Harper's Congratulatory Phone Call

By Colin Robertson

In his congratulatory call to the president-elect, Prime Minister Stephen Harper should make three points to set the groundwork for constructive relations with the next administration.

First, remind the president-elect that we "have their back." Every American president starts his day with a national security briefing and the recognition that we live in dangerous times. We stood "shoulder-to-shoulder" in Afghanistan and Libya. Our intelligence and security forces are in constant contact.

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The fiscal cliff is going to oblige cuts, particularly in the military budget, and the U.S. is seeking a meaningful contribution from allies.

Point to our shipbuilding exercise, the largest procurement project in Canadian history. It will equip us with new warships and polar icebreakers to protect our coastline, the longest in the world. It will also make a contribution to continental defense and support collective security on the high seas that now carry 80 per cent of international commerce.

We share interests in our new ocean, the Arctic. We are about to take on consecutive terms as chair of the Arctic Council. The Americans have suggested we collaborate. If Norway, Denmark and Sweden could agree on common priorities during their chairmanships, why can't we?

Second, the PM needs to remind the president that if jobs are his first priority then Canada is a vital piece of the solution.

Canada is the top export market for the U.S. Supply-chain dynamics have created the world's biggest bilateral trade relationship. Remind him that our joint trade is the equivalent of American trade with the EU.

Last December, Harper and President Barack Obama signed a framework agreement designed to push customs and security inspections "beyond the border." They also established a regulatory council to address the "tyranny of small differences" bedeviling business transactions. Regulators talking to one another will go some distance to achieving complementary standards.

This process - for once process is a desirable outcome - is making progress, but mostly beneath the waterline.

To take it forward needs cabinet-level champions, as John Manley and Tom Ridge demonstrated with the post 9-11 Smart Border Accord. They can reach out to leadership in business and labor and work with premiers and governors to galvanize this effort, especially at our gateways. The president-elect also has to publicly confirm his personal commitment to these initiatives so we can get on with it.

Third, Hurricane Sandy underlines the requirement for executive commitment to the renewal of our infrastructure - our roads and rail, pipelines and electrical grids, air and seaports - to achieve resiliency and redundancy.

"Storms of the century" seem to be annual events. We face cyber-threats. Our economic prosperity depends on securely connecting our people, goods and services.

We need a presidential commitment to build the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Debate on the bridge has been a decades- long cautionary tale in obstruction, obfuscation and money politics.

The existing Ambassador Bridge carries one-quarter of Canada-U.S. trade, the equivalent of all trade between the U.S. and Japan. It is old and we need a second crossing. It has the support of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, the Big Three automakers, the unions and farm organizations.

Canada will front a half-billion dollars in financing for its construction against future tolls. Built with Canadian and American steel, it will create 10,000 to 15,000 construction jobs in Michigan. The president-elect should designate it a project of national importance.

The Prime Minister should conclude with an appreciation of the excellent work of Ambassador David Jacobson and the hope that his successor will be as effective. The PM should underline that Ambassador Gary Doer continues to act with his full confidence and that, after the inauguration, our cabinet ministers will make it a priority to get to know their counterparts.

For his part, the president-elect is likely to raise the Trans Pacific Partnership. Canada and Mexico formally join at the next round and we should use this opportunity to move forward continental economic integration.

He may ask about China and the dilemma of foreign ownership of resources. It would also be a good opportunity for him to make positive reference to Canadian energy, the oil sands and the Keystone XL pipeline.

If the president-elect concludes with an acknowledgment of Canada's strategic importance to the U.S. then the call will go some distance to establishing a constructive base and forward-looking agenda with the new administration.

Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and senior adviser to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP. Reprinted with permission.

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