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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Homeland Security scrutinizes Canadian Syrian Refugees

Canadian officials have assured U.S.counterparts that Syrian refugees face multiple layers of security screening before they are settled inside Canada.

Canadian officials have assured U.S.counterparts that Syrian refugees face multiple layers of security screening before they are settled inside Canada.
Photo Credit: CBC

U.S. scrutinizes Canada’s screening of refugees

The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is hearing testimony on Canada’s process of quickly bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees. Some prominent American leaders have expressed concern that Canada’s screening of refugees may not be adequate and that dangerous people could too easily cross the Canada-U.S. border. About 400,000 people cross every day.

Canada uses several layers of security screening

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has told his American counterparts that Canada employs several layers of security screening. Only refugees screened and approved by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees are chosen. They are then screened by Canadian officials abroad and biometrics are collected.

This is by no means the first time prominent Americans have suggested terrorists have easy access to the U.S. from Canada. Canadian officials have had to work hard to dispel the myth.

Terrorist myth persists

“Ever since (the terrorist attacks of) 9/11, there has been this sense amongst many well-placed Americans including people like the chair of the Armed Services Committee and former presidential candidate John McCain and current presidential candidate Hilary Clinton that some of the bad guys came in from Canada. It’s not true. It’s mythology. But it remains there out as a kind of suspicion,” says Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

ListenNo ‘fast pass’ into the U.S.

Robertson points out that after multiple screenings, refugees are still not granted easy access to the U.S.  “They still come as stateless or Syrian citizens. They can’t travel to the United States without filling out all the forms that the Americans require…So it’s not as if they are getting a fast pass into the United States through the back door of Canada.”

Some Americans would like to step up border security measures by having Canada share its no-fly list and by having both countries share entry and exit information about people crossing the common border. Canada is reluctant to do so because there is more pressure to respect privacy concerns.

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Perimeter Security

We are making progress on a more accessible border with U.S.

Colin Robertson Thursday, Nov. 27 2014 Globe and Mail

Tragedies can divide people and nations. They can also bring them together in shared solidarity as was recently demonstrated by Canada and the United States around our still-developing security perimeter.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States retrenched. The 49th parallel became a real border. Since then both countries, at the initiative of Canadian governments – Liberal and Conservative – have worked to create a security perimeter within which people and goods can circulate. Last month, the perimeter concept passed a critical confidence test.

The recent assassination of Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil by adherents of radical Islam (mental health also played a role) could easily have resurrected American fears of a soft-on-security Canada.A week earlier, Politico, the popular Washington insiders’ daily, ran a story describing “the real terrorist threat next door.”

Headlined “Fear Canada,” it rehashed the tale of millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam and the Toronto 18 warning that the U.S. has much more to fear from Canada. Even if the piece had a South Park “Blame Canada” quality, it could have found an audience in perfervid Washington. But it didn’t.

Instead, the U.S. reaction to the assassinations has been empathetic and understanding.

Within days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry laid a wreath at our national cenotaph, symbolizing American sympathy and solidarity. This past weekend, at the Halifax International Security Forum, the congressional delegation led by Republican Senator John McCain and Democrat Senator Tim Kaine expressed the same sentiment, acknowledging that such events could also happen in the United States.

So what has changed?

A lot, including the development of a verifiable security “perimeter” – a word once forbidden from the official Canadian lexicon for fear it would somehow undermine Canadian sovereignty.

The “Smart Border” Accord, negotiated by then Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and Homeland Security Adviser (and later Secretary) Tom Ridge, kicked off the process with its checklist of thirty plus deliverables. It succeeded.

Mr. Manley and Mr. Ridge trusted each other. They set deadlines and demanded that their officials reconcile their differences before the two met.

But progress is not always in a straight line. When former prosecutor Michael Chertoff succeeded Mr. Ridge, border co-operation froze. Enforcement became the order of the day.

A more accessible border was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first ask of Mr. Obama during the President’s visit to Ottawa in February, 2009. When it went nowhere, Mr. Harper renewed his request and, in December, 2011, the Harper agenda became a shared plan for border and regulatory collaboration.

Converging Canadian and American public attitudes towards security help the process.

An IPSOS poll, released at the Halifax Forum, says that 60 per cent of Canadians and two-thirds of Americans see the world as a more dangerous place, underlining the case for co-operation.

A second look by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at recent Canadian and American polling concluded that strong majorities – 57 per cent in Canada and 72 per cent in the U.S. – support closer co-operation on border security.

Border and regulatory co-operation is delivering results:

Enhancing collaborative cross-border law enforcement most visibly through the “Shiprider” program where enforcement officers of both nations jointly police the Great Lakes.

Harmonized approach on who can enter the perimeter. Canada is introducing an electronic travel authorization system that will parallel the existing U.S. visa-free system for pre-screening entry from travellers from visa-free countries.

Systematic information sharing on immigrant and refugee applicants, including entry information on third-country nationals thus allowing our two countries to share information on who has entered.

Joint border infrastructure planning to improve passage, including 28 binational ports-of-entry committees created to ensure local input.

Other tangible improvements include additional trusted-traveller lines at our ports of entry. Over a million Canadians subscribe to the “fast-pass” NEXUS program.

There is still work to do.

We need to merge the various trusted-traveller programs (and include Mexico). We need to roll-out the “single window” program so businesses and travellers can provide information to both governments once, not umpteen times in different formats.

The financing of the Detroit customs plaza remains unresolved. “Once inspected, twice (and eventually thrice) cleared” is still more rhetoric than reality. Border officials on both sides still behave with an “enforcement” mentality rather than as expeditors of goods and people.

We need to make permanent border and regulatory oversight within our Privy Council Office. Changes to the U.S. government’s North American oversight, recommended in the recent Council on Foreign Relations report, deserves attention.

But we are making progress and passing real tests. Our continental perimeter, one that will eventually include Mexico, is taking shape.

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A helpful fixer role for Canada in Syria and Egypt?

These are Canada’s options in Syria and Egypt. None of them are easy

The Globe and Mail Published Wednesday, Aug. 28 2013

So what can Canada do about Syria and Egypt where the options for policymakers range from bad to worse.

Syria is the latest example of a failing state where the dictator is doing everything he can to hang onto power including breaking international law, most recently in the apparent use of chemical weapons.

UN-sanctioned inspectors are on the ground attempting to determine the facts although US Secretary of State John Kerry has declared evidence of chemical weapons is “undeniable” and that there must be “accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons”.  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the US is “ready to go.”

Acting precipitously, as the USA and its ‘coalition of the willing’ learned in Iraq comes with a huge cost in blood, treasure and international standing. But, as Senator John McCain argues,  if the USA doesn’t make an armed response “our credibility in the world is diminished even more.”

Meanwhile, the military coup in Egypt that ousted President Morsi is a reminder that the transition to representative government takes time and requires patience.

It took the Anglosphere nearly a millennium to go from Magna Carta to the extension of the franchise to first, all men and, less than a century ago, all women. In the case of civil rights for African Americans, it is just fifty years since the March on Washington that led to legislation on voting and civil rights.

If we have learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan it is that the road to representative government is long, crooked, tortuous and filled with disappointments.

The costs of Iraq and Afghanistan to the USA are estimated at between four and six trillion dollars (Canada’s entire economy is  $1.83 trillion).

An estimate of the costs of intervention in Syria is contained in a recent letter from General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Senators Carl Levin and John McCain.

Dempsey observed that “the decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly” because it “is no less than an act of war.”

To train and advise the Syrian opposition is costing $500 million annually.

Establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, Dempsey wrote, would have a start-up cost of $500 million and a monthly bill of a billion dollars. Intervention employing special forces to secure the chemical stockpiles in Iraq would cost at least another billion dollars a month

Policymakers, as well as armchair generals and responsibility-to-protect advocates, should start any discussions on intervention by reading aloud Dempsey’s observation that the last decade has taught that it is “not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state.”

They should also heed Dempsey’s three warnings:

First, “We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action.”

Second: “We must also understand risk-not just to our forces, but to our other global responsibilities.”

Third, “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”

Intervention, Dempsey says, should also be done  “in concert with our allies and partners to share the burden and solidify the outcome.”

These considerations and the requirement for burden-sharing were discussed during the weekend conversations involving President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry with western leaders, including Prime Minister Harper.

Surveys reveal that Americans are very wary of armed intervention. Canadian attitudes are likely to be similar.

So what can we do?

The immediate consideration is humanitarian.

The UNHCR estimates that there are now nearly two million refugees, including a million children, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Funding for the three billion dollar Syria Regional Refugee Response plan is currently only 38 percent funded. Canada has subscribed $81.5 million towards Syrian relief.

Beyond money, we should also consider ramping up our refugee intake in a way that is both strategic and humanitarian.

Experience has taught us that successful integration of refugees depends on many factors. Like the installation of democracy, some adapt better than others and sustaining Canadian support for a generous refugee and immigration program obliges policymakers to temper generosity with pragmatism.

One group that is under stress and that may require resettlement is Egypt’s Christian minority. We have condemned the attacks on the over 60 churches but their situation is precarious.

Forty years ago, in response to the expulsion of 60,000 Ugandan Asian, Canada resettled nearly 7,000.

Like the Egyptian Christians, the Ugandan Asian were a community of small business people and professionals. Today, their success is another reflection of the positive virtues of Canadian pluralism.

The Egyptian Christians would likely integrate in similar fashion, especially given the presence in Canada of their co-religionists to help in the transition.

Taking a leadership role in humanitarian relief in Syria and Egypt would give tangible substance to Foreign Minister John Baird’s ‘dignity’ agenda. It would also demonstrate, once again, the Canadian tradition as a helpful fixer.

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The Inauguration

What Canadians need to know about the second Obama inauguration iPolitics Insight

By | Jan 18, 2013

The American Constitution is a sacred secular document. And so, pursuant to the XXth amendment to the Constitution, at noon on Sunday, January 20th, likely in the Blue Room of the White House, President Barack Obama will place his left hand on two stacked Bibles — one used by Abraham Lincoln and the other by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Raising his right hand before Chief Justice John Roberts, he will “swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” George Washington added the phrase “so help me God” to the 35-word vow and few presidents have departed from this tradition.

Moments beforehand, likely at the Naval Observatory that is the vice presidential home, Vice President Joe Biden will take his oath of office from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Thus will formally begin the second Obama administration.

The Ceremony

The theme of this year’s inauguration is ‘Faith in America’s Future’. The inaugural events begun Thursday night and continue through the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend with the main events on Monday evening.

Because January 20 falls on a Sunday, the inauguration ceremony takes place Monday on the western steps of Capitol Hill. Civil servants in the District of Columbia and adjacent Maryland and Virginia suburbs get a holiday.

Shortly before 11 a.m., the president will travel by limousine from the White House to the Capitol. For the first inauguration, George Washington designed a coach of state with a military escort and an entourage of worthies including foreign emissaries.

Until 1936, the inauguration took place on March 4, originally to give the Electoral College time to meet after the election. After the long lame-duck period between Herbert Hoover’s defeat in November 1932 and Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration in March 1933, the Constitution was amended to set January 20 for the inauguration and January 3 for the start of the new Congress.

From the inauguration of the first Democrat president, Andrew Jackson, in 1829, the ceremony was performed on the east side of the Capitol Building, facing the Supreme Court and Library of Congress.

Ronald Reagan, with an eye for the camera, decided to move the ceremony to the west side with its splendid vista looking straight down the Mall to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. It has stayed on the west side of the Capitol ever since.

In 2009, a record 1.8 million people showed up on the National Mall to watch the inauguration of the first African-American President. This year it is estimated the crowd will be 600,000 to 800,000.

The formal ceremony will begin with the U.S. Marine Band (probably playing ‘Hail to the Chief’), followed by a choir and the call to order by New York Senator Chuck Schumer, chair of the Joint Congressional Committee for the Inauguration. Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams will give the invocation, then the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir will sing. Vice President Biden will then be sworn to office, then James Taylor will sing.

Then comes the presidential oath of office, the Inaugural Address, a song from Kelly Clarkson, a poem from Richard Blanco (a tradition that began with Robert Frost reading ‘The Gift Outright’ to John F. Kennedy in 1961), then a benediction from Reverend Luis Leon, pastor of St. John’s Church of LaFayette Square, the ‘church of the presidents’ since James Madison, before Beyonce sings the national anthem concluding the official ceremony.

After the inauguration, the president, vice president and guests will go back into the Capitol Building for a lunch hosted by the Congress, a tradition that began with the first Eisenhower inaugural.

On the menu this year: steamed lobster with New England clam chowder sauce, followed by hickory-grilled bison with red potato horseradish cake and wild huckleberry reduction and, for dessert, Hudson Valley apple pie with sour cream ice cream, aged cheese and honey.

The Parade

Then comes the parade — a procession of marching bands and floats that started with Thomas Jefferson’s second inaugural when he rode to the Capitol surrounded by mechanics from the Navy Yard and a military band. Teddy Roosevelt’s parade included an estimated 35,000 participants, including the Rough Riders with whom he charged up San Juan Hill.

The parade starts at the Capitol complex, down Constitution to Pennsylvania and finishes up after passing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a.k.a. the White House.

The best vantage point is from the roof of the Canadian Embassy. While working there, I watched the second Bush inaugural. Our guests included newly-elected West Virginia Governor (and now Senator) Joe Manchin, former speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator John McCain.

McCain had marched as an Annapolis midshipman in the second Eisenhower inaugural. He knows marching bands like no one I have ever met and he provided colour commentary from the balcony for nearly an hour and a half. The level of political detail was mesmerizing — why a particular band from a particular state was selected to march. It was very cold and his daughter, who lived in Toronto, came out and encouraged him to come in from the cold. He smiled and told her that he’d been in “worse situations”.

For austerity reasons, President Barack Obama is cutting back on the number of inaugural balls. There will be two official balls plus a concert honoring military families. The bigger ball, at the Washington Convention Center, is expected to draw 35,000. The entertainment will include Katy Perry, Smokey Robinson, Usher, Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, Marc Anthony, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, the cast of ‘Glee’ and the youth gospel choir Soul Children of Chicago.

Probably the most rambunctious celebration took place after the inauguration of Andrew Jackson when, according to a contemporary account, “the president was followed from the Capitol to the White House by a motley mob — black and white — who pressed into the mansion to see the new president of the people … They clambered upon the satin furniture with their muddy boots for a better view…”, breaking the china and taking home bits and pieces as souvenirs. As Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story observed, “I never saw such a mixture. The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant.”

There will be souvenirs aplenty, including a presidential medal, but Canadians will appreciate an inaugural toque as a practical memento.

The next morning there is a prayer service, a tradition that dates back to George Washington. Since Franklin Roosevelt it has been held at the National Cathedral where such notables as Woodrow Wilson, Cordell Hull and Helen Keller are interred.

The Speech

The Inaugural Address sets the vision for the administration.

When successful — as with Lincoln, FDR and JFK — it is a call to action with ringing phrases that become part of our dialogue. For my generation, it is John Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

The shortest inaugural speech was that of George Washington. At 135 words, he observed that: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” The longest address: 8,600 words, delivered by William Henry Harrison in 1841. He caught a cold and died of pneumonia a month later.

At 2,421 words, Obama’s 2009 Inaugural Address was slightly longer than Reagan’s first inaugural, but almost 30 per cent longer than Franklin Roosevelt’s, 80 per cent longer than JFK’s and three and a half times longer than Lincoln’s second inaugural.

There is a three-part pattern to the speeches.

In time of a change in party, they begin with praise for America’s democratic commitment to peaceful and orderly transition. In time of continuity, they underline the American ability to come together after a hard-fought campaign.

The second part describes the problems facing the nation and the world and this segues into the third part — underlining the American capacity for innovation and the strength of American institutions. Americans’ ability to solve problems when they put partisanship aside is critical. As Lyndon Johnson said in 1965, “If we succeed it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but rather because of what we believe”. Then the president will usually appeal to a Higher Power and continuing trust in God.

The first Obama speech underlined change, the theme of his successful campaign and called for a “new era of responsibility”. Having received a majority of the votes cast (the first Democrat to do so since Jimmy Carter) and with control of both houses of Congress, it all seemed possible.

Obama talked about casting aside the old debates and spoke of a more pragmatic, less ideological approach to government. He acknowledged race but did not make it or civil rights the central theme. He took on the Bush preoccupation with security, saying, “We don’t have to choose between our safety and our ideals.” He told America’s enemies, “We will defeat you.” There was a sense of the potential for transformational change with an emphasis on unity, conversation, expertise, and knowledge.

It’s hard for a second inaugural address to capture the promise of the first. Expect some reference to freedom. It is the 150th anniversary since the Statue of Freedom was placed atop the partly constructed Capitol Dome in 1863, during the Civil War. Lincoln, the first Republican president, is one of Obama’s heroes and the Lincoln collection of speeches has furnished many presidents with quotable quotes.

During the campaign, President Obama talked about the fiscal cliff and need for tax and entitlement reform, immigration reform and, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, gun control and attention to mental health.

Don’t expect them to feature in the inaugural address. It is a vision document.

The blueprint for action comes in the State of the Union address. Speaker John Boehner has invited the president to deliver his legislative agenda before Congress on February 12th.

While Obama may no longer have the star power he enjoyed in 2009, he starts his second term with favourable ratings. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has just published a survey that places his job-approval rating at 52 per cent and his personal favorability at 59 per cent, up from the high 40s.

This is in contrast to the Republican leadership, including Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Republican Party’s image, which reached a 42 per cent favorable rating following the GOP convention, has fallen to 33 per cent.

Obama faces a much more skeptical and frustrated public than he did four years ago: only 33 per cent expect economic conditions to get better over the coming year. Although the public expects more bipartisan cooperation, only 23 per cent expect Republicans and Democrats will work together more in the coming year.

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