Advancing Canadian Interests in America

By Colin Robertson

Apart from a couple of tropes about the "Americanization" of our gun registration in the French language debate and Ralph Nader's warnings about "deep integration," one of the most remarkable features of Canada's recent election was the absence of any reference to Canada-U.S. relations and February's Washington Declaration.

In the final days, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reminded Canadians that one in five Canadian jobs are linked to our trade with the U.S. He reaffirmed February's pledge to reduce cross-border congestion through the creation of a perimeter security shield and tackle the regulatory thicket that impedes our shared competiveness. Now he and President Obama must act and get it done.

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With Parliament likely to return to pass the budget, we should make passage of the copyright legislation a first order of business. This, the top American "ask," is essential to attracting continuing foreign investment, especially given the challenge of our rising petro-dollar. Copyright protection is also a trade policy key to both the Canada-EU trade deal and our entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The original intent for the perimeter security agreement was to have an action plan by mid-June. The recent Republican presidential candidates' debate is a reminder that the U.S. electoral clock is ticking, and with it the window of opportunity for the border deal. To re-ignite the process, the leaders should appoint personal envoys to run interference and keep the schedule on track. Former ambassador to Washington Derek Burney or former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell both know how to get it done.

Premiers, who played a critical role in securing last year's procurement reciprocity agreement, must be brought into the tent because they share constitutional authority for implementation. This would be a good opportunity to resurrect the First Ministers conference and demonstrate visibly to Canadians why this deal is in our interest.

Success in the U.S. will depend on the support of state governments and premiers are our bridge to governors. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nova Scotia counterpart Darrell Dexter have a special mission: to convince Opposition Leader Jack Layton on why U.S. trade puts bread on the table and sustains union jobs. The return to profitability of GM, Ford and Chrysler - the auto sector is our most integrated industry - is a case study in sensible collaboration between labor, business and government.

The Canadian business community is already onside and they've done valuable homework in laying out what needs to be done. But the American business community needs to step up to the plate. Their participation is necessary because they are best placed to point out to Congress and state legislators the eight million American jobs and billions in investment that depend on trade with Canada.

Then there's the irritants and crises that require the full-time attention of our capable ambassadors, Gary Doer and David Jacobson. For American "wise man" George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state, managing the Canada-U.S. relationship is like tending a garden. "The way to keep weeds from overwhelming you," he wrote in his memoir, "is to deal with them constantly and in their early stages."

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Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. This article originally appeared in Embassy Magazine and has been reprinted with the author's permission.

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