Benefits of Empire: A review of Matthew Lange’s Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power

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Excerpts from the Literary Review of Canada September 2009

As a young boy I collected stamps, a hobby I shared with my paternal grandmother. Every Saturday we would delve into a black trunk full of stamps – a legacy of my grandfather, who had died on the operating table in 1944, while my father was serving in the RCAF. Amongst my favourites was the two penny Canadian ‘XMAS 1898’ featuring a map of the world with the British possessions inked in red. Its inscription: ‘We hold a vaster empire than has being’ was drawn from Sir Lewis Morris’ Song of Empire, an ode written for Queen Victoria’s 1887 Silver Jubilee. The map, a Mercator projection that made the Empire look even bigger, was based on a design by Sir George Parkin, then principal of Upper Canada College (and maternal great-grandfather to Michael Ignatieff).

The stamp is testimony to one of the advantages of Empire –  the Imperial Penny Post, a ‘freer trade’ idea to lower the tariff on postage to two pence within the wider Empire. Proposed at the 1898 London Postal Conference by Canadian Postmaster General, William Mulock, it caught the imagination of British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain. Chamberlain saw it as another means of cementing imperial ties at a time when writing letters was as popular, at least amongst the elite, as today’s e-mail. As historian Peter Waite’s tale in the Beaver (December 2007) records, Muloch triumphantly sent the first letter bearing Parkin’s map on Christmas Day 1898 to his British counterpart, the Duke of Norfolk.

It was, arguably, yet another example of the kind of positive imperial initiative that gave meaning to one of our enduring colonial legacies, our constitutional mantle of ‘peace, order and good government’. It is the colonial legacy that McGill sociologist Matthew Lange examines in Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power…

My own experience in colonial Hong Kong, especially in the period after Tiananmen Square, suggested that the vast majority of Hong Kongers, if they had been permitted a vote, would have happily chosen to retain colonial rule. The vast majority, after all, had already voted with their feet when they left the Mainland and crossed into Hong Kong. Indeed, the fences in the northern territories, manned by the celebrated Gurhkas, were there to keep the flow at bay although the British devised, at least in the early years after Mao consolidated his hold, a kind of Darwinian safe touch policy whereby if you made it to the island you were considered ‘home free’. Is it any wonder that Milton Friedman considered Hong Kong the epitome of free enterprise?

When considering the developmental impact of institutions, however, it is also worth noting that adopting either the Westminster model or its American derivative is clearly not enough to guarantee success.  With some notable exceptions, including Hong Kong and Singapore, post-colonial states in Asia, Africa and Latin America have mostly failed to achieve levels of growth or political stability associated with the United States or the ‘old Dominions’ such as Canada and Australia.

In a celebrated 1994 interview in Foreign Affairs, Singapore’s founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, provided his own explanation for the state’s unusual success.  He attributed it to ‘Confucian values’ and lectured the West on its failures, arguing that “We use the family to push economic growth. We were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop: the belief in thrift, hard work, filial piety and loyalty and the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning.”Lee Kwan Yew is right –  at least in his larger argument that culture does matter.

The late American political scientist Samuel Huntington had a similar view, arguing in favour of the centrality of culture in shaping institutions and, subsequently, political outcome. In Who are We? Huntington (p.59) asked: “Would America be the America it is today if in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.”

Frank Fukuyama points out that successful governance also depends on religious and cultural traditions. In an essay in his edited Explaining the Development Gap Between the United States and Latin America (2007), Fukuyama argues that “the informal matrix of norms, beliefs, values, traditions, and habits that constitute a society are critical for the proper functioning of formal institutions, and a political science that pays attention only to the design of formal institutions and fails to understand normative and cultural factors will fail.”

While Lange doesn’t deal with the ‘old dominions’ the British experience, especially in America, had a significant influence on its governance patterns in the rest of the empire. The debacle in 1783 at Yorktown, where “almost barefoot,” British officers behaved like “whipped schoolboys” while the British military band played a dirge titled “The World Turned Upside Down” significantly changed British colonial strategy. Canada became the first beneficiary with the Quebec Act’s recognition of diversity in language and religion. A similar pragmatism influenced the substantial self-rule that was subsequently conceded to Canada and other white-settler dominions…

see also comment Re: “Benefits of Empire” by Colin Robertson

Our chance to get back in Uncle Sam’s embrace: Canada’s new ambassador has his work cut out for him

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The appointment of Gary Doer as our next ambassador to the United States is inspired. His experience, progressive credentials and can-do attitude are what we need for Barack Obama’s Washington. Mr. Doer is forthright but affable. He has a network of contacts at the state level. Now he needs to reach out to congressional chairs and the czars in the White House. In the short term, he can play point in more effective co-ordination of infrastructure development – road, rail, ports, pipelines and the “smart grid,” and provide a more sensible approach to our irregular but de facto common market. He can also get out in front of some of the mischief about the border and our health-care system.

Two of our past three ambassadors to Washington have been premiers, and Mr. Doer’s appointment is a reminder of the vital role these provincial leaders play in the hidden wiring of the Canada-U.S. relationship. They are sensitized to the efficient flow of goods and people across our borders, what with trade representing employment for more than seven million Americans. They actively reach out to counterpart governors, state and local legislators on practical matters such as reciprocity in procurement. Working together, they created the so-called smart driver’s licence as a passport alternative for land crossings. They have also been incubators for climate-change initiatives, an area where Mr. Doer has solid credentials.

Business and labour play a critical role in reminding their American cousins that our economic integration creates mutual benefit. That we trade more with Home Depot than with France is a reminder that almost 40 per cent of our trade is intrafirm. A third of Canadian labour unions are affiliates of U.S.-based internationals, which gives us a natural entrée into this key element of the Democratic coalition. It is a card Mr. Doer (a former labour organizer) will need to play in what will be his abiding preoccupation: battling protectionism, be it dressed as “Buy America,” national security, environmentalism or health and safety.

Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador-designate to the United States, laughs after speaking to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Aug. 28, 2009. Also pictured are Prime Minister Stephen Harper's deputy press secretaries Andrew MacDougall and Karine Leroux. Reuters

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares for his meeting with Mr. Obama in Washington this month, we need to give thought to Canadian-U.S. relations in the longer term. Canada is unique among major industrialized countries in that it has only one neighbour. We always feel that Americans need to know more about us, without acknowledging that we don’t know as much about them as we think we do. We forget, for example, their burdens of global primacy. Or that their southern neighbours, beginning with Mexico, require more attention.

From Confederation on, Canadians have always been anxious to keep Uncle Sam at arm’s length. Since 9/11, Uncle Sam has been more than happy to agree, creating a “real border.”

Now, we want back into Uncle Sam’s embrace – or at least into his pockets, so that we can share in his industry and investment. Protecting our gains will require a smart approach to integration, including a complementary approach on immigration and refugee policy; harmonization of standards and regulations; and a robust security arrangement that includes law enforcement, intelligence sharing and adding maritime and land forces to our continental air defence arrangement.

Unfortunately, the time is not right for a bold initiative. Mr. Obama is preoccupied with the most ambitious presidential agenda since Franklin Roosevelt: managing the stimulus and its “exit ramp,” plus health care and climate change, with education and immigration reform promised for next year. With an anxious public and the 2010 mid-term elections on the minds of congressional leaders, there is no appetite for a grand design, especially given the situation in Mexico.

This doesn’t mean we should give up. Rather, Canadians should use this time to focus on what we want and how to get there. Develop a national consensus on longer-term goals. Play to our strengths – energy generated by Canadian oil, gas, uranium and hydroelectricity is reliable, safe and secure. Rather than apologize for our energy development, we should aggressively market this capacity. Point out our investments in environmental sustainability. Trumpet our remarkable technological and engineering achievements in hydro and the oil sands.

Build our standing as a reliable friend, ally and neighbour by looking actively to see where our objectives complement those of the United States, especially in the intersection of international security – Afghanistan, WMDs, the Americas.

Geography, history and circumstance may shape the contours of our relationship, but with preparation and timely initiative, we can be game-changers. The new ambassador has his work cut out for him.

Colin Robertson, a career foreign service officer, is a fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and distinguished senior fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

The road to Huntsville: restoring Canadian leadership on the global stage

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Excerpted From Policy Options September 2009 The road to Huntsville: restoring Canadian leadership on the global stage

As host of next year’s summit of major world leaders in Huntsville (June 25-27, 2010), Canada should seize the initiative, in bridging the evolution of the G-8 to a more representative summit of leaders. What Kinsman calls our ‘multilateralist wiring’ – we have amongst other organizations, a voice in the Commonwealth, Francophonie, APEC and OAS – gives us place and standing and makes us especially well suited to the task. As the long-time beneficiary of the Chinese and Indian diaspora – since 1980 over half our new settlers have migrated from Asia changing both how we look and how we think – we are especially well placed to bridge between the shifting balance in world order and especially the relationship between Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Canada has been an active participant in the creation of the post-war architecture and we have played the role of ‘helpful fixer’ through creative initiatives including breaking the log-jam on UN membership, the development of peacekeeping, building a north-south dialogue, creating a representative Commonwealth and Francophonie and, in the creation of the G-20 in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. Once again we have an opportunity to apply our constructive internationalism and engage on a broad canvas of issues with a range of countries. It will require much hard work. We will have to raise our game and devote sufficient resources to the task. But it will be worth the effort….

For Canada the months before Huntsville are an opportunity to reinforce the emerging consensus for a transformation from G-8 to a more representative meeting of leaders as well as to establish an agenda for progress. Events will likely reinforce the opportunities that, for convenience, can be loosely divided into three, inter-connected baskets.

First, the economic situation. Aquila was essentially a ‘take note’ discussion papering over the differences between those who would argue for a second stimulus (UK and Russia), those who want to assess the effect of the first tranche of which considerable monies are yet to be expended (Canada, USA) and those who are already frightened about the longer term impact of so much spending (France, Italy, Germany)….

The second basket is climate change. At Aquila the seventeen countries in the G8 and Major Economies Forum responsible for about 80 per cent of the world’s emissions agreed to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Scientists reckon that it has risen about .8 degrees since 1850 but that at 2 per cent we’d face the kind of catastrophic events predicted by Al Gore and depicted in the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster (filmed in Montreal) The Day After Tomorrow.

Third, the peace and security basket of issues, notably nuclear proliferation. At Aquila the leaders condemned “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches in defiance of UN resolutions…

In his conclusion to Diefenbaker’s World, Basil Robinson, who would go on to become undersecretary of state for external affairs, observed that the two constants to Canadian policy have been consistent support and active association with the major institutions and alliances, and a solidarity in global affairs with the United States, “modified by a spirited nationalism in bilateral matters.” It continues to be a sound coda for the conduct of Canadian foreign policy. Those who think Canada is taking a vacation from international involvement need only read the daily headlines detailing the blood and treasure we spend in Afghanistan to appreciate that when it matters we can be depended on to stand up.

Basil Robinson was a member of a generation in which Canada’s diplomatic service and foreign policy was muscular, nimble and imaginative. They understood that ‘being there’ required a contribution – ideas and initiatives on peace, security and economic well-being. It meant a commitment to hard power and the application abroad of soft power. As a ‘middleweight’ we recognized that to compete in the global arena with the ‘heavyweights’ required international institutions with rules to even the odds. Canadian efforts to engineer multilateralism, through the UN and its alphabet soup of agencies and, to create collective security. regionally through NATO and bilaterally through NORAD, are a part of our history. Initiative and adaptability in the face of change has been a Canadian characteristic. It is time to apply it again.

The SPP’s Death Knell has Sounded

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From Embassy The SPP’s Death Knell has Sounded Experts say:  Canada is now in a prime position to devise a new way forward on North American relations by Jeff Davis August 26 2009

While the structure of SPP’s next incarnation is becoming clearer, most experts agree that besides President Obama’s decision to attend the Three Amigos summit, little substantial work was done in Guadalajara.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian consul general in Los Angeles and currently a distinguished senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, says the Obama administration is still exploring how it will transform the SPP, and decided to start off slow.

Mr. Robertson describes the Guadalajara summit it as “trilateral lite” while the three governments figured out what to do next. Many of the perennial players, he adds, were absent. The most conspicuous absence was the North American Competitiveness Council, the trilateral group of elite CEOs that traditionally met with the leaders at SPP summits.

Mr. Robertson says this was because the Obama administration must tread very carefully in its dealings with business, as it is “very carefully watching its labour flank.” Maintaining labour support for health care and climate change initiatives is crucial for Obama, he says, and the president excluded the NACC from Guadalajara for these political appearances

Leveraging relationship with Americans seen as key to cultivating prosperity in the global marketplace

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excerpted from from Business in Vancouver

…as Americans cluster behind a shield of protectionism to help stave off the effects of the most severe economic crisis in its history, Colin Robertson said B.C.’s political, business and labour leaders should seize the initiative to engage with their U.S. counterparts. “The onus is on us,” Robertson said in an interview. “Things are going to get tougher in the next while. They are tough now because of the economic recession, but there’s a new wave of protectionism in the United States.” He added that living next door to the American giant can at times be “frustrating and even uncomfortable” for Canadians. But in United States to 2020 and the Requirement for Canadian Initiative, Robertson shows that the proximity also affords Canada a unique seat of influence. The paper is one of three forming the first chapter of Outlook 2020, a B.C. Business Council initiative exploring B.C.’s future and its ability to prosper in a global marketplace.

B.C. has the upper hand in some respects and should parlay that ad- vantage into advancing its own interests with the U.S., said Robertson, who is a senior fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. These include security – “we watch their back door, and we do it pretty well” – and energy, whether it’s the oilsands or the electricity that kept the lights on in California during its 2003-04 power crisis. On the economic front, the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama plans to create three million jobs, but Robertson said too few Americans know that the country’s trade with Canada provides the basis for more than seven million American jobs. ican jobs. “We have to constantly remind the Americans of the importance of the relationship, because most Americans would think that it’s China, Japan or Europe that’s their biggest trading partner; they don’t think of Canada.” “You want to have the reputation as being a partner that they can rely upon because the Americans are par- ticularly concerned about crime and security. If drugs can come in, then so can people.”Canadians, he said, look at Americans with an almost unhealthy fixation, but Americans rarely think about Canada except as a place where hockey is played. “We have to get down there and tell our story.”

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The United States to 2020 and the Requirement for Canadian Action

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Excerpts from The US to 2020 prepared for the Business Council of British Columbia

America will remain the principal power in the coming decade, with preponderant military capacity. America’s greatest asset is its resiliency and its capacity for hard work, creativity and risk-taking. President Obama has launched an ambitious, radical renovation of the American economy that will encompass health care and education, as well as climate change.

There is a growing diffusion of power – an emerging multipolarity at the state level that is complicated by threats that defy classic relationships. Most important for Canada is the rise of China and India, a European federation preoccupied with internal cohesion and disinclined to interventions requiring force, and a Russia that is reasserting a sphere of ‘privileged influence’, including in the Arctic. Terrorism, pandemics, religious and tribal animosities and cyber threats further confuse the international arena and underline the requirement for reform and restructuring of the international system.

For Canada, the U.S. is principal ally, economic partner and friend.

Like it or not, know it or not, a vigorous Canada requires a robust America. It is critically important for Canadian security, livelihood and prosperity that we understand the changes taking place in America and their interplay with our own interests and the rest of the world. The changes – economic, demographic, regional – will have profound implications for Canadians, particularly as they relate to security and the border, economic integration, and policies for the environment and energy.

The responsibilities of global primacy and a preoccupation with domestic concerns on the part of the U.S. mean that Canada, never top of mind in American calculations, must constantly, consistently and forcefully make its case. Geographic propinquity and integrated economies provide the platform, while the need for joint, complementary action is illustrated by events as diverse as 9-11 (and closing down Canada-US airspace), pandemics (eg. SARS), and the restructuring of GM.

To advance mutual prosperity we require a ‘smarter’ partnership with the U.S. The onus for initiative lies with Canada. American leadership responds best to big ideas that play to their agenda. By framing our own interests around the American preoccupation with national security, economic recovery and, climate change we can advance our own agenda.

To succeed in the complex American arena we need to have a thousand points of intersection and a high profile media strategy. Thus the requirement for bold, pragmatic leadership – beginning with the prime minister and premiers, with a role and responsibility for Business and Labour, first to develop a coherent set of policies, and then a multi-level strategy to advance and follow-through on Canadian interests.

Summary of Observations & Recommendations for Canada

  1. Security is the abiding American preoccupation. We must be their ‘safest’’ and ‘most reliable’ partner – progress on all other files begins with security.  The U.S. needs a high level of confidence that we ‘watching their back’ and to be consistently reminded that we are a reliable partner in collective security (eg. Afghanistan).
  2. ‘Smart, bold partnerships’ on energy, the environment, labor mobility, regulatory standards and perimeter management will advance Canadian interests. We can’t take our well-being in the North American space for granted. Continued incrementalism means eventual decline.
  3. ‘Being there’ is the best way to understand America. We should have a diplomatic presence in every American state by 2010.
  4. Canadian universities and think tanks need to develop ‘knowledge centres’ around critical aspects of the U.S. and develop closer relationships in the U.S. And make maximum use of ‘star-spangled Canadians’ to connect2Canada.
  5. Advancing Canadian interests requires a permanent campaign with activist, visible outreach – no other trading partner creates as many jobs for Americans as Canada. It requires a commensurate effort to educate Canadians about the importance of the U.S. for their own livelihood
  6. The abiding strength of the Canada-US relationship lies in the hidden wiring – the relationships between states and provinces, business and labour and especially the personal connections between premiers and governors, and legislators.
  7. Now is the time to begin an aggressive investment promotion campaign to capitalize on the comparative advantage that Canada will enjoy coming out of the economic downturn. And seek to reduce the friction of cross-border arbitrage by creating the conditions for commensurate productivity with the U.S.
  8. A ‘Team Canada’ mission to Silicon Valley and other high-tech centres led by the prime minister and premiers and involving university presidents should aim to create joint research and development projects to enhance Canadian-American competitiveness.
  9. Governments must resist the temptation to over-regulate. Business and Labour need to recognize that the changed situation requires them to improve their own game and step up for the common good. Political leadership must be vigilant to the bureaucratic instinct to control and over-regulate. Risk management coupled with good intelligence is the better way to ensure the beneficial flow of people and trade.
  10. Canadian resources are central to American energy security. Withholding them is a hollow threat and would only threaten our own unity. But efforts to discount ‘dirty oil’ should be fiercely resisted as protectionism wrapped in ‘green’. Achieving an early, joint approach to carbon management will give us the initiative on the road to Copenhagen. Hydro electricity is an important Canadian card. It’s clean, it’s there and it’s what the smart grid needs. There is a particular opportunity and contribution to nuclear non-proliferation if Canada were to assume stewardship of uranium from ‘cradle to grave’. Commence planning to build a pipeline from the oil sands to the West Coast to diversify and open markets with Asia.

Summary of Observations & Recommendations for British Columbia

  1. Regional collaboration, particularly strong between western governors and premiers and legislators (ie. PNWER) is practical, advances mutual interests and can have very positive application to the national level (eg. smart drivers license).
  2. Premiers and governors are consistently ahead of the curve in their appreciation of the Canada-U.S. relationship. Launching annual meetings between the National Governors’ Association and Council of the Federation would temper protectionist instincts by underlining the ‘best customer’ relationships between states and provinces. 
  3. British Columbia’s pioneering experience with a carbon tax should be integrated into the Canada-US ‘Clean Energy Dialogue’ and into the evolving global dialogue.
  4. Water will emerge as the most important resource issue in the 21st century. It offers both an opportunity for business development, especially in clean water technology and sustainability, and a challenge for policy management.
  5. Lumber: As with energy, our dependence on the U.S. market requires a rethink of our marketing strategy – we need to aggressively market to Asia
  6. Fish: The ongoing effectiveness of the Pacific Salmon Treaty in 1985 and the Pacific Salmon Commission is a reminder that binational institutions with close state and provincial involvement are the most effective mechanisms for managing resource issues.
  7. British Columbia needs to remain vigilant in combating crime to prevent Vancouver and its port from being seen as a gateway in illicit trafficking in people and drugs.
  8. Vancouver has become a global hub for creative industries – film and television production, electronic games. They are the incubators for ‘creative communities’. Policy initiatives that respect intellectual property and promote infrastructure, transportation and education are smart investments for the future.
  9. Talent will increasingly determine economic prosperity and smart immigration policy, using the provincial nominee program, fast-tracks applicants with skills and talent. It is equally important to sustain and enhance the long-term flow of Asian students seeking high school and university education and to put more emphasis into targeting American, especially Latino students, as a bridge into the Americas and America’s growing Latino population.
  10. Drawing on the best practices of the 2000 Sydney and 2008 Beijing Olympics, use the 2010 Olympics as a trampoline to market British Columbia and Canada as a ‘clean and green’ destination for tourism, trade and investment.

Ottawa needs a permanent pro-Canada campaign in Washington

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May 11, 2009 National Post

When Barack Obama looks out the window from the White House, chances are he sees the swing and play set for Malia and Sasha, just one of the changes made by the new residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But will he realize that the tubing on the playset is made in Winkler, Manitoba?  Or that the blackberry, that he can’t live without, is a product of Waterloo, Ontario? Or that ‘The Beast’ – his black, armour-plated limousine also has parts manufactured in Canada?

Probably not.

The good news from a Canadian perspective is that President Obama likes us. When he proclaimed at the February 19 media conference on Parliament Hill that “I love this country. We could not have a better friend and ally,” he was also echoing American sentiment. Canada consistently ranks first in Gallup’s annual survey of foreign countries and, in their February survey, on the eve of the president’s visit, nine in ten Americans said they view Canadians favorably.

The bad news is that, notwithstanding the President’s ‘love’ and American affection, since 9-11 Canada may be ‘friendly’ but it is also ‘foreign’ and recent comments by Americans, including those who should know better, remind us that we still need to bust the myth on the 9-11 terrorists and increase their confidence in Canadian reliability, especially on homeland security. We also need to educate Americans (as well as Canadians) on the benefits of the mutually beneficial economic partnership that we have worked hard to achieve. It is at risk of erosion because of the hunkering down and ‘begger-thy-neighbourism’ caused by the global economic crisis. We are ‘caught up’, says the Export Development Corporation in a ‘global downdraft’, warning that our exports will decline by a fifth this year. No province or industry will be spared. Continue reading

After Obama’s First Hundred Days: The Pursuit of the Ottawa Agenda and the Need for a Permanent Campaign

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Excerpts from CDFAI Policy Update May 10, 2009

…the new President likes us. He has invited us to sit at the table on the issues that matter – energy and environment, the border, international affairs. The problems are that his agenda means he won’t have much time for us. Nor will his ‘love’ for Canada change American insecurity about its borders or the protectionist instincts of the Democratic Congress. The plight of Detroit and the auto sector underlines the desperate decline of American manufacturing. The drop in demand for Canadian products is further threatened by a return of ‘buy America,’ wrapped in the cloak of patriotism and national security.
The economic crisis has created a dynamic for change that offers both opportunity and threat. The White House swing set and the president’s ‘Beast’ and blackberry illustrates the scope and depth of economic integration. The threat is a further thickening of the border and a ‘made-in- America’ regulatory framework on the environment and energy. On the border, we need to reframe the argument to a discussion about perimeter and on energy we need to quickly come up with a ‘made-in-Canada’ approach.
Act, we must. With over three quarters of our trade going to the U.S. and our prosperity dependent on trade, anything less than a successful partnership will quickly be felt across the country. That should provide us with a sense of focus, and determination that easier times might not require. The emerging resolution to the auto industry crisis demonstrates that we can act in collaboration and in complementary fashion.
The burden of American global primacy and the asymmetry of our economic relationship means that we have to be constantly on guard for Canada and making the case for Canada. The nature of the American political system and the role of Congress means that traditional diplomacy and the reliance on the executive branch to handle our interests is insufficient and inadequate.
Playing the Americans requires a diplomacy that resembles our national sport for speed, flexibility and energy. We need to make constant line changes and use different kinds of players, depending on the situation. Propinquity and relevance means that it is very public, everyone thinks they can play, and it can occasionally can get very dirty. Always the focus must be on putting the puck in the net for Canada.
Shortly after I’d begun my job in Washington I spoke with Gordon Giffin, former American ambassador to Canada. He, like counterparts Jim Blanchard and Paul Cellucci, recommended that I should spend my time working Capitol Hill. I related my adventures, noting some thought that I was spending too much time there. In his laconic fashion he looked at me and replied, “you can never spend too much time on Capitol Hill.” I wondered how long we’d have to keep it up. Raising an eyebrow he observed, “you never stop.”
Because that is the nature of the American system we need to embark on a permanent campaign based on smart partnerships with an ever-shifting galaxy of players using all the tools at our disposal. It is a different kind of diplomacy – with Plunkett’s Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics a better guide than Satow’s Diplomatic Practice. But it is still diplomacy.

Smart partnership: building on the Obama visit

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Excerpted from Policy Options April 2009 Smart partnership: building on the Obama visit

The Founders constructed the American system on the basis of what James Madison called ‘competing interests’ and ‘public passions’. We have long recognized that traditional diplomatic practice with its ritual and protocol, relying on the State Department and, occasionally, the Executive Branch, to look out for our interests does not reflect our interdependent reality, and is inadequate to securing and expanding our interests. To advance and defend Canadian interests in a relationship that daily grows more intermestic requires a permanent campaign with a role for all, especially in a time of radical change. As the Prime Minister observed in Brampton, we will not turn the corner until the Americans fix their problems.

In recent years, responding to the need to make the case for Canada in Congress and regionally, the federal government has ramped up its advocacy efforts by increasing the number of Canadian offices in the United States from 15 to 23 and creating an advocacy secretariat within the Embassy. The framework created by the Obama visit will re-establish a pattern of regular bilateral encounters between ministers and, we hope, at least annual bilateral sessions between the prime minister and president.

These steps are right and necessary but we need to do more.  We should aim, for example, to have Canadian representation in every American state by the 2010 elections to advance our interests and to signal early warning measures that will adversely affect our trade and investment. Parliamentarians’ travel should also be widened to include district visits with their congressional counterparts. Create a ‘swat team’ to work with legislators, provincial governments, business, and our US offices to address head-on American protectionism, especially at the state and local level; this proved effective during the FTA and NAFTA negotiations.

The provinces, recognizing that their own interests require engagement, have vastly expanded their own ‘diplomacy’ through involvement through bilateral engagement as well as through active participation with regional and national conferences of governors and state legislators and in fora like the Energy Council. Alberta sets the standard with a Washington office, headed by former cabinet ministers, through a leadership role in the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWR), and initiatives like ‘Alberta on the National Mall’ in Washington.

PNWR is a public/private association with the active involvement of state and provincial executive and legislators, backed up by a robust secretariat. Its Secretariat, under the far-sighted leadership of Washington Governor, Christine Gregoire, and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, enabled the creation of the ‘smart drivers license’ that Homeland Security has accepted as a valid travel document for cross-border travel. As an effective model for regional cooperation,  PNWER should be examined by the Atlantic Premiers and New England Governors and in discussions around a similar organization for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway provinces and states.

Government does not need to lead on or micro-manage everything. Industry and labor also have a responsibility for involvement. The real challenge in the current situation will be for Government(s) to resist the temptation to over-regulate, and thus retard, the return to the natural play of the market economy. In the case of Canada and the United States, it is estimated that 40% of cross-border transactions are intra-company. In times of economic contraction and a ‘thickening’ border, these may prove to be especially vulnerable. Chambers of commerce and associations, the Business Roundtable and Canadian Council of Chief Executives play a constructive role. The Canadian American Business Council is particularly effective and we should encourage the creation of state counterparts like the Canada Arizona Business Council.

Labor is a vital part of the Democratic party coalition and wields its influence with effect as illustrated by inclusion of the ‘Buy America’ provision by the congressional iron and steel caucus in the recent stimulus package. President Obama has a regular teleconference with labour leaders. Canadian labour has excellent relationships with American labor; now might be the best time to put them to good use.  The AFL-CIO’s John Sweeney once asked me why Canadian diplomatic efforts didn’t include the Canadian Labour Congress and other unions.

Canadian labour should be able to see that its own interests are now engaged. Rising unemployment in the USA inevitably is going to lead to a steady stream of protectionist legislation from the Democratic majority, and the increasing government stake in industries like autos and banking will also give more protection-prone Congress a greater and more unpredictable say. While in most cases it won’t be aimed at Canada, as America’s principal trading partner, we will suffer collateral damage from any anti-foreign upsurge. At a minimum, Canadian labor unions should be encouraging their American counterparts to insert ‘North’ between ‘Buy’ and  ‘America’ initiatives, however misguided they may still be overall.

The focal point for Canadian advocacy is Congress and it needs to be an all-hands approach, coordinated, but recognizing that while the messages should be congruent and complementary, the voices can be different. Play the game the American way, recognizing the utility of lobbyists and lawyers, because that is the way it works. Each one of the 535 members of the House and Senate needs to be targeted, especially in their districts, because on any issue they can either be adversary or ally. We may not have money or votes but we can talk about the seven million jobs created by growing trade and investment and parse them to the district level.