The United States to 2020 and the Requirement for Canadian Action

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Excerpts from The US to 2020 prepared for the Business Council of British Columbia

America will remain the principal power in the coming decade, with preponderant military capacity. America’s greatest asset is its resiliency and its capacity for hard work, creativity and risk-taking. President Obama has launched an ambitious, radical renovation of the American economy that will encompass health care and education, as well as climate change.

There is a growing diffusion of power – an emerging multipolarity at the state level that is complicated by threats that defy classic relationships. Most important for Canada is the rise of China and India, a European federation preoccupied with internal cohesion and disinclined to interventions requiring force, and a Russia that is reasserting a sphere of ‘privileged influence’, including in the Arctic. Terrorism, pandemics, religious and tribal animosities and cyber threats further confuse the international arena and underline the requirement for reform and restructuring of the international system.

For Canada, the U.S. is principal ally, economic partner and friend.

Like it or not, know it or not, a vigorous Canada requires a robust America. It is critically important for Canadian security, livelihood and prosperity that we understand the changes taking place in America and their interplay with our own interests and the rest of the world. The changes – economic, demographic, regional – will have profound implications for Canadians, particularly as they relate to security and the border, economic integration, and policies for the environment and energy.

The responsibilities of global primacy and a preoccupation with domestic concerns on the part of the U.S. mean that Canada, never top of mind in American calculations, must constantly, consistently and forcefully make its case. Geographic propinquity and integrated economies provide the platform, while the need for joint, complementary action is illustrated by events as diverse as 9-11 (and closing down Canada-US airspace), pandemics (eg. SARS), and the restructuring of GM.

To advance mutual prosperity we require a ‘smarter’ partnership with the U.S. The onus for initiative lies with Canada. American leadership responds best to big ideas that play to their agenda. By framing our own interests around the American preoccupation with national security, economic recovery and, climate change we can advance our own agenda.

To succeed in the complex American arena we need to have a thousand points of intersection and a high profile media strategy. Thus the requirement for bold, pragmatic leadership – beginning with the prime minister and premiers, with a role and responsibility for Business and Labour, first to develop a coherent set of policies, and then a multi-level strategy to advance and follow-through on Canadian interests.

Summary of Observations & Recommendations for Canada

  1. Security is the abiding American preoccupation. We must be their ‘safest’’ and ‘most reliable’ partner – progress on all other files begins with security.  The U.S. needs a high level of confidence that we ‘watching their back’ and to be consistently reminded that we are a reliable partner in collective security (eg. Afghanistan).
  2. ‘Smart, bold partnerships’ on energy, the environment, labor mobility, regulatory standards and perimeter management will advance Canadian interests. We can’t take our well-being in the North American space for granted. Continued incrementalism means eventual decline.
  3. ‘Being there’ is the best way to understand America. We should have a diplomatic presence in every American state by 2010.
  4. Canadian universities and think tanks need to develop ‘knowledge centres’ around critical aspects of the U.S. and develop closer relationships in the U.S. And make maximum use of ‘star-spangled Canadians’ to connect2Canada.
  5. Advancing Canadian interests requires a permanent campaign with activist, visible outreach – no other trading partner creates as many jobs for Americans as Canada. It requires a commensurate effort to educate Canadians about the importance of the U.S. for their own livelihood
  6. The abiding strength of the Canada-US relationship lies in the hidden wiring – the relationships between states and provinces, business and labour and especially the personal connections between premiers and governors, and legislators.
  7. Now is the time to begin an aggressive investment promotion campaign to capitalize on the comparative advantage that Canada will enjoy coming out of the economic downturn. And seek to reduce the friction of cross-border arbitrage by creating the conditions for commensurate productivity with the U.S.
  8. A ‘Team Canada’ mission to Silicon Valley and other high-tech centres led by the prime minister and premiers and involving university presidents should aim to create joint research and development projects to enhance Canadian-American competitiveness.
  9. Governments must resist the temptation to over-regulate. Business and Labour need to recognize that the changed situation requires them to improve their own game and step up for the common good. Political leadership must be vigilant to the bureaucratic instinct to control and over-regulate. Risk management coupled with good intelligence is the better way to ensure the beneficial flow of people and trade.
  10. Canadian resources are central to American energy security. Withholding them is a hollow threat and would only threaten our own unity. But efforts to discount ‘dirty oil’ should be fiercely resisted as protectionism wrapped in ‘green’. Achieving an early, joint approach to carbon management will give us the initiative on the road to Copenhagen. Hydro electricity is an important Canadian card. It’s clean, it’s there and it’s what the smart grid needs. There is a particular opportunity and contribution to nuclear non-proliferation if Canada were to assume stewardship of uranium from ‘cradle to grave’. Commence planning to build a pipeline from the oil sands to the West Coast to diversify and open markets with Asia.

Summary of Observations & Recommendations for British Columbia

  1. Regional collaboration, particularly strong between western governors and premiers and legislators (ie. PNWER) is practical, advances mutual interests and can have very positive application to the national level (eg. smart drivers license).
  2. Premiers and governors are consistently ahead of the curve in their appreciation of the Canada-U.S. relationship. Launching annual meetings between the National Governors’ Association and Council of the Federation would temper protectionist instincts by underlining the ‘best customer’ relationships between states and provinces. 
  3. British Columbia’s pioneering experience with a carbon tax should be integrated into the Canada-US ‘Clean Energy Dialogue’ and into the evolving global dialogue.
  4. Water will emerge as the most important resource issue in the 21st century. It offers both an opportunity for business development, especially in clean water technology and sustainability, and a challenge for policy management.
  5. Lumber: As with energy, our dependence on the U.S. market requires a rethink of our marketing strategy – we need to aggressively market to Asia
  6. Fish: The ongoing effectiveness of the Pacific Salmon Treaty in 1985 and the Pacific Salmon Commission is a reminder that binational institutions with close state and provincial involvement are the most effective mechanisms for managing resource issues.
  7. British Columbia needs to remain vigilant in combating crime to prevent Vancouver and its port from being seen as a gateway in illicit trafficking in people and drugs.
  8. Vancouver has become a global hub for creative industries – film and television production, electronic games. They are the incubators for ‘creative communities’. Policy initiatives that respect intellectual property and promote infrastructure, transportation and education are smart investments for the future.
  9. Talent will increasingly determine economic prosperity and smart immigration policy, using the provincial nominee program, fast-tracks applicants with skills and talent. It is equally important to sustain and enhance the long-term flow of Asian students seeking high school and university education and to put more emphasis into targeting American, especially Latino students, as a bridge into the Americas and America’s growing Latino population.
  10. Drawing on the best practices of the 2000 Sydney and 2008 Beijing Olympics, use the 2010 Olympics as a trampoline to market British Columbia and Canada as a ‘clean and green’ destination for tourism, trade and investment.

Ottawa needs a permanent pro-Canada campaign in Washington

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May 11, 2009 National Post

When Barack Obama looks out the window from the White House, chances are he sees the swing and play set for Malia and Sasha, just one of the changes made by the new residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But will he realize that the tubing on the playset is made in Winkler, Manitoba?  Or that the blackberry, that he can’t live without, is a product of Waterloo, Ontario? Or that ‘The Beast’ – his black, armour-plated limousine also has parts manufactured in Canada?

Probably not.

The good news from a Canadian perspective is that President Obama likes us. When he proclaimed at the February 19 media conference on Parliament Hill that “I love this country. We could not have a better friend and ally,” he was also echoing American sentiment. Canada consistently ranks first in Gallup’s annual survey of foreign countries and, in their February survey, on the eve of the president’s visit, nine in ten Americans said they view Canadians favorably.

The bad news is that, notwithstanding the President’s ‘love’ and American affection, since 9-11 Canada may be ‘friendly’ but it is also ‘foreign’ and recent comments by Americans, including those who should know better, remind us that we still need to bust the myth on the 9-11 terrorists and increase their confidence in Canadian reliability, especially on homeland security. We also need to educate Americans (as well as Canadians) on the benefits of the mutually beneficial economic partnership that we have worked hard to achieve. It is at risk of erosion because of the hunkering down and ‘begger-thy-neighbourism’ caused by the global economic crisis. We are ‘caught up’, says the Export Development Corporation in a ‘global downdraft’, warning that our exports will decline by a fifth this year. No province or industry will be spared. Continue reading

After Obama’s First Hundred Days: The Pursuit of the Ottawa Agenda and the Need for a Permanent Campaign

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Excerpts from CDFAI Policy Update May 10, 2009

…the new President likes us. He has invited us to sit at the table on the issues that matter – energy and environment, the border, international affairs. The problems are that his agenda means he won’t have much time for us. Nor will his ‘love’ for Canada change American insecurity about its borders or the protectionist instincts of the Democratic Congress. The plight of Detroit and the auto sector underlines the desperate decline of American manufacturing. The drop in demand for Canadian products is further threatened by a return of ‘buy America,’ wrapped in the cloak of patriotism and national security.
The economic crisis has created a dynamic for change that offers both opportunity and threat. The White House swing set and the president’s ‘Beast’ and blackberry illustrates the scope and depth of economic integration. The threat is a further thickening of the border and a ‘made-in- America’ regulatory framework on the environment and energy. On the border, we need to reframe the argument to a discussion about perimeter and on energy we need to quickly come up with a ‘made-in-Canada’ approach.
Act, we must. With over three quarters of our trade going to the U.S. and our prosperity dependent on trade, anything less than a successful partnership will quickly be felt across the country. That should provide us with a sense of focus, and determination that easier times might not require. The emerging resolution to the auto industry crisis demonstrates that we can act in collaboration and in complementary fashion.
The burden of American global primacy and the asymmetry of our economic relationship means that we have to be constantly on guard for Canada and making the case for Canada. The nature of the American political system and the role of Congress means that traditional diplomacy and the reliance on the executive branch to handle our interests is insufficient and inadequate.
Playing the Americans requires a diplomacy that resembles our national sport for speed, flexibility and energy. We need to make constant line changes and use different kinds of players, depending on the situation. Propinquity and relevance means that it is very public, everyone thinks they can play, and it can occasionally can get very dirty. Always the focus must be on putting the puck in the net for Canada.
Shortly after I’d begun my job in Washington I spoke with Gordon Giffin, former American ambassador to Canada. He, like counterparts Jim Blanchard and Paul Cellucci, recommended that I should spend my time working Capitol Hill. I related my adventures, noting some thought that I was spending too much time there. In his laconic fashion he looked at me and replied, “you can never spend too much time on Capitol Hill.” I wondered how long we’d have to keep it up. Raising an eyebrow he observed, “you never stop.”
Because that is the nature of the American system we need to embark on a permanent campaign based on smart partnerships with an ever-shifting galaxy of players using all the tools at our disposal. It is a different kind of diplomacy – with Plunkett’s Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics a better guide than Satow’s Diplomatic Practice. But it is still diplomacy.

Smart partnership: building on the Obama visit

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Excerpted from Policy Options April 2009 Smart partnership: building on the Obama visit

The Founders constructed the American system on the basis of what James Madison called ‘competing interests’ and ‘public passions’. We have long recognized that traditional diplomatic practice with its ritual and protocol, relying on the State Department and, occasionally, the Executive Branch, to look out for our interests does not reflect our interdependent reality, and is inadequate to securing and expanding our interests. To advance and defend Canadian interests in a relationship that daily grows more intermestic requires a permanent campaign with a role for all, especially in a time of radical change. As the Prime Minister observed in Brampton, we will not turn the corner until the Americans fix their problems.

In recent years, responding to the need to make the case for Canada in Congress and regionally, the federal government has ramped up its advocacy efforts by increasing the number of Canadian offices in the United States from 15 to 23 and creating an advocacy secretariat within the Embassy. The framework created by the Obama visit will re-establish a pattern of regular bilateral encounters between ministers and, we hope, at least annual bilateral sessions between the prime minister and president.

These steps are right and necessary but we need to do more.  We should aim, for example, to have Canadian representation in every American state by the 2010 elections to advance our interests and to signal early warning measures that will adversely affect our trade and investment. Parliamentarians’ travel should also be widened to include district visits with their congressional counterparts. Create a ‘swat team’ to work with legislators, provincial governments, business, and our US offices to address head-on American protectionism, especially at the state and local level; this proved effective during the FTA and NAFTA negotiations.

The provinces, recognizing that their own interests require engagement, have vastly expanded their own ‘diplomacy’ through involvement through bilateral engagement as well as through active participation with regional and national conferences of governors and state legislators and in fora like the Energy Council. Alberta sets the standard with a Washington office, headed by former cabinet ministers, through a leadership role in the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWR), and initiatives like ‘Alberta on the National Mall’ in Washington.

PNWR is a public/private association with the active involvement of state and provincial executive and legislators, backed up by a robust secretariat. Its Secretariat, under the far-sighted leadership of Washington Governor, Christine Gregoire, and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, enabled the creation of the ‘smart drivers license’ that Homeland Security has accepted as a valid travel document for cross-border travel. As an effective model for regional cooperation,  PNWER should be examined by the Atlantic Premiers and New England Governors and in discussions around a similar organization for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway provinces and states.

Government does not need to lead on or micro-manage everything. Industry and labor also have a responsibility for involvement. The real challenge in the current situation will be for Government(s) to resist the temptation to over-regulate, and thus retard, the return to the natural play of the market economy. In the case of Canada and the United States, it is estimated that 40% of cross-border transactions are intra-company. In times of economic contraction and a ‘thickening’ border, these may prove to be especially vulnerable. Chambers of commerce and associations, the Business Roundtable and Canadian Council of Chief Executives play a constructive role. The Canadian American Business Council is particularly effective and we should encourage the creation of state counterparts like the Canada Arizona Business Council.

Labor is a vital part of the Democratic party coalition and wields its influence with effect as illustrated by inclusion of the ‘Buy America’ provision by the congressional iron and steel caucus in the recent stimulus package. President Obama has a regular teleconference with labour leaders. Canadian labour has excellent relationships with American labor; now might be the best time to put them to good use.  The AFL-CIO’s John Sweeney once asked me why Canadian diplomatic efforts didn’t include the Canadian Labour Congress and other unions.

Canadian labour should be able to see that its own interests are now engaged. Rising unemployment in the USA inevitably is going to lead to a steady stream of protectionist legislation from the Democratic majority, and the increasing government stake in industries like autos and banking will also give more protection-prone Congress a greater and more unpredictable say. While in most cases it won’t be aimed at Canada, as America’s principal trading partner, we will suffer collateral damage from any anti-foreign upsurge. At a minimum, Canadian labor unions should be encouraging their American counterparts to insert ‘North’ between ‘Buy’ and  ‘America’ initiatives, however misguided they may still be overall.

The focal point for Canadian advocacy is Congress and it needs to be an all-hands approach, coordinated, but recognizing that while the messages should be congruent and complementary, the voices can be different. Play the game the American way, recognizing the utility of lobbyists and lawyers, because that is the way it works. Each one of the 535 members of the House and Senate needs to be targeted, especially in their districts, because on any issue they can either be adversary or ally. We may not have money or votes but we can talk about the seven million jobs created by growing trade and investment and parse them to the district level.

Lobby Congress as well as Obama

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The Calgary Herald (Canada), January 31, 2009
by Mike Blanchfield

Some say it’s misguided for Canada to be focusing on Obama when it should be concentrating on Congress.”Even though Obama is still in that honeymoon phase and at the peak of his power, this is not one he can fix,’ said Colin Robertson, a Canada-U. S. trade expert at Carleton University.

“It underlines the requirement for us to be constantly lobbying Congress — the source of the problem,’ said Robertson, a former senior diplomat in Washington. ‘It’s another lesson in the difference between our systems, and a reminder of checks and balances and the separation of powers in the U. S. A.’

Robertson said the incident shows how Canada needs to mount a ‘permanent campaign’ at Congress that goes far beyond the offices of the prime minister and the president.

President Listener

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From Maclean’s President Listener by Luiza Ch. Savage on Friday, January 23, 2009 3:30pm – 2 Comments

Colin Robertson, who used to be an advocate for the Canadian embassy  on Capitol Hill, has written a report about Canada’s prospects for dealing with the new administration. He includes this personal impression of dealing with Obama when he was still senator:.

“After making several hundred calls on Capitol Hill, I divided politicians into two camps: talkers and listeners. I reckon that 80% are talkers. Obama was a listener. I would pitch him on an issue – beef, lumber, or Devil’s Lake. He would listen politely, thank me and I would depart. I thought him ‘fit, elegant, comfortable in his skin.’ I also wrote that he appeared ‘deliberative, disciplined, and determined.’ In the months and years ahead, he will need all of those qualities.”

Comments Kelly Johnston: Colin, whom I respect greatly, should also know that many “listeners” on the Hill discriminate among those whose advice they heed and those who they ignore. I commend him for being able to get an audience — the fact that a Canadian representative was able to do so bodes well.

Setting the Stage for the Obama Administration

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Excerpted from CDFAI policy update January 2009

The Anglo-American chronicler of America and American life, Alistair Cooke, observed that a presidential performance is a trilogy of plays. The first play is the election campaign. Cooke called it ‘Promises, Promises.’ Long and exhausting, the candidate criss-crosses the country, telling each and every group, what they wanted or expected to hear.
The second play begins on election night and lasts until the inauguration. Cooke called it ‘The Honeymoon,’ that time in the life of the president-elect when, while he is powerless, he is very popular. Not a day goes by without another flattering profile of him, his family and the team that he is assembling about him. A new president always suggests the prospect of change and movement, the rebirth of the American promise, and into him Americans invest their hopes and aspirations for the future. Three out of four Americans, including a majority of Republicans, approve of how Obama has handled the transition.
This happy state of affairs will reach a crescendo shortly before noon on Tuesday, January 20th, on the West Front of the Capitol Building – “democracy’s front porch,” as President George H.W. Bush called it. With one hand on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his 1861 inaugural, Barack Hussein Obama will raise his right hand before Chief Justice John Roberts, and take the oath of office making him the 44th president of the United States.
Obama’s inaugural address is expected to be relatively short, about fifteen minutes. His speechwriter says it will reflect “this moment that we’re in, and the idea that America was founded on certain ideals that we need to take back.” Expect references to Martin Luther King, Jr., whose January 19th birthdate is now celebrated with a national holiday, and to Abraham Lincoln, whom Obama venerates. This year is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. After the afternoon parade and evening balls, the new Administration will get down to work and the third and longest play in Cooke’s presidential cycle, ‘Facts of Life,’ begins in earnest…

The curtain on what Alistair Cooke called the third play in the life of a president, the ‘Facts of Life,’ is about to be raised. Americans invest in their new president their hopes and their aspirations. In Obama the circumstances are magnified because of his compelling, extraordinary life story, the drama of the presidential campaign, the unpopularity of his predecessor and the circumstances under which he will take the oath of office – the economic crisis and the wars. Americans, and many others around the world, look to him for leadership
Obama is about to bring ‘yes we can’ into rooms accustomed to saying ‘no we can’t’.Presidents- elect, warned presidential scholar Richard Neustadt, “are almost bound to overestimate the power that will soon be theirs.” Government and the regulatory power of the state will expand. Yet to be determined is whether these institutions will be up to the job. Obama has set forth a big, daunting agenda and is moving forward on many fronts. Expectations are high. So is the risk of overload. These are the ‘facts of life’ that will feed into the reviews, especially after the first hundred days.
In the confirmation hearings, the Obama team is already getting a taste of the inevitable bumps in the road. Every bump will wear some of the shine off the mantle of the extraordinary expectations invested in them. Before the bubble of expectation begins to deflate, President Obama must give not just voice to, but the appearance of, movement and change at home. Even then ‘success’ will be incomplete and tinged, at least to the purists, by compromise. To effect the changes that he promises, Obama will need all the tools off his presidency: his team,
his bully pulpit, and the extraordinary network that he developed during the campaign. Success will depend on his relationship with the Congress.
Intervening in his domestic agenda will be the unexpected international ‘events’, that phone call at 3 AM in the morning that, in one of history’s ironies, will now be answered by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Americans and the international community will confirm or revise their assessments of the new president on how he handles them. Such is the burden of primacy borne by every American president.
My own encounters with the new president were brief: shortly before he gave his epic speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, and then, on a couple of occasions, outside the Senate office buildings, where he could smoke (a habit he is apparently still trying to shake). After making several hundred calls on Capitol Hill, I divided politicians into two camps: talkers and listeners. I reckon that 80% are talkers. Obama was a listener. I would pitch him on an issue – beef, lumber, or Devil’s Lake. He would listen politely, thank me and I would depart. I thought him ‘fit, elegant, comfortable in his skin.’ I also wrote that he appeared ‘deliberative, disciplined, and determined.’ In the months and years ahead, he will need all of those qualities.

Dealing with Obama or McCain: think big and keep it simple

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Excerpted from Policy Options Dealing with Obama or McCain: think big and keep it simple October 2008

1. Think Big: Understand the American agenda and the ‘burden of primacy’. American leadership likes to talk ‘big picture’ geo-politics and, when we apply ourselves, we have both capacity and capability to bring to the table.

2. Play Smart: Playing smart means bringing the intelligence of our own global networks and the uniquely Canadian advantages created by migration (Asians making up half of our new immigrants) and commerce to the table. Sure we’ve got issues – usually inspired by sectional interests who’ve found the ear of Congress. But to demand the administration fix it betrays an ignorance of the American constitution and the relative power and responsibility of the legislative and executive branch. The temptation to put “the condominium” issues at the top of the Canadian agenda may satisfy the immediate appetites of the media entourage and certain domestic constituencies but the effect of the laundry list on the Administration is to make them wonder about our interest in the Big Picture and, by consequence, our capacity to play in the Big League. A more effective approach is to offer constructive advice and solution-minded initiatives on those issues at the top of the American agenda and then to get to the “small ball” stuff. At the same time, the better approach to the condominium issues is to continue to improve our advocacy effort at the state level and with Congress, while seeking the advice and enlisting the support of the Administration.

3.  Keep it Simple: Go first for that which is easy to achieve and that will visibly show a change for the better. Faster passage at border points, for example. Change always exacerbates public anxiety especially around health and safety standards and perceptions of sovereignty. Like a hockey game you need rules and penalties but administered with a light touch. Canadians, like the rest of the world, should be mindful that the US occasionally will exercise their right to the trap door. One approach does not fit every situation. History tells us that most enduring and successful arrangements are bi-national –  NORAD is a good example, then bilateral, like the International Joint Commission.

4.  Remember former  Secretary Jim Baker’s advice – “prepare, prepare, prepare” : This has particular relevance to Canadians when negotiating with Americans. The United States usually doesn’t pay attention until the third period when they put their A-team on the field and change their play-book. That’s when preparation pays off. We should plan for NAFTA being brought to the table with the next administration. With the challenge comes the opportunity for discussion of the energy security of Canadian oil sands development and increased supply and the related issues of continental carbon management and labour mobility.

5.  Success is more likely when we take a “Team Canada Inc” approach recognizing that our relationship with the United States is neither classically international nor domestic  but falls somewhere in between – “intermestic” for want of a better word.  The strength lies in what I call our  hidden wiring, that network of connections below the headlines – governors and premiers, mayors, legislators, business and labor associations, sports teams and the web of family. Mindful of the regional nature of North America, I argue for a series of annual ‘State of the Relationship’ conferences in partnership with business and labour.

6.  To paraphrase James Carville, “its security stupid”: When America is at war and fearful of things that go bang at 3 AM, we need to remind Americans that ‘We have their back’. In comparative terms, we pay relatively little rent to defend ourselves in North America thanks to NATO and NORAD and NORTHCOM. We have to take every occasion to point out explicitly the ongoing investments that we are making to secure our perimeter and especially, in the North where the Pentagon has geo-political considerations. This is a currency that Americans understand. Arguably, the interoperability with American forces that characterizes our air and naval cooperation should be applied to our land forces as well, as we are doing in Afghanistan and through relief missions as in East Timor. There is also a practical dimension. The Pentagon is also the source of significant contracting opportunities and Canada has long been the single largest foreign source of these contracts.

What Eisenhower described as the military-industrial complex of the United States includes players like the National Security Council, Congress, the Pentagon as well as the defence industries.  In the  “long, twilight” war on terror campaign, the Pentagon trumps the State Department. And it has considerable weight in Congress – largest committee membership in both House and Senate. And we should never forget that almost a quarter of those in Congress have experience in uniform. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because traditional diplomacy requires the State Department to be the primary interlocutor on foreign policy and relations with the administration it is, therefore, the principal player in the determination of American national security policy. They fail to understand that making national security policy is a bit like playing Star Trek chess – it occurs at various tables on different levels.

7.  Being There: In the smorgasbord of American politics, you can always identify like-minded groups or individuals and develop allies, regardless of party. On almost any issue there will be more Americans who think like Canadians than there are Canadians. But you have to be there. I recommend that we expand our presence to include every state of the union. Start by hiring expatriates working out of their homes with the mandate to market and promote Canada and, by targeting legislators, to create a strong positive image of Canada as friend, ally and partner. It’s diplomacy but done differently – using the Internet and telephone drawing on local chambers of commerce

In the American system, local and state governments play a critical role in the progress of legislators. Unlike Canadians, Americans seem to expect their leadership to do their apprenticeship at the local/state level. Four of the last six presidents were governors, and Senator MCain chose the governor of a Northern Exposure state, Sarah Palin of Alaska, as his running mate. Ten former governors now sit in the Senate. McCain served in Congress before his election to the Senate and Obama served in the state legislature in Illinois.

  1. Bring ‘em up here: Inviting American legislators to visit Canada should be an ongoing project. And, as members of Congress often remarked when I was on the Hill, make time for building camaraderie on the golf course, or for what Americans particularly enjoy in Canada –  fishing and hunting.

9.  Enhance the “Canadian Brand” in the United States: For a model, look to the “Upper North Side” campaign waged in New York City. A ‘Think Big’ strategy is needed.

10.  Political will: It starts at the top. Relationships matter but, as former Secretary of State George Shultz would remind us, they are like gardens. They need constant cultivation. The asymmetry of the relationship means that prime ministers must prod presidents to achieve action and results. And initiative involves risk and challenge.  In Parliament, there are those in each party whose natural instinct is to oppose anything involving the United States. Parts of the cultural literati sound the alarm whenever they feel our sovereignty is at risk. The Afghan campaign, for example, is often interpreted by the Canadian left through the prism of Iraq; yet in the U.S. the Democrats, beginning with Barack Obama, understand the difference between the two theatres.

The American Revolution, or War of Independence (perspective is everything), created two nations. For too long, selective interpretations of Canadian-American relations have portrayed Canada as unequal or subjugated. This mindset has held us back from engaging the Americans as partners and mutual beneficiaries in the bounty of our shared geography.

It took nearly three quarters of a century for us to exorcise the ghosts of Laurier’s 1911 defeat on free trade. Brian Mulroney’s courage and boldness rewarded Canada with prosperity and security. Now we need to slay the insecurities around our identity by defining ourselves, not by what we are not, but by what we are and what we have achieved. There is much to celebrate: a pluralism where diversity can flourish; accommodation, through innovation in transportation and communication, to a vast land and harsh climate; a flourishing cultural literacy and a sense of humour; and a record of standing up to be counted whether the threat come from fascism, communism or terrorism, tempered by a commitment to diplomacy and building institutions that make for a better world.

‘Place, standing and perspective,’ coupled with Canadian sensitivity and sensibility, mean that when we’re on game, we have the privilege, observed John Holmes, that most astute practitioner and observer of Canadian foreign policy – “to tell our best friends when their breath is bad”. Geographic propinquity gives us ‘place,’ especially given the American preoccupation with national security. The diversity of our population and especially the networks that we gain through immigration gives us ‘standing’  and an ability to ‘Think Big’ on the major developments of our time, like the rise of China and India and climate change. Our global diplomatic service also gives us a different perspective, especially on places like Cuba and the quiet work we are doing on governance. Played effectively, our global relationships have immense value. And our relationship with the United States gives us a unique influence as interpreter of America to the world and to America on the world.

The true white north: reflections on being Canadian

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Excerpted from Policy Options The true white north: reflections on being Canadian February 2008

What is it to “be Canadian”?

More than any other nationality, the question of who we are and what defines our identity has preoccupied Canadians since Confederation. It has created a cottage industry in the groves of academe, in the theatre of politics and media, and has been a perennial source of inspiration and income for Canadian book publishers.

If our national sport is hockey than our national preoccupation is our identity. The American experience relies on shared history (Lincoln’s “mystic chords of memory”), common ancestry (“consanguinity”’), and pride in being American. In America, the civic tradition was to depoliticize the past in order to assuage, with success, the wounds of Revolution and the scars of Civil War. Resolution of the struggle over Civil Rights remains an act in progress. With pride, Americans put their hand on their heart and recite the pledge of allegiance.

The Canadian experience, like the Canadian identity, is less straightforward. There has always been more division and ambiguity about “shared” history and less exuberance to our nationalism. It was not as if our ‘founding nations’ set out to create Canada. The Loyalists fought for a united British America while the French had spent much of the previous hundred and fifty years fighting for the opposite. The confederation of British North America was as much an unintended consequence of the Civil War and the recognition that ‘manifest destiny’ could well result if Reconstructionists decided to send their battle-seasoned veterans across the 49th parallel.

The emphasis on diversity means we celebrate multiple memories rather than a monolithic collective memory. And thus the eternal question about identity.  The irony is that the rest of the world knows who we are and what we stand for. The problem is not with the brand abroad but the brand at home.

An instructive way to explore the notion of the “Canadian identity” is through through our history and the people, places, and events that shape us and it is this exercise that is perhaps the most Canadian of all….

The Un-America

Canada exists because Sir John A. Macdonald was resolutely anti-American argues Richard Gwyn in his excellent new biography of the “man who made us”. Macdonald, who viewed America as both ‘godless’ and ‘radically progressive’ was determined, says Gwyn, that Canada would remain the ‘un America’ and this conviction would manifest itself in the construction of the coast-to-coast railway and the formulation of the National Policy….

Our ‘Frenchness’

For Michaëlle Jean, speaking at the Supreme Court in the ceremony to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Canadian citizenship in April, our “Frenchness” is integral to our being Canadian and certainly the place, or lack thereof, of Quebec in Confederation, has been a constant theme in our identity crisis. For now it’s a nation within a nation, a subject on which Pierre Trudeau would surely have had something to say.

Too often forgotten is that our “Frenchness” is pan-Canadian and not, as the separatists would prefer, the exclusive preserve of “pur laine” in Québec….

The Immigrant Experience

We remain a country ‘under construction’ and successive waves of newcomers continue the building process. Our open door (relatively speaking) approach to immigration means that one in five Canadians was born outside of Canada. Successive waves reinforce Canadian pluralism. After French and English, Arabic is now the most common language in Ottawa-Gatineau. ‘Little Mosque on the Prairies’ can  move to the Capital; within a decade Ottawa will have 8 major mosques.

This past summer I revisited Pier 21, one of the seven wonders of Canada and the creation of the incomparable Ruth Goldbloom. Every Canadian should visit Pier 21 and reflect on our ‘immigrant experience’. Peter C. Newman is one of those who came through Pier 21. Written on the wall at Pier 21 is his observation that, “this country was put together not only by bloodlines, kin and tradition, but by tides of newcomers of every stock, creed and persuasion.”

Canada, writes historian Des Morton, is peopled by adventurers and “history’s losers”–those who found themselves on the wrong side of conflict and power structures. The adventurers came in search of the riches of the Indies. The ‘losers’ came in search of sanctuary. Both sought opportunity and settled for fishing, trapping and logging. If they were lucky and made money, they could then leave the land that Voltaire described as “quelques arpents de neige”. Independent thinkers and iconoclasts…

My Scots and Irish ancestors migrated to Canada at this time. They fit into Des Morton’s paradigm. One great-grandfather was a ‘remittance man’, who’d been obliged to change his name. Shortly after arrival, he bunked off leaving his wife and six children to fend for themselves. I keep this story in mind whenever I hear the call to keep out ‘undesirables’ and their families.

What else gives us our ‘Canadianness’?

1. Our Sense of North and our Sense of Nature

Pierre Berton, no stranger to the North, captured the sentiment of our northern identity when he described a Canadian as “someone who could make love in a canoe”.

What captures much of our country powerfully is the single word “vast”. With so much of our space unoccupied–wild and free–the rest of the world is envious.

The North is our equivalent of the American “frontier”, and it continues to hold our imagination because of climate and the wild outdoors.  The struggle with climate, geography and our northern destiny has a new resonance with the promise of oil, gas, and diamonds, the threat of global warming, and the geopolitical politics in the Arctic related to the north-west passage.

2.  Our sense of ‘Good Government’

Confronted by a cold climate and a vast geography with our population mostly huddled within a few hundred miles of the American border, we both accept and expect government to play a lead role in creating national institutions to achieved the national dream

  • In transportation this meant investment (and scandal) in canals, railroads, road and airlines.
  • In communications this meant the CBC and CRTC.
  • Our red-serged RCMP, with a populist recognition from “Rose Marie” to “Due South” and now “Corner Gas”.
  • And Medicare, fathered by the person voted our “greatest” Canadian, Tommy Douglas.

Finding what Arthur Schlesinger has described as the ‘vital center’ has been the path to success in Canadian politics. The accomodation between Upper and Lower Canada–the compromises of Baldwin and Lafontaine, and later Macdonald and Cartier–extended beyond language to law, religion and education. From the beginning it was the only practical way to keep French Canada and English Canada together; thus bilingualism, a civil and Napoleonic code. We don’t always get it right, but we carry on, improvising until we find a way or become comfortable with the status quo.

Marshall McLuhen concluded that Canadians are masters of what Bertrand Russell called the twentieth century’s highest achievement: “the technique of suspended judgement”.

This probably explains why, when Peter Gzowski ran a competition a few years ago to determine the Canadian equivalent of “as American as apple pie” the winning entry was “as Canadian as possible, under the circumstances”. As Frank Scott observed of our prime minister with the longest tenure, Mackenzie King never did by “halves what he could do by quarters” and his governing philosophy was “It is what we prevent, rather than what we do that counts most in Government.”

The practise of ‘good governance’ has become a Canadian hobby with an acknowledged expertise that we now freely share through organizations like the Canadian-inspired Forum of Federations.

4.  Our Sense of Improvisation and our Sense of Humour

We may not be so forcefully “can-do” as the Americans but we are surprisingly inventive, and because we don’t have the resources and money we improvise, innovate and make things work with what we have on hand–be it zippers or pacemakers, the skidoo or the Blackberry.

As Gilles Vigneault impishly sings: “Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver”. To survive in this intemperate climate, manage our remarkable pluralism, and get along with the “Colossus” next door, we’ve had to develop a sense of humour that is gentle, self-deprecating, and subtle. Compare Rick Mercer, This Hour has 22 Minutes, Royal Canadian Air Farce and Têtes à Claque to Jay Leno, Letterman, or the new American favourites, Colbert and Stewart.

Humour is a Canadian constant, from Stephen Leacock to Lorne Michaels. And it travels well.  America’s favourite comedians are Canadians like John Candy, Dan Ackroyd, Mike Myers and Jim Carrey.

5. Our Sense of ‘Internationalism’

While it would be uncharacteristic for Canadians to admit it, we are quietly proud of being Canadian, especially when it comes to our “internationalism”. Pearson and the Nobel Peace Prize remain a core part of Canadian iconography. We were not just present, but active participants in the creation of the UN and NATO and host of other multilateral organizations including the Commonwealth and Francophonie. And with effect. The Colombo Plan was as important for post-war education in Asia as the Marshall Plan was for the reconstruction of Europe. Public opinion surveys consistently tell us that whatever our differences at home, what we do and have done beyond our borders as peacekeepers, peacemakers and multilateralists –  gives us pride and a common cause.

Pierre Berton, our greatest popular historian, argues that the battle of Vimy Ridge in April, 1917 marked Canada’s coming of age as a nation. School teachers tell me that the only common historical events studied across Canada—curriculum differs by province–are the First and Second World Wars.

We wear a poppy during the first weeks of November and most of us can recite a few lines from John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields. Like so many other families, ours heeded the call to colours in 1914 and 1939. This past summer at Menin and Vimy Ridge my brother and I traced out the names of our great uncles, Harry and Neil, the sons of my remittance man grandfather. I keep on my desk giant bronze ‘pennies’ with the inscription “He died for Freedom and Honour”. They are two of the 100,000 who gave their lives for their country and now lie in far away fields that are forever Canadian.

Intermesticity and Canada-US Relations

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Excerpted from Canada Amongst Nations 2007 “ CDA_USA 2.0 and the application of intermesticity, hidden wiring and public diplomacy”

In January 2009, there will be a new administration in the White House and a new opportunity for Canada’s leadership to be ready with an agenda that reflects a well-considered Canadian strategy towards the United States. The 2008 presidential election is about change rather than continuity and national security (defined as the war on terror, if you are Republican, or Iraq, if you are a Democrat) means that foreign policy is getting significant attention. Candidates for both parties are voicing their support for the importance of friends and allies and this presents an opportunity. The time is right to comprehensively assess the American relationship and take it to a new level of sophistication – to CDA_USA  2.0 , in the lingo of our times. Some of this effort will necessarily involve Mexico and trilateralism, but because this is about the pursuit of Canadian interests in the United States the focus will be mostly bilateral.

January, 2009 also marks the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. The FTA, and its successor, the NAFTA, have served Canadians well by creating a trade-led prosperity that has given a trading nation the confidence to become a nation of traders. But the changes wrought by 9-11 and the new emphasis on ‘security’ have halted the slow but steady gains of post-FTA and NAFTA incrementalism.

Ours is an ‘intermestic’ relationship. In the American context diplomacy, like politics, must be ‘local’ to succeed. We already do diplomacy differently in the United States with continued innovation in our approach to Congress and with the states. An American strategy will oblige coordinated plans for both the ‘home’ and ‘away’ games.  It will oblige recognition of the value of the ‘hidden wiring’ of relationships–especially those at the province-state level.

Creating and implementing a strategy that takes the relationship to the next level – 2.0 will be a challenge but we have many advantages, including the fact that Americans like Canadians. Too often, we fail to turn this to our advantage. We also forget that on almost any issue there will be more Americans who think like Canadians than there are Canadians.

The real challenge to progress lies at home. The latent anti-Americanism that Jack Granatstein defines as our secular religion presents a political challenge that will require political will and national leadership [i] Anti-Americanism ultimately holds us back and contributes to what Andrew Cohen calls the ‘Unfinished Canadian’.[ii]

The ‘burden of primacy’ that America carries in global affairs means that the initiative for improving the Canada-US relationship has to come from the Canadian side. Setting out an agenda for change that takes us beyond the FTA and NAFTA will require collaborative political leadership between levels of government in Canada, and an ‘intermestic’ campaign waged with equal vigour on both sides of the border to remind Canadians why America matters to us, and to remind Americans why we matter to them. ‘Intermestic’ is the right term because our geographic propinquity and economic interdependence has created a relationship that defies the traditional. The arrangements we have developed to manage our co-tenancy of the upper half of North America, defy the classificiations of domestic or international. It is a partnership where the ‘hidden wiring’ of state-province and associated relationships play an increasingly important role.

We begin the process by deciding what it is we want from the United States, while “branding” Canada as a reliable ally and vital partner – demonstrating visibly the American jobs we sustain with our markets and the energy we supply to them to heat their homes and fuel their industry.