Hidden Wiring of Canada US Relations


How Canada can avoid falling victim to Trump’s protectionist rhetoric

MILWAUKEE, WIS. — The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2016

In the coming days both the Republicans and Democrats will adopt platforms that will underline American concerns around security and trade. Donald Trump pledges to “rip up” all existing trade deals “to make really good ones.” Even when we are not the direct target, Canadian interests, especially trade, are at risk of becoming collateral damage.

Assuaging U.S. security concerns and containing the protectionist instinct requires an all-Canada effort by our national and provincial governments.

At the Washington summit in March and then last month in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers worked with the Obama administration to strengthen perimeter security with a joint entry-exit program that also should give greater confidence in easing border access.

The Ottawa meeting also endorsed a trilateral competitiveness work plan with a series of measures to reinforce supply chain efficiencies, innovation and stakeholder consultation and outreach. In practical terms, it will help business: further expediting travel with the NEXUS “fast pass” and, eventually, a single electronic portal that satisfies the information requirements of the governments’ multiple agencies.

This effort, led by our trade ministers, should also serve as basis for a continental Plan B so that we can realize the gains from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement should it fail to secure the required congressional approval for implementation.

We need similar efforts at the state level. This is where protectionist fires start, usually through “ Buy America” policies that are then copied at the congressional level. But by the time these flames reach Congress, we are essentially firefighting so it is better to tamp them down at their source.

Our fire hose has three streams.

First, the hard data that demonstrates that 35 American states export more to Canada than anywhere else in the world. We are the second-largest export market for most of the rest. The data also shows how much the U.S. needs what we sell to them. A recent study for our Washington Embassy concluded that 78 per cent of what we sell to the U.S. is then used to make goods and services in the U.S. Trade with Canada generates an estimated nine million U.S. jobs. We need to define these by district and state.

The second stream is the web of existing reciprocal agreements that cover everything from trade to lending a helping hand in fighting fires, floods, pandemics and other disasters. Many are practical understandings negotiated by states and provinces. Reciprocity means equal treatment, a concept even Mr. Trump can understand, and the basis of cross-border agreements since before Confederation.

The third stream is public diplomacy. Prime Minister Trudeau has taken our envoys off the Harper government’s short leash and told them to be creative in pursuit of Canadian interests.

Our Consul General in Chicago, Roy Norton, entertained Midwest state legislators this past weekend in Milwaukee using a Jeopardy-styled game to inform them on Canada, helping by samplings of Ontario wine and Quebec beer.

After a decade of cuts, however, public diplomacy needs reinvestment in resources and budgets. Given that the U.S. accounts for three-quarters of our trade this would seem to be a “no-brainer.”

If “all politics is local,” then provincial premiers and legislators have a vital and continuing role in reaching out to their state counterparts and reminding them that doing and making things together generates mutual prosperity.

In Calgary this week, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region brings together over 80 legislators from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Meanwhile in Milwaukee, several hundred legislators from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario are meeting with their Council of State Governments’ counterparts from 11 Midwest states.

Legislators build relationships that are important, today and tomorrow, especially given the ladder nature of U.S. political careers. Barack Obama was an Illinois state legislator in 2004. Five years later he was the U.S. president.

These get-togethers debate and pass resolutions on regional issues and in previous years they have encouraged border co-operation and opposed protectionism like country-of-origin labelling. In Milwaukee this weekend legislators endorsed a resolution for a “Protein Highway” to encourage research and entrepreneurship between the Prairie provinces and Great Plains states on high-protein crops.

These regional get-togethers, operating with little fanfare or attention, most closely resemble extended family reunions. They constitute the hidden wiring of our continental relationship. They do practical work.

They contribute to a relationship best described by Harry Truman. This quintessential Midwestern U.S. president, speaking to the Canadian Parliament in 1947 said its working principle is “compounded of one part proximity and nine parts good will and commonsense.”

Relationships, whether prime minister to president or legislator to legislator, are what build good will and common sense.

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North American Integration

Why Canada needs to show more love to Mexico

The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Sep. 30 2014

In a world that is suddenly messy, there is a renewed premium on living in a good neighbourhood.

With the United States, we are friends, allies and partners, whether we like it or not and whether they know it or not. With Mexico, we are too often an indifferent friend and partner, seemingly oblivious to Canadian trade and investment and the millions of Canadians who fly south for sun, sand and tequila.

The North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA) underpins North American integration but, after 20 years, it needs renovation. Happily, fresh intellectual capital is coming to stimulate decision-making in time for next year’s North American Leaders’ meeting in Canada.

Canada’s Senate foreign affairs committee began hearings last week into North American integration. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations soon will publish its recommendations on managing the neighbourhood. Next month, our trade ministers meet with business leadership in Toronto to chart paths to North American competitiveness.

Our U.S. relationship has been sustained by rules-based institutions that level the playing field. Security is guaranteed through NATO and NORAD. Trade is managed through our multiple trade agreements – notably our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and NAFTA and now the Trans‑Pacific Partnership. Our shared environment is a notable success story, beginning with the Boundary Waters Treaty and the International Joint Commission.

Our leverage internationally comes from the fact that because we understand the United States better than anyone else, we can interpret the rest of the world to the U.S. and the U.S. to the rest of the world. Investment and trust in our foreign service is essential to maintaining those relationships.

We like to think we know everything about them and they like to think they know everything they need to know about us. We’re both wrong, but because of the asymmetries of trade and investment, they matter much more to us than we do to them. We need a Canadian representative in each U.S. state and, with jobs and security top of American minds, we need to remind them that their best customers also “have their back.”

U.S. President Barack Obama may be a lame duck but he can still get a lot done. The FTA was negotiated during the final two years of the Reagan administration. NAFTA was negotiated in the final years of the administration of George H.W. Bush. The Smart Border Accord morphed out of the Canada‑U.S. Partnership initiated in the Clinton administration’s final years.

Let’s quickly finish the first stage of the Beyond the Border and Regulatory Cooperation initiatives. Make pre-clearance and common standards the norm rather than the exception. Monitor progress and establish accountability through bi-national and bi-regional associations including the Canadian American Business Council, Canadian-American Border Trade Alliance, Council of the Great Lakes Region and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region. Apply the ‘lessons learned’ trilaterally.

Some think we would be better off dealing directly with the United States rather than including Mexico. If the rapidly increasing Canadian investment in mining, banking and manufacturing in Mexico and common interests vis-a-vis the United States on issues like border and transportation doesn’t persuade you, then consider two facts: With 122 million people, Mexico is already the United States’ second-largest trading partner and will eventually surpass our own trade with the U.S. And there are 51 million Americans with Latino roots, most of them Mexican, sitting in legislatures, Congress, cabinet and, one day, in the White House.

The reforms of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto open a window to business opportunities for us especially in Mexico’s ambitious infrastructure program: railroads, expanded metros, Mexico City’s new airport, over 10,000 kilometres of new pipelines and gas-fuelled electricity generation.

To do business, Mexicans need to get here. Our current visa process is long, arduous and humiliating. Fix it and bring North American trusted traveller programs into alignment.

Mexico should be our first development assistance priority focusing on sustaining the rule of law through police and judicial training.

Our private sector wants North American convergence on border facilitation and deregulation. The North American energy revolution will reindustrialize our countries and revitalize manufacturing. Our motto should be “Made in North America.”

Revitalize NAFTA’s commissions on the environment and labour. There doesn’t need to be any contradiction between sustainable resource development and economic growth. The EU model of skills and training, mutual recognition of education and labour credentials should also be a North American advantage. Canada should join the North American Development Bank and we should position it as the preferred financier for trans-border infrastructure.

Canada is a North American nation. We can’t change geography, nor would we want to. Let’s show the world what good neighbours – three democracies with 500 million people – can achieve.

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‘Hot Potato’ Award


Colin Robertson, a Senior Strategic Advisor for  McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP was given the “Hot Potato Award” for helping to increase collaboration between U.S. and Canada organizations and stakeholders at the 2012 Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) Summit in Saskatoon, July 16.
Each year, PNWER has bestowed the “Hot Potato Award” to someone who has provided exemplary leadership in reducing tension between the U.S. and Canada in the Pacific Northwest, or played a major role in bringing greater awareness and collaboration across the border.

The award takes its name from the Pig War, also called the Potato War, a confrontation in the San Juan Islands in 1859 between America and the British Empire over boundaries. The incident was triggered after an American farmer shot a pig that was eating his potato crop. The pig belonged to an employee of the Canadian-owned Hudson’s Bay Company and was the only casualty of the otherwise bloodless-conflict. For more information visit the National Parks website.

A former Canadian diplomat, Robertson is Senior Strategic Advisor for  McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP working with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. He is Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, an Honorary Captain (Royal Canadian Navy) assigned to the Strategic Communications Directorate. Living in Ottawa, Robertson writes and speaks on international affairs and is a commentator on CTV, CBC, CPAC and SUN-TV and a contributor to the Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen, ipolitics and a contributing writer to Policy Options.

Last year’s Hot Potato Award winner was Don Alper, Director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies and Beyond Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University.

For more information, contact: Gabrielle NomuraNWER Media Relations Summit cell phone: 306-539-7039 Email: gabrielle.nomura@pnwer.org

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States and Provinces and regional co-ordination

From the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, July 16, 2012

Expediting trade focus of PNWER conference

By Colin Robertson, The StarPhoenix

When it comes to foreign affairs and relationships between nations, the tendency is to frame issues in terms of the personalities of our respective leaders.

This is natural as the tough decisions, especially those around war and peace, are made at the top.

For big initiatives such as the current border and regulatory framework agreement with the United States, or participation in the trans-Pacific Partnership, the prime minister and the president need to be working from the same page. They must provide the political leadership in Parliament and Congress as well as drive the bureaucratic engine that sets in place the new rules of the road.

Canada and the U.S. are federations. In the case of trade and commerce, authorities are shared among levels of government. But when it comes to the rubber hitting the road or enforcing the practical side of work in an office, factory or farm – all of which affect issues of cross-border flow of people, goods and services – those authorities involve the provincial or state governments.

Nurtured without partisanship and quietly cultivated over the years by our premiers and governors as well as our legislators, these relationships are like the hidden wiring in our shared condominium. But the hidden wiring works best when there is a level of practical co-ordination to set an agenda and to achieve practical results.

For nearly a quarter of a century, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) has done this better than any other cross-border association. Membership consists of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories as well as Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

This week PNWER legislators and business representatives meet in Saskatoon. Their agenda includes energy, agriculture and transportation, set against the backdrop of ongoing work on the border and regulatory reform. Once again, PNWER will bring together the minders and users of our shared border, with the aim of making it work better.

PNWER has had great success in developing pilot projects and showcasing excellence. It also uses its moral authority to push an idea or an initiative. The critical piece in the PNWER formula, missing from other cross-border associations, is its secretariat.

Based in Seattle, the secretariat keeps the ball rolling. Its U.S. location gives it legitimacy as a domestic player in the kaleidoscope of interests that constitute the often confusing American polity.

PNWER is results oriented. Take the smart driver’s licence, devised as a proactive alternative to the passport for travellers to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Championed by PNWER, it won approval from the Department of Homeland Security, and is now used by most state and provincial governments.

That focus on results is the attraction of PNWER to business. The region currently is addressing how our West Coast ports would deal with a natural or manmade disaster. Mindful of the labour shortages in the oilsands, it is also working with Alberta to recruit talent in Washington and Oregon state, including veterans.

The Saskatoon meeting also will explore options to make cattle exports easier and less costly through electronic certification documents.

A bigger project, and vital to Saskatchewan interests, is managing the approval process that sends products such as pulse crops (which represent half of Canada’s trade with India) and potash by rail to Lewiston, Idaho, and then by barge down the Snake and Columbia rivers to ocean-bound containers in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Wash. Large equipment shipments come in through the same route bound for the oilsands.

This commerce underlines the integrated nature of our West Coast ports and makes a mockery of American protectionists who claim Canadian ports are stealing American business.

Expediting trade is central to PNWER’s mandate. Last week, the United States Trade Representative announced to Congress that it would begin a 90-day consultation on Canadian (and Mexican) inclusion in the trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is important on a couple of levels.

It offers an opportunity to place both Canada and the U.S. into an association of Pacific nations with even greater economic weight than the European Union, with whom we are months away from a freer trade agreement. It is especially important to PNWER members, given our shared Pacific orientation and our growing trade and investment.

TPP is also another vehicle to improve the vital continental supply chains that have developed since the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the subsequent NAFTA that brought Mexico into the tent.

Despite its association in U.S. eyes with outsourcing and job losses, NAFTA has worked well for all three partners over nearly 20 years. It now needs updating. The TPP offers an elegant way to achieve that while at the same time complement our ongoing work on the border and regulatory initiative.

PNWER this week will once again move the ball forward through informed discussion and practical problem-solving.

A useful outcome would be a strong endorsement of a TPP that includes Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. It would signal solidarity within PNWER and underline the voice and value of the relationships at the state and province level – our essential hidden wiring

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In Praise of the Hidden Wiring

Canada-U.S. relations: In praise of the ‘hidden wiring’

By Colin Robertson, Special to The Vancouver Sun July 20, 2011 (also in the Ottawa Citizen, July 22 as ‘U.S. relations much more than Obama, Harper’
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire (left) and then-B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, pictured last October, exemplified the merits of inter-governmental ‘hidden wiring’ when they cooperated on the smart driver’s licence for easier passage across the border. Photograph by: Lyle Stafford, Reuters files
Words and deeds of prime ministers and presidents dominate the headlines in international affairs. But in the world of Canada-US relations, where the relationship is as much domestic as international, it is the “hidden wiring” of premiers and governors and legislators that merits more attention. Their behind-the-headlines efforts are where a great deal of problem-solving gets done.
Take the smart driver’s licence. It was the brainchild of former British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire who recognized that requiring a passport was an expensive and time-consuming obstacle for those who wanted to attend the 2010 Olympics. Championed by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER), especially the legislators that make up the partnership of the ten states, provinces and territories, their efforts persuaded the Department of Homeland Security to accept the new license containing an embedded RFID chip. Now it is available in most border states and provinces, although we need to do more to promote its use.
The asymmetries of the relationship — the US market provides half of our GDP — means that Canadians usually have to take the initiative with the US. Fortunately, we’ve created a series of fora where leaders and legislators at the state, provincial and territorial level get together to discuss and resolve shared challenges.
Earlier this month New England governors met with Atlantic premiers in Halifax, something they have done since 1978, pioneering agreements on acid rain and the development of ‘smart’ energy. The Compact (2005) between the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin governors and premiers provides for ongoing stewardship of these waters and prevents any diversion. Western governors and premiers have long attended each others’ summer sessions and over the barbecue pit they’ve dealt with everything from wildlife to water and helped make progress on the Canamex corridor and the Hydrogen Highway.The provinces have embedded themselves as affiliates into the Council of State Governments that meet regularly in their regional fora. This week legislators from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta met with their Midwest state counterparts in Indianapolis and adopted resolutions in support of Beyond-the-Border and endorsing for air travel the smart drivers license that is now accepted for land and marine travel. It’s practical problem-solving at the grass roots level.
Much of the work is informational — few Americans appreciate the importance of Canadian hydro-power or the oil and gas that flows through our pipelines. Americans are surprised when told their biggest market is Canada and that their trade with Canada continues to outpace, by a wide margin, that with the EU, China or India. Legislator-to-legislator these are vital word-of-mouth conversations that serve Canadian interests.
Cultivating relationships with governors and state legislators is also smart for the longer term. Eight years ago, Barack Obama, was a state senator from Illinois. Four of the last six presidents — Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush — served as governors.
The premiers meet this week in Vancouver and the United States relationship is a standing item on the Council of the Federation agenda. Both U.S. Ambassador Jacobson and Canadian Ambassador (and former Premier) Doer will be there. Their efforts in tandem with those of the premiers and governors made the difference in securing easy passage of the 2010 reciprocity agreement on procurement.
Now we need to get Americans enthused and committed to the Beyond-the-Border and the regulatory initiatives launched by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama. The Canadian business community is engaging their American counterparts but success requires ‘all hands’, especially at the state and local level. Our message is simple: supply chain dynamics is what creates jobs and revenue and keeps us globally competitive. Business gets it, but the politics of local and special interests are a powerful countervailing force to mutual benefits of deepening integration.
A priority for the premiers should be to persuade governors to institutionalize the Canada-US agenda within the National Governors’ Association (NGA) meetings, as legislators are doing through the councils of state governments. If the premiers could get the NGA to make the Canadian relationship a standing agenda item at its annual summer meeting, it would be a big step forward. Regularizing the dialogue is how we ‘level the playing field’.
Another way to look at the Canada-US relationship is through the prism of the 64 states, provinces and territories that make up our two federations. The people-to-people relationships, and the mutually dependent jobs — 11 million in Canada and another 8 million in the US – have always outpaced the politics. Since 9-11, the political level has been playing catch-up. The collective work of the “hidden wiring” — premiers and governors, state, provincial and territorial legislators — is advancing our shared interests.

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Could the Great Lakes be a model for Canada-US regional cooperation?

From Canadian International Council Think Tank: Could the Great Lakes Represent Canada’s Economic Future? July 6, 2011

While he didn’t get the details right, Joel Garreau was onto something when he wrote Nine Nations of North America in 1981. Too often, we look at North America as three nations, when in fact it is also comprised of 94 states, provinces, and territories. In economic terms, supply-chain dynamics have made North America a series of regions.

The most dynamic is the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region (GLSLR). Home to nearly 35 million people, and with a population slightly larger than Canada, the two provinces (Ontario, Quebec) and eight states (New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota) of the Great Lakes region constitute a super “economy,” which is only eclipsed in gross domestic product by the U.S., Japan, and China.

Regions deserve greater attention, especially into the vital supply-chain dynamics that sustain them. Last year, the Brookings Institute’s Jennifer Vey, John Austin, and Jennifer Bradley co-authored a paper that argued that, notwithstanding the affliction of the “Rust Belt,” the GLSLR “still has many of the fundamental resources – top-ranked universities, companies with deep experience in global trade, and emerging centres of clean-energy research, to name just a few – necessary to create a better, more sustainable, economic model.”

Building on this work, the Mowat Centre’s Joshua Hjartson, Matthew Mendelsohn, Allison Bramwell, and Kelly Hinton released The Vital Commons, in which they argue that “the wealth and infrastructure built over the 20th century” in the GLSLR “created the foundation for new emerging sectors” in areas including financial services, health care, food processing, energy, aerospace, information and communications technology, transportation, and pharmaceuticals. But a shared future for the GLSLR requires a shared vision “to act and think collectively, transcending national boundaries to address shared problems, manage shared resources, and take advantage of new economic opportunities.”

With this objective in mind, under the umbrella of the Mowat Centre and Brookings Institute, over 300 participants met in the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts, a short walk from the banks of the Detroit River looking north to Detroit. Over two days (June 21-2), we listened, discussed, and debated through a couple dozen plenaries, keynotes, and idea labs constructed around issues in the GLSLR, including human capital, transportation and infrastructure, water, trade and border issues, agriculture, innovation, manufacturing, clean energy and electricity, the blue economy, and tourism.

The challenge of the border for the GLSLR was brought home on the first evening, when delegates crossed the frontier and, notwithstanding the hope of pre-clearance, were obliged to go through a secondary search before re-boarding the buses taking them to enjoy the hospitality of Canadian Consul General Roy Norton in downtown Detroit’s Max Fisher Music Center.

If we are to be truly competitive, we must find a better way of managing the legitimate passage of people and goods. The Beyond the Borders Initiative launched in February by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama offers promise, but as former premier Gordon Campbell told delegates, political will also requires considerable behind-the-scenes work by business and government.

The GLSLR contains our busiest border crossings and, because so much of the boundary line is on water, the border is dominated by bridges. This presents unique challenges for just-in-time delivery. The first step should be the easiest: having inspection for all government services at each of the region’s crossing available 24/7, because our competition overseas does not work 9-5.

But the top priority in the GLSLR has to be the construction of the New International Trade Crossing between Windsor and Detroit, especially as the recovery picks up speed – trade between Michigan and Canada rose 43 per cent from 2009 to 2010. The 7,000 trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge daily contain over a quarter of the goods traded between Canada and the United States. Any interruption in traffic on this 80-year-old, privately owned bridge means layoffs: thousands in the first day and tens of thousands stretching south to the Carolinas into day two.

The need for a new crossing was one of the key themes of the two-day conference, and was driven home by both American and Canadian participants. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville acknowledged that special interests and the spending of lots of money have circumvented and delayed what should be an obvious task, but he promised delegates that, by the fall, he and Governor Rick Snyder should have the votes to secure passage through the Michigan legislature.

It can’t be soon enough for those who live and work in the GLSLR. The international competition is not waiting for us to get our act together.

Knitting the various components of regional co-operation together is the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). Its core is the continuing support of legislators in five states (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana), three provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan), and two territories (the Yukon and the Northwest Territories). This year, it celebrates its twentieth anniversary. Based in Seattle, with a small, very efficient secretariat, it works because it is a true non-partisan, bi-national, public-private partnership. As former premier Campbell acknowledged, it was PNWER, working, under his direction and that of Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, with a grassroots movement, that persuaded Homeland Security to accept the “smart drivers’ licence” as a practical means to address cross-border traffic during the Vancouver Olympics. The “smart drivers’ license” has seen been rolled out by states and provinces on both sides of the 49th parallel. It confirms another observation from the Windsor Summit: When provincial and state legislators get their acts together, federal governments join the parade.

Conferences are brain food, but it is the follow up in ideas and proposals that makes them practical to policy-makers. The Windsor Summit leadership of John Austin and Matthew Mendelson intend to carry the momentum forward and, in October, release a revised version of The Vital Commons that will identify actionable agenda items for various sectors in the GLSLR.

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