On Governor General Johnston visiting Latin America

Governor-General quietly expands ‘invisible’ role before trade trip to Mexico

Heather Scoffield The Canadian Press Published Friday, Nov. 30 2012, 9:59 AM EST

When David Johnston takes on a cabinet-level trade assignment this weekend in Latin America, it will be a showcase for what could be the unoffical slogan for his vice-regal reign: bland is beautiful.

The Governor-General is quick to point out he means bland as in an effective – if stealthy – exercise of his powers as the Sovereign’s representative in Canada.

“This office probably works best when it is rather invisible. Not terribly much involved in controversy. Out of the mainstream of politics. And, I suppose, somewhat bland,” Mr. Johnston said in a Rideau Hall interview prior to leaving for Mexico City.

Make no mistake: Mr. Johnston knows he lacks the panache and media punch of his two most recent predecessors, Michaelle Jean and Adrienne Clarkson. And it doesn’t bother him a bit.

He’s exchanged the effervescent public profile of those who came before him for something else: access to the prime minister on policy issues.

The trade-off has been a dearth of media attention. Mr. Johnston’s office has been quietly lobbying the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa to pay more attention to his scheduled events.

Still, it would be a mistake to confuse “bland” for “vacuous,” warns foreign policy analyst Colin Robertson.

“He lacks the charisma of his predecessors, but intellectually, he’s a rock star,” Mr. Robertson said. “The big shift is that Harper has confidence in Johnston. They talk.”

The white-haired former law professor and university president was tapped by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010, when minority governments were the norm and constitutional questions an ever-present element of Canadian politics.

Amid today’s calmer political waters, though, Mr. Johnston is quietly expanding his other roles – promoting volunteerism, travelling the world and speaking about how Canada should become a “smart and caring nation.”

Mr. Johnston, who is writing a manual on Canadian securities regulation in his spare time, is unapologetically geeky about his passion for international trade and innovation.

He’s also a details person: Mr. Johnston meticulously rehearsed his ceremonial Grey Cup kick-off at least 100 times, perfecting his strike to the point that he could barely walk down the stairs the next day.

So when Mr. Harper asked him to go to Mexico, Peru and Guatemala, he methodically set about learning not just the intricacies of the region’s economics and politics, but also carefully assessing how his own presence can complement the efforts of other Canadian business and political leaders.

“One tries to get to know the countries one is visiting as well as one can,” he said, describing how he works in tandem with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office to determine goals and priorities.

“It’s not a one-off. It’s many different parts working in harmony.”

Mr. Johnston fully appreciates the pomp and circumstance. His overriding goal in visiting Mexico is to “pay respect” to the democratic election of Enrique Pena Nieto – the head of the traditional ruling party PRI, which lost power in 2000 after 71 years at the helm.

For the PRI to make a legitimate comeback, said Mr. Johnston, “that’s a great victory.”

But once the ceremony is over, Mr. Johnston’s hard work begins.

He said he intends to start by buttonholing several of the other 75 foreign leaders at the ceremony to discuss bilateral relations. Then, he’ll turn his attention to increasing two-way trade trade and investment. He also hopes to find more ways to share Canadian expertise in mining, justice, policing and governance.

He is travelling with a sizable entourage of senior officials, members of Parliament, business and education representatives, a judge and several ambassadors.

When he gets back, he’ll be reporting, in detail, straight to the prime minister. The two men speak and share ideas regularly, but after a foreign trip, Mr. Johnston has a formal responsibility to check in.

“When I come back, [I need to] be pretty candid and say, ‘Yep, this is going well,’ or, ‘No, this is not going well and here’s where we have to adjust our approaches,’” Mr. Johnston said.

The governor-general’s trip to Latin America should be the beginning of a larger Canadian attempt to revive its relationship with the region, Mr. Robertson said.

“The flag isn’t as present as it could be.”

In Guatemala, Mr. Johnston will be looking at how Canada can help the country’s police and judicial system to deal with the drug trafficking that is destabilizing the entire region.

Ottawa’s decision to send the governor-general there is exactly the right level of engagement at this point, Mr. Robertson said.

Mr. Johnston’s staff have a thorough understanding of what’s at stake there, and can make some solid recommendations for a path forward, he added.

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Mexico Canada relationship

Colin Robertson speaks to CTV News on Canada-Mexico relationship

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Visit of Mexican President-Elect Pena Nieto

Canada-Mexico: revitalizing the neighbourhood

iPolitics Insight

By Colin Robertson | Nov 28, 2012

Today’s visit by Mexican president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto brings to mind the old proverb ‘better a good neighbour, than a distant friend’.

After a brief embrace, around the negotiation of the NAFTA in 1992-3, the Mexico-Canada relationship for much of the past two decades has been that of ‘distant friends’.

Designed to propel Mexico economically forward and enhance the clever continental integration of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA worked. Each partner prospered, although public appreciation of NAFTA stopped north of the 49th parallel.

Today, Mexico is our fifth largest export destination and our third source country for imports – including items like your refrigerator and flat-screen television, a reflection of Mexican manufacturing prowess.

Canadian manufacturers like Magna, Martinrea, and RIM are firmly established. Their Mexican operations are vital to their integrated global supply chains and nowhere is this better illustrated than at Bombardier Aerospace’s plant in Queretaro.

Walk down the streets of Mexico City and you are likely to see the red and white signage of Scotiabank, now Mexico’s seventh largest bank with over seven hundred branches. In Mexican shops you will find ‘made in Canada’ products like fish and chips.

With over $11 billion dollars in investment –  making us Mexico’s fourth largest investor – Canadian enterprise, now numbering more than 2500 companies, has been well rewarded. Our mining companies do especially well, albeit not without some controversy over labor and environmental practices.

Looking forward, President-elect Pena Nieto has signaled that he wants to open Mexico to investment and to draw on Canadian know-how in difficult-to-extract energy development.

Next month in Auckland, we both join as full partners of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a process that also promises to reform and reinforce our continental trade with the USA. One outcome of today’s visit should be the development of a workplan on shared objectives.

There is already useful work underway, notably on energy and efficient border passage, between the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Business Round Table and the Consejo Mexicano de Hombres de Negocios. We need an umbrella Canada- Mexico Business Council to connect these dots and recommend to governments how we can grow this relationship.

Institutions matter and a Business Council would reinforce the work of the North American Forum that for a decade has kept alight the trilateral flame like a candle in the wind. Canadian leadership of this useful organization has now passed from Peter Lougheed to Tom D’Aquino.

D’Aquino has set for us an ambitious but attainable set of priorities: a common external tariff; a continental energy market; technological cooperation; regulatory complementarity; and a refurbishment of our infrastructure particularly as it relates to roads and rail, grids and pipelines and our gateways.

Add a security dialogue to the list with the goal of eventually integrating Mexico into NORAD.  For additional inspiration look to the recent Forging a New Strategic Partnership between Canada and Mexico by Canadian Chamber of Commerce President, Perrin Beatty, and former Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Andres Rozental

Last year, 1.6 million Canadians flocked south for the  sunshine, beaches, pyramids, rainforests and jungles. It’s our second favourite tourist destination. Their culture is rich: lively music and dance and authors like Carlos Fuentes and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. Then there is the tequila – with over 901 brands offering a lifetime for taste-testing for Canadians enjoying Mexican hospitality.

Sadly, the welcome mat is not reciprocated. The imposition of a visa requirement in the summer of 2009 drastically curbed Mexican visitors. Last year only 130,000 Mexicans visited Canada. Bad enough that it deters tourism and potential students, it also hampers our efforts to attract investment.

Mexican investment in Canada is minimal in comparison with its investment in Latin America. We need to try harder.  Having since fixed our refugee application system we should now lift the visa requirement.

We should also broaden our migrant worker program with Mexico. It has successfully supported our farming interests. Lets extend it to other service industries, including the oil sands where our home-grown labour is insufficient.

In recent speeches Foreign Minister John Baird has spoken about the convergence of Canadian values and interests in the context of a ‘dignity agenda’.

Dignity starts with law and order.

The campaign against crime and terror subsumed the administration of President Felipe Calderon. Drug cartels are a clear and present danger not just for Mexico but the wider neighborhood – Guatemala and Honduras. Their tentacles also stretch north into the US and Canada.

President-elect Pena Nieto has pledged to finish the task begun by President Calderon. Let’s help him. Put our dignity agenda into practice starting with training for Mexico’s police and judiciary.

Grace notes are important to being a good neighbour.

Having Governor General David Johnston represent Canada at the Presidential Inauguration next week in Mexico City sets the right tone. The next step should be a series of visits by Canadian cabinet ministers to meet their new Mexican counterparts to discuss how we can mutually collaborate on our broad trade, economic and security agenda.

Mexico matters to Canada. Let’s use today’s visit of President-elect Peña Nieto to revitalize a relationship that deserves more attention.

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On the US Ambassador to Canada

Precedent says US envoy might soon be packing his bags

But don’t plan the farewell party yet, US Embassy warns.

Ally Foster
Published: Wednesday, 11/14/2012 12:00 EMBASSY

With the US election over and Barack Obama secure in the same job for another four years, US Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson might be packing his bags soon—if past precedent is any indication.

Despite Mr. Obama’s re-election as president on Nov. 6, US government procedure requires that Mr. Jacobson submit his resignation by Mr. Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

According to Steven Pike, a spokesperson for the US Embassy, “when the president is re-elected, political appointees by tradition are expected to offer to resign, and submit a resignation letter on the president’s desk.”

That resignation can either be accepted, or rejected, as all political appointees serve “at the pleasure of the president,” explained Mr. Pike, who added: “It is very rare for ambassadors to continue into the second term of the same president.”

But don’t start planning the farewell party yet, cautioned Mr. Pike, who explained that ambassadors often remain at their posting for some time while a replacement is found. He said the US Embassy has no idea when Mr. Jacobson might have to bid adieu.

Even still, since the 1990s, the longest US envoy posting to Ottawa has been four years.

A lawyer by trade, Mr. Jacobson was a Chicago-based Democratic fundraiser for Mr. Obama before being appointed to his current position. His appointment was slowed by a Senate hold, as a tool for pressing an unrelated issue, Embassy reported. Mr. Jacobson arrived in 2009 more than eight months after Mr. Obama’s inauguration.

And while Canada-US analysts Fen Hampson and Derek Burney published a piece in June 2012 that claimed that Mr. Obama had “lost Canada,” other US watchers say that Mr. Jacobson has been a critical player in improving relations over the past three years.

Goldy Hyder, general manager of the Ottawa arm of the public relations and lobbying firm Hill and Knowlton Strategies, said he is “cautiously hopeful and optimistic that [Mr. Jacobson] can stay a little bit longer.”

He added: “That would be great for Canada-US relations. But if not, I think he can leave with his head held high.”

Mr. Jacobson’s close connection with Mr. Obama has served as a benefit to Canada, Mr. Hyder said.

Sought win-win solutions

Mr. Jacobson has not only looked out for American interests in Canada, but also worked hard to find a win-win situation for both countries, he argued.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat in the US, agreed.

“He has the two things which I think every American ambassador has to have to be successful in Canada,” he said. “First, the confidence of the president and the ability to get to the president and members of the administration…Secondly, to truly understand what Canada is about and where we’re coming from.”

Mr. Jacobson has always looked for ways to “connect the dots” between American and Canadian interests, said Robertson.

Mr. Robertson said the Beyond the Border action plan has been executed effectively largely because Mr. Jacobson took a strong lead in Ottawa for the US government, and really pushed the issue.

Mr. Robertson also applauded Mr. Jacobson’s extensive travel in Canada.

Mr. Jacobson pledged to visit all 10 provinces in his first two months posted to Canada, and then made it his New Year’s resolution for 2010 to visit the territories.

Mr. Jacobson also does a good job of listening, said Mr. Robertson. He added that he has heard that Mr. Jacobson has a very close relationship with Canada’s ambassador to the US, Gary Doer.

“He’s got a superb network which he’s developed,” said Mr. Robertson.

Mr. Pike said it would be too premature for Mr. Jacobson to do goodbye interviews.

Mr. Jacobson wrote on his Oct. 2 blog post, on his three-year anniversary as Mr. Obama’s top man in Ottawa, that he has the best job in the American government.

“I have learned to cross country ski and curl,” he wrote. “I have rooted for your sports teams—unless they are playing ours,” he added.

“I have eaten your food and drunk your wine. I’ve come to love Tim Bits.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Jacobson is receiving the 2012 Sue M. Cobb Award For Exemplary Diplomatic Service on Nov. 14, the embassy confirmed.

The award is presented to a non-career diplomat each year to honour outstanding leadership and management skills having a significant effect on bilateral or multilateral relations.

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Election Night 2012

Power Play: Agenda for the next U.S. president

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, discusses how to improve the relationship between Canada and the U.S. and the areas the next U.S. president should focus on.

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What Prime Minister Harper should tell the president-elect

From the Ottawa Citizen, Tuesday, November 6,2012

The congratulatory phone call

In his congratulatory call to the president-elect, Prime Minister Stephen Harper should make three points to set the groundwork for constructive relations with the next administration.

First, remind the president-elect that we “have their back.” Every American president starts his day with a national security briefing and the recognition that we live in dangerous times. We stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Afghanistan and Libya. Our intelligence and security forces are in constant contact.

The fiscal cliff is going to oblige cuts, particularly in the military budget, and the U.S. is seeking a meaningful contribution from allies.

Point to our shipbuilding exercise, the largest procurement project in Canadian history. It will equip us with new warships and polar icebreakers to protect our coastline, the longest in the world. It will also make a contribution to continental defence and support collective security on the high seas that now carry 80 per cent of international commerce.

We share interests in our new ocean, the Arctic. We are about to take on consecutive terms as chair of the Arctic Council. The Americans have suggested we collaborate. If Norway, Denmark and Sweden could agree on common priorities during their chairmanships, why can’t we?

Second, the PM needs to remind the president that if jobs are his first priority then Canada is a vital piece of the solution.

Canada is the top export market for the U.S. Supply-chain dynamics have created the world’s biggest bilateral trade relationship. Remind him that our joint trade is the equivalent of American trade with the EU.

Last December, Harper and President Barack Obama signed a framework agreement designed to push customs and security inspections “beyond the border.” They also established a regulatory council to address the “tyranny of small differences” bedevilling business transactions. Regulators talking to one another will go some distance to achieving complementary standards.

This process — for once process is a desirable outcome — is making progress, but mostly beneath the waterline.

To take it forward needs cabinet-level champions, as John Manley and Tom Ridge demonstrated with the post 9-11 Smart Border Accord. They can reach out to leadership in business and labour and work with premiers and governors to galvanize this effort, especially at our gateways. The president-elect also has to publicly confirm his personal commitment to these initiatives so we can get on with it.

Third, Hurricane Sandy underlines the requirement for executive commitment to the renewal of our infrastructure — our roads and rail, pipelines and electrical grids, air and seaports — to achieve resiliency and redundancy.

“Storms of the century” seem to be annual events. We face cyber-threats. Our economic prosperity depends on securely connecting our people, goods and services.

We need a presidential commitment to build the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Debate on the bridge has been a decades- long cautionary tale in obstruction, obfuscation and money politics.

The existing Ambassador Bridge carries one-quarter of Canada-U.S. trade, the equivalent of all trade between the U.S. and Japan. It is old and we need a second crossing. It has the support of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, the Big Three auto makers, the unions and farm organizations.

Canada will front a half-billion dollars in financing for its construction against future tolls. Built with Canadian and American steel, it will create 10,000 to 15,000 construction jobs in Michigan. The president-elect should designate it a project of national importance.

The Prime Minister should conclude with an appreciation of the excellent work of Ambassador David Jacobson and the hope that his successor will be as effective. The PM should underline that Ambassador Gary Doer continues to act with his full confidence and that, after the inauguration, our cabinet ministers will make it a priority to get to know their counterparts.

For his part, the president-elect is likely to raise the Trans Pacific Partnership. Canada and Mexico formally join at the next round and we should use this opportunity to move forward continental economic integration.

He may ask about China and the dilemma of foreign ownership of resources. It would also be a good opportunity for him to make positive reference to Canadian energy, the oilsands and the Keystone XL pipeline.

If the president-elect concludes with an acknowledgment of Canada’s strategic importance to the U.S. then the call will go some distance to establishing a constructive base and forward-looking agenda with the new administration.

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US Election: Economics

ierre Martin (Université de Montréal) and Colin Robertson (Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute) discuss the closing hours of the American presidential campaign from a Canadian perspective with CPAC Prime Time Politics Host Peter van Dusen

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US Election: What Canadians need to know

From IPolitics, November 5, 2012

The presidential vote: what you need to know

On Tuesday, over 100 million Americans will go to the polls to elect a President, 33 members of their 100 member Senate and all 435 members of the House of Representatives. There are gubernatorial elections in 11 states. Voters will elect 6,015 of the country’s 7,383 state legislators as well as local sheriffs, judges, county and city councilors. They will also decide on state and civic initiatives, propositions and constitutional amendments. This primer is intended to give you what you need to know about the election process, tips on watching the returns and why this matters to Canadians.

What are the current standings: President, Congress and Governors?

A Democratic Administration

President Obama, a Democrat who previously served in the US Senate and Illinois legislature, is running for a second term against former Massachusetts Governor and venture capitalist Mitt Romney.

Both men have a familiarity with Canada.  President Obama has family living in Ontario and he has made three official visits during the past four years. While growing up in Michigan, Governor Romney’s father, George Romney, an auto executive and then Governor of Michigan, would take the family to their summer home on Lake Huron. Later while at Bain Capital he did business in Canada.

Notwithstanding unpopular wars and difficult economic times, with unemployment hovering at 8% for most of his term, Obama and his vice president Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware, were acclaimed in early September to head their party’s slate at the Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Romney, who came second to John McCain when he contested the Republican nomination in 2008, won a hard-fought Republican nomination including 20 debates stretching from May 2011 to February 2012. He carried 42 states in the GOP primaries that began with the Iowa caucus on January 3rd and concluded with Utah in late June. He chose Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Congressman, as his running mate. They were formally nominated in late August at the abbreviated (because of Hurricane Isaac) Republican Convention in Tampa, Florida.

The President and the Executive Office is our best entrée to the American political system. Brian Mulroney, who understands the mechanics of the American system better than anyone, gave this invaluable advice while in speaking at Reagan Centenary in Washington: “The relationships (between prime ministers and presidents) are absolutely indispensable. If you don’t have a friendly and constructive personal relationship with the president of the United States, nothing is going to happen.“

In the First Branch of Government, a Divided Congress

In the House of Representatives, the Republicans won 242 districts in the 2010 elections while the Democrats elected 193 members. The GOP then elected John Boehner of Ohio as Speaker of the 112th Congress and Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker, was chosen as Minority Leader.

In the Senate the Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have 53 members (including two independents) in their caucus while the Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Tennessee, have 47 members. The Democrats hold 23 of the 33 seats in play this election.

Notwithstanding the good work of the Canada-US Inter-parliamentary Group and the informal ‘Northern Border’ caucus in the House of Representatives, Canadian legislators could do more to cultivate relationships with members of Congress. As former Ambassador Frank McKenna recently noted, “The president can love you to death, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have constant harassment from Congress. … The tone at the top helps, but it’s not conclusive.”

Most of the irritants that afflict Canada-US relations start with legislation drafted in Congress. Most of the time we are collateral damage and we need to remember that very little that is proposed in Congress actually passes into law. But given the depth of Canadian interests, we can never spend enough time in getting to know the chairs of committees and the ranking members on the minority side.

The Governors

The current gubernatorial breakdown is 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats and 1 independent (Linc Chafee of Rhode Island). There are 11 gubernatorial races with new challengers (because of term limits or retirement) in Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington and Indiana and incumbents facing re-election in Delaware, Missouri, Vermont, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Utah.

Governors matter and experience in the state-house often leads, as with former Governor Romney, to the top of the ticket. In the last century, governors who become president include Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt and more recently Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Current cabinet members with gubernatorial experience include Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security from Arizona), Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services from Kansas), Tom Vilsack (Agriculture from Iowa) and former Commerce Secretary, now Ambassador to China, Gary Locke.

Getting to know their governor counterparts at regional governors’ and premiers’ conferences is a smart investment of time by Canadian premiers. This also holds true for the various regional associations of state and provincial legislators. The Pacific Northwest Economic Region is the model for practical cross-border collaboration ranging from their championship of the ‘smart’ drivers’ license to recent innovative ‘helmets to hard hat’ job fairs for veterans.

What to watch for on Tuesday night?

The pundits use an expression from basketball – ‘jump ball’ -to illustrate the uncertainty of the race for the presidency, although aggregator polls suggest President Obama has a slight advantage in terms of electoral votes. Gallup, which had given Mitt Romney an advantage in the popular vote, halted its polling because of Hurricane Sandy. There are lots of public opinion surveys – one of the best aggregators is at the Real Clear Politics site and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight column on the New York Times provides very good analysis on probabilities (even if he did back the Detroit Tigers in the World Series).

Polls are important but they only capture a moment in time. Polls indicate trends and probability rather than predictability. Until we mark our ballots we are capable of changing our minds for all sorts of reasons.

About 25 million people are estimated to have already voted in the 34 states and the District of Columbia that permit early voting. It is reckoned that almost a third of those who will cast ballots will vote in the advance polls.

Historical voting patterns and polling put most of the states into the category of ‘safely’ Democratic or Republican in terms of their electoral votes. Looking at electoral maps of the US and you will see that the Pacific coastal states and the North East are safely ‘blue’ states while the Old Confederacy and south west are mostly ‘red’ states.

As for demographics: Obama draws on young people, minorities – African Americans, Latinos and Asians, and white-collar whites, especially women. Romney draws from blue-collar and older whites, especially men.

Intense presidential campaigning is taking place in the  ‘battleground’ states:  Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida and now Pennsylvania.

In this race for the presidency the burden lies with the challenger. Writing in the Wall Street Journal (May 23) Republican strategist Karl Rove set out a 3-2-1 strategy for Governor Romney to win the 270 electoral votes necessary for victory. It is as good a guide as any to watching the results on election night. It assumes winning all the states captured by John McCain in 2008 (as well as Nebraska’s second district) and then he must:

3. Recapture the traditionally Republican states of Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia,

2. Regain Florida and Ohio, both of which went Democratic in 2008
1. Win one of the following: New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, or New Mexico.

These elections will be the most expensive yet.  The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics reckon will cost $5.8 billion (the 2008  elections cost $5.4 billion) with about half of that spent on the presidential race. SuperPac spending by outside groups, permitted under the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, will likely account for about a billion dollars.

Electing a President: More complicated than you would think

The Founding Fathers established the process of the Electoral College to select the U.S. Chief Executive as a compromise between popular direct election and election by the Congress.

It flowed from a compromise, that balanced population with state rights, by giving each state two senators and then apportioning by population their members in the House of Representatives. The 23rd amendment gave the District of Columbia three electors which makes for a 538 member Electoral College. Winner-take-all prevails in most states although Nebraska and Maine have a form of proportional representation.

The electors meet in their individual states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their ballots for President and Vice President. If the Electoral College can’t reach a decision, the selection of the President goes to the House of Representatives where the victor must win 26 state delegations (and this happened In 1801 with the election of Thomas Jefferson)

Usually, the Electoral College chooses a President who also received the plurality of the nationwide popular vote. There have been four exceptions: 1824 with John Quincy Adams chosen over Andrew Jackson, 1876 when Republican Rutherford Hayes was chosen over Democrat Samuel Tilden, 1888 with Republican Benjamin Harrison selected over Democrat Grover Cleveland and 2000 when Republican George W. Bush was elected over Democrat Al Gore.

The new Congress begins its deliberations at noon on January 3rd, in time to meet on January 6th for the counting of the Electoral College during a joint session of Congress, presided over by the Vice President (as President of the Senate). On January 20, the President-elect takes the oath of office from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and is duly sworn in as President of the United States.

The Canadian stake in the US election: a pipeline & a bridge as well as the perennials of trade, defence and security, energy, and the environment

We watch the US election with neighbourly voyeurism but what happens in the US always matters to Canada. Start with the obvious: our shared geography and the long stretch of border along the 49th parallel and the northern line dividing Alaska from the Yukon and British Columbia.

The Pipeline

The ‘pipeline from Canada’ is a key piece in Governor Romney’s ‘energy independence’ strategy and he has declared that he would approve it on ‘Day One’. President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline waiver reflected a combination of factors notably the local opposition in Nebraska, including that of Republican Governor Dave Heineman and the legislature, as well as opposition from the national environmental movement. They also see the pipeline as surrogate for their opposition to development of the oil or ‘tar’ sands. The daily ‘ring around the White House’ was not a desirable visual for the Obama re-election campaign.  The Republicans in Congress saw it as a ‘wedge’ issue and tried to push approval through legislation. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality have just released (October 30) a 600 page draft report stating that the pipeline successfully avoids the Sandhills region of Nebraska, a step agreed to during a special session of the Legislature last year. Local hearings will begin in December.

The Bridge

Watch the outcome of a ballot initiative in Michigan on the proposed New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor. If passed it would oblige a popular referendum before Michigan could spend public funds on the new bridge. The 83-year old privately-owned Ambassador Bridge carries ¼ of Canada-US trade and it is especially critical to our recovering auto trade. Canada and Ontario agreed in June to provide a half billion dollars in financing against future tolls. This past week Ambassador Doer wrote an open letter pointing out that the project has the support of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, the chambers of commerce of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, the Big 3 auto-makers, the building trades and steel workers unions and farm organizations. The “only real opposition”, wrote Doer, “comes from one company trying to protect its current monopoly on the Ambassador Bridge.”  The bridge saga is a cautionary tale in obstruction, obfuscation and money politics,

Trade

Successive Canadian governments, dating back before Confederation, have consistently sought rules-based commercial agreements. The resulting deep economic integration gives us privileged, but not always secure, access to the biggest market in the world. It requires a constant campaign by all levels of Government in tandem with business and labour to fend off the forces of protectionism.

The most important piece of outstanding business is the framework agreement that PM Harper and President Obama announced last December.

Designed to push customs and security inspections ‘beyond the border’, it includes a series of pilot projects designed around the principle of ‘once cleared, twice accepted’. A Regulatory Cooperation Council will address the ‘tyranny of small differences’ frustrating business transactions. It requires our regulators to talk. It should go some distance to achieving the goal of common standards when they draft new rules. Keeping this initiative intact will be important. If there is a change in Administration then it may need to be rebranded and relaunched without losing sight of the objectives.

Canada and Mexico will formally join the Trans Pacific  Partnership negotiations at its December meeting in Auckland. The TPP promises to significantly raise the bar on trade and investment and, in continental terms, move us beyond NAFTA. It should also oblige us to look more closely at cooperation within the Americas, something Governor Romney has promised.

In addition to our Embassy in Washington we have fifteen offices throughout the US. Given the depth and importance of our trade and investment, we should have a Canadian presence in every state to act as our eyes, ears and voice. Austerity has recently obliged us to close six offices: Buffalo, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Raleigh, Anchorage, and Princeton. With our star-spangled Canadians living and working in the US, we need to rethink how we do business, including making greater use of honorary consuls.

Defence & Security

Our military, law enforcement and security agencies have daily dealings. The US is our principal ally through a series of agreements (PJBD, NORAD) that formally cover air and maritime defence. We are jointly committed to collective security through NATO and this has resulted in our recent campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya. In the foreign policy debate, President Obama described the US as the ‘indispensible’ power. The US certainly bears the burden of global primacy. There is always a keen interest in Washington about what we see and hear in the rest of the world and in what we can bring to the table. It underlines the requirement for a global Canadian foreign policy and a diplomatic service to back it up.

Energy

The energy relationship is vital to both countries – Canadian power literally lights up Broadway. Most of the flow – oil (24% of US imports), gas (13% of US consumption), hydro-electricity, as well as 20% of the uranium used in nuclear power generation is from Canada to the US. There is a reciprocal flow into eastern Canada of oil and electricity. The Canada and US electricity grid is deeply integrated with more than 30 major transmission interties connecting all contiguous Canadian provinces to neighbouring US states.

Environment

We share joint stewardship for our environment and we led the world in innovative cross-border practices including the century-old Boundary Waters Agreement establishing the International Joint Commission that tends to our cross-border waters.  The Great Lakes have been an obvious focus and in September new commitments to protect aquatic habitats, curb invasive species and help coastal communities adapt to climate change were added to the 1972 Water Quality Agreement. The rigorous negotiations around the Canada-US Acid Rain Treaty (1991) and the multilateral Montreal Protocol on the Ozone layer (1987) should serve as a model for how we deal with climate change. In January, we take on the chair of the Arctic Council for a two-year term. We both have interests in continuing to apply principles of good stewardship and the Americans, who take the chair after us, have suggested that we collude on common priorities. It seems a sensible suggestion.

And if Canadians could vote?

Ipsos-Reid conducted a survey of Canadians (October 30-November 1) that says nine-in-ten (86%) Canadians would back Barack Obama if they could vote. It echoed a BBC sponsored survey of 21 countries in July and September that said two thirds (66%) of the Canadians surveyed preferred Obama, with just 9 per cent favouring Governor Romney (in the Ipsos Reid survey 14% would vote GOP). Support among Canadians for President Obama was at the same level as in 2008 significantly above the global average of 50 per cent.  A recent clever study by Montreal University scholar Pierre Martin argues that notwithstanding conventional wisdom: “Republican administrations in Washington are not better for Canada than Democratic ones, even from a strictly economic perspective.”

During the Bush years I would meet Republicans with aspirations of manifest destiny. They were quickly disillusioned when I pointed out that if Canada were to accept the long-standing invitation to join the Union, our electoral votes – at least as many as Pennsylvania and New York combined – would likely ensure a permanent Democratic majority.

Further Reading:

Start with a fun read. David Frum’s Patriots is a lively tale of contemporary US politics with insights in the Tea Party movement. For a lively campaign chronicle read Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin that earlier this year was released as an HBO docudrama.  If you want to understand how US politics became dysfunctional read Brookings scholar Tom Mann and AEI scholar Norm Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism. On polling, the New York Time’s Nate Silver has written The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail but some don’t. On Canada-US relations browse through the Washington Diaries of Allan Gotlieb, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Canadian diplomacy in the United States, and look to his CD Howe Lecture on Romanticism and Realism in Canadian Foreign Policy.

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