Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser to George W. Bush, captured it well when she said, “Here come the Canadians with their condominium issues.” Not meant as a compliment, it was uttered in frustration at what administration officials felt was the picayune nature of the issues that we were bringing to the table. They were “domestic” – trade and commerce, transportation, energy and the environment, rather than the traditional statecraft of war and peace. (From Gotlieb, Kergin and Robertson on mastering the American political system, exerpted below)
In their joint piece in today's Globe and Mail, Messrs Allan Gotlieb, Michael Kergin and Colin Robertson
argue that Canada has to master the political complexities of the United States, including the multiple lobbyists, sources of money, interest groups and try to avoid becoming just another of those interest groups.
While there is undoubtedly much heft to the piece by the three august ambassadors, with respect to the "special interest" status of Canada's "condominium issues," there is something important omitted.
And that is the fact that Canada, for decades, has had no real foreign policy, only focussing on the management of micro (condo) issues, in the domestic sphere, when they arise. Trade has been the single most important theme in those mini-dramas, since we place our economic relationship as an important trading partner, dependent on the U.S. for our market, very high on our national agenda.
However, in order to play in the international affairs arena, trade is only a part of the bigger picture. And it is the bigger picture that Canada rarely, if ever, seeks to play (or perhaps even to see). We change Ministers of Foreign Affairs depending on the whim of the Prime Minister who, himself, often prefers to take the lead on this file anyway. We are far more reactive than pro-active in responding to the American foreign policy agenda...witness PM Chretien's "No" to George W. Bush on the Iraq war. We think of the longest undefended border in the world with the U.S. as an example of good neighbourliness and yet, like a colony of the U.S. we succumb to their demand for border security, bow down to their national security interests, even when there is little or no evidence, for example, that our border guards need to be armed. (Why has there been no public outcry to the Harper government's decision to arm the Border Security Guards?)
In order to bring our admittedly unique and very different perspective on the world from the American to the table of foreign affairs discussions, we have to begin to see ourselves not as a mere colony of the U.S. (nor of any other country for that matter) but as a self-respecting, independent, autonomous and responsible player in that arena. And for that to happen, Canada has to pay much more attention to the affairs of geopolitics than we have in the past, in spite of our somewhat remarkable record in history, both in military excellence, and in diplomatic initiatives (Pearson's peacekeeping concept, for example).
Our foreign aid contributions have never matched our potential. Our leadership in international debates and discussions have, for the most part, paled through our micro-management perspective, even though, in the negotiations for all disputes, 'the devil is indeed in the details'.
Nevertheless, we have some considerable work to do at home, before we will master the U.S. political complexities, and that starts with a national initiative at educating a large cadre of International Relations graduates, including the hiring of outstanding leaders and thinkers in the field of international relations, and includes the educating of international relations journalists, whose background in the issues does not come exclusively from "seat-of-the-pants" experience in the hot-spots of the world. Our national media need more correspondents like the retired CBC's Joe Schlesinger, the current CNN's Fareed Zakaria, the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, and the current articulate Head of the Munk School of International Relations at the University of Toronto, Janice Stein.
Foreign affairs is not exclusively focussed on trade. And economics is not the only purpose of a national government. Canada needs a representative in each state capital in the fifty states of the United States, to help open the eyes, ears and minds of the extremely parochial state legislatures, not only to the benefits of a healthy relationship with Canada, but also to the differences in culture when compared with the U.S. Through such envoys Canada would bring a different perspective to the debates and the coverage of those debates in the state capitals and beyond. And those discussions would percolate up to Washington, because our local envoys would become familiar with the local Congressmen and women, and thereby add both insight and depth to the perceptions by Americans of Canadians. It was Richard Nixon who dubbed Pierre Trudeau a "pinko commie bastard," in his highly offensive and naive assessment of our then Prime Minister. And while Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" on stage together, we do not have to reduce the Canadian-U.S. relationship to merely one-on-one good relations between our PM and their President. We are a more complex and a more savvy country than that and also more serious and mature. And when we start behaving like the independent, autonomous and mature nation that we are, our relations with the U.S. will change, for the long-term health of both countries.
Canada is not just another "special interest" to the U.S. and it is our job to demonstrate that reality in words, actions, energy and imagination.
Canada has to master the complexity of the U.S. political system
By Allan Gotlieb, Michael Kergin and Colin Robertson, The Globe and Mail, Aug. 8, 2012
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.
In three months we will wake up to see who Americans have elected as president, to the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. We will be deeply affected by the results, whatever the political stripe of those who occupy the White House and take control of the two houses of Congress. Like it or not, Canadians do have a “dog in this hunt.” Geography, history, economics and culture have created a deep integration that goes far beyond a typical foreign relationship.
Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser to George W. Bush, captured it well when she said, “Here come the Canadians with their condominium issues.” Not meant as a compliment, it was uttered in frustration at what administration officials felt was the picayune nature of the issues that we were bringing to the table. They were “domestic” – trade and commerce, transportation, energy and the environment, rather than the traditional statecraft of war and peace.
In terms of Canada’s national interests, however, the important issues are the picayune ones that deal with pipelines, dams, bridges, beef, lumber and the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink. This is a tribute to the maturity of a relationship in which it’s been almost 200 years since we last fired shots at each other. Would that the rest of the world had reached this stage of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “good neighbourliness.”