But flawed as the trilateral process was, nothing has taken its place. By the summer of 2008, prior to the U.S. election, the Privy Council Office in Ottawa had instructed all Canadian embassies and consulates to establish political contacts with all the campaigns. The plan was to use contacts on the foreign service side to lay the groundwork for a bilateral post-SPP discussion. But in the wake of NAFTA-gate, in which a Canadian diplomat caused a political furor by reporting that an Obama adviser called his candidate’s campaign promise to renegotiate NAFTA mere political “manoeuvring,” the effort faded.
“It all went into a black hole,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat in the U.S. and senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute in Ottawa. “The Security and Prosperity Partnership was 300 little flowers seeking to bloom, but they got their heads cut off. There were some useful blooms there that should have been cultivated.”
The bigger question is, where, if anywhere, does North American integration go from here? For the time being it appears that bilateral issues will continue to be managed sector by sector, crisis by crisis—such as the bilateral auto-sector bailout or co-operation on H1N1—without an overarching strategy for the future of North America. The corporate executives, too, will lobby for their individual interests. And Canada will have to compete for Washington’s attention.