Canada-USA Relations under Justin Trudeau

Trudeau Seeks a Beyond-Keystone Reboot to Canada-U.S. Relations
Danielle Bochove Bloomberg  October 22, 2015

Climate policy seen as most likely area for substantive change
First Trudeau must make himself known on trade and ISIS

“It’s more than Keystone,” could well be Justin Trudeau’s mantra on managing Canada’s vital relationship with the U.S.

Even before formally taking office, Prime Minister-elect Trudeau is racing to build a closer relationship with President Barack Obama. He spoke with Obama by telephone on Tuesday and stressed the need for the two countries to work more closely on environmental cooperation and to broaden a bilateral conversation that, under Stephen Harper, was dominated by the controversial pipeline. One of Trudeau’s first tasks may be to send an envoy to Washington to begin aligning positions on climate change, analysts said.

A more immediately amicable relationship could serve multiple objectives for Trudeau: delivering quickly on a key pledge to shore up the country’s international reputation by establishing a common front with the U.S. ahead of climate change negotiations in Paris, and managing the rejection by Obama of the Keystone XL project, which may be announced soon.

“One of the things that has been a challenge within the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is it has in many cases been focused on a single point of disagreement, a single pipeline,” Trudeau said after the Obama call.

Trudeau has made much over the past year of the need to build a closer and more productive cross-border relationship as part of his overall critique of Harper, whom he handily defeated in Monday night’s Canadian election. He promised to end the “hectoring” tone in the relationship and to set up a special cabinet committee “to oversee and manage” issues between the two countries.

The 43-year-old Trudeau will likely have his first official meeting with Obama at the G20 leaders’ summit in Turkey Nov. 15. There, the migrant crisis and Canada’s pledge to end its participation in the aerial portion of the campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq will be front and center. Trudeau has pledged to take in additional refugees and to increase Canada’s efforts in training local ground forces.

A day later, the new prime minister is expected to attend an Asia Pacific meeting in Manila where trade partners will want him to bring greater clarity to his government’s stand on the Trans Pacific trade partnership.

But it’s the Paris Climate Change Conference in December Trudeau has spoken most about, promising to attend with Canada’s provincial premiers. “I indicated to Mr. Obama that I felt that it was important that Canada demonstrates a level of positive engagement on the environmental file on the international stage,” Trudeau said in his first post-election press conference.

Over the past year, Trudeau’s party repeatedly blamed Harper’s aggressive and single-minded pursuit of a single cross-border energy project for a fractious relationship with the White House.

“For the past couple of years we haven’t heard of Canada in the United States except for Keystone. And in the last year, that all just seemed rather silly, quite frankly,” Stephen Blank, a long-time U.S. scholar on Canada, said in an interview.

The Canadian side of the world’s biggest trading relationship puts great emphasis on the importance of good inter-personal connections at the top. “There’s more than just structural issues involved, there’s personalities,” said Bill Graham, a former Liberal foreign and defense minister. Referring to Harper and Obama, he said: “I don’t think their relationship was in any way either warm or productive and I don’t think that was helpful to Canada.”

It is, of course, always easier for Democrats to get along with Liberals, and Republicans with Conservatives, but Trudeau seems to have taken aboard the advice of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a Conservative, that it is the responsibility of any Canadian leader to develop a good working relationship with whoever is U.S. president.

Trudeau’s first move in that direction should be to initiate a substantive conversation with the White House on environmental policy before Paris, said Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and now vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Given the tight time line, he thinks it likely Trudeau will send a high-level emissary to Washington to begin aligning the country’s positions; senior Trudeau adviser Gerald Butts, the former President of the World Wildlife Federation-Canada, would be the obvious choice, he said.

Disagreement exists as to whether there’s time left to do much business with Obama. Blank feels any progress made on climate will be “toxic” to the next Republican-dominated House and could prove ephemeral. Others, including Christopher Sands, Director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, argue that the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1988, the last year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. “Conventional wisdom for Canadian diplomats is the last year of an administration is not a bad time to push,” Sands said.

Allan Gottlieb, who headed up Canada’s foreign service for the elder Trudeau and then served as U.S. ambassador in Washington under Mulroney, said he came to appreciate the importance of the close personal ties while watching Ronald Reagan cut through blockages at Mulroney’s urging.

For many analysts, Trudeau’s stated intent to expand North American ties, including with Mexico, and develop a continent-wide climate policy has the potential to define his government. Gottlieb is fond of quoting former French president Charles de Gaulle that “to be a great leader, you need only have one idea.” Trudeau’s father’s one great idea, Gottlieb said, was making his vision of a strong federalist nation, thrust upon him by the potential break-up of Canada, a cornerstone of his international relations.

“It’s the times that give the opportunity for greatness to arise,” he said. While it remains to be seen if Justin Trudeau’s “one idea” will emanate from his embrace of environmental concerns, “it would be a great mistake to underestimate him.”

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Globe and Mail Debate on Canada-US Relations


Read and vote: Have Canada-U.S. relations hit a low point?

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Friday, Feb. 27 2015, 12:21 PM EST

Four former Canadian diplomats in the U.S. weigh in on the state of affairs between Canada and the United States

The Debate

Have relations between the governments of Canada and the United States ever been this unfriendly? If so, is the chilling of relations Ottawa’s or Washington’s fault? This became a heated topic of diplomatic debate after Allan Gotlieb, Canada’s former ambassador to the United States, declared in an interview this week that “I think the relationship is as cool as I ever remember.” Given that the 86-year-old ambassador’s career spans six decades, this suggests that the Harper and Obama administrations have damaged a historically strong relationship. We’ve assembled a group of diplomatic experts, including Mr. Gotleib, to debate the implications; vote for the one you most agree with.

The Debaters

Debate contributor
Michael KerginAmbassador to the U.S. from 2000-2005
Crisis in communications at the heart of poor relations
Debate contributor
Derek BurneyAmbassador to the U.S. from 1989-1993
Blame the White House for poor relations
Debate contributor
Colin RobertsonFormer Canadian diplomat in the United States
It’s up to Canada to build and maintain the relationship
Debate contributor
Allan GotliebAmbassador to the U.S. from 1981 to 1989
A ‘striking lack of sensitivity’ by the Obama administration

The Discussion

Debate contributor

Michael Kergin : Stability in Canada and U.S. relations are often about contact and communication – at the highest level.

Sure, foreign relations, as Talleyrand famously said, are based on interests, not friendships. But interests must be furthered by access achieved through communication and dialogue. Our leaders don’t need to be friends. But they do need to talk, and regularly.

When the Prime Minister and President can easily pick up the phone misunderstandings can be cleared, bureaucrats energized and collaboration constructed in confronting common challenges. After all, which President, during this time of terrorism, would not have a moment for the leader of the country which shares the longest border with his country, or the trading partner which provides his largest export market?.

Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan had their differences over acid rain; Jean Chrétien and Bill Clinton over Alaska’s poaching Pacific Salmon and Helms Burton regarding the extraterritorial application of U.S. law; as did Mr. Chrétien and George W. Bush on softwood lumber and the overly protracted closing of the U.S. border to Canadian beef from the BSE scare.

Yet, even when Mr. Chrétien refused to join the coalition of the willing in Iraq, the phone lines stayed open. (The leaders did have serious issues to discuss, such as Canadian troops, replacing American forces, battling the Taliban). Sometimes the tone of their conversations became a touch testy, but they did talk.

Now, however, our two countries seem to be in an almost unprecedented situation of non communication at the level of their leaders. Aside from the occasional”pull asides” (diplo-speak for brief casual encounters at multilateral leaders’ meetings), there is little evidence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper or President Barack Obama speaking directly with each other.

A recent dramatic example was the recent postponement of a scheduled North American Summit meeting to be held in Canada by the Prime Minister. Reneging on hosting the President of the United States must be a first in the Canada-U.S. relationship. It is singular evidence of the current crisis of communications between the two leaders.

The dean of Canada’s Ambassadors to the United States, Allan Gotlieb, speaks of”coolness” and”distance” now afflicting Canada-US relations. These are excellent diplomatic terms covering what I assess to be a breakdown in dialogue between Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama.

Without good communication that enables access at the highest level, differences can become irritants, compounding the difficulty leaders have in resolving bilateral problems, even between countries as close as Canada and the United States. The Keystone XL pipeline is emblematic of a difference which has morphed into serious irritant.

The crisis of communication between Mr Harper and Mr. Obama, which to the outsider appears personal, has exacerbated some of these differences, rendering their resolution more complicated.

The good news is that the relationship between Canada is far greater than a pipeline, a bridge, or differences on how to deal with Israel and the U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations. And the strength of the relationship will endure well beyond any coolness and distance between Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama.

Debate contributor

Derek Burney : Alan Gotlieb is essentially correct in his assessment that relations between Canada and the US are cool.”Cool” is of course diplomatic understatement. They are more like an Ottawa winter -in the deep freeze. And a thaw will only come when there is a change of administration following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Whether the new president is a Democrat or Republican, there is nowhere to go but up.

Mr. Gotlieb is also correct that we should not blame Canada. The fault lies with the White House, its indifference towards the interests of its key allies and neighbors, and its toxic relationship with Congress, which has caught Canada in the down draft on many issues, including the Keystone XL pipeline or our attempts to forge a common climate change strategy for North America. Mr. Obama has only spent nine hours in Canada during his six years in office.

But we are not alone. Our Mexican friends are deeply frustrated with Washington on immigration and the management of their border. America’s European and Asian allies have been wringing their hands in despair over Washington’s lack of leadership as they contend with Vladimir Putin’s”New Russia,” the worsening crisis in Ukraine, and China’s rise and assertions of territorial sovereignty in the South and East China Sea.

Benign neglect is one thing, as is indifference but, when the actions of the Administration are punitive to Canadian interests without cause, that is malign arrogance unworthy of a neighbour and ally‎.

Debate contributor

Colin Robertson : In the conduct of Canada-US relations, Allan Gotlieb is the Obi-Wan Kenobi. Mr. Gotlieb, who turns 87 on Saturday, transformed Canadian diplomatic practice toward the U.S. in the wake of the Carter administration’s failure to ratify the East Coast Fisheries Agreement.

Rather than get mad, Mr. Gotlieb got smart. He ramped up our congressional relations efforts in Washington, recognizing that we could not count on the executive branch to deliver for us. Given our interests, we would have to do it ourselves and learn to play by Washington rules: drawing on lobbyists and lawyers to advance our interests. With the ambassador as quarterback we’d use all our assets, including our consulate network in the U.S., recognizing U.S. speaker Tip O’Neill’s dictum that”all politics is local.”

Junior officers sent to our consulates now included congressional relations in their portfolio. I was one of those young officers, going to New York City and serving under Ken Taylor (whose heroism in Tehran made him a U.S. celebrity that Mr. Taylor subsequently used to advance our interests).

As our ambassador in Washington from 1981-89, Allan and his wife, Sondra, revolutionized how we did business. Mr. Gotlieb’s lessons are contained in I’ll Be With You in a Minute, Mr. Ambassador. I kept a copy on my desk when posted to Washington to head the new Advocacy Secretariat in 2004.

At its heart, the Gotlieb approach is activist problem-solving. First, you need to understand the United States. It’s more than a country – it’s a civilization. Second, advancing our interests means engagement at every level.

The Gotlieb approach uses all our tools – political, defence and security, commercial-economic and cultural. Management of efforts is less by control, than co-ordination, mindful that the complexity of the relationship means it is like a chess game conducted on various levels: international issues of peace, security and economics; national issues of border, trade, energy and the environment; and regional and local issues involving the provinces and states and cities.

The bumps today are at the national level and responsibility is shared.

Stephen Harper’s relationship with Barack Obama is correct, but they do not appear to be confidants. Brian Mulroney argued that there is no more important relationship for Canadian prime ministers than that with the U.S. president.

Mr. Harper made the Keystone XL permit our overriding objective, seemingly on a take it or leave it basis. Unfortunately, of modern presidents, Barack Obama appears to have the least appreciation of the strategic importance of Canada to the U.S. He has not put the necessary effort into the neighbourhood, including Mexico, that it deserves. But as Alan Gotlieb understood and practised, like it or not, the initiative (in this case, action on climate) must come from Canada.

Debate contributor

Allan Gotlieb : The Canada-U.S. relationship in the Obama era is different from what it was in the past. In earlier years, strains in the relationship arose as a result of Canadian policies or positions that the U.S. challenged or opposed as contrary to their interests. These could be bilateral in nature (energy and investment policies under Trudeau, nuclear and defence issues under Diefenbaker) or multilateral (Lester Pearson’s criticism of U.S. bombing of Vietnam, Pierre Trudeau’s allegations of”moral equivalency” between the U.S. and USSR during the Cold War). Given the extraordinary size and depth of the relationship, it is not surprising that the”irritants” often gave rise to serious tensions.

But they were usually resolved, thanks to the special relationship that existed between the two countries during the postwar era. This led to such agreements as the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement, the Auto Pact, major joint undertakings in continental defence, and ambitious nation-building projects such as the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Relations between the Obama Administration and Canada have, for the most part, been temperate and calm and relatively free of new”irritants”. Canada has been strongly supportive of U.S. strategies on a global scale.

As a result, it can be said that in the Obama Era the relationship has been largely co-operative, cordial and correct. Nevertheless, something has been seriously missing that has led to a coolness and a sense of distance not characteristic of our relationship in earlier years. Notwithstanding the depth of our economic relations, the vast trade flows, the wide areas of cooperation and the management of our borders and security interests, what is missing during the Obama era is any sense that Canada occupies a special space in the foreign policy of the United States. History shows that in the time of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, and George Bush, Sr. there was a sensibility in the White House that the rules, as they related to the two countries, needed to be applied with particular regard to the affinity between our two nations arising from our common values.

With the possible exception of the free-trade agreement, no bilateral issue in the history of Canada-U.S. relations has exceeded in importance the building of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to U.S. markets. Certainly none have ever occupied a larger place in the U.S. political process. It is remarkable that in dealing with this issue, the President has allowed the process of approval to extend over half a decade without results. It is even more remarkable that, in its various utterances, the White House has not demonstrated any recognition of the impact of their position on our historic joint energy relationship, our joint economic security interests and the uniquely integrated economic ties with the country with which they share a continent. This striking lack of sensitivity may or may not change under future Presidents. In all probability, the current state of distance in our relationship will come to be seen as anomalous. But, the implications for Canadian foreign policy are clear. In our trade and economic relations, Canada must diversify, diversify and diversify.

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Getting the Border Deal Done: Time for a Special Envoy

From Globe and Mail January 5, 2012 ‘How to get that border deal just right’
by Allan Gotlieb and Colin Robertson

With this week’s Iowa caucuses, the presidential season begins in earnest. An American presidential campaign is splendid entertainment, but it’s also diversionary and we can’t expect much attention to our agenda. If we’re to realize the promises of the December border agreement designed to improve our economic competitiveness, we have work to do in the coming months.

The Oval Office remains the best entry point for Canadian interests. It’s the one relationship that every prime minister has to get right, and Stephen Harper has demonstrated this ability both with George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Closing on the border deal is the priority for our embassy and our network of consulates. With their technical ability to demonstrate the linkage between jobs, exports to Canada (still America’s first market) and Canadian investment for each legislative district, Ambassador Gary Doer will be the chief advocate as well as the control point for a co-ordinated outreach to Congress and state legislators.

As we learned long ago with the experience of the still-born East Coast Fisheries Agreement, we need to make our case starting with Capitol Hill. This means a thousand points of contact: legislators and their staff, and also the permanent staff of the committees, agencies and departments within the Beltway. They’re critical on regulatory issues and the all-important “interpretation” of the rules for those in the field.

Passage of the free-trade agreement was a near-run thing, and it depended on the cultivation of “white knights” such as senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bill Bradley. We need to develop champions within Congress, and this is where Canadian ministers and legislators need to cultivate and solidify relationships, beginning with those representing the northern border states, where many of the pilots will take place.

The regional conferences of premiers and governors and provincial and state legislators are important forums. Given the deepening integration, we should aim to make a discussion of Canada-U.S. relations a standing item on the agenda of the National Governors Association. Intervention by the premiers with their governor counterparts was instrumental in securing the 2010 reciprocity agreement on procurement.

The long-term success of the deal lies as much in addressing the “tyranny of small differences” afflicting our goods, services and people as with the challenges they encounter at the border. While the deal was crafted by Barack Obama’s administration to avoid submitting implementing legislation to Congress, we would be making a mistake if we relied solely on the administration. Behind a regulation, there often stands a protectionist interest, and behind the protectionist interest stands a congressman.

Our success ratio rises in proportion to the perception that it’s both an American issue and vital to their national security, as we are currently witnessing with the Keystone XL pipeline debate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been especially vocal in encouraging the administration to approve the pipeline.

The Chamber of Commerce and like-minded associations, including the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, need to be encouraged to devote commensurate attention to highlighting the importance of cross-border supply-chain dynamics. So, too, with the union movement, a vital constituency in the Democratic coalition, that has also been active in support of the XL pipeline.

All of these initiatives will contribute to building the conditions for passage of the border deal. Given the immense complexity of the deal and the constraints of time and competition for time, we also recommend the appointment of special envoys. They would report directly to the President and the Prime Minister and drive its implementation during the next 12 months. The acid rain agreement wouldn’t have been achieved without the appointment of former Ontario premier Bill Davis and former transportation secretary Drew Lewis.

Such appointments would signal the priority the two leaders attach to the achievement of this deal. To represent Canada, we can think of no one possessing a better appreciation and the experience of successfully working both systems, as well as the gravitas, guile and good humour to get it done, than Brian Mulroney.

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Restoring Canada’s Foreign Service

We must restore our diplomatic core

Monday, Aug. 08, 2011 Globe and Mail


With his election victory, Stephen Harper has achieved a new place among world leaders. Admired for his political skills as the leader of an insurgent movement and then, as a prime minister who jockeyed a pair of minority governments into a majority, he’s also recognized for steering Canada’s economy through recessionary waters that are still threatening his fellow G7 leaders.

So what role will international affairs play in his government?

In several recent statements, he has told us it will be a major one. Foreign affairs/foreign relations, he said, “has become almost everything.” In a world where “change is the new constant,” he declared, “our party’s great purpose is nothing less than to prepare our nation to shoulder a bigger load, in a world that will require it of us.” Accordingly, “strength is not an option, it is a vital necessity.”

If these words signal the government’s intentions, then there must be a match between our aspirations and our abilities to achieve them. For too long, our capacity to be a significant player on the international stage has failed to match our rhetoric. The Prime Minister’s declarations of intent have credibility, coming, as they do, from a government that has consistently supported the strengthening of our military capabilities. The Canada First Defence Strategy, including the new command structure for the Canadian Forces, has proved itself both at home and away – in Libya, Afghanistan and in the reconstruction of Haiti.

All the more welcoming, therefore, is Mr. Harper’s recent statement that “re-equipping the military is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making Canada a meaningful contributor in the world.” The implications of this for Canadian foreign policy are profound. Mr. Harper seems to foresee a highly active foreign policy, and a very independent one. “We also have a purpose,” he said. “And that purpose is no longer just to go along and get along with everyone else’s agenda.”

Implicit in Mr. Harper’s statements is a recognition that Canada’s national interests are at the core of our foreign policy and have never been more demanding than they are today. To do so requires rebuilding our diplomatic resources to the stature they had in the postwar era when it was widely acknowledged that the impact of Canada’s contributions far exceeded its size.

The negotiation of a new accord with the United States to reverse the hardening of our border, the need to protect the access of our energy exports to American markets, the need to create new markets for our oil sands, the negotiation of a free-trade deal with the European Union and India, the strengthening of our relations with China, the protection of our interests in the Arctic – all are of the highest importance for our national interest and all deserving of the most talented of our human resources.

“To shoulder a bigger load” will necessitate a foreign service at the very top of its game. If the 1990s were a decade of darkness for the Canadian Forces, both the ’90s and the noughts were equally so for the foreign service. Process took priority over policy-making. Public diplomacy, an area Canada pioneered, virtually disappeared.

Meantime, there’s been a revolution in the way information is acquired and transcribed. Far from the information revolution shrinking the role of the ambassador, it’s enhancing it. Out of the vortex of information and communication, the ambassador emerges as chief interpreter of data and events, chief analyst, chief intelligence officer, chief advocate and chief adviser, the central player in a field with an infinite number of actors, pursuing conflicting goals and agendas.

In this age of the Internet and WikiLeaks, the role of diplomacy needs to be assessed and understood. The Prime Minister should commission a task force on the foreign service, as he did for Afghanistan. It’s been more than 30 years since the McDougall Commission looked at our diplomats. There will be no new golden age of Canadian foreign policy unless we invest in the human resources that, in the Prime Minister’s words, are necessary “to making Canada a meaningful contributor in the world.”

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Will a Republican House be Good for Canada-U.S. Trade Relations?

November 9: Will a new Republican dominated congress be good for Canada, or will the emergence of the Tea Party push the U.S. to a more protectionist stance? BNN finds out from Allan Gotlieb, former Ambassador to the U.S. and Colin Robertson, vice-president, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

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U.S. midterms and Canada: We must defend our interests

Excerpts from the Globe and Mail, November 4, 2011 by Allan Gotlieb and Colin Robertson

The U.S. Congress has undergone another sea change as a result of Tuesday’s midterm elections and the Republican wave with a Tea Party crest. What has not changed is the requirement for vigilance in defence of Canadian interests. Those interests are our economic prosperity, our need for a wider and enhanced international trading system, and an open border between our two countries.

From the standpoint of our interests, Congress is the organ of government of greatest concern to Canada. In the U.S. system of checks and balances, the three branches of government are said to be co-equal, but they’re not, by constitutional design of the Founding Fathers. Congress, not the presidency, is primus inter pares

If the mood of Americans continues to turn inward because of fatigue with foreign wars and “unreliable” allies, we can anticipate more security measures and thus a further thickening of our border. The passport requirement for Canada and U.S. travellers was a profoundly retrograde step, curbing tourism and the flow of service clubs and youth sports that created unique bonds of friendship. The Republican “Pledge to America” promises to further “secure our borders with strong enforcement of the law.”

Mythologies about 9/11 and Canada’s leaky borders persist. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate who almost defeated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is only the latest to voice the canard that “our northern border is where the terrorists came through.” Meantime, that border continues to choke with its aging infrastructure, new rules and regulations, fees, inspections and redundancies. Our common frontier is probably the least open among any two industrialized countries anywhere, and no way to manage the world’s biggest bilateral trading relationship. A more open border between our countries needs to be a top priority.

While recognizing the advantage of divided political power in Washington, Canada should greatly intensify our efforts to find new global markets for our resources, especially energy. It should be a matter of the highest national priority to develop the policies and to create the necessary infrastructure.

Regrettably, President Barack Obama seems to lack any strategic view of Canada’s value from the standpoint of U.S. national interests. While it may be tempting, Canadian interests are too important for us to drop anchor and stay in safe harbour. Ad hocery and incrementalism will not stem decline. Open trade and borders are the proven path to jobs and mutually reinforcing growth and prosperity.

The most effective way to reverse the trend line is through bold, energetic Canadian initiatives. We should start by reminding Americans that, if they’re to trade their way out of recession, the first step is to build on our deep, integrated supply chain dynamic with their biggest market and to renew the partnership with Canada.

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Canada must rebuild its diplomatic resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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