Facing the geopolitical perils of being an ‘energy superpower’

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From Embassy Facing the geopolitical perils of being an ‘energy superpower’: Are the oil sands roping Canada into a dangerous game between China and the US? July 14, 2010 by Carl Meyer

“There will be forces in the US, especially those concerned with national security in Congress, the Pentagon and NSC, that will be quietly making the case for Canadian oil,” says former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who has also worked in public affairs for Petro-Canada’s International Assistance Corporation.

‘Indispensable Ally’? Better to be a ‘Reliable Partner’ published in The Mark

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July 12, 2010

If Canada wants effective foreign policy, we need a new approach and a strategic relationship with the United States.

“The ultimate narrative of the new multipolar era will not be written for decades. Will the U.S. decline in the way of the British Empire? Will China’s rise burn out in the way of Japan? Will they stand above the rest in a functional dual-superpower system? We simply don’t know, which is why Canada needs to hedge its bet on the U.S. and make new friends elsewhere, while deepening our relationship with our best friend.” – from “United States: The Burning Platform,” Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age

Writing a foreign policy review in a foreign ministry is like a visit from Harry Potter’s dementors: the energy is sucked out of the system. It inevitably becomes an exercise in corporate justification and an effort to rationalize the current state of affairs, rather than innovate.

Written by a committee and subject to a thousand compromises, the tone is aspirational and the language is couched in the conditional and the subjunctive. Smart officers soon learn that any really good idea drowns in a sea of banality, political correctness, and faddism. The gestation period is twice as long as anticipated. “Experts” are called in for a re-write. No one is happy with the final product. In content and context, it too often resembles an orphan turd floating at the top of the toilet bowl. Quickly flushed into oblivion by the regretful commissioning minister or his successor, the review finds an after-life in the dissecting chambers of academe. They ascribe too much value to it, clamour for more, and thus begins a new cycle that leads to … another foreign policy review.

The Open Canada report released by the Canadian International Council is none of these things, and should enjoy a much different fate. Indeed, it obviates the need for a foreign policy review because the foreign ministry, and the 23 other ministries that have a hand in international policy development and delivery, can react to these fresh and provocative ideas.

Principal author Edward Greenspon is a stylist whose prose is easy to digest. The group of Generation Xers that co-signed the document are not the usual suspects, rather a shrewd selection of those just coming into their own. In a clever, pragmatic solution to the challenge of consensus, the bar for signature was sensible – co-signers only had to concur with 80% of the final report. The Great and the Good – including the practicing doyen of Canada-U.S. relations, Allan Gotlieb – were consulted and appropriately referenced in the report’s acknowledgements. Prime ministers, of course, would do well to remember Gotlieb’s advice on foreign policy reviews: “Don’t study foreign policy. Conduct it. And justify it when you stand in Parliament and when your party goes to the polls.”

This document provides a lot to chew on. The game-changers that formed this piece sound the alarm starting with the potential impact of the United States decline on Canada. Their prescriptions are forthright. Open Canada reminds Canadians that moralism is not a policy and that a country that speaks loudly and carries a little stick has no weight. As such, we need to plan and make it a Team Canada effort because “the line between domestic and international has blurred to the point of being almost meaningless.” Further, once a plan is made, Canada must stick to it, since we are seen by many, particularly Latin America and Africa, as fair-weather friends.

The recommendations regarding Canada’s relations to the United States are sensible; while Open Canada favours a “‘big bang”’ approach that would create a customs union with the United States, it recognizes that that road will require a series of “little bangs” to build confidence. It draws from a lot of prevailing wisdom and past practice. For example, Open Canada underlines the value of building consensus at the grass roots, which was the premise behind the Canada-United States Smart Border Accord. It suggests a joint approach to border infrastructure and sharing common space at gateways, drawing on the work of the Chamber of Commerce and a very good study by former Ambassador Michael Kergin and my former Embassy colleague, Birgit Matthiesen, who is now with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Promoting labour mobility will be easier when the guilds – doctors and lawyers and other professions – adopt joint recognition of standards. Standards today are like the tariffs of yesterday – an impediment to the flow of goods and services. The Government of Canada should unilaterally declare mutual recognition of new standards, especially as they relate to health and safety.

While I like the sound of “indispensable ally,” it has about it the whiff of Arthur Meighen’s too-sure “ready, aye ready” – an earlier misadventure, led by the British, in the Near East that Canada did well to avoid. Every generation or so, America goes into crusader mode, as John Quincy Adams warned long ago, “in search of monsters to destroy.” Vietnam and Iraq are salutary reminders that the Canadian penchant for sober second thought is a useful habit. “Reliable partner” would be a more appropriate moniker for Canada in dealings with the U.S., since Americans put a higher priority on national security while our principal interest is in market access and a border that gives easy access to people and encourages the flow of goods.

Life with Uncle Sam can be frustrating. Too often we play our hand too defensively. Complaints and whining usually guarantee a series of increasingly irrelevant diplomatic notes that wind up in the dead letter box at Foggy Bottom.

There are really only three things to know when dealing with the Americans:

First, situate your ask into their agenda. America’s Founding Fathers created a system of brokerage politics with checks and balances designed to frustrate radical change. For that reason, Canada should frame its issues as part of an American debate. When it becomes “Canada versus the U.S.”, the only place we can be reasonably certain of victory is on the hockey rink. Our success rate rises if it is championed by American allies. Never forget that, on almost any issue, there are always more Americans who think like Canadians, than there are Canadians; yet another reflection of our asymmetry.

Second, think big. Americans like big ideas, especially those that have a national security dimension. This helped us achieve both the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

Third, be very well prepared. When America eventually puts its mind to a problem, they play hardball. As former Ambassador Frank McKenna observed in Washington, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”

Commentary on sharing passenger manifests from Regina Leader Post

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Excerpts from U.S. pressure not surprising By Pamela Roth, Leader-Post; with files from Canwest News Service June 30, 2010

Colin Robertson isn’t surprised the United States is pressuring Canada to comply with a program that would give airline passenger information to the U.S. government — even if those passengers aren’t landing on American soil.

Robertson, a former diplomat and head of the Advocacy Secretariat in Canada’s Washington embassy, has been monitoring America’s preoccupation with security since 9-11, and said the U.S. has pressed other nations to adopt its Secure Flight program, which requires airlines to submit personal information about passengers 72 hours before a flight’s departure….

“It would make travel more onorous and not as much fun, but it’s not some kind of plot designed against Canadians,” said Robertson, a former Reginan. “The Americans have been applying this to most places and we’ve been catching up,”

“It will affect us more than anybody else because we have much more to do with the U.S. Americans want to know who’s coming through their airspace and that’s their right. If that’s what the Americans are asking for, that’s what we’ll be giving them.”

Read more.

The end of North American Trilateralism?

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From Macleans.ca The end of North American trilaterism Harmonization was once all the rage, but under Obama the initiative appears dead by Luiza Ch. Savage on Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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.

A primer to the G8/20

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A Canadian Primer to the G8/20 Toronto and Huntsville Summits

National Post, June 23, 2010

What is a summit?

The term ‘summit’ was coined by Winston Churchill for face-to-face diplomatic encounters between leaders. Summitry is predicated upon the idea that better personal relations between leaders can yield diplomatic benefits or as Churchill put it, ‘jaw-jaw’ is better than ‘war-war’. This was particularly important during the Cold War when the intent was to encourage the leaders of the Soviet Union and United States to reach for the red telephone rather than the red button.

The summitry industry is booming as never before and in colour and content resembles a medieval caravan. Cocooned in security and pomp, last year was a record for the conference set – leaders and their delegations, the fixers – hoteliers, chefs and chauffeurs, and the spin doctors who play the media. The camp followers are a rainbow of big and small organizations representing a kaleidoscope of causes,  with more than a couple of loonies to provide colour and a photo-op for the paparazzi.

The G7/8 began as six in 1975 when French president Giscard D’Estaing invited the US, Japan, UK, Germany, Italy to Rambouillet to talk international politics and economics in the wake of the Arab oil shocks. Thanks to US president Gerald Ford, Canada was invited to the 1976 meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Russians began attending in the nineties and were formally included in 1997.

The G20, originally a meeting of finance ministers, their deputies and central bankers, was formed in 1999 in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. Paul Martin was a key architect. They began meeting at the head of government level in November, 2008 when President Bush convened them in Washington to deal with the economic crisis. Since then, the G20 leaders have been meeting twice a year (London in April, 2009, Pittsburgh in October 2009 and this November in Seoul).

Before the annual June meeting of G8 leaders, their principal advisors – called ‘sherpas’ – tour the world to tee up agenda and draft the communiqués. Feeding into the process are supplementary meetings that begin in January involving foreign and finance ministers, their deputy ministers and central bankers, as well as ministers of the environment, labor, tourism and development.

The leaders’ discussion is carefully planned and the communiques are drafted in advance of the meetings. Nonetheless, the intent is to give leaders an opportunity to put aside their scripts and engage in free-wheeling discussion. Unanticipated events, like the London bus bombing during the Gleneagles summit in 2005, also influence proceedings and, in that situation, focused leaders’ attention on terrorism. Unanticipated changes in the principals (Julia Gillard replacing the deposed Kevin Rudd as Australian prime minister yesterday) and early departures (last year China’s Hu Jintao left early to deal with the Uighurs) also affect the dynamic.

The summit meetings are a bit like a Russian doll. There is the G8 at the core, then the G8 plus various combinations of countries and organizations (eg. UN, IMF, World Bank) depending on the subject, gradually expanding until all the G20 players plus other invitees are sitting round the table on the final day. Meanwhile, a series of ‘pull-asides’ and ‘bi-laterals’ between the leaders, sometimes spontaneous and sometimes planned, is also taking place.

In advance of the meetings later this week, there was a G(irls)-20 summit to focus on the Millenium Development goals organized by Belinda Stronach, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. A B(usiness)-20 summit facilitated by Canadian Council of Chief Executives  CEO John Manley and Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty will be held concurrent with the leaders summit. Meanwhile, there will also be various civil society gatherings in and around Toronto, including a ‘Faith and Business Summit’ that will feature Karl Rove.

Do we really need a G20?

Yes. Henry Kissinger has described 2009 as the year when the new world order began as the United States, arguably for the first time since the Second World War, was obliged to recognize that its economic strength was no longer sufficient to go it alone. The G-8 had already become eclipsed by the rise of China and India. Today the G-20 accounts for 80% world trade and GNP.

There will be debate on the exit ramp from stimulus. President Obama is worried that drastic austerity measures in Europe will choke global growth, strangle recovery and create a double dip similar to that experienced in 1937. Last week’s British budget that slashed some budgets by 25%  – similar to what Canada did in the mid 90s to escape what the Wall Street Journal called a flirtation with ‘Third Worldom’. Every country has different domestic political demands, and that is what drives decision-making. Yet there is acknowledgment, if not acceptance, that globalization obliges greater coordination and the requirement to ‘hang together’ lest they hang separately – thus Germany’s intervention, however reluctant, in saving Greece.

There will be discussion about increasing the representation beyond the traditional donors on the IMF and World Bank. A tax on banking transactions as insurance against future bank failures has been a running discussion with France, Germany, Britain and the United States favoring a tax and the most of the rest, including Canada, Australia, China, India and Brazil, saying in varying degrees that it is not necessary if the proper regulatory regime is in place at the national level. Capital and liquidity levels for banks have already been raised in most jurisdictions as well as regulations and legislation to make more transparent the now notorious derivative trading and credit swaps.

There is the larger debate about what the New York Times’ David Brooks describes as the struggle between democratic capitalism and state capitalism and the emergence of sovereign wealth funds. This also raises questions around the future of the market economy and the regulatory power of states, especially in nexus of the energy sector, the environment and climate change.

What is the aim of these summits?

This year’s “to do” list is similar to that of last year:  resuscitate the global economy as it heads unevenly to an exit ramp of deficit control from the biggest stimulus package in world history, take stock of the Eurozone’s effort to contain the Greek contagion, and advance freer trade in what is now the longest running trade negotiations.

If this isn’t enough the leaders will also discuss how to save the planet from climate change, keep the increasing millions of mouths fed, watered and free of pandemics; keep the lid on terrorism and crime (drugs and people smuggling); and, though we’re not sure how, to prevent everything going up in a nuclear cloud. The devil is in the detail and it is often in the small, unreported bits that incremental progress is made. There is, participants also agree, real value in the informal discussions between leaders – getting the measure of one another – than in the set-piece presentations.

What about deliverables?

Don’t expect a lot – these meetings have become a continuum of ongoing dialogue on the big picture issues of the day. But in terms of leaders’ summits – these are the most important.

In anticipation that they would be on the hot seat, the Chinese signaled last week that they will allow their currency to begin to move upwards against the dollar although by how much and how soon will be the questions raised in Toronto. The yuan is currently pegged at 6.83 per U.S. dollar. The last time it was allowed to float (2005-8) its value rose 21%.

Last year, Prime Minister Harper argued successfully for ‘accountability’ in the promises made by the summiteers. On Sunday a document was released on behalf of the G8 that, surprise, surprise, says the promises have been generally kept, notwithstanding the pressures of the recession. The US, Russia, and Italy dodge providing a figure but confirm their aspirational intentions. In terms of ODA as a percentage of GDP the others assess themselves as follows: UK .6%, France .46%, Germany .4%, Canada 0.33%.  The EU has pledged to reach .7% by 2015. The report also says Canada doubled its aid to Africa by 2009 and is on target to double its foreign aid by 2011 and to untie all food aid by 2012.

At Davos, Mr. Harper said he would make maternal and child health his priority. Unfortunately for him it got caught up in a debate on whether family planning would include funding of abortions. The ‘Muskoka Initiative’ will likely result in significant commitments by G8 nations as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and this will help momentum leading into September’s United Nations stocktaking summit in New York on Millennium Development Goals to end poverty.

The G-8 will also take stock of nuclear non-proliferation with a focus on Iran and North Korea. President Obama has said that nuclear proliferation is the one issue that keeps him awake at night and in April he hosted what for an American president was the biggest gathering of foreign leaders in Washington at the Nuclear Security Summit. Earlier this month the UN Security Council voted to impose new sanctions that target Iranian banks suspected of connections with nuclear or missile programme, expand the arms embargo and call for a cargo inspection regime.

Why do they cost so much?

Security costs have ballooned and this week’s summits are estimated at nearly a billion dollars. security forces alone number in the thousands – remember the quonset hut picture outside Huntsville? Security chiefs have cowed conference organizers into providing a degree of protection that can border on absurdity, as we’ve seen with the uprooted saplings on Toronto streets for fear they be used as clubs. The necessity of providing security in two places – Huntsville (G8) and downtown Toronto (G20) – means future G8/20 will likely be held in the same location.

No one wants a bang on their doorsteps and no one wants to forbid ‘democratic’ protest. The raggle-taggle crowd, of high-minded do-gooders and anti this-and-that’s, realize that if they can create a ruckus and incite the authorities to bang a few heads and spray tear-gas (remember the Vancouver APEC ‘pepper spray’ conference in November 1997 or the Quebec City Americas summit in April, 2001) they will achieve the publicity that fuels media attention and fundraising.

Leaders don’t help matters with their insistence on bringing large entourage of advisors. Then there are the media that accompany them – the estimate is that there will be over 2000 at Toronto. At the Montebello summit (1981), the first Canadian summit, Pierre Trudeau limited delegations to principals plus 15. The rest were obliged to stay in Ottawa. The leaders all liked the informality and spending time alone. Collectively, they spent 16 hours together at Montebello (now the collective time is around 3 hours). Jean Chretien made an effort to re-establish this approach when he hosted his first summit, at Halifax in 1995. The scaled back the trappings and entourage earned it the sobriquet ‘Chevrolet Summit’.

Does Canada make a difference?

We certainly have the capacity to make a difference and to be a helpful fixer. Our bilingualism and pluralism also give us a feel for nuance and sensitivity in seeking solutions to problems. We belong to most of the multilateral clubs, including two in which the US is not a member – the Francophonie and Commonwealth. Together, they give us a valuable voice and ear into much of Asia and Africa. Recently we have begun to pay more, although not enough, attention to Mexico and Latin America.

History, geographic propinquity, economic integration and culture (what for the rest of the world is football we call soccer) has also given us the capacity to be an ‘interpreter’ of the US to the rest and of the rest to the US. This matters, as the US is still the paramount world power with a track record of remarkable resiliency in time of crisis. However, the schizophrenia of our own relationship with the US can also bring out the worst in our diplomatic temperament – that of a scold and nag, or what former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson (whose mother was Canadian) once described as the ‘stern voice of the daughter of God’.

But when we are on our game, we are informed, a constructive conscience, consensual and acting especially as a bridge between developed and developing nations. At the summit table our performance comes down to leadership and personal relationships. Over the years, we have come up with useful initiatives, including Pierre Trudeau on North-South, Brian Mulroney on South Africa, Jean Chretien on Africa, Paul Martin on the creation of the G-20 and now,  Stephen Harper on maternal and child health.



Take care of uranium from ‘cradle to grave’

Colin Robertson

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail April 13, 2010

Nuclear proliferation is the one issue that has kept every U.S. president since Harry Truman awake at night. Today in Washington, President Barack Obama continues his nuclear security and proliferation summitry with leaders from more than 40 nations (with two notable absentees – North Korea and Iran). Prime Minister Stephen Harper has put proliferation on the agenda of the G8/20 sessions that Canada will host in June. And yesterday, after meeting with the President, he announced a Canada-U.S. entente to further secure inventories of spent highly enriched uranium. It’s a welcome return to a file on which every postwar Canadian prime minister eventually comes to play a constructive role.

Canada is a uranium superpower. Mines in northern Saskatchewan provide nearly a quarter of the world’s production. Nuclear power is going to be part of the global energy solution. For example, it is France’s main source of electricity.

The challenge is what to do with the spent fuel and the byproduct plutonium, the vital ingredient in making nuclear bombs.

Therein lies an opportunity for another Canadian initiative that would be a real game-changer in the high-stakes world of nuclear proliferation: Declare our stewardship of Canadian uranium and its byproducts from “cradle to grave.” As the Prime Minister told a news conference yesterday, “It’s our view that the best thing for all countries to do – not just ourselves – is to return such material to their countries of origin.”

Invite the other uranium producers – Australia is the next biggest producer – to follow suit. International solidarity among the producer states would effectively close the proliferation loop. Put this on the table at the June summits with a suitable mix of incentives for those “steward nations” who will inevitably have to care for more than their own uranium (other producers include Kazakhstan and Niger). International action on the containment of blood diamonds is an example of how effective management and solidarity by the producers can change the dynamic.

Containing proliferation has been a consistent thread and driver in Canadian foreign policy. We developed expertise and experience at the United Nations through the diplomatic brilliance of ambassadors whose last names included Ignatieff and Rae. British historian Denis Brogan shrewdly observed of Canadian policy: “The basic Canadian relationship is not either with the United States or with the United Kingdom but with the world of the hydrogen bomb. The very fact that Canada is now one of the treasure houses of the world makes the naive isolationship of the inter-war years … impossible. A uranium-producing country cannot be neutral.”

Over the years, we earned both place and standing on the nuclear file. Transforming our uranium into plutonium at our Chalk River laboratories made us a partner in the development of the atomic bomb. We became the first nation to voluntarily turn down membership in the nuclear club, although, sensibly, we once kept U.S. bombs on our soil in deference to our collective security commitments.

We led in the peaceful use of nuclear power with the development of the Candu reactor and shared it, despite our later disappointment with Indian perfidy. We led in the civil-society movement. The first meeting of concerned scientists in Pugwash, N.S., gave its name to a peace movement that, like its sister, Project Ploughshares, endures. With the end of the Cold War, much of the steam has gone out of the peace movement although its spiritual heirs have found a new home with the green movement around the debate on climate change. Too bad, because nuclear proliferation is still a clear and present danger that requires the voice of civil society. For a graphic portrayal of the problem, watch the new documentary Countdown to Zero.

Canada continues to play a useful role on disarmament – for example, through the disposition of excess weapons-grade plutonium from the former Soviet Union in support of the Nunn-Lugar threat-reduction initiative. There are challenges around security and transport of the noxious material and Canadians such as Franklyn Griffiths have already done useful and cautionary research.

In the wake of this week’s summit, we can report at the G8/20 about the safe conduct and storage of spent fuel and its byproducts, drawing on the new Canada-U.S. project and our previous experience. The International Atomic Energy Agency could take on responsibility for the safe passage of the spent fuel back to the source country. Monitoring of nuclear reactors is its responsibility and it has long experience in detecting scofflaws as we latterly appreciated in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

This initiative will require broad consultation at home and abroad. There is a strong moral argument in support of the proposal: As the producer, we have some obligation to take back what we produce and give it a permanent home, perhaps in the same ground from where it was mined. Costing will be an important consideration and should be worked into the pricing at the outset. But peace of mind on proliferation is beyond price. And what a worthwhile Canadian initiative it would be.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, is a distinguished senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

A review of In Roosevelt’s Bright Shadow: Presidential Addresses about Canada from Taft to Obama in Honour of FDR’s 1938 Speech at Queen’s University, edited by Arthur Milnes, and At Home and Abroad: The Canada-U.S. Relationship and Canada’s Place in the World, by Patrick Lennox

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Excerpted from The Literary Review of Canada April 2010 Review of P. Lennox and A. Milne

The back cover of In Roosevelt’s Bright Shadow displays a picture of Peter Milliken, Speaker of the House of Commons, presenting a special prepublication copy of the same book to President Barack Obama in the splendidly restored Parliamentary Library when he visited Ottawa last year. Obama then received a second copy later that day from M.P. Bob Rae.

The book contains the speeches given by American presidents in Canada and Canadian prime ministers in the United States, and the careful editing by journalist-scholar Arthur Milnes gives readers the continuum of the relationship for the last century. Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press (2009) in honour of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1938 Speech at Queen’s University, it is another addition to the Centre for the Study of Democracy’s Library of Political Leadership. In its 227 pages are contained a century’s essence of Canadian-American relations, seen through the official words of our leaders. Patterns emerge.

From the American side, securing their homeland has always been the dominant and abiding concern. Until the Civil War gave them a muscular and tested military, Canada, as adjunct of the British Empire, was viewed as a potential threat. Contingency plans for a Canadian invasion were kept on file until early in the 20th century.  Roosevelt’s unequivocal “assurance that the people of the United States will not stand idly by if domination by Canadian soil is threatened by any other Empire” set the course for an enduring partnership. It begins with the Ogdensburg Agreement of 1940 that created the binational Permanent Joint Board of Defence and then the 1941 Hyde Park Agreement coordinating economic resources. In the years after the war, most of the special joint economic agencies were, in Truman’s words, “quietly disbanded with a minimum of disturbance” – an early example of the relationship’s practical ‘functionalism’.

But the Soviet threat, especially after its acquisition of the atomic bomb and the capacity to deliver it by plane or missile, obliged a closer security cooperation. Canada became the potential new ‘front-line’. For mutually advantageous reasons we created a binational ‘umbrella’ in NORAD. Technological developments resulted in evolving iterations under this mutual defence pact -– BOMARC and the DEW line, to the decisions to accept the cruise missile. Later, to the surprise of both the Americans, and many senior officials, including our then just-named U.S. ambassador, Frank McKenna, and Chief of Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, we decided not to participate in ballistic missile defence.

Participating in collective security through the Atlantic community (NATO) as well as the United Nations, was not nearly as domestically contentious. It also fit comfortably with Canadian sensibilities and our preference for multilateralism. 

A second theme in the presidential speeches is the ongoing encouragement for Canada to become more involved in the Americas, first as an observer in the Organization of American States and later as a full member. Americans have always had a natural concern about their ‘backyard’ even before the 1823 Monroe doctrine asserted that further colonization of the western hemisphere was off-limits. Notwithstanding our longstanding trade and commercial relationship in the Caribbean or the missionary presence in Haiti, Canadian governments, until Brian Mulroney, were surprisingly slow to appreciate the importance of presence and engagement in the region, especially Mexico, in terms of the American relationship.

A third subject is the American delight in the big project, especially the big engineering project. Thus the continuing references to the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Alaska Highway, the Trans-Canada pipeline or the Columbia River project. As the celebrated Chicago architect Daniel Burnham put it a century ago, “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Therein lies a lesson for Canadian diplomacy. Presidents have scant interest in what George W. Bush described as ‘small ball’. Condoleezza Rice complained of the Canadian tendency to bring up the ‘condominium issues’ – a hassle at a port of entry or a dispute around wheat or potatoes – rather than to lead with the big picture perspective on security and economics, drawing from Canada’s international diplomatic network.

The Canadian speeches reveal a different pattern of interest. Trade and economic issues around access to the American market clearly dominate. It will come as a surprise to many Canadians that since the negotiation of the Auto Pact in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson was president, we do better at avoiding protectionism when a Republican is president.  It was Richard Nixon who granted us an exemption from the 1971 surcharge. Ronald Reagan’s dream of a free trade agreement stretching across the Americas began with the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement of 1988. George H.W. Bush granted us an exemption from steel action in 1992 and George W. Bush went to the mat with GOP senators Saxby Chambliss and Trent Lott over the most recent lumber accord. Notably, though, Bill Clinton did ratify the NAFTA, with the labor and environmental safeguards, and we secured Open Skies during his administration. The reciprocity agreement on procurement just negotiated with the Obama administration is a return to the approach begun under Roosevelt with the Reciprocal Trade Agreements of 1936 and 1939.

A second theme from the Canadian prime ministers is encouragement for the Americans to partner in stewardship of our shared land and air and the effort to clean up the Great Lakes, to eliminate acid rain and to address the North. Our current approach to climate change, where we have apparently decided to both hang back and then move in tandem with the United States, is a surprising departure from previous policy. Experience suggests we do best when we take the initiative and offer bold solutions and play on the international table as well as bilaterally.

A third, and important, concern is our quest for binational and bilateral institutions – beginning with the now century-old International Joint Commission – to provide an agreed set of rules for procedure. These provide both assurance and confidence, especially for business, commerce and investment, as they level the playing field to a large extent. 

There are many gems contained in In Roosevelt’s Bright Shadow including Ronald Reagan’s defence of the seal hunt and George H.W. Bush on the thrill of fishing for Arctic char. But two are required reading. Bill Clinton’s defence of federalism and the six questions he poses as a test of federalism at the Forum of the Federations Mont-Tremblant conference in October 1999 has continuing currency. So does the lesson on the American constitution delivered by the junior senator from Massachusetts at the University of Montreal in December 1953. Canadian policy-makers frustrated by the machinations of the American system would do well to read this speech, especially this passage:

Our constitutional founders believed that liberty could be preserved only when the motions of government were slow, the power divided, and tie provided for the wisdom of the people to operate against precipitous and ill-considered action. The delegates believed that they were sacrificing efficiency for liberty. They believed, in the words of James Madison, who in his middle thirties was the most vigorous figure in Philadelphia that they were “so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations…be the means of keeping each other in their proper places.” (151)

The author? John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy would later enunciate what is still the pithiest statement on the Canadian-American relationship to a joint session of Parliament in May, 1961, shortly after he assumed the presidency: “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.” (80)

Keeping that relationship on an even keel is an ongoing challenge, especially for Canada. The burden of primacy means that the United States is preoccupied by crisis abroad and when it comes to the neighbourhood, the problems come from the south – the long-running quarrel with Castro, the frustrations with Chavez and the concern over the fate of Calderone and his existential civil war with the drug cartels. Canada isn’t really a problem and out of sight usually means out of mind. Thus the Canadian challenge of dealing with the hegemon.

Another gold – this one for the premiers: In Canada-U.S. relations, we need every level of government ready to play

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Globe and Mail  Monday, Mar. 08, 2010

The Vancouver Olympics and the hockey rivalry between Canada and the United States was the centre of attention in recent weeks. But off the ice, and mostly out of sight, we achieved a joint gold when premiers met with governors at the National Governors Association in Washington.

Their discussions on jobs and competitiveness, energy and the environment marked a new level in our engagement and underline the value and necessity for provincial involvement in management of the American relationship.

Personal relations between premiers and governors matter. Four of the last six presidents were governors. President Barack Obama served in the Illinois state legislature before his election to the U.S. Senate. Key portfolios in his cabinet are held by former governors, including Arizona’s Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security),Washington’s Gary Locke (Commerce),  Kansas’s Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services), and Iowa’s Tom Vilsack (Agriculture). Vilsack  met with the premiers as did EPA Director Lisa Jackson and White House Economic Advisor, Larry Summers.

Most of our trade problems in the United States start locally: Ranchers in Montana who can’t compete with Alberta’s feedlot alley; timber lot owners in the south who want to curb Canadian lumber imports; Maine farmers who want PEI potatoes kept out of the U.S.

Propelled into Congress, these complaints turn into protectionist legislation. They take a variety of forms – country of origin labelling to outright regulations mandating “Buy America.” Traditionally, we’ve relied on our embassy to find redress through the State Department and White House and, in recent years, by taking our case to Congress.

While Quebec had an office to promote tourism, Washington was until recently off-limits to the provinces because we felt we had to speak with one voice. But the American system works on different principles. What is important is that we be heard, using multiple voices to deliver the same message.

Just as the national government developed capacity and gradually assumed responsibility for foreign policy in the half-century after Confederation, so today the provincial governments have come into their own. There is now an acknowledgment of their constitutional responsibilities, if not appreciation of their role in trade and commerce, energy and the environment. The premiers’ Washington meetings began with a dinner hosted by Ambassador Gary Doer. As Manitoba premier, Mr. Doer broke new ground in lobbying Congress on Devils Lake and reaching out to governors.

The American relationship has never been defined in classical foreign-policy terms. Resolving problems requires the involvement of different levels of government, with provinces increasingly taking the initiative.

Take the recently negotiated agreement on government procurement. At Council of the Federation meetings in Regina last August, the premiers proposed a reciprocity agreement with the states. In Washington, governors and premiers began working out the practical applications. Each of them understands the need to get more bang for their buck in an era of restraint.

All the while, they worked their case at what are now regular, regional meetings. The most vigorous of the regional associations is the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). Driven by legislators in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and now Saskatchewan, its success is based on finding practical solutions to real problems. Sustained by a permanent secretariat based in Seattle, its agenda is focused on results and it brings to the table the executive, legislators, business, labour and civil society.

Anticipating Olympic headaches at the border, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and B.C.’s Gordon Campbell came up with the idea of the smart drivers’ licence as an alternative to the passport at the land border. PNWER ran with it and convinced Homeland Security to regulate the change. Smart drivers’ licences are now being rolled out by other provinces and border states.

States and provinces are incubators for pragmatic change. Keeping the Great Lakes waters clean and diversion-free has depended on action by the adjacent states and provinces. The Western Climate Initiative, involving four Canadian provinces and half a dozen American states, is already offering practical experience in cap and trade. So is the Pacific Coast Collaborative on green ports and smart grids, while Saskatchewan is collaborating with Montana and North Dakota on carbon sequestration.

In hockey, we need different lines. So it is with Canada-U.S. relations, where we need to use all of our elected talent playing at every level of government. Making the case with the administration on Capitol Hill and with states is a permanent campaign. It requires a thousand points of contact if we are to put the puck in the net for Canada.

Colin Robertson is a former diplomat and first head of the Advocacy Secretariat in Canada’s Washington embassy.

Sustaining our Forces

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Sustaining our armed forces after leaving Afghanistan  COLIN ROBERTSON From Monday’s Calgary Herald January 11, 2010
Once more, the Canadian government faces financial challenges. As Prime Minister Stephen
Harper said in his Boxing Day interview with CTV news, the path to the black will involve a new
era of “fiscal discipline”. Get ready, he warned us, for five frugal years in terms of government

The squeeze on government budgets obliges prioritization. The lesson of “getting government
right” in the Chretien/Martin years meant that only the allocations for health care and First Nations
remained relatively unscathed.

Health care continues to be the elephant in the room, especially the retiring boomers put more
strain on the system that is already facing demands for pharmacare, electronic medical records
and a national child care initiative. Then there is education and teachers are a formidable lobby
group. Nor can we forget the environment — the green lobby, made more indignant by the failure
of Copenhagen. And the pressures of minority government further complicate the context for

In terms of positioning, the Canadian Armed Forces go into the budget battles better situated than
they were in the early 1990s when capacity was hollowed out. Canadians have connected to their
Armed Forces. The Forces are arguably our most popular public institution with a highly visible
presence through their work at home — ice storms, floods, Oka and overseas — most notably
Afghanistan. Perhaps the greatest asset of the Forces is their appeal to service and, as the DND
commercials put it — “to fight fear, to fight chaos, to fight distress.”

Yet the Forces have already become a target for budget cuts.

In a recent report, the left-leaning Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) argues that military
spending in Canada is disproportionately high — 10 per cent of government spending — and that it
sucks up money that could be used for other government programs, such as environmental
spending or foreign aid. They point to spending within NATO and argue that we now spend
slightly more than the average. They omit the fact that the U.S., with a population 10 times that of
Canada, spends 25 times as much as we do.

Nor do they acknowledge that we are obliged to provide security across five-and-a-half time
zones and that with the second largest land mass in the world, threats from space, the air and
sea will have a disproportionate impact on Canada. Would we rather have the Americans do it for
us? Serious countries invest in their defence and deterrent capacities. Collective security as well
as peacekeeping, also requires us to pull our weight.

The CPA proclaims that “the money that is spent on such missions could be used far more
effectively in development assistance and other humanitarian aid in other parts of the world.” The
authors are not alone in missing the obvious, as is illustrated in Tim Goddard’s poignant eulogy to
his daughter, the late Captain Nichola Goddard. Father and daughter were arguing over Michael
Ignatieff’s contention in his book, Empire Lite, that military force is required to permit the
reconstruction of civil society. When professor Goddard argued that education was the key to
development, Capt. Goddard replied: “You can’t do that when the bad guys run things, Dad, they
just shoot you. You have to have peace and good government in order for the rest to happen. I do
what I do so you can do what you do.”

Afghanistan has taught us many lessons including the reality that in failing states development
and diplomacy depend on security and hard power. Our Forces are remarkably versatile — we
earned a reputation as shock troops in the First World War and then peacekeepers in the Cold
War era. Today our Forces use their skills to create the conditions that allow diplomats to
negotiate a durable peace and our development program can build schools and hospitals and
train teachers and nurses. But we need to recognize that, notwithstanding our best efforts,
success ultimately depends on the people and their leaders to whom we lend a helping hand.

We’re back to the future in explaining what the Canadian Forces are about. The rediscovery of
our military heritage was overdue — we may not be a warlike nation but, when required, we are a
nation of warriors with a long and proud history that is finding a new appreciation in places like
the splendidly renovated Museums of the Military in Calgary.

Reaching out to Canadians is important. We need to understand how our Forces serve the
Canadian interest in defending Canada, as an effective partner in continental defence and as a
responsible ally with a capability to lead internationally, in part because of our interoperability with
our American neighbour.

The developments in the North are a parable for what is taking place around the world. The
maritime estate on which we claim jurisdiction is about 70 per cent of our land mass. The
changes in the ocean’s regulatory regime have changed more in the last 30 years as coastal
states extend their jurisdiction than in the last three centuries. The oceans carry 90 per cent of
global traffic including an estimated 40 per cent of Canadian trade. Our sovereignty and
prosperity depends on surveillance and security so that we know what is happening on our land
and seas and overhead in our skies.

Preserving the versatility necessary for our Armed Forces requires leadership and sustained
commitment. It will make demands on our financial resources. Are we prepared to make that

Colin Robertson is a senior research fellow with the Calgary-based Canadian Defence & Foreign
Affairs Institute and recently retired career Canadian diplomat. On Thursday, he will deliver the
2010 Ross Ellis memorial lecture on behalf of the U of C’s Centre for Military & Strategic Studies.

The American health care debate: an unfinished lesson in politicking

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Excerpted From Policy Options November 2009
The American health care debate: an unfinished lesson in politicking

Americans, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan told me many years ago, take their politics seriously, and to suggest otherwise is not to have read American history. At its extreme the health care debate pits rich against poor, seniors against youth, and exacerbates political polarization. It is about competition, cost and coverage with echoes of the culture wars in the debate on ‘alien rights’ and abortion. It can also be funny and informative — watch, for example, Will Ferrell’s viral video with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and other Hollywood celebs. It is politicking in the raw.

Obama has made health care his signature issue. Politically it is extraordinarily ambitious. It means taking on a sector that represents one-sixth of American GDP and interests that include the medical profession, the drug industry, insurers and seniors. Reform would change the lives of all Americans, especially the more than 133 million Americans living with chronic diseases and disabilities.

Obama aims to succeed where every president, going back to Teddy Roosevelt, has either faltered or failed.  Succeed and he will replenish his political capital and reverse his declining popularity, essential ingredients to continue his radical program of reform on climate change, education and immigration. Failure, as former President Clinton recently warned the Democratic caucus, increased the likelihood of significant setbacks in next year’s midterms with the spectre of the 1994 debacle when the Republicans won back both the House and Senate after the scuttling of the Clinton health care reforms.

With the health care campaign already saturating American airwaves, it will likely become the mother of all advocacy ad wars. According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, during the first half of 2009, there were roughly 47,000 TV ads on health care. Their cost was nearly double what the insurance industry spent in 1993 and 1994 for the famous “Harry and Louise” ads, which helped kill ‘Hillarycare’.

Canadians’ confidence in our own health care system could suffer collateral damage as a result of the no-holds-barred fight south of the border. It could also send the wrong message to potential investors and immigrants who hitherto have rightly seen Canadian Medicare as a lure for settlement.

When I was in California as our consul-general and did talk radio, I could always count on at least one apocryphal story about a mythical person who had died from “cheap Canadian drugs.” The questioning was predictable: “What about those ‘bad’ generic drugs that you have to use?” My response was equally predictable: That we use the same generic drugs, usually imported from Ireland or India, and we buy in bulk, like the Veterans Administration. That many of the clinical trials on the drugs that we both use are done by Canada’s university research hospitals.  And that health care research is as integrated as car-making in finding the cures for whatever ails us. And did you know that the infant mortality rate in the US is significantly higher than in Canada, and that American mothers are much more likely to die in childbirth? Or that our seniors live longer?

As we witnessed over e-health in Ontario, the early communications around H1N1 immunization, and overdue remedial action on intellectual property, we have some improvements to make. Yet overall, we have good reason to be proud and confident in our system and to utilize it as an asset when we make the case for Canada to immigrants and investors.

As Canadians begin the annual migration south to Palm Springs, Scottsdale and Miami, they will inevitably face the same kind of questions that I encountered, especially as the American debate approaches what Obama hopes will be the finish line. Our snowbirds need a brief primer on the Canadian system. It should underline the basic principles – public, portable, universal and comprehensive – and address the mythology. Production of such a primer would be a useful public service of our health care profession. On the golf course, watching the ball games, over dinner and drinks – in these situations standing up for Canada makes sense.  Americans will expect it. And who knows, maybe our friends and neighbours will listen and draw some salutary lessons from real Canadian experience.