Canada and the North

From The Ottawa Citizen,  ‘Canada’s Place in the Mystical North’

August 27, 2012  (also in the Edmonton Journal August 28)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s annual tour, coincident with the Canadian Forces’ Operation Nanook, guarantees that, at least for a week, southern Canada looks to our North.

This year the western scenario of the Forces exercise involved a barge carrying toxic chemicals colliding with a ferry shuttling travellers across the Mackenzie River, obliging the evacuation of Tsiigehtchic. Last year, the scenario involved a plane accident that sadly turned to reality with the First Air flight crash near Resolute Bay.

In situations such as this, while the civil authorities lead, as we have witnessed through disasters in the south, be it forest fires, ice storms or hurricanes, it is our Forces that have the necessary capacity to support and respond to environmental and other calamities.

Operation Nanook is the most visible of ongoing exercises directed from Joint Task Force North in Yellowknife.

Critics describe these activities as “militarization” of our North.

They are wrong.

We face no imminent threat to our Arctic sovereignty. The real challenges — bears and black flies, ice, cold and permafrost — are the same that confronted explorers such as Alexander Mackenzie and Sir John Franklin. These exercises are more about safety and security than defence. They are about useful tasks such as landing an RCAF Twin Otter, the “farm truck” of the North, on the Dempster Highway.

Historically, our attention to the North has been mostly in reaction to American interests, real or imagined. The Second World War gave us a highway to link Alaska with the lower 48 states. The Cold War created a dotted network of radar stations — the DEW line — that on the map gave the appearance of presence, however illusory. The SS Manhattan’s 1969 voyage through the Northwest Passage sparked a debate around the right of passage.

American interest has also been a driver for economic development from the Gold Rush to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. The former obliged us to provide order, through our Mounties and territorial government. The pipeline proposal sparked the Berger Commission that put a moratorium on development. It served as an impetus for the negotiation of northern land claims allowing aboriginal peoples to take greater control of their lands and lives.

Local governments have spawned economic development agencies such as the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, chaired by former NWT premier Nellie Cournoyea. These kind of institutions, administered by and for northerners, that will be best equipped to deal with sustainability and address the social ills: drug addiction; alcoholism; and a suicide rate five times that in the south.

Hunting and fishing will always be part of northern tradition and way of life, but there is a recognition that change is coming because of rising temperatures and technological innovation giving greater access to the riches of the North. There is a determination an economic base providing jobs with a future, that goes beyond tourism. This puts a premium on education. It also means, as recommended recently by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, welcoming investment and resource development on the basis of full partnership.

Industry should consult the Canadian Forces, which have both practical experience and expertise in dealing with northerners and their unique governance structure. The Canadian Rangers, for example, successfully draw on the talent of northerners in service of their communities as well as the Canadian Forces.

For Canadians, the North has a mystical appeal. Space seems infinite while time is measured less by the clock than by the sun and the seasons.

With most of us huddled within a hundred miles of the 49th parallel, our real frontier — north of 60 — is a place where the population is smaller than Prince Edward Island’s. The land mass — 40 per cent of Canada — is bigger than Europe. The cultural and demographic differences between the territories — in the Northwest Territories, for example, there are 11 official languages — obliges patience. Building trust takes time.

We come from all corners of the globe but geography and climate define us as people of the north. We correctly celebrate our “true north strong and free” in our art and literature.

We may think we know all we need to know about the North.

We don’t.

Yet we do have experts in our universities, within industry and the public service. Connecting these dots of knowledge and creating more Canada Research Chairs devoted to study of the North would be useful initiatives by the Conservative government. We could use this expertise as we re-take the chair of the Arctic Council in 2013.

Initiated as a “high-level forum” through the Ottawa Declaration in 1996, the eight-nation Arctic Council is useful. It was the catalyst for the 2011 search and rescue mutual co-operation agreement.

We should use our two-year term as chair to give a voice, as observers, to other nations with northern interests, especially China, whose goods will eventually transit polar routes. The inevitable opening of new sea lanes is another incentive to get moving with the construction of our icebreakers and Arctic patrol ships.

It’s also a reminder to avoid the folly of flag-waving, especially as we prepare to submit our extended continental shelf claim to the UN. The brouhaha with Denmark over Hans Island and then that created when the Russian submersible Artika planted a flag near the North Pole in 2007 are less diplomatic crisis than opera bouffe.

To prevent such silliness from escalating, let’s institutionalize the meetings at the chief-of-staff level begun in Goose Bay earlier this year by General Walter Natynczyk.

There is a map in Inuvik airport of the circumpolar region. Sitting atop the world it is a graphic reminder that Canada has both place and stature in the North. Let’s continue to exercise it.

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Managing the US relationship

From The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Aug. 08 2012

Canada has to master the complexity of the U.S. political system

by Allan Gotlieb, Michael Kergin and Colin Robertson (For an interview between Robertson and  RCI’s Wojtek Gwiazda go to RCI site).

In three months we will wake up to see who Americans have elected as president, to the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. We will be deeply affected by the results, whatever the political stripe of those who occupy the White House and take control of the two houses of Congress. Like it or not, Canadians do have a “dog in this hunt.” Geography, history, economics and culture have created a deep integration that goes far beyond a typical foreign relationship.

Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser to George W. Bush, captured it well when she said, “Here come the Canadians with their condominium issues.” Not meant as a compliment, it was uttered in frustration at what administration officials felt was the picayune nature of the issues that we were bringing to the table. They were “domestic” – trade and commerce, transportation, energy and the environment, rather than the traditional statecraft of war and peace.

In terms of Canada’s national interests, however, the important issues are the picayune ones that deal with pipelines, dams, bridges, beef, lumber and the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink. This is a tribute to the maturity of a relationship in which it’s been almost 200 years since we last fired shots at each other. Would that the rest of the world had reached this stage of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “good neighbourliness.”

It is true, of course, that our relative dependence is asymmetrical – we depend on the United States as a market much more than it depends on us. But it is also true that we are their biggest foreign market – and there is nothing picayune about that.

Three inescapable truths emerge from our high degree of integration:

1. Most Canada-U.S. conflicts emerge as a result of the U.S. domestic, not foreign policy, agenda.

2. Their outcome derives from the uniquely American doctrine of the separation of powers, the Congress being primus inter pares. Our diplomacy must be based on these constitutional realities but also on the equally important truth – to borrow from Lord Palmerston – that in the Congress of the United States, Canada has no permanent friends, only permanent interests.

3. The initiative will almost always lie with Canada to make sure the issue is on the White House agenda.

More than any other country, Canada has to master the complexity of the U.S. political system. Unless we do, little progress will be made on most issues. There are too many players (every congressman a foreign minister), too many special interests, too many bureaucrats, too many lobbyists at the doors of Congress and the White House, too fragmented a power structure and too much truth in Tip O’Neill’s dictum that “all politics is local.”

Although the party affiliation of U.S. legislators or officials can sometimes be important, it becomes far less so than the sensitivities and skills with which the major issues in the relationship are handled.

For all these reasons, we need to take the long view in determining whether our challenges are being successfully met. Relationships are vital, especially between the president and prime minister, but narrowly defined special interests can sometimes trump the national interest. No better example can be found than the devastating softwood lumber dispute, which originated in Ronald Reagan’s first term and has continued for 30 years and counting. It took about a decade for our prime minister to persuade the same president and his successor to reverse his country’s position on acid rain. A protectionist tariff on shakes and shingles imposed by the U.S. almost derailed free-trade negotiations. Yet, as Brian Mulroney demonstrated, Canada never had a friend in the White House greater than Ronald Reagan.

Today there is frustration with President Barack Obama’s unfortunate decision to punt the Keystone XL Pipeline permit until after the election, but like shakes and shingles, this had everything to do with U.S. domestic politics rather than the national interest. Canada was collateral damage, which may yet prove temporary. Fortunately, on the issue of border access, which is of great strategic importance to Canada and on which the President has staked out a leadership role, we seem to be making steady, if slow, progress. When it works, that is how it works.

For a foreign power, the challenge of dealing with Congress is even more difficult. We tend to be treated as just another special interest, but one that cannot contribute to campaigns. As far as the White House is concerned, Canada is usually not seen as a problem. But this means we are rarely, if ever, top of mind. It is doubtful that an American president, who begins each day with a national security briefing, spends an hour a year thinking about Canada.

So we work the system, using all our access points, starting with our able ambassadors. But regardless of the frustrations, experience tells us that the best card that any Canadian prime minister has to play is his ability to talk directly to the president and engage him in those picayune condominium issues that come with sharing a continent.

Allan Gotlieb and Michael Kergin are former Canadian ambassadors to the United States and senior advisers at Bennett Jones LLP. Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and senior adviser to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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