Excerpted from report by Lee-Anne Goodman of The Canadian Press published in the Globe and Mail on Friday, Sep. 03, 2010
Think-tank seminars on Canada-U.S. relations are usually as polite and uneventful as the relationship itself, but there were rare flashes of temper this week at the Hudson Institute when pointed questions surfaced about the wisdom of Alberta’s presence at the Canadian Embassy.
Alberta is the only province with an office at the embassy, although Ontario is rumoured to be setting up shop this fall. Other provinces, including Quebec and Manitoba, have trade officials in D.C., though they don’t work out of the embassy, where Alberta pays a hefty price for office space in the architectural jewel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Glen Anderson, a Canada-U.S. relations expert at the University of Alberta, told the event that trouble could arise when provinces at odds with the federal government are also talking to White House officials.
“What if Ontario and Alberta have very different approaches and interests?” he asked. Alberta’s presence on the scene, he added, “has opened a can of worms.”
The former Liberal government under Paul Martin opened up the embassy to the provinces to enable them to help advance regional issues in Washington. Alberta set up shop in the Capitol Hill locale in October 2004, apparently the only province that could afford to be there.
The idea had previously met with staunch opposition from some Canadian officials in a town where it’s notoriously difficult to get Canadian issues on the radar. In the 1980s, ambassador Allan Gotlieb was dead-set against the notion.
Colin Robertson, who was the embassy pointman in D.C. under Mr. Martin, defended the practice on Friday.
“My view is that we need 1,000 points of contact with the U.S. system and the provinces are key players, especially the growing relationships between governors and premiers,” said Mr. Robertson, now an adviser to the U.S.-based law firm McKenna, Long and Aldridge.
“It’s not a question of speaking with one voice but rather a consistent message carried by many voices. Think hockey – you play with several lines to put the puck in the net.”
If things get messy, he added, it’s the ambassador’s job to co-ordinate the message.