State of the Union 2014

Watching the State of the Union — a Canadian guide iPolitics Insight

By | Jan 27, 2014

He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution

Each president since George Washington has given an ‘Annual Message’ to Congress (a practice also followed by governors in some states).

Washington and John Adams spoke to joint sessions of Congress. Thomas Jefferson thought the practice too “monarchial” so he sent in a written report that was followed by subsequent presidents through the rest of the 19th century.

In 1913, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, resumed the practice of a formal address and, for the most part, so have his successors.

Since Franklin Roosevelt the speech is given in late January or early February. The SOTU acronym – now a Beltway buzzword –  is attributed to Roosevelt.

The SOTU has evolved with technology. Calvin Coolidge’s address in 1923 was the first broadcast by radio. Harry Truman’s address in 1947 was the first broadcast by television. President George W. Bush made the first address carried by internet livecast in 2002 and then in 2004 in high-definition television.

This year’s internet version will feature an enhanced version of the speech featuring graphics, data and stats and be featured on FacebookYouTube and the White House Google+ page.

You can follow it on Twitter@WhiteHouse. After the speech, the White house will stream a live “Open for Questions” on WhiteHouse.gov/SOTU.

The SOTU: Play by Play

The process begins with a concurrent resolution of Congress setting the date and time “for receiving such communication as the President of the United States shall be pleased to make to them”.

On Tuesday evening, members of the House will assemble in their chamber. At approximately 830PM EST, the Deputy Sergeant-at-arms announces the arrival of the Vice-President and members of the Senate. Traditionally the members sit by party (the demarcation visibly demonstrated by the contrast between those who clap their hands and those who do not) although members sat together for the 2011 SOTU in solidarity after the January shooting of former Representative Gabby Giffords.

Next into the Chamber comes the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Chief Justice John Roberts and the Associate Justices, the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are seated in front of the Speaker’s rostrum. By tradition, one cabinet member is designated to stay in a secure location  – the ‘survivor’ to ensure continuity. Since 9-11, this has also included a few members of Congress.

Just after 9PM, the House Sergeant-at-Arms will announce in stentorian voice: “Mister Speaker, the President of the United States!”

President Obama will then make his way slowly through the crowd patting backs and shaking hands and take his place at the House Clerk’s Desk. Immediately behind him at the Speaker’s Desk sit Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker John Boehner.

Speaker Boehner will then proclaim: “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States.”

The Speech

The SOTU is one part record of the Administration’s achievements, two parts aspirational and, at its best, inspirational for those who are listening. George Washington favoured brevity. His 1790 address – 1089 words –  was less then fifteen minutes. The longest – at 9190 words- was delivered by Bill Clinton in 1995. Most are closer to an hour.

Most addresses focus on domestic policy.  Lyndon Johnson declared a ‘war on poverty’ in 1964 and given the fiftieth anniversary President Obama may well make a reference to it.

There is usually a foreign policy component. In December 1823, James Monroe declared that any future attempts by the Europeans to colonize or interfere in the Americas would be seen as aggression – it became known as the Monroe Doctrine. In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed the ‘Four Freedoms’. In 2002, George W. Bush described North Korea, Iran and Iraq as the ‘axis of evil.’

With an eye for stagecraft, Ronald Reagan (who also moved the Inauguration from the East Front to the West Front of the Capitol facing down the Mall) personalized this remarks with references to people strategically placed in the balcony close to the First Lady, including Lenny Skutnik, the hero of the Air Florida flight that crashed into the Potomac in January 1982. Subsequent presidents have followed this practice. Last year, 26 guests were invited to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Since Lyndon Johnson’s 1966 SOTU, the opposition party has followed the speech with a televised address of rebuttal. Last year Senator Mario Rubio of Florida gave the GOP response in both English and Spanish. This year Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) will give the GOP response. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) will speak on behalf of the Tea Party while Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who spoke for the Tea Party last year will give his own response.

Preview of 2014 SOTU

White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer says the themes of this year’s speech can be captured in three words: opportunity, action, and optimism. Pfeiffer blogs: “The core idea is as American as they come: If you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed. Your ability to get ahead should be based on your hard work and ambition and who you want to be, not just the raw circumstance of who you are when you’re born.”

This is an election year and the President knows that to achieve the legacy he wants, he will need to win back the House of Representatives and hold the Senate. No easy task given that current polls put Americans approval of the job he is doing at 44 percent and only 30 percent think the country is heading in the right directions.

According to the Washington Post, Pfeiffer attributes part of Obama’s problem to “too often governed more like a prime minister than a president.”

The SOTU is key to the reset. John Podesta, who has returned to the White House to help the President told the Post that “a State of the Union creates a contract with the public about what you say and what you will do. In that sense it is like a campaign, and it disciplines the priorities of the White House by creating an operation manual for the year ahead.”

While the speech is expected to focus on issues like inequality, immigration, health care and the international scene, Canadians will want to listen for references to trade, energy and the environment.

Canadian interests: Trade, the Border and Detroit Bridge

Legislation is currently before Congress to restore to the President the power to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendment. It’s called trade promotion authority (TPA) and Presidents have used it to negotiate trade agreements, including the Canada-US FTA and NAFTA.

President Obama needs TPA to secure the trade deals on services (TISA), with Europe (TTIP), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  The problem is that many Democrats see trade deals as means for outsourcing and loss of jobs.

Trade generates jobs and with the American public consistently putting the economy and jobs at the top of their priority list. The President promised in the 2010 SOTU to double American exports.

In the case of NAFTA, the economic evidence overwhelming concludes that NAFTA created better jobs and lower costs generating growth for all three partners.

A Canadian Embassy study (2012) concluded eight million jobs in the US depend on trade with Canada and that Canada is the top export market for 38 American states.

Access to the US market is always a top Canadian priority. A pair of initiatives launched by the President and Prime Minister in February 2011 put aside the false choice between security and trade, acknowledging that economic security is vital to North American competitiveness.

The initiatives are aimed at improving border access and regulatory cooperation based on the principle of “cleared once, inspected twice”.  While they are making progress, both initiatives require another top-level political push but this may not happen until next month’s North American Leaders’ summit in Mexico City.

Trade depends on good infrastructure. We are waiting for the Administration to commit funding to the US customs plaza for the new Second Crossing between Detroit.

The Detroit-Windsor gateway is our busiest commercial gateway. Trade passing through it is greater than USA trade with Japan.

Michigan’s share of the bridge cost, estimated to be $550 million, will be paid by the Government of Canada and recouped through bridge tolls. Any cost overruns or revenue shortfalls will be paid by Canada. The bridge, built with U.S. and Canadian steel, will create 10,000 – 15,000 construction jobs in Michigan.

Revived as a priority in President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address last year, climate change and its nexus with energy and the environment is likely to be discussed.

Canadian Interests: Energy and XL Pipeline

After the unsuccessful effort at climate change legislation in the first term, action has shifted from Congress to regulatory change effected through the Environmental Protection Agency.

From the Canadian perspective we want to ensure that our big hydro projects in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec (and eventually Labrador) are included in the definition of renewable energy standard.

Our immediate interest is the permit for the XL pipeline and during his recent visit (January 16) to Washington Foreign Minister John Baird said “the time for a decision on Keystone is now, even if it’s not the right one”.

This is the second Keystone XL application. The first application was denied in January, 2012 after Nebraska expressed concerns about its routing through the Ogallala Aquifer. The route was changed and Nebraska has come on-side.

The permit for the pipeline is granted through the State Department. Foreign Minister John Baird raised it during his first meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in February 2012.

In his recent news conference with John Baird, Secretary Kerry remained non-committal saying that the process is “fair, transparent, and accountable” and that a decision would be made in the “near term”.

In his recent speech to the US Chamber of Commerce Foreign Minister Baird argued that the pipeline project will have no significant environmental impact. He noted that Canadian oil displaces offshore oil imports – countries that are less reliable than Canada. In the absence of a pipeline Western Canadian and U.S. Bakken oil is shipped, noted Baird, to the U.S. Gulf Coast by rail. The New York TImes outlined the perils of transport by rail in ‘Accidents Surge as Oil Industry Takes the Train’.

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Moving North American integration forward

Should Canada join the U.S. and Mexico? On these key projects, yes

Globe and Mail Wednesday, Oct. 02 2013

North American integration has a new champion in U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.

Looking at the United States, Canada and Mexico during his recent visit to Mexico he wondered aloud why there is not more co-operation? “It’s just so natural, geographically, politically, economically.”

The trilateral idea has been on life support for more than a decade. The economic gains of the North American free-trade agreement were realized by 2000. In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the requirements of U.S. security curbed the further development of North American integration.

George W. Bush made an effort at revival through the Security and Prosperity Initiative. A Christmas tree of multiple wishes and bureaucratic bafflegab, it was quietly put into the ‘out’ basket by the Obama administration.

The trilateral leaders meetings, once annual standalone events, are now occasional and tacked onto other events. They have become a photo op. In substantive terms, they mask dual bilaterals: one between the U.S. and Mexican presidents and the other between the U.S. and Canadian leaders. Each has their own agenda.

For Canada, it is about preserving and improving access to the U.S. market. For Mexico it is regularizing immigration and keeping out the guns that arm its drug gangs. For the U.S., it is about security: keeping potential terrorists from slipping through Canada into the U.S.; keeping out illegal migrants and drugs from Mexico.

Now Mr. Biden promises to shift the U.S. emphasis back to economics.

His visit to Mexico, with four cabinet secretaries, launched the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue.

Border infrastructure is to be modernized using new technologies to extend hours of operation. It commits to doubling by 2020 of the number of Mexican students studying in the U.S. and Americans studying in Mexico.

Mr. Biden should now turn his attention to the northern border.

Of late, the tone at the top has become less than constructive. The Keystone XL pipeline, as important as it is to North American energy security, is crowding out the agenda to the exclusion of progress on other issues.

Both leaders share some responsibility for the pipeline impasse.

President Barack Obama disses its economic advantages and has failed to recognize private sector progress in addressing climate change.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not helped with his assertion that he won’t take no for an answer and implied that he’ll look to the next administration for redress. Our energies would be better spent bringing forward long-promised oil and gas regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to focus on what we can constructively do together rather than on our divisions. This is where Mr. Biden can be helpful.

As he observes, the dynamic of the North American trading relationship has evolved. The current system is designed for the old world of imports and exports, of tariffs and customs officials.

Today it is more about making things together.

The bits and pieces, and the people that service them, now come from a thousand points across the continent, irrespective of country of origin. When borders become chokepoints, we lose North American competitiveness.

Recognition of this fact should be the starting point in what should be a permanent process where the emphasis is on continental regulatory alignment and expediting the cross-border passage of people, services and investment.

The Canada-U.S. beyond-the-border and regulatory co-operation initiatives are quietly making progress but they could do with high-level boosting.

Our security ministers have done their work and created a perimeter, arguably with belt, suspenders and life jacket.

Now we need to see commensurate attention by our economic ministers to improve access for goods, people and services.

Get on with the promised new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. More trade crosses that gateway than that between Japan and the United States. It is vital to manufacturing, especially to the automotive industry that depends on its supply chains.

Canada is putting up a half billion dollars to help fund the Michigan portion. Now we need assurance of U.S. financing of its customs plaza.

Mr. Biden should come to Canada and begin a high-level economic dialogue that complements the one being undertaken with Mexico. Let the two dialogues proceed in tandem with the goal of eventually bringing them together.

With an eye to the future, Canada should join the U.S. and Mexico in doubling the student exchanges between our countries.

Once we get beyond the border, our shared agenda should address issues including skills and training, labour mobility and mutual recognition of credentials. This is how we will realize the promise of North America.

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On ‘working’ the Canadian message in Washington

Canada’s Keystone XL pitch goes into overdrive

Officials have been averaging a trip to Washington every two weeks in 2013, but some insiders warn that they could be wearing out their welcome.

by CHRIS PLECASH |  The Hill
Last Updated: Wednesday, 05/01/2013 9:43 am EDT

Federal officials are stepping up efforts to make the case for the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington D.C., but some experts warn that the frequent public visits could be doing more harm than good.

Between federal Cabinet ministers and Western Canadian premiers, Canadian representatives have been averaging a trip to Washington every two weeks in 2013, with a focus on making the case for the Keystone XL pipeline and addressing concerns over Canada’s environmental record.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) is the latest federal minister to make the trip. Mr. Oliver was in the U.S. capital on April 24 and 25 to speak at the Center for Strategic International Studies and meet with senior officials in the Obama Administration, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. State Department under secretary Robert Hormats, as well as the chairs of the House and Senate Energy and Commerce committees.

In a teleconference following his speech last week to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in which he accused former NASA climatologist James Hansen of “exaggerating” the impact of oilsands development on climate change, Mr. Oliver told media that part of the reason for his visit was to dispel “myths” about Canada’s environmental record.

“It’s important to be here because Washington is presenting an important opportunity to have a fact-based discussion about Keystone XL which will enhance national security and environmental cooperation, create jobs, and foster long-term economic prosperity,” he said.

Mr. Oliver’s trip came two weeks after Environment Minister Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.) was in Washington, D.C., to attend the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy and discuss Canada’s environmental record.

Two days before Mr. Kent’s visit, it was Alberta Premier Alison Redford, along with Environment Minister Diana McQueen and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Cal Dallas making the rounds in Washington.

Ms. Redford, who also attended the National Governors’ Association winter meeting in Washington in February, spoke at the Brookings Institute during her latest visit and more recently contributed an op-ed to Congressional newspaper Roll Call making the case for Keystone XL and highlighting her province’s commitment to sustainability.

“We await the State Department’s decision on the project, and we know approving the Keystone XL pipeline is the choice of reason,” Ms. Redford wrote.

Canadian officials have been going out of their way to get Washington’s ear on Keystone now that the U.S. election is over and the State Department’s Environmental Impact Assessment for the TransCanada project has been released.

While official visits are essential to diplomacy, it’s unclear whether the frequent appearances are helping or hurting the case for Keystone XL.

Retired diplomat Colin Robertson told The Hill Times that it is important for Canadian officials to maintain their presence in Washington and complement the work done by Canada’s diplomatic mission.

“If you’ve got a big issue, you have to play by Washington rules, not Canadian rules,” said Mr. Robertson, a former minister of Canada’s Washington Embassy and former consul general in Los Angeles. “That means being in Washington and being up on the Hill, going to the think tanks, being visible to make your case, and talking to editorial boards.”

Even if Keystone isn’t the primary reason for a ministerial visit to Washington, the project is still likely to be discussed informally, Mr. Robertson said.

“It may not be on the official agenda, but it certainly is our number one ask,” he said. “You’re never sure which intervention you make is actually going to be the one that persuades them.”

David Manning, who was appointed as Alberta’s Washington envoy in February, agreed that it is important for Canadian officials to be “incredibly active” with U.S. officials in making the case for Keystone XL, but also avoid getting caught up in U.S. domestic politics.

Mr. Manning, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and a former deputy minister of energy for Alberta, said there’s been a conscious effort to keep Ms. Redford’s Washington meetings “bipartisan.”

“When [Premier Redford] came down, we were very careful that her meetings were bipartisan,” Mr. Manning said in an interview with The Hill Times. “Alberta thinks that a bipartisan approach is critically important. The issue has become somewhat partisan — this is Washington.”

U.S. politics has become intensely partisan in recent years and at points in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election, Keystone XL risked becoming a serious campaign issue. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney went as far as saying that he would approve Keystone XL “on day one” of his administration.

President Obama turned down the initial Keystone XL proposal in January 2012, but TransCanada reapplied with an alternate route soon after. The President did approve TransCanada’s 780-km long Gulf Coast line from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf Coast in March, 2012. Construction began last August and the line is expected to be in service later this year.

If approved, the 1,897-km keystone pipeline would have the capacity to deliver up to 800,000 barrels of western crude daily to Steele City, Nebraska where it would feed into existing pipeline infrastructure bound for the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The federal government made a deliberate effort throughout the U.S. election campaign to avoid making statements on Keystone that would be used as political fodder.

Mr. Oliver said that the government is going out of its way to be “respectful of the U.S. process.”

“They certainly have welcomed our involvement and in a number of cases have encouraged us to continue in that regard. I haven’t had any signals, direct or indirect, nor to my knowledge has anyone else in the government, that the advocacy on our part is unwelcome,” Mr. Oliver said.

However, one Washington-based consultant said on background that the Keystone XL debate has led numerous U.S. state and federal lawmakers to address “ill mannered letters” to President Obama, and that attacks by Keystone advocates in the U.S. have done little to help the project’s chances for approval.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall recently made a point of joining 10 U.S. governors in signing a letter to President Obama urging that Keystone XL be approved “swiftly” — a move that the source described as “not helpful.”

The source said that visits by federal and provincial officials are important, but they needed to be “measured” in their frequency and tone.

“You can only go to the well so many times and one has to be really careful,” the source said. “What’s really valuable is the visits by senior public servants who have come to Washington. They know the details, they know the science and the economics, and they’re speaking to counterparts who ministers aren’t talking to.”

The consultant is optimistic that Keystone XL would likely be approved, and added that in the meantime, Canadian officials need to continue to talk about their environmental efforts because the President “doesn’t want to be the guy making the case for Canadian environmental policy.”

“Every time the Prime Minister has talked to [President Obama] in a bilateral discussion or on the margins of an international meeting, the Prime Minister has been very direct on this and very straight and consistent in talking quietly to the President,” the source said. “The President gets it, but he doesn’t want to be the guy to defend [Keystone].”

One former diplomat was more blunt on the recent public push from Canadian officials.

“[F]amiliarity breeds contempt,” said the ex-foreign service officer. “Visitors from Canada constantly importuning Congress and the Executive Branch can be perceived as somewhat tiresome at best, counterproductive at worst.”

There is greater consensus over Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer’s ability to represent Canada’s interests in Washington.

Mr. Robertson said that the former Manitoba premier “gets it” when it comes to working with the U.S. on shared interests.

“[A]s premier he was constantly going south of the border,” said Mr. Robertson. “That’s paid off in spades because governors he got to know when he was premier are now people like [Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano, Agriculture Secretary [Tom Vilsack], and Health and Human Services Secretary [Kathleen Sebelius].”

Mr. Manning credited the ambassador for being “a strategic operator.”

“We have an ambassador that understands provincial issues, this is his background,” he said.

cplecash@hilltimes.com

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A Primer to the State of the Union

Obama’s State of the Union: A Canadian primer

By | Feb 12, 2013 1:05 pm

What is the State of the Union (SOTU)?

He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution

With this constitutional requirement in mind, each president gives an ‘Annual Message’ to Congress. The practice is also followed by some states where the governor will give a ‘state of the state’ address.

George Washington and John Adams spoke to joint sessions of Congress but Thomas Jefferson made it a written report because he considered the speech too ‘monarchial’. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson restarted the practice. Since Franklin Roosevelt the speech is given in late January or early February. The phrase ‘state of the union’ or SOTU in Beltway speak, is attributed to Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt also began the practice of a night-time address in recognition that with the advent of radio, his audience was not just those in the chamber but the American public who listen and now watch. In 1997, Bill Clinton began the practice of live streaming the SOTU on the web. Last year’s State of the Union address reached 48 million people, according to Neilsen.

What happens?

There is a protocol to the SOTU beginning with the Speaker of the House formally inviting the President to address a joint session of Congress.

Tonight,  members of the House will assemble in their chamber and at approximately 830PM EST the Deputy Sergeant-at-arms announces the arrival of the Vice-President and members of the Senate.

They are followed by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices, the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff all of whom seated nearest the rostrum.

By tradition, one cabinet member is designated to stay in a secure location  –the ‘survivor’ to ensure continuity and, since 9-11,  this has also included a few members of Congress. Traditionally the members sit by party. This was obvious in the applause (or lack thereof) but after the Tucson shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords, there has been a mixing of members.

Just after 9PM the House Sergeant-at-Arms in stentorian voice will announce: “Mister Speaker, the President of the United States!” He makes his way slowly through the crowd and takes his place at the House Clerk’s desk and then hands copies of his speech to the Vice President and Speaker. They sit behind him in the Speaker’s desk. The Speaker then proclaims: “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States.”

The Speech

The President speaks to his agenda and the state of the union for about an hour. George Washington favoured brevity. His address was 10-15 minutes.

The address usually focuses on domestic policy – Lyndon Johnson declared a ‘war on poverty’ in 1964.  There is often a strong foreign policy component. James Monroe declared the doctrine that bears his name in 1823. In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed the ‘Four Freedoms’. In 2002, George W. Bush described North Korea, Iran and Iraq as the ‘axis of evil.’

Since Ronald Reagan, with an eye for stagecraft, the speech will contain references to individuals, sitting close to the First Lady, like Larry Skutnik, the hero of the Air Florida flight that crashed into the Potomac in January, 1982.

Since Lyndon Johnson’s 1966 SOTU, the opposition party has followed the speech with a televised address of rebuttal. Senator Mario Rubio of Florida, featured on the cover of this week’s Time Magazine as “the Republican Savior”, will give this year’s GOP response in both English and Spanish.

What are the Canadian interests?

Listen in particular for references to climate change and trade.

The President resurrected climate change as a priority in his Inaugural Address knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it…”

Legislative effort in his first term sputtered out in the Senate after the then Democrat-controlled House of Representatives had passed a bill (Waxman-Markey) that would have created a cap and trade system on green-house gas emissions with mandates for renewable energy generation, subsidies for wind, solar and other ‘green’ energy, as well as a renewable electricity standard (RES). From the Canadian perspective we want to ensure that our big hydro projects in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec (and eventually Labrador) are included in the definition of RES.

Cap and trade would potentially raise the costs, in the short term, for American manufacturers there was suggestion that a levy would be assessed on goods from countries that did not have the same energy standards as the US. While aimed at China there was always the potential that Canada could get side-swiped because of the oli sands.

The President has set an “all of the above” approach to achieving US energy independence. This includes the potential increase in supply of both offshore and inshore oil and especially natural gas through fracking although this is still in its infancy. Environmentalists point to contamination of water and air.

Energy from Canada and Mexico play into the energy independence scenario.

Our immediate interest is the permit for the XL pipeline. This is the second application. The first application was denied in January, 2012 after Nebraska expressed concerns about its routing through the Ogallala Aquifer, that Governor Dave Heineman described as “the lifeblood of Nebraska’s agriculture industry”. The route was changed. After an extensive inquiry by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, Governor Heineman wrote (January 22) the President and Secretary Clinton saying that Nebraska now favours the pipeline.

The permit for the pipeline is granted through the State Department. Foreign Minister John Baird raised it Friday (February 8) when he met Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry was non-committal noting that the environmental assessment was currently underway but he “agreed to stay in touch on the Keystone pipeline.”

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This coming Sunday (February 19) exhorts the Sierra Club website (and its ally 350.org) “thousands of activists will head to the White House and tell President Obama to shut down the climate-killing Keystone XL pipeline once and for all”. They promise it will be the “biggest climate demonstration yet”  against “Big Oil”. Their goal is “to form a massive human pipeline through Washington and then transform it into a giant symbol of the renewable energy future we need and are ready to build, starting right away.”

The XL pipeline has become as a rallying point for environmentalists and other activists in the same fashion as was the debate over ‘clear-cutting’ in the Great Bear Forest and the seal hunt. But the strategic value of Canadian oil and gas is not lost on the Pentagon. As for the US environmentalist movement, Prime Minister Harper has tartly observed in the context of the Northern Gateway application that “just because certain people in the United States would like to see Canada be one giant national park for the northern half of North America, I don’t think that’s part of what our review process is all about.”

The oil sands and XL debate underlines why we have to get our oil and gas by pipeline, rail or truck to tidewater ports on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts if we are to diversify our markets and get a better price for our product.

Trade between Canada and the US continues to be the biggest between any two nations.

Trade generates jobs and with the American public consistently putting the economy and jobs at the top of their priority list it will feature large in the SOTU. The President has promised to double American exports. Last year a study commissioned by the Canadian Embassy concluded eight million jobs in the US depend on trade with Canada and that for 35 American states Canada is their main export destination.

If the President talks about infrastructure then we can hope for an early permitting of the proposed new Second Crossing between Detroit and Windsor. This is our busiest commercial gateway and it has encountered many obstacles including a ballot initiative sponsored by the Ambassador Bridge owner that was defeated in November. As Ambassador Doer remarked at that time, the bridge will create 10,000 – 15,000 direct construction jobs in Michigan. Michigan’s share of the bridge cost, estimated to be $550 million, will be paid by the Government of Canada and recouped through bridge tolls. Any cost overruns or revenue shortfalls will be paid by Canada. The bridge will be built with U.S. and Canadian steel.

Departing Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood talked positively of the project last week saying that “I think everything is possible in Michigan when it comes to transportation. I think of the leadership of the governor (Rick Snyder) with Canada on the bridge crossing; what that will mean in terms of jobs, what that will mean in terms of the kind of relationship we have with Canada in terms of exports and imports. They need to get this project under way, get it done, and continue this kind of continuity of leadership that exists.”

Access to the US market is always a top Canadian priority.

A pair of initiatives launched by the President and Prime Minister in February, 2011 put aside the false choice between security and trade recognizing that economic security is vital to North American competitiveness. The initiatives are aimed at improving border access and regulatory cooperation based on the principle of “cleared once, inspected twice”. Process can be a placebo for action,  but in this case process is progress because we need to see attitudinal change on the part of those who mind the border.

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State of the Union and Canadian Interests

Obama talks: What Canadians should listen for

Special to The Globe and Mail Published Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013, 9:44 AM EST

Within the Washington beltway, SOTU (State of the Union) is as well known an acronym as POTUS (President) and SCOTUS (Supreme Court). It titled a Frank Capra movie and today it’s the name of a political talk show. But, on Tuesday evening, we’ll see the real thing. House Speaker John Boehner will gavel to order members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the joint chiefs of staff, the Supreme Court, foreign ambassadors and invited guests. Then President Barack Obama will deliver the first State of the Union address – SOTU – of his second term.

The speech will spell out how the president wants to achieve the priorities spelled out in the recent inaugural, especially around the economy and the environment. With our deep economic interdependence and shared space, we need to listen carefully because SOTU has potential implications for Canada.

First, listen for a re-commitment to job creation.

With unemployment at 7.9 per cent, jobs and the economy continue to be top of the public agenda. A promise of new money for infrastructure could benefit the planned second crossing between Detroit and Windsor. Nearly a quarter of Canada-U.S. trade passes through this gateway. Dogged by rear-guard action from the owner of the Ambassador Bridge – including a failed effort in the November ballot to secure a referendum – it now requires a presidential permit before it can be built. Canada has committed a half-billion dollars for its construction.

In earlier SOTU addresses, Mr. Obama promised to create jobs by doubling U.S. exports. Even if his language is mercantilist, the emphasis on trade is important. In our global economy, trade depends on imports as much as exports to generate jobs. A commitment by the President to the Trans-Pacific Partnership can give it the political heft necessary to move the negotiations forward. If he also endorses a European free-trade agreement (FTA) then we need to quickly seal our own CETA deal with the EU. When the U.S. moved on its South Korean FTA, we were left in the cold. A Canada-South Korea deal is still not concluded.

Second, listen for a renewed commitment to the environment.

Frustrated by the failure of Congress to achieve significant climate change legislation in his first term, the administration used its regulatory powers, mostly through the Environmental Protection Agency, to raise auto emission standards (that Canada mirrored) and to tighten the screws on greenhouse gas emissions. King Coal still provides half of America’s power generation. With shale gas a game-changer for power generation, look to more regulatory action on coal-fired plants.

Canada’s immediate objective is getting the presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. After his meeting on Friday with new Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister John Baird got the equivalent of a pat from a cousin when Mr. Kerry promised that he “would keep in touch” on Keystone. It underlines why we have to get our oil and gas to tidewater – new markets and better prices.

Mr. Kerry will be watching to see what happens this Sunday when the Sierra Club and its allies rally around the White House to “tell President Obama to shut down the climate-killing Keystone XL pipeline once and for all” in their “biggest demonstration yet” against ‘Big Oil’.

With Nebraska now onside, the State Department’s environmental assessment is the last significant hurdle to Keystone. It should be the ‘no-brainer’ that Prime Minister Stephen Harper once described it as, given that the first application received a positive environmental assessment. But the environmental movement has made the pipeline the surrogate for the oil sands, and thus a litmus test for the President’s commitment to climate change.

Third, look to what the President says on defense.

Looming ahead is ‘sequester,’ a terrible word with terrible consequences: across the board indiscriminate spending cuts, especially in defense. In his farewell remarks, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that a “pattern of constant partisanship and gridlock and recrimination” degrades America’s national security, and “ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe.”

Mr. Panetta has also called on the allies to contribute their fair share or, as his predecessor Bob Gates put it in his NATO valedictory, we face “a dim, if not dismal future for the transatlantic alliance.”

Only five members of the 28-member alliance currently spend the agreed minimum 2 per cent of GDP on defence. Canada is not among them. In an age of globalization, sea-power counts. As we develop Pacific markets we have a vested interest in secure sea lanes. The U.S. will expect us to move on our promised new warships and remind Mr. Harper of his own words that, “Canada and its economy float on salt water.”

For a second term president, the first eighteen months are critical in terms of achievement and legacy. The political dynamic then inevitably shifts to the mid-terms. After that the president is considered a ‘lame duck’ and the campaigning for 2016 and a new president begins in earnest. If the inaugural address provides the vision for a new administration, the State of the Union sets the blueprint. So listen carefully to tonight’s SOTU.

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US Election: What Canadians need to know

From IPolitics, November 5, 2012

The presidential vote: what you need to know

On Tuesday, over 100 million Americans will go to the polls to elect a President, 33 members of their 100 member Senate and all 435 members of the House of Representatives. There are gubernatorial elections in 11 states. Voters will elect 6,015 of the country’s 7,383 state legislators as well as local sheriffs, judges, county and city councilors. They will also decide on state and civic initiatives, propositions and constitutional amendments. This primer is intended to give you what you need to know about the election process, tips on watching the returns and why this matters to Canadians.

What are the current standings: President, Congress and Governors?

A Democratic Administration

President Obama, a Democrat who previously served in the US Senate and Illinois legislature, is running for a second term against former Massachusetts Governor and venture capitalist Mitt Romney.

Both men have a familiarity with Canada.  President Obama has family living in Ontario and he has made three official visits during the past four years. While growing up in Michigan, Governor Romney’s father, George Romney, an auto executive and then Governor of Michigan, would take the family to their summer home on Lake Huron. Later while at Bain Capital he did business in Canada.

Notwithstanding unpopular wars and difficult economic times, with unemployment hovering at 8% for most of his term, Obama and his vice president Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware, were acclaimed in early September to head their party’s slate at the Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Romney, who came second to John McCain when he contested the Republican nomination in 2008, won a hard-fought Republican nomination including 20 debates stretching from May 2011 to February 2012. He carried 42 states in the GOP primaries that began with the Iowa caucus on January 3rd and concluded with Utah in late June. He chose Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Congressman, as his running mate. They were formally nominated in late August at the abbreviated (because of Hurricane Isaac) Republican Convention in Tampa, Florida.

The President and the Executive Office is our best entrée to the American political system. Brian Mulroney, who understands the mechanics of the American system better than anyone, gave this invaluable advice while in speaking at Reagan Centenary in Washington: “The relationships (between prime ministers and presidents) are absolutely indispensable. If you don’t have a friendly and constructive personal relationship with the president of the United States, nothing is going to happen.“

In the First Branch of Government, a Divided Congress

In the House of Representatives, the Republicans won 242 districts in the 2010 elections while the Democrats elected 193 members. The GOP then elected John Boehner of Ohio as Speaker of the 112th Congress and Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker, was chosen as Minority Leader.

In the Senate the Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have 53 members (including two independents) in their caucus while the Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Tennessee, have 47 members. The Democrats hold 23 of the 33 seats in play this election.

Notwithstanding the good work of the Canada-US Inter-parliamentary Group and the informal ‘Northern Border’ caucus in the House of Representatives, Canadian legislators could do more to cultivate relationships with members of Congress. As former Ambassador Frank McKenna recently noted, “The president can love you to death, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have constant harassment from Congress. … The tone at the top helps, but it’s not conclusive.”

Most of the irritants that afflict Canada-US relations start with legislation drafted in Congress. Most of the time we are collateral damage and we need to remember that very little that is proposed in Congress actually passes into law. But given the depth of Canadian interests, we can never spend enough time in getting to know the chairs of committees and the ranking members on the minority side.

The Governors

The current gubernatorial breakdown is 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats and 1 independent (Linc Chafee of Rhode Island). There are 11 gubernatorial races with new challengers (because of term limits or retirement) in Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington and Indiana and incumbents facing re-election in Delaware, Missouri, Vermont, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Utah.

Governors matter and experience in the state-house often leads, as with former Governor Romney, to the top of the ticket. In the last century, governors who become president include Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt and more recently Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Current cabinet members with gubernatorial experience include Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security from Arizona), Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services from Kansas), Tom Vilsack (Agriculture from Iowa) and former Commerce Secretary, now Ambassador to China, Gary Locke.

Getting to know their governor counterparts at regional governors’ and premiers’ conferences is a smart investment of time by Canadian premiers. This also holds true for the various regional associations of state and provincial legislators. The Pacific Northwest Economic Region is the model for practical cross-border collaboration ranging from their championship of the ‘smart’ drivers’ license to recent innovative ‘helmets to hard hat’ job fairs for veterans.

What to watch for on Tuesday night?

The pundits use an expression from basketball – ‘jump ball’ -to illustrate the uncertainty of the race for the presidency, although aggregator polls suggest President Obama has a slight advantage in terms of electoral votes. Gallup, which had given Mitt Romney an advantage in the popular vote, halted its polling because of Hurricane Sandy. There are lots of public opinion surveys – one of the best aggregators is at the Real Clear Politics site and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight column on the New York Times provides very good analysis on probabilities (even if he did back the Detroit Tigers in the World Series).

Polls are important but they only capture a moment in time. Polls indicate trends and probability rather than predictability. Until we mark our ballots we are capable of changing our minds for all sorts of reasons.

About 25 million people are estimated to have already voted in the 34 states and the District of Columbia that permit early voting. It is reckoned that almost a third of those who will cast ballots will vote in the advance polls.

Historical voting patterns and polling put most of the states into the category of ‘safely’ Democratic or Republican in terms of their electoral votes. Looking at electoral maps of the US and you will see that the Pacific coastal states and the North East are safely ‘blue’ states while the Old Confederacy and south west are mostly ‘red’ states.

As for demographics: Obama draws on young people, minorities – African Americans, Latinos and Asians, and white-collar whites, especially women. Romney draws from blue-collar and older whites, especially men.

Intense presidential campaigning is taking place in the  ‘battleground’ states:  Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida and now Pennsylvania.

In this race for the presidency the burden lies with the challenger. Writing in the Wall Street Journal (May 23) Republican strategist Karl Rove set out a 3-2-1 strategy for Governor Romney to win the 270 electoral votes necessary for victory. It is as good a guide as any to watching the results on election night. It assumes winning all the states captured by John McCain in 2008 (as well as Nebraska’s second district) and then he must:

3. Recapture the traditionally Republican states of Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia,

2. Regain Florida and Ohio, both of which went Democratic in 2008
1. Win one of the following: New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, or New Mexico.

These elections will be the most expensive yet.  The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics reckon will cost $5.8 billion (the 2008  elections cost $5.4 billion) with about half of that spent on the presidential race. SuperPac spending by outside groups, permitted under the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, will likely account for about a billion dollars.

Electing a President: More complicated than you would think

The Founding Fathers established the process of the Electoral College to select the U.S. Chief Executive as a compromise between popular direct election and election by the Congress.

It flowed from a compromise, that balanced population with state rights, by giving each state two senators and then apportioning by population their members in the House of Representatives. The 23rd amendment gave the District of Columbia three electors which makes for a 538 member Electoral College. Winner-take-all prevails in most states although Nebraska and Maine have a form of proportional representation.

The electors meet in their individual states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their ballots for President and Vice President. If the Electoral College can’t reach a decision, the selection of the President goes to the House of Representatives where the victor must win 26 state delegations (and this happened In 1801 with the election of Thomas Jefferson)

Usually, the Electoral College chooses a President who also received the plurality of the nationwide popular vote. There have been four exceptions: 1824 with John Quincy Adams chosen over Andrew Jackson, 1876 when Republican Rutherford Hayes was chosen over Democrat Samuel Tilden, 1888 with Republican Benjamin Harrison selected over Democrat Grover Cleveland and 2000 when Republican George W. Bush was elected over Democrat Al Gore.

The new Congress begins its deliberations at noon on January 3rd, in time to meet on January 6th for the counting of the Electoral College during a joint session of Congress, presided over by the Vice President (as President of the Senate). On January 20, the President-elect takes the oath of office from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and is duly sworn in as President of the United States.

The Canadian stake in the US election: a pipeline & a bridge as well as the perennials of trade, defence and security, energy, and the environment

We watch the US election with neighbourly voyeurism but what happens in the US always matters to Canada. Start with the obvious: our shared geography and the long stretch of border along the 49th parallel and the northern line dividing Alaska from the Yukon and British Columbia.

The Pipeline

The ‘pipeline from Canada’ is a key piece in Governor Romney’s ‘energy independence’ strategy and he has declared that he would approve it on ‘Day One’. President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline waiver reflected a combination of factors notably the local opposition in Nebraska, including that of Republican Governor Dave Heineman and the legislature, as well as opposition from the national environmental movement. They also see the pipeline as surrogate for their opposition to development of the oil or ‘tar’ sands. The daily ‘ring around the White House’ was not a desirable visual for the Obama re-election campaign.  The Republicans in Congress saw it as a ‘wedge’ issue and tried to push approval through legislation. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality have just released (October 30) a 600 page draft report stating that the pipeline successfully avoids the Sandhills region of Nebraska, a step agreed to during a special session of the Legislature last year. Local hearings will begin in December.

The Bridge

Watch the outcome of a ballot initiative in Michigan on the proposed New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor. If passed it would oblige a popular referendum before Michigan could spend public funds on the new bridge. The 83-year old privately-owned Ambassador Bridge carries ¼ of Canada-US trade and it is especially critical to our recovering auto trade. Canada and Ontario agreed in June to provide a half billion dollars in financing against future tolls. This past week Ambassador Doer wrote an open letter pointing out that the project has the support of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, the chambers of commerce of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, the Big 3 auto-makers, the building trades and steel workers unions and farm organizations. The “only real opposition”, wrote Doer, “comes from one company trying to protect its current monopoly on the Ambassador Bridge.”  The bridge saga is a cautionary tale in obstruction, obfuscation and money politics,

Trade

Successive Canadian governments, dating back before Confederation, have consistently sought rules-based commercial agreements. The resulting deep economic integration gives us privileged, but not always secure, access to the biggest market in the world. It requires a constant campaign by all levels of Government in tandem with business and labour to fend off the forces of protectionism.

The most important piece of outstanding business is the framework agreement that PM Harper and President Obama announced last December.

Designed to push customs and security inspections ‘beyond the border’, it includes a series of pilot projects designed around the principle of ‘once cleared, twice accepted’. A Regulatory Cooperation Council will address the ‘tyranny of small differences’ frustrating business transactions. It requires our regulators to talk. It should go some distance to achieving the goal of common standards when they draft new rules. Keeping this initiative intact will be important. If there is a change in Administration then it may need to be rebranded and relaunched without losing sight of the objectives.

Canada and Mexico will formally join the Trans Pacific  Partnership negotiations at its December meeting in Auckland. The TPP promises to significantly raise the bar on trade and investment and, in continental terms, move us beyond NAFTA. It should also oblige us to look more closely at cooperation within the Americas, something Governor Romney has promised.

In addition to our Embassy in Washington we have fifteen offices throughout the US. Given the depth and importance of our trade and investment, we should have a Canadian presence in every state to act as our eyes, ears and voice. Austerity has recently obliged us to close six offices: Buffalo, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Raleigh, Anchorage, and Princeton. With our star-spangled Canadians living and working in the US, we need to rethink how we do business, including making greater use of honorary consuls.

Defence & Security

Our military, law enforcement and security agencies have daily dealings. The US is our principal ally through a series of agreements (PJBD, NORAD) that formally cover air and maritime defence. We are jointly committed to collective security through NATO and this has resulted in our recent campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya. In the foreign policy debate, President Obama described the US as the ‘indispensible’ power. The US certainly bears the burden of global primacy. There is always a keen interest in Washington about what we see and hear in the rest of the world and in what we can bring to the table. It underlines the requirement for a global Canadian foreign policy and a diplomatic service to back it up.

Energy

The energy relationship is vital to both countries – Canadian power literally lights up Broadway. Most of the flow – oil (24% of US imports), gas (13% of US consumption), hydro-electricity, as well as 20% of the uranium used in nuclear power generation is from Canada to the US. There is a reciprocal flow into eastern Canada of oil and electricity. The Canada and US electricity grid is deeply integrated with more than 30 major transmission interties connecting all contiguous Canadian provinces to neighbouring US states.

Environment

We share joint stewardship for our environment and we led the world in innovative cross-border practices including the century-old Boundary Waters Agreement establishing the International Joint Commission that tends to our cross-border waters.  The Great Lakes have been an obvious focus and in September new commitments to protect aquatic habitats, curb invasive species and help coastal communities adapt to climate change were added to the 1972 Water Quality Agreement. The rigorous negotiations around the Canada-US Acid Rain Treaty (1991) and the multilateral Montreal Protocol on the Ozone layer (1987) should serve as a model for how we deal with climate change. In January, we take on the chair of the Arctic Council for a two-year term. We both have interests in continuing to apply principles of good stewardship and the Americans, who take the chair after us, have suggested that we collude on common priorities. It seems a sensible suggestion.

And if Canadians could vote?

Ipsos-Reid conducted a survey of Canadians (October 30-November 1) that says nine-in-ten (86%) Canadians would back Barack Obama if they could vote. It echoed a BBC sponsored survey of 21 countries in July and September that said two thirds (66%) of the Canadians surveyed preferred Obama, with just 9 per cent favouring Governor Romney (in the Ipsos Reid survey 14% would vote GOP). Support among Canadians for President Obama was at the same level as in 2008 significantly above the global average of 50 per cent.  A recent clever study by Montreal University scholar Pierre Martin argues that notwithstanding conventional wisdom: “Republican administrations in Washington are not better for Canada than Democratic ones, even from a strictly economic perspective.”

During the Bush years I would meet Republicans with aspirations of manifest destiny. They were quickly disillusioned when I pointed out that if Canada were to accept the long-standing invitation to join the Union, our electoral votes – at least as many as Pennsylvania and New York combined – would likely ensure a permanent Democratic majority.

Further Reading:

Start with a fun read. David Frum’s Patriots is a lively tale of contemporary US politics with insights in the Tea Party movement. For a lively campaign chronicle read Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin that earlier this year was released as an HBO docudrama.  If you want to understand how US politics became dysfunctional read Brookings scholar Tom Mann and AEI scholar Norm Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism. On polling, the New York Time’s Nate Silver has written The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail but some don’t. On Canada-US relations browse through the Washington Diaries of Allan Gotlieb, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Canadian diplomacy in the United States, and look to his CD Howe Lecture on Romanticism and Realism in Canadian Foreign Policy.

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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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Iowa, Romney, Santorum and Paul and XL Pipeline

BNN Headline host Howard Green interviews Colin Robertson on on the Iowa caucuses and what it means for Canada, January 4, 2012

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Why the Iowa caucuses and primaries matter to Canada

From ipolitics.ca January 2, 2012 What the caucuses and primaries have to do with Canada

Canadians often think that we know all about America, while Americans think that they know all they need to know about us. As U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson has observed, we are both wrong.

Ties of history, culture and geographic propinquity, which facilitate trade and investment, mean that the U.S. will always be primordial to Canadian interests. We always have an agenda with the United States and because of the asymmetries in our relative interests and global positioning, the responsibility for initiative and action lies with us.

When we get it right we advance not only our own interests, but we gain additional leverage from our ability to explain America to the rest of the world and, when we properly manage our international diplomatic network, the rest of the world to America.

The 2012 American election has already provided both entertainment and an education in the politics of our southern neighbour.

The occupant of the Oval Office is still the most powerful leader in the world and the person who will take the oath in January 2013 matters to Canada. We need to know all about that person and their administration.

The issue matrix is different depending on who controls the agenda. Democrats tend to be more protectionist and emphasize environmental issues (e.g., Waxman-Markey would have potentially assessed a surcharge on oil sands products) while the Republicans put a higher priority on security, (e.g., Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative which obliges a passport or a ‘smart’ driver’s licence for cross-border travel.)

In the 2008 primaries, both major Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, promised to renegotiate NAFTA because of labour and environmental concerns. The subsequent leak of a Canadian diplomatic dispatch reporting that Obama campaign adviser Austan Goolsbee suggested this was mere electioneering on the part of candidate Obama caused considerable embarrassment. Goolsbee later became chair of President Obama’s Economic Advisory Council,

Deepening economic integration, including the new border initiative and ongoing regulatory reform means that more and more of the decisions that count take place at the state level, underlining the need for a Canadian 50 state strategy to complement our congressional outreach. Most of our trade disputes (e.g., lumber, beef) originated at the local level or have a local dimension (e.g., the XL pipeline and the original route through the Nebraska Sandhills) before they developed into issues on Capitol Hill.

Another example of how a local interest can stymie a bilateral issue is the long-planned second crossing between Detroit and Windsor. The business owner of the Ambassador Bridge has blocked approval of the second crossing in the Michigan state legislature, notwithstanding the strong support of Governor Rick Snyder and the continuing efforts of Ontario and federal government authorities who have offered to fund Michigan’s $550-million share of the new bridge (with the money to be paid back through subsequent tolls). The thousands of trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge each day carry about 25 percent of the annual merchandise trade between Canada and the United States.

The success of the new border initiative will require the collaborative efforts of the federal, state and province and municipal authorities on both sides of the border. The bailout and restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors, making possible the subsequent recovery of our auto industry, is a good example of tri-level and cross-border collaboration on the auto trade that dates back to the 1965 Autopact.

In pursuit of Canadian interests in the U.S., the presidency is our main entry point into the American system, itself a spaghetti bowl of competing interests and factions.

These include the members of Congress and their staff, the administration and its agencies, the lobbyists (there are now more than 33,000 in Washington), the lawyers, the think-tanks, the media and the other special interests that are constantly shifting, aligning and realigning on and around Capitol Hill. The internet and the rise of YouTube, blogs, and tweets have further “democratized” and “atomized” the political process.

The American political process has become polarized and even more partisan. “It’s not just a tug of war between left and right”, writes New York Times columnist Charles Blow, “It’s a struggle between the mind and the heart, between evidence and emotions, between reason and anger, between what we know and what we believe.” American politics, observes the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein “increasingly resembles a kind of total war in which each party mobilizes every conceivable asset at its disposal against the other. Most Governors were once conscientious objectors in that struggle. No more.” Or Newt Gingrich told ABC News on the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, “”Politics has become a really nasty, vicious, negative business and I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s dishonest.”

Within this fractious and often confusing context, a foreign power is just another special interest and, without the tools of money or votes, not particularly special. Working this system has become even more complicated because of the continuing dispersal of power in the U.S. and the legions of special interests armed with cheque books.

It makes it more difficult to build the necessary coalitions of cross-party support that we usually require to either prevent passage of legislation contrary to our interests or support for an initiative. But it starts with an appreciation of the American system. The excitement and passion of this latest exercise in their democratic process provides an ideal daily education to learn and understand better the country that continues to matter the most to Canadians.

This column draws from the CDFAI’s “A Canadian Primer to the 2012 U.S. Primaries and Caucuses”.

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Keystone XL Pipeline decision

Excerpted from Embassy ‘Keystone XL pipeline: Politics or process?Bruise on Canada-US relations, but won’t leave scare’ November 16

The United States government’s move to delay a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 presidential elections has some observers saying that “politics prevailed” and that such a move could have a negative impact on Canada-US relations.

Others, though, say the decision was an example of the regulatory process at work.

TransCanada Corp. had proposed a $7-billion pipeline that would take crude oil from Hardisty, Alta. southeast through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, on its way to the Texas Gulf coast.

But the US State Department announced Nov. 10 that it needed to get more information on possible other routes. The State Department said the decision, which was expected by the end of this year, would likely be pushed back to early 2013.

Nebraskans had voiced concerns about the pipeline’s proposed route going over environmentally sensitive areas such as the Sand Hills region and the Ogallala aquifer.

Reports emerged this week that Nebraska and TransCanada agreed to find an alternative route for the pipeline, which TransCanada said could shorten the approval timeline. It was also said that Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman asked the US government to speed up the process. The State Department, however, appeared to stick firm to the 2013 timeline, according to CBC News.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and now a senior strategic adviser for McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP, which has done work for TransCanada, said the State Department’s move has little to do with Canada and everything to do with US President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects.

Others also share this sentiment….

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