TORONTO, August 15, 2012 – As the U.S. election approaches, in an article for the Globe and Mail, former Canadian Ambassadors to the U.S., Allan Gotlieb and Michael Kergin, now Senior Advisors with Bennett Jones, address Canada's relationship with its largest trading partner and closest ally.
Canada may not have a "dog in this hunt" but Gotlieb and Kergin point out that geography, history, economics and culture have created a deep integration that goes far beyond a typical foreign relationship.
The White House, it seems, gets bored with our "trivial" issues. Trade and commerce, transportation, energy and the environment are not as interesting as the traditional statecraft of war and peace. But in terms of our national interests it is these "trivial" issues that matter the most.
Since the War of 1812 our two nations have realized that haggling over pipelines, dams, bridges, beef, lumber and the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink is far easier and more profitable than the prospect of armed conflict.
"Most Canada-U.S. conflicts emerge as a result of the U.S. domestic, not foreign policy, agenda", says Gotlieb. "Their outcome derives from the uniquely American doctrine of the separation of powers, the Congress being primus inter pares. Our diplomacy must therefore focus Congress and the very local demands placed on it while we make sure our issues are on the White House agenda."
He stresses that Canada has to master the complexity of the U.S. political system or we will make little progress on most issues. With such a fragmented power structure and too much truth in Tip O'Neill's dictum that “all politics is local”, Kergin and Gotlieb point to the need to balance a strong relationship between the president and prime minister with a tighter focus on the local issues that drive congressional voting patterns.
Even international issues, they say, like the decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline become U.S. domestic politics and Canada's interests become collateral damage. "Regardless of the frustrations, experience tells us that the best card that any Canadian prime minister has to play is his ability to talk directly to the president and engage him in what Condoleezza Rice described as Canada's condominium issues", says Michael Kergin.
Allan Gotlieb and Michael Kergin are former Canadian ambassadors to the United States and senior advisers at Bennett Jones LLP. Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and senior adviser to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.