After the Midterms: Analysis

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November 3 2010: Powerplay with Janis Mackey Frayer interviews Colin Robertson a former diplomat says the shift in the U.S. was due solely on the economy. When there are not enough jobs the people will vote out the incumbent party, which is what happened to the Democrats.

From Barbara Yaffe, ‘Bad news for Obama might not be so bad for Canada’ in the Vancouver Sun:

Republicans took control Tuesday night of the U.S. House of Representatives, shifting the game plan for Ottawa on several key Canada-U.S. issues.

The Democratic defeat will have come as no surprise to the Harper government or any other America-watchers.

“Americans are sick and tired and scared about the direction of the country, about debt and deficit and about terrorism,” former diplomat Colin Robertson said this week.

Robertson, who has done stints in Canada’s Washington, D.C. embassy and the Los Angeles consulate, pointed out that polls had shown “60 per cent feel the country is headed in the wrong direction … [and] want a smaller government, lower taxes and fewer services.”

What was bad news for Barack Obama, however, might not be so for Canadians.

On the two pre-eminent bilateral issues of trade and energy, Republicans generally are kinder than Democrats to the interests of their biggest trading partner and energy supplier.

Republicans bill themselves as champions of free trade and may be less apt to build “Buy American” provisions into new U.S. legislation.

Election Day: Midterms analysis

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November 2, 2010 CBC News: Lang and O’Leary Exchange: Colin Robertson and Birgit Matthiessen discuss trade implications of midterms for Canada with Amanda Lang .

CTV News Channel: Colin Robertson, former diplomat discusses the U.S. midterm election. He explains how the Tea Party is picking up speed, as Americans are fed up with the high unemployment rate.

Midterms: A Primer for Canadians and discussion with CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen

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Americans vote tomorrow in the U.S. midterm elections. Republicans hope to take back control of Congress and deal a blow to President Barack Obama’s power and prestige. As the American economy continues to struggle, Democrats are seeking to avoid the historic maxim that incumbents fare poorly between presidential elections. What do these votes mean for Canada, and what should we expect tomorrow night? CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen gets analysis from former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, and Christopher Sands, senior fellow with the Hudson Institute.

Excerpted from 2010 Midterms A Primer for Canadians

After having believed ourselves capable of transforming ourselves, we now believe ourselves incapable of improving ourselves; after having had an excessive pride, we have fallen into a humility that is just as excessive; we thought that we could do everything, and now we think that we can do nothing…This, to put it simply, is the great malaise of our age…”

– Alexis de Tocqueville

“The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best.”

– Will Rogers

American politics at the dawn of the 21st century is a brutal, bloody, winner-take-all game. As it should be. The stakes in political combat are not multi-billion dollar mergers or championship rings…There are no higher stakes than determining who runs the only superpower on God’s earth. Politics…is the only game for grown-ups…”

– James Carville

Forget the Giants and the Rangers, although that contest, too, has blue-red overtones, America’s real secular sport is politics. Thanks largely to television’s desire to distinguish between parties, each party has a colour: red for Republicans and blue for Democrats (the opposite of Canada’s Liberal red and Conservative blue). The parties even have their own bestiary. Thanks to the popularization of Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly,  a mid-19th century American caricaturist, the Democrats have been associated with the donkey, while the Grand Old Party (GOP) rides the elephant.

The Democrats are the oldest political party in the world and John F. Kennedy used to take great pride in telling of the trip in 1800 that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison made up the Hudson River on a botanical tour searching for butterflies that ended up in New York City where they formed the Democrat Party.  The original plans for the Republican Party were drawn up at a meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin at the First Congregational Church in 1854 in an action to stop the spread of slavery that united Whigs, Free Soilers and northern Democrats. The Republicans lost their first election to the Democrats but came back in 1860, led by a rail-splitting lawyer from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. The Republicans would dominate American politics for much of the following seventy years. In the face of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt became president and from 1932 to 1980, the Democrats were the majority party, especially in Congress. Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the GOP has won the presidency five out of eight elections. The Democrats have mostly been the majority in Congress except for an interregnum occasioned by one of the great ‘wave’ elections in American politics, when Newt Gingrich’s 1994 ‘Contract with America’ swept the Democrats from both the House and Senate.

De Tocqueville’s tour of Jacksonian America established the view of a populist, democratic and exceptional nation. Since the Revolution, Americans have delighted in mocking their politicians and for wit and insight Will Rogers remains the greatest American political humorist. Today’s political info-tainment has reached a new level as we saw at the recent ‘Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear’ hosted by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart at the Lincoln Memorial. But American politics is also, as James Carville reminds us, a blood sport…

Elections occasionally surprise pundits and pollsters alike. ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ was the famously inaccurate banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1948. Few expected the breadth or depth of the  ‘Contract with America’ Republican 1994 win in both the House and Senate.

Midterm elections are important but they rarely forecast the next presidential election. They are usually a referendum on the main issue of the day – usually the economy and occasionally foreign policy, the direction of the nation and, presidential leadership. Since 1900, the party in the White House has lost seats in the House of Representatives in every Midterm except for 1934 and 2002. Presidents who lost big in Midterms (Harry Truman in 1946, Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1994) bounced back to win re-election.

In 2006, unhappiness with the war was a big factor in Democrats taking back the House of Representatives. In 2008, they enlarged their majorities in both houses. Voters were fed up with George W. Bush, worried by the collapsing economy and inspired by the hope generated by Obama’s ‘change that you can believe in’. Change came on health care, economic stimulus and financial reform but continuing high unemployment is hurting the Democrats. It’s a reminder of James Carville’s famous exhortation to Bill Clinton’s team in 1992: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’

In 2008, the Democrats picked up 21 seats in the House, having gained 30 seats in the 2006 Midterms. In a sense, if the Republicans regain the House and the Senate is a near draw, we are back to the future. It will be even more so if Jerry Brown wins in California. In a couple of days, the 2010 Midterms will be history, but if you are feeling political withdrawal, then stop by your favourite bookstore on November 9th for a new political memoir, Decision Points. And the author? George W. Bush.

Navy Welcomes Mr. Colin Robertson As The Newest Honorary Naval Captain

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CMS NR10.014 – October 25, 2010

OTTAWA, ON – The Canadian Navy is proud to welcome Mr. Colin Robertson as its newest Honorary Captain (Navy), as announced by Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, Chief of the Maritime Staff.

A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is a Senior Strategic Advisor for the international law firm of McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP. He is vice-president and senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a distinguished senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

Captain (Navy) Robertson is a member of the boards of Canada World Youth and the Conference of Defence Associations Institute. He is current president of the National Capital Branch of the Canadian International Council and is honorary chair of the Canada Arizona Business Council. He is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy and the Retired Heads of Mission Association.

“I am proud and honoured to serve” said Captain (Navy) Robertson. A native of Winnipeg and a graduate of the University of Manitoba and Carleton University, he previously served as first Head of the Advocacy Secretariat at the Canadian Embassy in Washington and as Consul General in Los Angeles with postings in Hong Kong and New York. He is a former president of the Historica Foundation. Captain (Navy) Robertson has participated in fleet visits to foreign ports and in December, 2003, he and Rear Admiral (ret) Roger Girouard opened the Canadian Consulate in San Diego aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Regina.

Honorary Naval Captains are quite visible, attending significant naval, Canadian Forces and public events and ceremonies in uniform across the country. They are appointed by the Minister of National Defence after receiving recommendations from the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chief of the Maritime Staff. These appointments are generally for a period of three years, although extensions may be granted.

Honorary Naval Captains act as bridges between military and civilian communities, representing diverse areas of Canadian society, from politics and business to journalism and the arts. They bring with them unique skills and connections that help to strengthen the navy’s ties to Canadian communities and to promote a better understanding of maritime defence issues.

With the addition of Captain (Naval) Robertson there are currently eighteen serving honorary naval captains across Canada.

Midterms a Wakeup Call for Canada

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From the Financial Post, October 20, 2010

There are lots of polls predicting the outcome of the U.S. mid-terms, but the one that counts is already released. U.S. unemployment remains stuck at 9.6% and America continues to shed jobs. At the time they introduced the stimulus package, the Democrats predicted that, by now, the unemployment rate would be 8%. And that gap — in jobs and its effect on faith in government — tells you all you need to know about the Nov. 2 elections. Canadians should pay careful attention least we get sideswiped.

Fifteen million Americans have been without a job for six months or more. For youth, a key part of the Obama coalition in 2008, unemployment is over 25%. For minorities, Latinos and African Americans, who turned out big time to elect President Barack Obama, the unemployment figure is closer to 30%, especially in the big cities. It’s devastating news for the Democrats.

The gulf between Wall Street and Main Street continues to widen. In 1980, 8% of U.S. earners received 16% of national income. That same proportion now falls into the hands of the top 1% while the top 20% take more than half. One in four Americans say they have “absolutely no confidence” in Congress, banks, the federal government, blogs and organized labour, according to an AP-NCC poll. The military and uniformed services come first, at 43%. Not great numbers for a nation that prides itself on its institutions, and they do a lot to explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. Americans think their country is headed in the wrong direction and many fear the nation in decline.

For America’s biggest trading partner — Canada — the U.S. malaise is very bad news. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll says that 69% of Americans believe free trade agreements with other countries have cost jobs in the United States, while just 18% believe they have created jobs. A 53% majority — up from 46% three years ago and from 30% in 1999 — believes that trade agreements have hurt the U.S.

Opposition to free trade agreements, including NAFTA, is particularly strong (61%) among Americans who define themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement, just 4% less than union members (65%). The greatest shift against free trade comes from relatively affluent Americans, i.e., those with annual incomes of more than US$75,000.

“Make it in America” is the new “Buy America” and Senate and House Democratic candidates have come out with ads condemning free trade agreements. While China will be the main target of congressional action, we’ll inevitably suffer collateral damage.

We need to do more of what John Manley, chief executive of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, told an audience in Washington earlier this month when asked about efforts by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland to turn the campaign around by arguing that free trade with countries like Canada and Mexico has cost the state 400,000 jobs. The numbers, said Manley, tell a different story. Canada is Ohio’s top export market, purchasing 44% of the state’s international exports. More than 600,000 Canadians visit Ohio each year, spending $138-million. Trade between Ohio and Canada is $35-billion a year. Ohio enjoys a trade surplus. Most importantly, 276,000 Ohio jobs depend on trade with Canada. Manley said that he was happy to set the record straight, but “I would be even happier if more Americans were prepared to stand up and explain why liberalized trade is good for the United States and good for the world.”

Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, had a similar message when he was in Washington in June. He reminded his Capitol Hill audience that Canada is the largest export market for 35 U.S. states and that the U.S. does more in two-way trade with Canada than it does with Germany, Japan, China and the U.K. combined.

Obama wants to double American exports to create jobs. Supply chain dynamics give us an opportunity to be part of that solution. Our political, business, and labour leadership need to develop a strategic plan built around jobs and growth that goes way beyond the FTA/NAFTA. Pursuing Canadian interests in the U.S. through incrementalism won’t work any more.

We need to take a common message about the facts of Canadian investment and the American jobs that depend on trade with Canada into every state and major U.S. city as well as in Washington. We need unity of action and shared purpose that includes premiers pitching governors and labour leaders engaging their American brethren. The mid-terms are a wake-up call for Canadians.

Canada’s Place in the World after the UN Security Council defeat

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For the first time in a half-century, Canada has lost a bid for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Does this signal Canada’s diminishing standing as an international player? Squeeze Play’s Rudyard Griffiths and Andrea Mandel-Campbell of BNN asks Andrew Cohen, author, “While Canada Slept,” and Colin Robertson, vice-president, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

Canada must rebuild its diplomatic resources

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Excerpted From Globe and Mail, Wednesday, October 13, 2010 by Allan Gotlieb and Colin Robertson

Canada’s failed pursuit of a seat on the world’s most powerful body – the United Nations Security Council – puts the spotlight on our performance beyond our borders, the strength of which depends on the quality of our diplomacy and the skills of our diplomats….

The ineffectiveness of our foreign ministry has become a cliché in Ottawa’s contemporary political culture. The government has cut the operational resources of Foreign Affairs, especially representational funding – forgetting that an embassy without an entertainment budget is like a frigate without fuel. Diplomats are no longer authorized to talk publicly without the prior consent of the PMO. These remote commissars undermine the very purpose of our ambassadors – to publicly advance the national interest.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made some excellent diplomatic appointments, his government is silent as to why a country needs an effective foreign service. Yet now, more than ever, we need skilled diplomats and a strong foreign ministry.

The international order of the 21st century is increasingly a world of decentralized sovereign entities and fragmentation among states. There is a deepening asymmetry between the structure of this order, with its 190 or so sovereign units, and the overwhelming transnational nature of the threats we face.

It is also a world of fracturing power within states. The explosion in the number of players – competing agencies in ever-expanding governments, narrow special interests, global activists, environmental crusaders, powerful multinationals, muscular NGOs, deep-pocketed lobbyists, legions of bloggers and self-declared experts – give rise to a single imperative: the need for interpretation.

The movements toward globalization and fragmentation place an enormous premium on the need for envoys of the highest calibre to fulfill four core functions. The first is as our chief intelligence officer in their country of accreditation. Second, the ambassador is the chief lobbyist for our national interests and chief promoter of our industry, trade and economic prosperity.

The ambassador is also our chief advocate, a role that goes in two directions. All input back home tends to come from domestic pressures, including special interests. Yet, decision-makers need to understand foreign political realities from their on-site envoy. Lack of knowledge, wrong information or mistaken beliefs can cause problems to escalate and endanger the national interest…

Successful engagement will oblige significant reinvestment in our diplomatic capacity at home, a strengthening of our network of missions abroad and a revitalized foreign ministry as the focal point for co-ordination. The rebuilding of our diplomatic resources will not be easily or quickly achieved. But if we don’t make the commitment, we’ll need to lower expectations about our role in the world.

For reaction to this piece see Brian Stewart on the CBC website and Barbara Yaffe in the Vancouver Sun

Winning a Seat on the Security Council

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Excerpted From CBC Radio The House with Kathleen Petty, October 9, 2010

STEPHEN HARPER (PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA): As a founding member of the U.N. and its seventh-largest contributor to its finances, Canada has been a consistently reliable and responsible participant in U.N. initiatives around the world. This was so in the earliest days of the United Nations; it was during the difficult days of the Cold War, of decolonization and of the struggle against Apartheid; and it remains so today. Canada continues to pay, for instance, the heavy price to fulfill our U.N. obligation to support the lawful government of Afghanistan.

KATHLEEN PETTY (HOST): Uh, did the Prime Minister need to remind everyone of all those things? Don’t they already that that’s who we are and that’s what we have to offer?

COLIN ROBERTSON: No, the Prime Minister did exactly the right thing; you have to remind people what we’ve been doing. This is… Well, it’s a campaign and we probably got into it a little later than we have in the past, but when you’re there, you’ve got to be out there and you’ve got to tell your story. So he did and while there was not a lot of people in the room when he spoke, the important thing was he got the message out and we would have distributed it to all the chancelleries around the world and it would have been distributed to every mission at the United Nations.

KATHLEEN PETTY (HOST): But we’ve believed a little less, lately, I think a lot people have observed and at least not with as much enthusiasm, perhaps as with previous governments.

COLIN ROBERTSON: That’s probably true. I think that’s a reflection around the world; the people are saying: “Look, this institution’s been in place, now, since 1945 and it’s not working as well as we hoped it to.” And that’s another why you have to get involved – if you want to fix it, you’ve got to be there. And the top table at the U.N. is the Security Council; it is the top table in terms of big peace and security issues around the world and the main players are there. There’s some who should be there that aren’t there – I’m thinking, in particular, of Japan, say, Germany, India and Brazil, who all want to have a seat on the Security Council. And that’ll be one of the issues that will probably come up in the next couple of years. The original members, of course, were the victors of the Second World War, but they send their best people – the Foreign minister of Russia, today, for example, is their former U.S. ambassador; there’s a number of issues that will come up at the table and then, there’s talk outside the table, where we can… we can play our interests forward, particularly, say, with China, the United States and with Russia.

Yes, we deserve a seat

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Excerpted From the Ottawa Citizen, Thursday, September 30

First, what the critics ignore is that it is not Harper who is seeking a seat on the Security Council but Canada. As prime minister, Harper is our principal spokesman. Next year it could well be Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae delivering the Canadian perspective.

Second, we’ve doubled our food aid to Africa since 2002, making us a leader in the G-8, and fulfilling a pledge made by Jean Chrétien. Canadian food aid is now completely “untied,” and we are on track to fully untying all of our aid by 2012.

But Canadians need to see that our aid is working, otherwise we risk skepticism about its utility and donor fatigue. After half a century, we have learned a lot about how to deliver development assistance. Putting in place rigorous accountability makes a lot of sense. We need to demonstrate, as Harper put it in the case of the Muskoka Initiative that we can, “measure progress, monitor results and ensure that funds intended for aid really contribute to a reduction in the mortality of mothers and children on a lasting basis.”

Third, we’ve always “tilted” towards Israel, especially in standing with Israel and other like-minded nations. We’ve always been against the double standard by which those nations in which there are few violations of human rights are condemned, while those in which such violations are part of a day-to-day system of government, are allowed to be the accusers and sponsors of resolutions like those targeting Israel around “Zionism as racism.”

In spite of a relentlessly hostile and ruthless neighborhood, Israel is a vibrant democracy whose people have turned desert into one of the most remarkably innovative nations in the world. We may not always agree with the actions and policies of its government, but with the Israeli people we make common cause.

Fourth, notwithstanding its ever-present “crisis of relevance,” the UN still counts. In his memoir, one of our most distinguished UN ambassadors remarked that the public sometimes assumes that the “endless debates replete with grievances, self-glorification, and vitriol” are a “tedious exercise in futility.” Yet this “caravanserai of conflicting interests and ideologies,” he continued, “can act as a catalyst in negotiations and settlements, which, ostensibly, have nothing whatever to do with the organization.”

The remarks are from The Making of a Peacemonger and its author is George Ignatieff, father of Michael Ignatieff. Bob Rae’s father, the impressive Saul Rae, also served with distinction as Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.

The United Nations matters. Its alphabet soup of specialized agencies deal with the big issues of global development including refugees, disease and famine. Their efforts remain essential even if their work is mostly unseen.

Read more:

On Prime Minister Harper’s UN Speech

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Canada AM: Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, told CTV’s Canada AM that Canada will be well-served by its strong history with the United Nations. Robertson said Canada has the “best little army” in the world, and once the Canadian Forces are clear of Afghanistan there will be a laundry list of missions they can assist with.

“As the day is long, there is going to be other crises around the world that are going to require the kind of capacity that Canada has developed, particularly in Afghanistan with years of peacekeeping. We have a good reputation,” he said.