Donald Tansley Lecture

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2017 Tansley Lecture

Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy

April 5, 2017

Colin Robertson


It is an honour to deliver this lecture. I thank the Johnson-Shoyama School for the invitation and those at the University of Regina who have helped me get here. A particular thanks to my friends Dale Eisler and Doug Moen for their advice and to my brother Neil who literally got me here tonight.


The Saskatchewan Mafia


I met Donald Tansley, Al Johnson and Tommy Shoyama when I first arrived in Ottawa. While I do not pretend to have known them I knew their reputations and I took their measure.


What always struck me about that generation of public servants was that this was a generation tempered by war.


Tansley served with the Regina Rifles. Neil and I would retrace their steps – characterized by valour and sacrifice –  at Juno Beach on D-Day and after. It gave them a perspective of life that guided their public service.


Nor did they suffer fools. I know this from personal experience having later served under their colleague Simon ‘Gunner’ Reisman when we negotiated the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement-


As public servants – they were never bureaucrats –  they believed in the power of ideas and in vigorous policy discussion. As Johnson would later write of their time in Saskatchewan they “dreamed no little dreams” and believed in government as a force for good.


They took this attitude to Ottawa when they migrated as members of the ‘Saskatchewan mafia’ who served the governments led by Mike Pearson and Pierre Trudeau.

Policy implantation was a piece – you had to make things work. But putting things in auto-drive was not their thing – they all sought to build a better Canada.


The disappointment of our current government’s – that of Justin Trudeau –  in the public service is not their lack of enthusiasm or loyalty but the lack of ideas and the inability to dream big dreams.


Donald Tansley, Al Johnson and Tommy Shoyama were exemplars of what public service can and should be. They set the bar for succeeding generations of public servants. It is why we continue to honour their contribution to our public life.


My interest in the USA


Like most things in life, I came to Canada-US relations through time and chance.


I am a child of the fifties, a Prairie boy who came to public service through a combination of admiration for Lester B.  ‘Mike’ Pearson’s internationalism and the stature and self-confidence that ‘helpful fixing’ gave to Canada. And public service – thanks to the example set by Tansley, Johnson and Shoyama, was both high calling and an honourable profession.


As an undergraduate I read Charles Ritchie’s The Siren Years. Ritchie, who would go on to become our ambassador to Washington during John F, Kennedy’s presidency, wrote of life in London during the Blitz. He worked with Pearson, George Vanier and Vincent Massey at our High Commission, met the King and Queen and bedded ballerinas. It convinced me that the Foreign Service was the life for me.


I was never disappointed in the Foreign Service although in later years the advent of political correctness, senseless accountability, and a government that didn’t care much for its Foreign Service, tested my endurance.


My first assignment was to the UN Bureau where I worked for Geoffrey Pearson, son of Lester Pearson. Through him I met the inimitable Charles Ritchie. I was posted to the General Assembly to the United Nations in New York where I met John Holmes, a protégé of Pearson, who by then was at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs.


Holmes was one of that generation of Canadians who helped engineer the post-war international institutions – the United Nations, the IMF, World Bank, GATT (now the WTO), and the alphabet soup of agencies including FAO, WHO, UNHCR that continue to underwrite international peace and security.


Holmes was in the process of writing a book on Canada-US relations. He remained a steadfast advocate for the rules-based, liberal international system that gave middle powers like Canada a seat, even temporarily, at the great powers table.


Holmes embodied the Pearsonian idea of ‘functionalism’ – the recognition within the international system that competence, not power, should determine membership and weight to the specialized agencies dealing with issues like food and refugees that give middle powers like Canada place and standing.


But Holmes recognized that the United States was the anchor and guardian of our rules-based, liberal international system. His advice to me was to specialize and to better understand the United States. For Canada, he told me, it would always be the United States and then the rest.


Holmes didn’t like anti-Americanism or the Canadian temptation to be smug and superior: “Stern daughter of the Voice of God” was how Dean Acheson, a former American Secretary of State, famously described this unfortunate Canadian characteristic.


Like most Canadians I plead guilty to describing myself by what we are not – Americans and I will never forget after a session of self-satisfied grousing with fellow junior diplomats in the UN delegates lounge, a Polish diplomat, older than the rest of us – he endured the  Second World War, the Nazis and then Soviet occupation – quietly observed to me: “Would you rather be us?”


There is a natural insecurity that comes from living next door to Goliath. As Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau memorably quipped to the National Press Club in Washington, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant: no matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”


Fortunately, my childrens’ generation don’t suffer from this affliction. Instead, as the jingle from the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics put it, they want to own the podium. That’s progress of which we should be proud.


One of my mentors and our longest serving ambassador to the United States, Allan Gotlieb, reminds me that the United States is more than a country, it is a civilization.


And the rules-based liberal international order that most of us grew up under and which has preserved the peace, not imperfectly but certainly better than any other period in world history, was created by and sustained by American leadership.


Holmes believed that we had to cut the US some slack – there is always a trap door for the great powers and, as great powers go, the US used this privilege sparingly.

It was important, he argued, that we be a good and trusted neighbour to the United States because then, as he wrote in his book Life with Uncle, “we could tell them when their breath is bad,”


For me, Holmes’ Life with Uncle and Allan Gotlieb’s I’ll be with you in a minute Mr. Ambassador, remain the two best guides for active practitioners in Canada-US relations.


I kept copies on my desk when I served in Washington. Their advice helped focus my own thinking on managing Uncle Sam in the Trump Administration.


As you can see, I took Holmes’ career advice to focus on the USA. I returned to New York to work at the Consulate General for Ken Taylor – that most cool of Canadian diplomats and a true hero. I later served in Los Angeles as Consul General and then in Washington as the first head of the Advocacy Secretariat.


I was also a member of the Canadian teams that negotiated the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.


My travels have taken me to every state in the Union.


On Canada-US relations, I reckon I’ve done my 10 000 hours – Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of deliberate practise to become competent – but I will confess the election of Donald Trump surprised me.


The Trump Phenomenon


Donald Trump is not a typical president. According to the Washington Post, during his first 70 days in office he has made 343 false or misleading claims. As Winston Churchill once observed, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.


Mr. Trump is not an establishment Republican – he quickly dispatched Jeb Bush, little Marco and the rest. He defeated the conservative standard-bearer ‘Lying Ted’ Cruz. And while he didn’t win the popular vote he took the electoral college from ‘Crooked Hillary’.


That the Russians intervened in the US election is incontestable according to intelligence agencies, although whether he won because of their intervention is an open question.


Don’t underestimate Mr. Trump. He went into the campaign with only a 1 percent probability of winning the Republican nomination and on the day of the election was still given odds of less than one in three of becoming president.


Trump confounds not just Canadians and, if the surveys are right, most Americans and certainly the rest of the world.


I think he won because Americans wanted change from a Washington that they felt no longer worked for them. Trump appealed to this feeling of loss of control. The Wall would restore integrity to borders. The Muslim ban would keep out migrants and terrorists. As master of the Art of the Deal he’d restore ‘Made in America’ and keep out foreign goods. And he’d drain the swamp in Washington.


As one journalist put it Trump’s supporters took him seriously but not literally while the elite took him literally but not seriously.


Trump’s messaging – including his early hour tweets – continue to be a simple, persuasive and appealing: ‘Make America Great Again…America First…Buy American…Hire American’.


As he said in his Inaugural Address, “the forgotten men and women in America” are “forgotten no longer…Everyone is listening to you now.” Donald Trump the tribune of the people.


Some of the messaging– the appeal to protectionism and nativism –  accounts for the surprising Brexit vote and is now at play in the forthcoming French and German elections.


Is Canada immune from these frustrations? By this I mean

the sense that the system isn’t fair and that the system has created advantages for some, the lack of trust in our institutions, the divide between those who have and those who don’t, and the sense that our kids will be worse off than we are.


I don’t think so.


I think that the conundrum around fairness and inequality – not climate, not terrorism – is the really big public policy challenge for our time.


Dealing with President Trump


We need to take President Trump seriously and, as we are learning, often literally.


With three-quarters of Canada’s exports headed to the USA this is our key market. We cannot change our geography, nor would we want to.


We enjoy preferred access to United States. Now we are going to have to negotiate to preserve that access.

Our prosperity and security depends on it.


Canadian policy will require care, circumspection and engagement. But above all engagement.


As we go into trade negotiations with the Trump administration and Congress, active engagement by Canadians, armed with a clear sense of our national objectives, is crucial to success.


This means all hands-on deck and a game-plan supported by all levels of government.


This being Canada, this also means achieving consensus, not unanimity. To remind ourselves, we fought an election around free trade in 1988. Only three provinces – Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba -gave the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney a majority of their votes.


But free trade worked for Canada. It resulted not just in prosperity but an attitudinal shift on the part of Canadians.


Where once we wondered about our capacity to compete internationally, we now are confident that we can truly own the podium.


I am aware of the controversy around the Global Transportation Hub, but the concept of inland ports with global reach is exactly what Saskatchewan and Canada should be doing.


Where once premiers were divided about the merits of free trade, today every premier, regardless of political stripe, is out on the international circuit promoting trade. Premier Wall is in Washington this week engaged in developing new relationships and building on existing ones. His overriding message is about the vitality and mutual benefits of our trading relationship.


NAFTA worked well


Although it is not appreciated in the United States, NAFTA worked for Americans as well as Canadians. The NAFTA, which improved the FTA and brought in Mexico, helped spark a decade-long economic advance in all three nations.


Some facts gathered by the Council on Foreign Relations that are not generally known or appreciated by Americans:


  • S. trade with its North American neighbors has more than tripled, growing more rapidly than U.S. trade with the rest of the world.
  • Research from the Peterson Institute concluded that the nearly two hundred thousand export-related jobs created annually by the pact pay 15 to 20 percent more on average than the jobs that were lost.
  • Canada and Mexico are the two largest destinations for U.S. exports, accounting for more than a third of the total.
  • Some fourteen million jobs rely on trade with Canada and Mexico – nine million with Canada alone according to a study conducted for the Canadian Embassy. Canadian companies operating in the U.S. directly employ 500,000


These facts need to be underlined to our American friends again and again in the coming months.


A word about Mexico: Mexico is now Canada’s third largest trading partner and our entrée to the Americas. While Canada and Mexico will pursue their own interests in these negotiations, as sovereign countries do, we need to keep in close contact because divide and conquer is integral to Mr. Trump’s ‘Art of the Deal’.


Getting Ready: All Hands on Deck


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet are doing an effective job of outreach to the Trump Administration, Congress and now into the states, especially those states that voted for Mr. Trump.


In a speech before the election Justin Trudeau remarked that “a former Prime Minister – and not the one you think – once said to me that the PM has three big responsibilities:

  • Grow the economy;
  • Unify the country; and
  • Successfully manage our relationship with the United States.”

For our American cousins, said Trudeau, the relationship is consequential. For us, “it has often been definitional.


The advice on priorities came from Brian Mulroney, the prime minister who best understands the Canada-US dynamic. As Mr. Mulroney, whom Mr. Trudeau has smartly enlisted in the outreach to the Trump team, observed:


“The golden rule of Canada-US relations is very simple. We can disagree without being disagreeable. The Americans are very important to us. We know they are, notwithstanding the differences, our best ally, our closest neighbour, our biggest customer. “


Mulroney, speaking at the time in Washington at a tribute to Ronald Reagan, went on to add, “There is also a rule of global politics – Canada’s influence in the world is measured to a significant degree by the extent to which we are perceived as having real influence in Washington.”


Trudeau is also practicing well what former US Ambassador Gordon Giffin called the Goldilock’s rule of Canada-US relations: Don’t let the relationship get too close – we Canadians like some distance. But don’t let it get too cold, either.


I think Mr. Trudeau has found the right temperature and created the right team for our negotiations. Putting Chrystia Freeland, who brought home both country of origin labelling and the Canada-Europe agreement, as both Foreign Minister and minister responsible for trade with the USA, is brilliant.


Having former General Andrew Leslie as parliamentary secretary is also very smart. He knows personally Generals McMaster (National Security Advisor), Mattis (Secretary of Defence), and Kelly (Homeland Security Secretary).


General Leslie joined Premier Wall recently in Iowa where they spoke to Iowa legislators and met with Governor Terry Branstead (whom Mr. Trump has nominated as US ambassador to China).


This kind of strategic federal-provincial collaboration that Canadians want to see.


Prime Minister Trudeau was in Houstpn recently  –  he told an American energy executive audience that pipelines and action on climate were entirely compatible – he was joined by Albert Premier Rachel Notley. He also warned, to the applause of his American audience, that a border adjustment tax would hurt both economies.


We have the right team in Washington.


Our ambassador, David MacNaughton, is shrewd and unflappable – the right temperament for these volatile times. He has the trust of the prime minister and, in quarterbacking the outreach to the Trump team, he has been very effective.


Our negotiating team will be headed by Steve Verheul, our Chief Negotiator for the Canada-Europe trade agreement/ He is well known to his provincial counterparts through his role as our CETA Chief Negotiator. Saskatchewan farming community will be pleased to know that he cut his negotiating teeth on agriculture. Like MacNaughton, Verheul is low-key and effective.


He will lead an experienced team, many have just come off the CETA and/or the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.


President Trump has foolishly jettisoned the TPP – the comprehensive deal with 12 other Pacific nations, including the USA and Mexico. There is a lot in that agreement that, inevitably, will be applied to the upcoming negotiations.


Preparing and negotiating the Canada game-plan has to involve all levels of government and our most experienced hands, regardless of partisan affiliation.


The fact that Mr. Mulroney and Derek Burney, his former chief of staff who later served as ambassador to Washington (and was both my boss and one of my mentors) are attending the cabinet committee on Canada-US relations tomorrow is visible demonstration of this ‘Team Canada’ approach.


This also means the provinces and the national government working together like lips and teeth in preparations and negotiations. The model should be the Canada-Europe trade negotiations where provinces were full partners and at the negotiating table.


Of critical importance will be the premiers with their governor counterparts and provincial members with their state counterparts. If we are to make the gains we want in terms of access to procurement – and that means sales and contracts for Canadians – we need the states to be onside.


Premier Wall needs to repeat his 2010 effort when he took a delegation of premiers to Washington during the Natioanl Governors Conference and negotiated a reciprocal agreement on procurement purchasing. If Mr. Trump gets his way the US procurement plan could be worth a trillion dollars.


In the meantime, the premiers should create a standing committee of the Council of Federation and figure out what it is we want from the USA and what we are prepared to give in return for gains. They should start with softwood lumber because next month we are going to start paying through the nose for our lumber exports to the USA.


Softwood is a dispute dating to George Washington’s second term – Canada has a natural advantage in wood. Softwood lumber and its variation – ‘shakes and shingles’ – threatened to derail the negotiations that eventually led to the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1988.


Forestry practises are a provincial responsibility and the premiers need to figure this one out. Until then the Americans will happily collect our dollars. Softwood lumber is also a reminder of the importance of having alternate markets than the USA.


Business has an important role.


The big companies – the GEs and GMs need to step up and warn President Trump of the threat to their supply chains, especially for manufactured goods –  from soup to computers to trains, planes and automobiles. Supply chains work for North Americans.


We need to apply the people-to-people relationships, especially when the prevailing policy is ‘America First’ and because, as President Trump declared in his Inaugural Speech, “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.”


Plus ça change


The congressional hearings that will begin shortly will generate a lot of heat and noise. Much of it will be aimed at Mexico but Canada will also come in for its share of criticism.


Canadians should not panic. It’s a useful venting session and it will give our negotiators a better sense of what will be on the American agenda when they sit down later this year to open up the now 23 year-old NAFTA.


Some perspective:


“I have recently talked quite a lot to Americans about how they perceive, or misperceive, Canada-U.S. trade. I have called their misperceptions the seven deadly myths. l listed them as follows: Canada is not the American’s biggest trading partner; that we try to keep our dollar low to gain an unfair trade advantage; that we have piled up huge trade surpluses; that we subsidize trade and the Americans don’t; that public sector ownership automatically equals subsidy; that we are not the biggest energy supplier to the United States; and that a free trade agreement would benefit only Canada and not the U.S”


Those words aren’t mine but those of Allan Gotlieb, our longest serving ambassador to the USA in a speech he delivered almost in 1987 -thirty years ago – to Toronto’s Empire Club.


As the French say Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


Main Messages to Americans


My mother used to tell me that on an exam the key is to answer the question asked, not what I’d like to tell them. It is a lesson that has taken me years to learn. So how do we manage Mr. Trump?


How many of you have travelled to the USA in the last year or plan on travelling in the next year?


We start with three main messages to Americans:

  • First: We are a reliable ally and security partner. In the USA, security trumps everything else so start every conversation reminding Americans that we have their back.
  • Second: We are a fair and trusted trading partner. Canada is the main market for 35 states and the second market for the rest. US trade with Canada generates 9 million jobs. It’s more than trade, it’s ‘making things together’ through supply chains to our mutual advantage. And one of my favourite factoids: The average Canadian eats $629 worth of US agri-food products annually. The average American spent $69 on Canadian agri-food products.
  • Third: Canada is a secure, stable and reliable source of energy. It lights up Broadway, keeps the cable cars going in San Francisco and powers the Mall of America in Minnesota and it fuels American manufacturing. With $2 billion dollars in trade daily, Canada has a slight surplus because we provide 40 percent of US energy imports. Otherwise, they enjoy the surplus.


Rules of the Road


Let me now give you ten rules of the road that we Canadians need to think about in managing Mr. Trump and the US relationship.


  1. What is our ’Ask’? What will we ’Give’? Know our Facts.


Messaging must be blunt and on point. And get to the point. It is not a level playing field. We only have a better than even chance when we are playing on ice.


  1. We need to get our act together within governments, with business, labour, and civil society.


The Americans will exploit our differences to our cost as we are learning, once again, on softwood lumber where they will happily collect their import levy until we get our own act together.


We have a good brand but we need to develop it and use it more strategically. Americans like us more than we like them. As Margaret Atwood famously observed, when Americans look north they look into a mirror and see a reflection of themselves. There are always more Americans who think like Canadians than there are Canadians.


Canadians, of course, too often define themselves by what we are not – Americans. It’s an insecurity we have to get over.




Americans don’t mind differences but they don’t like being blind-sided especially on security issues like ballistic missile defence or Iraq. And linkage between issues is tricky and rarely works to our advantage.


  1. Relationships are everything. We would never have got the Canada-US FTA but for Brian Mulroney’s friendship with Ronald Reagan.


Our networks need a thousand points of contact. I applaud Saskatchewan legislators John Nilson and Wayne Elhard for their continuous and constructive efforts with their fellow state legislators including the Mid-West State Legislators, the Pacific Northwest Economic Forum and NASCO. Nilson and Elhard may have represented sat on different sides of the aisle in the legislature but when they traveled to the USA they took a Team Saskatchewan and Team Canada approach. Nilson and Elhard set the bar for their successors in the Legislature.


Make it a US issue and identify US allies. This is how we’ve gotten around various ‘Buy America’ restrictions. Recently, for example, the US acted against aluminium imports. The target was China but, as is often the case wwith US protectionism, we got sideswiped.


We make aluminum in Quebec. The workers are members of the United Steelworkers Union. The Steelworkers have been particular advocates of Buy America. But they consider their Canadian brothers and sisters to be part of ‘America’ so we got an exemption. It helps that their president, Leo Gerard, is a Canadian. A reminder that we need to make use of the international union ties between Canada and the USA.


And play by their rules so use lobbyists and lawyers.


If at first you don’t succeed try and try again. If you still aren’t getting through change your pitch. Practice and persistence makes perfect.


Pitching is retail and a contact sport. As an icebreaker, knowledge of US college football and basketball is very useful. A good way to meet Americans: join a church … or a gun club.


  1. Ottawa does not have all the answers.


The provinces have competence and experience.


Trust the staff at our missions in the USA – the Embassy and our Consulates for their read of the local environment. They know a lot and have a superb rolodex of contacts.


  1. The Administration is our entry point but the battleground is Congress and the states. We need to devote more attention to legislators – both in Congress and in the states.


Special interests – business, labor, environmentalist, minorities represented by lawyers and lobbyists – fund legislators and drive domestic policies eg ‘Buy America’. Protectionism is as American as apple pie – a deep-rooted political response to structural problems in the U.S. economy. For legislators, who must fundraise daily, all politics is local.


  1. Beware of noise and don’t get spooked.


A lot of what we are hearing now and what we will hear in the coming weeks of congressional hearings on NAFTA is positioning. The Americans are masters at positioning and it will excite the excitable and give the Toronto Star a daily feed of dramatic headlines.


We need to differentiate between the real and the improbable.


The bogeyman out there is the border adjustment tax – a real threat because it is endorsed by House Speaker Paul Ryan.


But the Americans also recognize that, as in in physics, for every action there is a reaction and if they adopt a border tax so will we and other nations. The closest parallel would be the Smoot-Hawley tariffs that contributed mightily to the Great Depression. No one wants to go down that road.


Most congressional legislation fails but we tend to behave like Chicken Little every time we see something we don’t like.


Again, their system is different from ours with checks and balances and separation of power.


  1. Go for Gold.


We are better than we think we are but there is a Canadian tendency to think about compromise from the outset – a natural reflection of our national character that has had to come to terms with geography and climate.


But compromising before we sit down is a mistake with the Americans. We should not out-negotiate ourselves beforehand. In other words, ask for what we really want rather than what we think they will give us. Nor should we ever expect gratitude on what we think we did for them.


This is not a problem for the USA. Business is business and the business of America is business.


  1. It’s a permanent campaign that needs all hands on deck – all levels of government, business, labor and civil society and ordinary Canadians who have American friends and family and who spend time in the USA.


Further Reading


Former US Ambassador David Jacobson used to say “Canadians think they know everything about Americans and Americans think they know all they need to know about Canadians.” We are, Jacobson concluded, “both wrong”.


And here are some books that you might want to look at to help you learn more about our favourite neighbour.  I particularly recommend Richard Haass’ A World in Disarray. Haass was head of policy planning in the Bush Administration’s State Department and now heads the Council on Foreign Relations. And for an insight into Trump America read J D Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.


On America


I am worried about our southern neighbour but the Founding Fathers designed a Constitution to prevent another King.


While Mr. Trump and George III may share certain attributes, the Constitution with its checks and balances and separation of powers also applies to Donald Trump.

And it works.


The courts over-tuned his executive order to keep out Muslims and his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch was emphatic about the independence of the judiciary. Despite holding a majority in Congress, Obamacare remains the law of the land. And his national security team – Mr. Tillerson and Generals McMaster, Kelly, Mattis are sound. Waterboarding is not coming back.


I leave you with this observation from the greatest modern observer of the United States, Alastair Cooke.


As a boy, I listened to Alistair Cooke’s Letters from America. He delivered his fifteen minute broadcast weekly from 1946-2004, nearly sixty years to audiences around the world through the BBC. Those of you with hair my colour will remember him as the host of Masterpiece Theatre.


While posted in New York I met Cooke at the English-Speaking Union. He had recently finished his epic television series on America: A Personal History of the United States.


America in 1979 was going through a bad patch. New York City was dirty and crime was a problem.There were gas lines and Jimmy Carter told people to turn down the heat and wear cardigans. The Russians had gone into Afghanistan and I wondered about the West.


I had the impression of a nation in decline. I asked Cooke what he thought of the future of the United States. He then told me that “In America, the race is on between its decadence and its vitality, and it has lots of both’.


Cooke paused and added that one should never underestimate another American quality- its remarkable resiliency.


I think Cooke is right and to end on a hopeful note I give the last words to Winston Churchill: You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

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Trade and Canadian Elections

Debating trade during elections is Canadian tradition

The tariff was a staple election issue after Confederation. Confederation itself was in part a defensive reaction to the U.S. abrogation of the Canada-U.S. reciprocity agreement. An integral part of Sir John A. Macdonald’s National Policy was a high tariff to protect Canadian manufacturing interests.

The dispute between Liberal free traders and Conservative protectionists culminated in the 1911 “reciprocity” election. A political cartoon from that era captures the mood. Captioned “The Way He Would Like it – Canada For Sale,” it features a grasping Uncle Sam exchanging a bag of money for a bowed and bound Miss Canada.

The dispute over tariff levels contributed to the rise of Prairie populism and the Progressive movement in the 1920s. Progressives eventually joined the Liberals, Conservatives and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (that, in 1961 morphed into the NDP). The Progressives also gave the Progressive Conservatives their antecedent, the national party name from 1942-2003.

Trade continued to feature in elections after the Second World War. It was the overarching theme of the1988 election. By then, however, party positions were reversed. Liberal Leader John Turner and NDP Leader Ed Broadbent opposed the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) negotiated by Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Mulroney, who had once ridiculed free trade. The impassioned, televised debate between Messieurs Turner and Mulroney is an election classic.

Continental trade was an issue in 1993 when Canadians elected Liberal Jean Chrétien. Subsequent side agreements on labour and the environment secured the North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA). Despite some rocky years of adjustment, the Canadian economy boomed ahead during the nineties on the back of the improved continental access and our integration into global value chains.

The real success of the FTA and NAFTA was the confidence it gave Canadians to compete internationally. If most premiers opposed freer trade in 1988, today it is the premiers who are the most active salesmen and advocates for freer trade.

Always a trading nation, we have become a nation of traders. Canada draws most of its annual income from trade.

Yet fears about trade persist.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s opposition to the TPP is a key theme in his party’s campaign and he has seized on Hillary Clinton’s opposition to bolster his arguments.

Successive U.S. administrations have done a poor job promoting the benefits of trade. While most Americans think the TPP a “good thing”, support is lower than in Canada and Mexico. Having 2016 presidential contender Ms. Clinton, one of the architects of the U.S. pivot to the Pacific, oppose the TPP undermines public confidence in freer trade.

Unifor, the union representing 40,000 Canadian auto workers, claims that the TPP will result in a loss of 20,000 auto jobs.

Similar fears were voiced by unions after the signature of the Auto Pact in 1965 and the FTA. In each case, employment subsequently rose. While employment in the auto sector is down significantly from its post-FTA/NAFTA highs, industry employment has posted small gains in recent years.

Adjustment assistance is essential to assuaging public fears on freer trade. The Harper government has promised funds to the auto and dairy industry in the wake of TPP.

Look to the example of Canada’s vintners. Before the FTA, Canadian Baby Duck was the preferred choice of teeny-boppers and, apocryphally, used to dissolve paint. With adjustment assistance, vines were replaced, equipment modernized and skills and training instituted. Today, Canadian wine is sold to 40 nations.

Governments and business need to do a better job of explaining the benefits of trade. If all politics is local so is trade. Businesses should tell employees how much of their salaries depend on trade.

Stephen Harper points with pride to the agreements concluded since 2006 with 39 countries. The TPP adds or updates 11 more. Meanwhile our market share of global trade continues to decline – “the second largest in the G20” observed the then senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada.

Finding markets for our goods and services is even more important than negotiating the trade deals.

One of the most successful initiatives of the Chrétien government was the series of Team Canada missions that included premiers and the private sector. Governor-General David Johnston markets Canadian services, especially education, during his travels.

Debating trade during elections is a long and honourable Canadian habit, even if party consistency is not. Our next government needs to make explaining trade to Canadians a permanent campaign.

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Trans Pacific Partnership, Canada and supply manageament

Canada’s commitment to freer trade about to be tested

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the United States this week to talk trade and security with President Barack Obama. They will discuss access for Japanese autos and U.S. agricultural products, major sticking points in concluding TPP negotiations.

Meanwhile, the U.S. legislation giving Mr. Obama trade promotion authority to “fast track” the TPP through Congress moves closer to reality with its passage last week through the relevant House and Senate committees.

When Mr. Obama was elected, there was little expectation that trade liberalization would be part of the Obama legacy. Climate, immigration and health-care reforms were to be his signature achievements but not freer trade because it roiled labour unions and environmentalists – key elements of the Democrat base.

But in 2009, during his first trip to Asia, Mr. Obama embraced the freer trade pact, originally initiated in 2002 by New Zealand, Chile, Brunei and Singapore. With the United States aboard, Australia and then Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia signed on.

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu in November, 2011, Stephen Harper secured Mr. Obama’s consent for Canadian participation on the basis that supply management was negotiable. Mexico also joined the TPP talks and, later, Japan. South Korea and Taiwan have signalled their interest in TPP.

When negotiated, TPP will cover 40 per cent of world trade and promises to be “the most progressive trade agreement in history.” It will reduce tariffs, cover services, procurement and intellectual property and include enforceable standards on labour and the environment.

Strategically, TPP is the economic complement to the U.S. military rebalance to Asia. U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter describes TPP as important as “another aircraft carrier.”

The pressure is on Canada to deal with our supply management practices because, as Mr. Harper recently acknowledged “we as Canadians cannot, alone, stop a deal from happening if we don’t like it.”

For Canada, the significance of the TPP goes beyond setting the standards for future trade deals. It gives trade negotiations a boost. After 14 years, the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round is approaching zombification. The TPP also effectively updates the competitive framework for North America without reopening NAFTA. With TPP membership, we also avoid becoming just a spoke in a U.S. hub.

The U.S. threatens to exclude Canada if we don’t deal on supply management but when it comes to agricultural protectionism, the U.S. also has much to reform. We need to call the U.S. on their export subsidies for dairy products and other technical barriers.

Canada should be a world leader in dairy exports. We make our superb artisanal cheese, with Quebec alone producing more than 300 varieties. We have land, climate and an increasingly competitive industry, if only we would look at it from the right end of the telescope.

Look to New Zealand and Australia. They reformed their supply management practices two decades ago. New Zealand’s co-operatives now export 95 per cent of their milk product.

Studies by our research institutes – C. D. Howe, Macdonald-Laurier, George Morris, Conference Board, School of Public Policy – argue that supply management costs Canadian consumers and stunts industry growth. They provide road-maps for transition from our current costly protectionism to profitable export growth.

Canada was once the “bread-basket” of the world. We should aim to own the global food podium and add dairy and poultry to our export leadership in pork and beef, grains and pulse. But to do so, we need to open new markets in the Pacific and elsewhere.

The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP declare they are committed to freer trade. Each party is equally committed to supply management. Defending supply management is part of our political DNA, laments John Manley, a former industry minister and now CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. He compares it to “a dog that it is better not to poke or it will jump up and bite you.”

Rather than fear competition, we should take the muzzle off supply marketing and follow former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s advice to open our industry’s “enormous export potential.”

Will our national leaders work with our premiers to reform supply management? Leaving supply management reform to Stephen Harper’s granddaughter is not an option.

The opportunities of membership in the TPP will create benefits that our grandchildren will enjoy. It’s time for us to reform supply management.

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Canada Europe Trade Agreement

Inside the Canada-Europe trade talks: How politics are undermining the deal

Special to The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Jun. 19 2013

A man on a mission, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is using his European tour and the G8 summit to advance the Canada-Europe free-trade agreement – known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the national leaders who constitute the European Union’s ‘board of directors.’

CETA was the central message in his meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande, and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He urged the Europeans to take what he described as a ‘monumental’ and ‘historic step’ that promises to increase two-way trade by 20 per cent.

We both want a deal.

The Europeans thought we should have had a deal in January. That we do not has left both sides frustrated.

The Europeans see this agreement as laying an opening framework for their trade negotiations with the United States – “the biggest bilateral deal in history” – that begin next month in Washington.

For Canada, the EU deal would also be a trampoline to potential progress in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.

For Mr. Harper, a deal would help change the channel on domestic travails. Better for the Tory caucus to be defending the trade deal on the barbecue circuit this summer than running defence on Senate follies.

But by publicly raising the ante on CETA, Mr. Harper risks leaving the impression with the EU that, for Canada, this deal is a necessity. For the Europeans, it is merely desirable. It enjoys nowhere the level of public attention in Europe as it attracts in Canada.

The Europeans carefully studied our system before entering into negotiations and, because trade and commerce is a shared federal-provincial power, they insisted that the provinces be at the bargaining table. As a result, joke the Europeans, when the Canadians come to Brussels they could fill a European Airbus, while the Europeans would fit comfortably into a Canadian Challenger.

The Europeans are surprised at our stubbornness and inflexibility on key issues. There is also a sense we tried to do an end run around their negotiators during the spring visit to Canada of French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and and again with Prime Minister Cameron during Mr. Harper’s visit to London for the funeral of Margaret Thatcher.

The Europeans argue that if we succeed with a deal through such an end run, then negotiations will be doubly difficult with United States. The EU is requiring a guarantee in the form of congressionally-approved Trade Promotion Authority from the Obama Administration to ensure an up-or-down congressional vote passage of any deal.

The EU system was designed to prevent end-runs, in part to insulate leaders from such pressure. They say we need to understand that in their process the route to a deal runs only through Brussels.

But does it? Even Europeans will tell you that key decisions are still made in Berlin, Paris and even London and that the eight presidents of the various European institutions are not in the same league as the national leaders.

The presumption was that European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, a former tough-minded Belgian Foreign Minister, held the EU negotiating mandate. He does, but he operates within the European Union system.

Too often in the negotiations there has been a sense on the Canadian side that the decisions are made within the rival directorates within the labyrinth of the Brussels bureaucracy. Canadians have ruefully experienced the reality of Henry Kissinger’s jibe about European unity: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”

But, given our own federal system, complexity in governance is something that we should have figured out beforehand.

The outstanding issues are difficult but not impossible. It is now down to a give-and-take on these key points:

  • How far do we give in terms of patent protection for pharmaceuticals?
  • How much access do we get for our pork and beef?
  • How much access do we give to cheese and dairy imports?
  • How much are both sides willing to give in terms of government procurement, especially for local and sub-state purchasing?
  • Can we use the agreement to push back threatened restrictions on oil sands products?
  • How do we establish rules on financial services, with Canada holding the moral upper hand?
  • Can we define the rules of origin on everything from cars to beef to chocolate. Supply-chain integration means much of what is ‘Made in Canada’ includes parts from the United States. The EU doesn’t want to give away now what will be negotiable with the Americans.
  • What are obligations in the Strategic Partnership Agreement that the EU insists upon will be part of the package?
  • What are the exemptions that inevitably will reduce the potential benefits of the agreement?

Mr. Harper could do with advice from someone who appreciates his situation. He should call Brian Mulroney. The architect of the Canada-US free-trade agreement, the North American free-trade agreement and the Acid Rain Accord, Mr. Mulroney understands the sensitivities of the end game and how to manage the caucus, the provinces and the public.

After four years of negotiation, we should be popping the corks on the Champagne (or the Canadian ice wine). It would be a terrible shame if this deal goes flat, not on policy differences, but because of the mechanics of the negotiating process.

A member of the teams that negotiated the FTA and NAFTA, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge, LLP.

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Canada’s Foreign Service needs fixing

No wonder diplomats are on strike: The foreign service needs fixing

Colin Robertson Special to The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Jun. 12 2013

For a nation whose prosperity and growth depends on a strong, active internationalism, it makes no sense for our government to be at war with our foreign service.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, the bargaining agent for Canada’s diplomats, is now into a second month of active protest. This has included a series of rotating walk-outs that have affected visits abroad by the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and ministers.

The PAFSO complaint is a growing pay gap between foreign service officers and more highly paid economists, commerce officers and lawyers who are doing the same job, often working side-by-side.

As the smallest of the public-service bargaining agents, PAFSO has gotten short shrift from the Treasury Board Secretariat. Treasury Board has probably made the calculation that there is not a lot of public sympathy for bureaucrats, especially those perceived to lead a ‘glamorous’ existence on the international cocktail circuit, courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer.

That this perception is a myth is beside the point. The foreign service does not have a natural constituency. Yet its work is crucial to the government and the public it serves.

Get into trouble through injury or with the local authorities and need help? Want a lead on selling or buying a product? Want to sponsor your fiancée or parents for immigration to Canada? Call our embassy and who responds: a foreign-service officer.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have developed an ambitious international agenda. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is actively recruiting new Canadians; this requires careful screening and issuance of immigration visas. International Trade Minister Ed Fast is negotiating a series of trade deals. Foreign Minister John Baird is determined to advance the ‘dignity’ agenda.

The foreign service often designs and always delivers these initiatives. Without its active effort and involvement, government objectives would be difficult to achieve.

Within the civil service, the foreign service has traditionally been the closest to the Prime Minister. The foreign service was effectively an adjunct of the Prime Minister’s Office from its inception in 1909 until 1945, during which time successive prime ministers from Robert Borden to William Lyon Mackenzie King also held the portfolio of Secretary of State for External Affairs.

The foreign service was housed with the prime minister in the East Block until they moved into the Pearson Building in 1973. Even then, foreign service officers traditionally served on the staff of the prime minister and a senior foreign service officer accompanied the PM on travels abroad.

Pierre Trudeau once complained that he could read all he needed to know in the New York Times, but he came to rely heavily on the foreign service, especially in the promotion of his valedictory ‘Peace Initiative.’ Brian Mulroney promised ‘pink slips and running shoes’ in his first months of governing, but before long his chief of staff, lead speechwriter and communications director were all from the foreign service.

Today, there is a perception that, after seven years, the Prime Minister and the international portfolio ministers have no confidence in their foreign service even if they trust individual officers. If so, then now is the time to reform the foreign service rather than continuing to rubbish it.

The last serious look at the foreign service was a Royal Commission conducted by Pamela McDougall between 1979-80.

Prime Minister Harper has had success with task forces, such as that on Afghanistan, with clear objectives, a short time-frame, and designed to produce practical recommendations.

Mr. Harper should mandate a task force to determine what kind of foreign service we need for the future. Terms and conditions of service – including a more flexible approach to postings, improved language training, and better recognition of spousal contributions – should be a part of the inquiry. It would complement ongoing work on the government’s Global Commerce Strategy.

Both efforts need to bring us into the 21st century by also allowing our foreign service to use social media. If the foreign services of our U.S. and European allies can use the tools of public diplomacy – to blog, tweet and speak out in support of their national interests – why can’t we? Today’s foreign service long ago embraced the tenets of guerrilla diplomacy, exchanging pinstripes for a backpack.

For its part, PAFSO should lift its guild-like grip on lateral entry into the foreign service. In the future we are going to need the best talent we can find and this will require a creative approach to appointments.

In the meantime, the Treasury Board should look carefully at the PAFSO case and provide compensation commensurate with what it pays those doing the same kind of work. We need our foreign service back on the job.

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Excerpted from

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Sun, 30 Jun 2013

“There certainly seems to be no sign of any inclination from the government to find a resolution,” Colin Robertson, a former diplomat who was once the head of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers union, said in an interview.

“You’re also getting into a situation now in which good people are leaving, they’re just fed up and saying it’s not worth it because this government doesn’t value us. And so the government, by holding out, may win this battle but it’s likely to be a Pyrrhic victory, because they’re leaving a very unhappy group.”

It’s time for the Conservative government to make some decisions about the foreign service, Robertson added, given the strike is creating a lengthy visa backlog that’s having an impact on Canada’s tourism and education industries.

Tourism stakeholders have said it may cost the industry $280 million this summer, while some students have been forced to withdraw from Canadian university courses because they didn’t get their visas on time.

“The government needs to take a look at what they want from the foreign service; it needs to use the strike as an opportunity to figure out where they want the foreign service to be in 10 years.”

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Managing the US relationship

From The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Aug. 08 2012

Canada has to master the complexity of the U.S. political system

by Allan Gotlieb, Michael Kergin and Colin Robertson (For an interview between Robertson and  RCI’s Wojtek Gwiazda go to RCI site).

In three months we will wake up to see who Americans have elected as president, to the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. We will be deeply affected by the results, whatever the political stripe of those who occupy the White House and take control of the two houses of Congress. Like it or not, Canadians do have a “dog in this hunt.” Geography, history, economics and culture have created a deep integration that goes far beyond a typical foreign relationship.

Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser to George W. Bush, captured it well when she said, “Here come the Canadians with their condominium issues.” Not meant as a compliment, it was uttered in frustration at what administration officials felt was the picayune nature of the issues that we were bringing to the table. They were “domestic” – trade and commerce, transportation, energy and the environment, rather than the traditional statecraft of war and peace.

In terms of Canada’s national interests, however, the important issues are the picayune ones that deal with pipelines, dams, bridges, beef, lumber and the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink. This is a tribute to the maturity of a relationship in which it’s been almost 200 years since we last fired shots at each other. Would that the rest of the world had reached this stage of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “good neighbourliness.”

It is true, of course, that our relative dependence is asymmetrical – we depend on the United States as a market much more than it depends on us. But it is also true that we are their biggest foreign market – and there is nothing picayune about that.

Three inescapable truths emerge from our high degree of integration:

1. Most Canada-U.S. conflicts emerge as a result of the U.S. domestic, not foreign policy, agenda.

2. Their outcome derives from the uniquely American doctrine of the separation of powers, the Congress being primus inter pares. Our diplomacy must be based on these constitutional realities but also on the equally important truth – to borrow from Lord Palmerston – that in the Congress of the United States, Canada has no permanent friends, only permanent interests.

3. The initiative will almost always lie with Canada to make sure the issue is on the White House agenda.

More than any other country, Canada has to master the complexity of the U.S. political system. Unless we do, little progress will be made on most issues. There are too many players (every congressman a foreign minister), too many special interests, too many bureaucrats, too many lobbyists at the doors of Congress and the White House, too fragmented a power structure and too much truth in Tip O’Neill’s dictum that “all politics is local.”

Although the party affiliation of U.S. legislators or officials can sometimes be important, it becomes far less so than the sensitivities and skills with which the major issues in the relationship are handled.

For all these reasons, we need to take the long view in determining whether our challenges are being successfully met. Relationships are vital, especially between the president and prime minister, but narrowly defined special interests can sometimes trump the national interest. No better example can be found than the devastating softwood lumber dispute, which originated in Ronald Reagan’s first term and has continued for 30 years and counting. It took about a decade for our prime minister to persuade the same president and his successor to reverse his country’s position on acid rain. A protectionist tariff on shakes and shingles imposed by the U.S. almost derailed free-trade negotiations. Yet, as Brian Mulroney demonstrated, Canada never had a friend in the White House greater than Ronald Reagan.

Today there is frustration with President Barack Obama’s unfortunate decision to punt the Keystone XL Pipeline permit until after the election, but like shakes and shingles, this had everything to do with U.S. domestic politics rather than the national interest. Canada was collateral damage, which may yet prove temporary. Fortunately, on the issue of border access, which is of great strategic importance to Canada and on which the President has staked out a leadership role, we seem to be making steady, if slow, progress. When it works, that is how it works.

For a foreign power, the challenge of dealing with Congress is even more difficult. We tend to be treated as just another special interest, but one that cannot contribute to campaigns. As far as the White House is concerned, Canada is usually not seen as a problem. But this means we are rarely, if ever, top of mind. It is doubtful that an American president, who begins each day with a national security briefing, spends an hour a year thinking about Canada.

So we work the system, using all our access points, starting with our able ambassadors. But regardless of the frustrations, experience tells us that the best card that any Canadian prime minister has to play is his ability to talk directly to the president and engage him in those picayune condominium issues that come with sharing a continent.

Allan Gotlieb and Michael Kergin are former Canadian ambassadors to the United States and senior advisers at Bennett Jones LLP. Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and senior adviser to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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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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