in an office, factory or farm – all of which affect issues of cross-border flow of people, goods and services – those authorities involve the provincial or state governments.

Nurtured without partisanship and quietly cultivated over the years by our premiers and governors as well as our legislators, these relationships are like the hidden wiring in our shared condominium. But the hidden wiring works best when there is a level of practical co-ordination to set an agenda and to achieve practical results.

For nearly a quarter of a century, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) has done this better than any other cross-border association. Membership consists of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories as well as Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

This week PNWER legislators and business representatives meet in Saskatoon. Their agenda includes energy, agriculture and transportation, set against the backdrop of ongoing work on the border and regulatory reform. Once again, PNWER will bring together the minders and users of our shared border, with the aim of making it work better.

PNWER has had great success in developing pilot projects and showcasing excellence. It also uses its moral authority to push an idea or an initiative. The critical piece in the PNWER formula, missing from other cross-border associations, is its secretariat.

Based in Seattle, the secretariat keeps the ball rolling. Its U.S. location gives it legitimacy as a domestic player in the kaleidoscope of interests that constitute the often confusing American polity.

PNWER is results oriented. Take the smart driver’s licence, devised as a proactive alternative to the passport for travellers to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Championed by PNWER, it won approval from the Department of Homeland Security, and is now used by most state and provincial governments.

That focus on results is the attraction of PNWER to business. The region currently is addressing how our West Coast ports would deal with a natural or manmade disaster. Mindful of the labour shortages in the oilsands, it is also working with Alberta to recruit talent in Washington and Oregon state, including veterans.

The Saskatoon meeting also will explore options to make cattle exports easier and less costly through electronic certification documents.

A bigger project, and vital to Saskatchewan interests, is managing the approval process that sends products such as pulse crops (which represent half of Canada’s trade with India) and potash by rail to Lewiston, Idaho, and then by barge down the Snake and Columbia rivers to ocean-bound containers in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Wash. Large equipment shipments come in through the same route bound for the oilsands.

This commerce underlines the integrated nature of our West Coast ports and makes a mockery of American protectionists who claim Canadian ports are stealing American business.

Expediting trade is central to PNWER’s mandate. Last week, the United States Trade Representative announced to Congress that it would begin a 90-day consultation on Canadian (and Mexican) inclusion in the trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is important on a couple of levels.

It offers an opportunity to place both Canada and the U.S. into an association of Pacific nations with even greater economic weight than the European Union, with whom we are months away from a freer trade agreement. It is especially important to PNWER members, given our shared Pacific orientation and our growing trade and investment.

TPP is also another vehicle to improve the vital continental supply chains that have developed since the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the subsequent NAFTA that brought Mexico into the tent.

Despite its association in U.S. eyes with outsourcing and job losses, NAFTA has worked well for all three partners over nearly 20 years. It now needs updating. The TPP offers an elegant way to achieve that while at the same time complement our ongoing work on the border and regulatory initiative.

PNWER this week will once again move the ball forward through informed discussion and practical problem-solving.

A useful outcome would be a strong endorsement of a TPP that includes Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. It would signal solidarity within PNWER and underline the voice and value of the relationships at the state and province level – our essential hidden wiring

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On the Mexican election

From the Ottawa Citizen, July 1, 2012

We need to pay more attention to Mexico Let’s remove the visa requirement. Awkwardly imposed in July 2009, it continues to rankle Mexicans and handicaps those who want to visit Canada for business or tourism.1 Jul 2012 Ottawa Citizen COLIN ROBERTSON On Sunday, as we celebrate Canada Day, Mexicans will be going to the polls. They will elect a new president to succeed Felipe Calderon who is constitutionally limited to a single six-year term. For most Canadians, Mexico is an accessible and slightly exotic beach holiday in wintertime or the location for macabre drug-related murders separating heads from bodies. Yet Mexico matters to Canada. It is an important if overlooked trading partner. It should be our pivot into the growing Latin American market. It is also of critical interest to the United States, our first and foremost strategic relationship. How the United States handles its southern border inevitably becomes the default for management of its northern border, notwithstanding our efforts at differentiation. There is also the political dimension of the 50 million Americans who claim Latino, mostly Mexican, heritage. We need to pay more attention to Mexico. The election of a new administration is the opportunity to re-set Canada-Mexico relations. Start with trade and the TransPacific Partnership negotiations now that we both have a seat at the table. The 20-year-old NAFTA ushered in a several-fold increase in trade but we’ve realized its gains. TPP is the vehicle for taking the economic relationship to a new level. For our trains, planes and automobiles, opening the Mexican border created an integrated continental supply chain that has served us well. The new parts plants in Mexico, many of them under the Magna flagship, have become an essential piece in the recovery of the automobile industry. Regenerating North American manufacturing will require a three-nation dialogue. The Obama administration is preoccupied with its own re-election so we should look for areas of common cause with the new Mexican administration. We bring to the table know-how and resources. Mexico offers a growing market with a population five times that of Canada. Its young, increasingly educated, workforce is literally down the road. The improvement of our transportation corridors by land, water and rail is a priority. We need to secure and establish redundancies for our electrical grids and pipelines, areas in which Canada has competence and experience. This should open the door to how we can improve mutual investment. We have developed significant banking and mining interests. This has not been reciprocated. Mexican investment in Latin America is $50 billion with $10 billion in Brazil alone. We need to try harder. If there is one lesson of the past two decades it is that governments need to better involve business in their deliberations. Governments establish the regulatory framework for growth but it is business that creates the enterprises that guarantee longterm jobs. We need a Canada-Mexico Business Council that involves our leading business associations but, more importantly, their CEOs. There are notable outliers on the Canadian side: for example, Bombardier, RIM and Scotiabank should all be enlisted to share their experiences and to identify problems that need governments’ attention. Labour mobility needs addressing. It may be a taboo subject with the U.S., but this is not the case with Canada and Mexico. Our migrant worker program has successfully supported our farming interests and we could roll this out into other service industries, including the oilsands where homegrown labour is insufficient. Let’s remove the visa requirement. Awkwardly imposed in July 2009, it continues to rankle Mexicans and handicaps those who want to visit Canada for business or tourism. Gov. Gen. David Johnston recently visited Brazil with an entourage of university presidents seeking more international students. Mexico should be next. Canada does governance well. The biggest challenge for the new Mexican government will be the drug wars that have claimed 50,000 lives during the Calderon administration. We have deep experience that we have shared around the world in how to run elections, educate judges, teach police, and train troops. We should also open a security dialogue with the long-term goal of integrating Mexico into NORAD. For further inspiration and ideas, look to the recently published Canada and Mexico’s Unfinished Agenda, the most recent in the “Canada Amongst Nations” series. Foreign policy is about pursuit of our national strategic interests. But with Mexico, mañana — tomorrow — has for too long characterized our relationship. Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be the first to telephone his congratulations to the new Mexican president and set up a meeting with Foreign Minister John Baird with the new Mexican administration. The ever-ready Baird will convince the Mexicans of our commitment, con mucho gusto!

Interview with David Akin on SUN-TV Daily Brief July 5,  2012

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