John McCain: A friend to Canada

Canada had a friend in John McCain


Senator McCain was a warrior and he understand the values of collective security. He was also a democrat and indeed championed the idea of a league of democracies sustained by a military alliance.
Location is everything in Washington. Canada’s splendid Arthur Erickson-designed embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue, just across from the National Gallery of Art, is at the start of the presidential inaugural parade that is held every four years. The embassy’s sixth-floor balcony overlooks the Capitol building. Its superb view down Pennsylvania Avenue makes it a prize site for schmoozing while keeping an eye on the parade.

Our invitation to members of the new Congress, incoming administration and the movers and shakers of Washington is always a draw. For the second George W. Bush inaugural parade on January 20, 2005, we welcomed former Speaker Newt Gingrich and incoming West Virginia governor (and now Senator) Joe Manchin . But our prize catch was Arizona Senator John McCain who came along with one of his daughters, who lived in Toronto.

The Senator made straight for the balcony. He was not there for any ‘networking’. He had come to watch the parade.

It was a cold January – mitts, scarf and toque weather. The Senator positioned himself against the balcony and stayed put, long after everyone else had gone in for something warming. I stood beside him and tried to engage him on some of our issues – softwood lumber and beef. He grunted acknowledgement, his eyes on the marching bands.

“I marched myself as a midshipman at Annapolis in the second Eisenhower inaugural… it was another cold day.”

For the next hour, he did colour commentary, displaying an encyclopaedic, opinionated knowledge of the various marching bands, punctuated with his trademark wit and pungent humour. His daughter came out at one point and fastened a scarf around him but he stood bare-headed and with his hands in his dark wool coat.

‘Dad, it’s really cold out here…come in.’

‘No thanks…I’ve been in colder places than this.’

It was another insight into this doughty American hero.

I first met Senator McCain when I served as Canadian Consul General for the southwestern USA. Arizona was part of the territory and the senior Senator from Arizona’s office was supportive of our efforts to create the Canada-Arizona Business Council. The CABC set about increasing by tenfold the number of direct flights between Arizona and Canada. It was eventually realized thanks to CABC efforts, especially those of CEO Glenn Williamson, now our Honorary Consul in Phoenix.

When I was assigned next to establish the new Advocacy Secretariat at our Embassy in Washington, Senator McCain was an obvious target for our outreach efforts. He had served in Congress since 1983 and run well as the maverick ‘Straight Talk Express’ against George W. Bush for the GOP nomination in 2000. In 2008 he would be the GOP presidential nominee.

Senator McCain’s Washington staff was as efficient as those in Arizona. Perhaps not surprisingly, given his similarities to Teddy Roosevelt, we found that he was an environmentalist and his staff gave us useful advice on the somewhat obscure, but important, Devils Lake environmental issue. Run-off from Devils Lake in North Dakota was running into the Red River that flows north into Manitoba. We wanted the Army Corps of Engineers to put in a filtration system. Senator McCain, who early on recognized the dangers of climate change, helped us. He also traveled, with Hillary Clinton, across the north of Canada to Churchill to assess the changes wrought by global warming.

Senator McCain was a warrior and he understand the values of collective security. He was also a democrat and indeed championed the idea of a league of democracies sustained by a military alliance. One of the most successful initiatives of the Harper government that the Trudeau government has wisely continued to support is the Halifax International Security Forum, a three-day world-class security forum for the democracies. Set up under the direction of then Defence Minister Peter MacKay it has succeeded under the tireless direction of its CEO, Peter van Praagh.

Critical to the HISF success is the congressional delegation that flies up from Washington each November. John McCain was a driving spirit behind the American presence. Not only did he attend every year, he personally cajoled and convinced his colleagues, Republican and Democrat, to come with him. This congressional presence, often more than come to Canada in an entire year, ensured high-level participation from ministers and flag-rank officers both trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific.

In what was his last appearance, weeks after the election of Donald Trump in November 2016, Senator McCain was unequivocal in his support for NATO, as well as the NAFTA. They needed to be preserved and strengthened. And when it came to conduct in war, he was equally forceful telling us “I don’t give a damn what the president (elect) wants to do…we will not waterboard. We will not torture people.”

Yes, Senator McCain is an American hero. He was also a friend to Canada.

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Advancing Canadian interests with the US

From Embassy Magazine, May 4, 2011 Advancing Canadian Interests with the USA

Apart from a couple of tropes about the “Americanization” of our gun registration in the French language debate and Ralph Nader’s warnings about “deep integration,” one of the most remarkable features of this campaign was the absence of any reference to Canada-US relations and February’s Washington Declaration.

In the final days, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reminded Canadians that one in five Canadian jobs is linked to our trade with the US. He reaffirmed February’s pledge to reduce cross-border congestion through the creation of a perimeter security shield and tackle the regulatory thicket that impedes our shared competiveness. Now he and President Obama must act and get it done.

With Parliament likely to return to pass the budget, we should make passage of the copyright legislation a first order of business. This, the top American “ask,” is essential to attracting continuing foreign investment, especially given the challenge of our rising petro-dollar. Copyright protection is also a trade policy key to both the Canada-EU trade deal and our entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The original intent for the perimeter security agreement was to have an action plan by mid-June. This week’s Republican presidential candidates’ debate is a reminder that the US electoral clock is ticking and with it the window of opportunity for the border deal. To re-ignite the process, the leaders should appoint personal envoys to run interference and keep the schedule on track. Former ambassador to Washington Derek Burney or former BC premier Gordon Campbell both know how to get it done.

Premiers, who played a critical role in securing last year’s procurement reciprocity agreement, must be brought into the tent because they share constitutional authority for implementation. This would be a good opportunity to resurrect the First Ministers conference and demonstrate visibly to Canadians why this deal is in our interest.

Success in the US will depend on the support of state governments and premiers are our bridge to governors. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nova Scotia counterpart Darrell Dexter have a special mission: to convince Opposition Leader Jack Layton on why US trade puts bread on the table and sustains union jobs. The return to profitability of GM, Ford and Chrysler—the auto sector is our most integrated industry—is a case study in sensible collaboration between labor, business and government.

The Canadian business community is already onside and they’ve done valuable homework in laying out what needs to be done.  But the American business community needs to step up to the plate. Their participation is necessary because they are best placed to point out to Congress and state legislators the 8 million American jobs and billions in investment that depend on trade with Canada.

Then there’s the irritants and crises that require the full-time attention of our capable ambassadors, Gary Doer and David Jacobson. For American “wise man” George Shultz, former US secretary of state, managing the Canada-US relationship is like tending a garden. “The way to keep weeds from overwhelming you,” he wrote in his memoir, “is to deal with them constantly and in their early stages.”

On the American side, President Obama must be satisfied with the election results. In Prime Minister Stephen Harper he has a proven, reliable partner who has been returned to power with a stable, secure government. His Administration has dilly-dallied on the XL Keystone pipeline permit but it now appears that this will happen by the fall. We should learn from this lesson and invite the administration to look at all our connections: rail, electrical grids, pipelines, roads and bridges. Our mutual international competitiveness requires us to take these beyond the control of narrow interests.

Nowhere is the abusive power of special interests more perniciously illustrated than in the protracted opposition by the operator of the Ambassador Bridge to the construction of the Detroit River International Crossing. With a quarter of our trade passing through this gateway, it is time for President Obama to intervene.

There are other “weeds” that need tending, including the New York State ballast water regulation that would effectively curb shipping on the Great Lakes and the ongoing pollution risk to the Red River from Devils Lake.

Prime Minister Harper has practiced Brian Mulroney’s golden rule for the conduct of relations with the US: We can disagree without being disagreeable.  Now he needs to follow the second Mulroney dictum—Canada’s influence in the world is measured by the extent to which we are perceived as having real influence in Washington.

Influence requires a vigorous diplomatic and intelligence service bringing perspective on issues like nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change and the continuing economic crisis. It means more effort in regions where we have shared interests, especially the Americas. Or where we can bring special insight, as in China and India, where smart immigration policy has given us so much of their diaspora. Or fora where the US is absent and we have the ability to lead, like the Commonwealth and Francophonie.

Real influence also depends on being a reliable partner in collective security and helping the US bear the global burden of primacy, as we did by putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan, planes in the air over Libya and taking a lead role in the reconstruction of Haiti. The Canada First Defence Strategy will maintain our capacity by investing in new kit including ships and fighter jets.

With his win, Stephen Harper achieves new place and standing amongst global leaders. But our international leverage hinges on tending the garden next door. With his strong mandate, Prime Minister Harper can move quickly to advance Canadian interests and North American competitiveness. Now it’s up to President Obama to demonstrate his commitment to good neighbourliness.

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