Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Leave it to Canada’s diplomats to “work the system”

Except for the week before Quebec’s election, the US presidential election will soon dominate Canada’s media and make or break the best dinner parties and barbeques across the country. People will be thrilled when their American favorite has a good day. They’ll mutter about Stephen Harper and the weather when he slips.

In the midst of this drama, however, Canadians will be told: it’s only television. Once they’ve decided who should lead their system, charming and savvy Canadian diplomacy will look after your affairs.

Three of the best known diplomats in this glamorous Canadian industry gave a civics lesson to Globe and Mail readers this morning on how to work US government.

Gotlieb, Kergin, and Robertson are modest about Canada: Canadian issues in Washington are seen as  “domestic”; Canada’s just another “special interest that can’t contribute to campaigns.” That’s why skillful, sensitive, patient, and pro-active Canadian diplomacy is so important.

 They conclude on an upbeat note that, however, dirties their diplomacy with politics:

“So we work the system, using all our access points, starting with our able ambassadors. But 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 those picayune condominium issues that come with sharing a continent.”

Fellow Canadians, we know their politics are fascinating, but when their election is over, please leave Washington to the professionals. 
It’s their hope that with a friendly word on those precious 4- to 6-inch briefing notes for the president that the president will decide that the “domestic” interest articulated by the Canadian prime minister should be given equal time—and weight—against a countervailing American interest that is supported by American votes.

They do not dwell on another strategic problem: to get Washington’s attention, Canada must always take the initiative—take the bigger risk.

Relying on leaders and their diplomats effectively leaves the pace of progress on continental integration and development, in the first, to Canada’s prime minister—and his sense of what he dare try to do.

Stephen Harper happily (if rather modestly) worked with Barack Obama on Canadian concerns such as the survival of the auto industry and red tape at the border. He built up personal goodwill by supporting controversial US actions in the Middle East. All this was politically easy in Canada, even with a minority in the Canadian House of Commons, simply because Barack Obama is immensely popular across Canada.

But, what if the US elects Mitt Romney in November?

Gotlieb, Kergin, Robertson, and waves of other cross-border experts stand ready to open doors all over a new Republican administration. However, how can they help Canadians feel as comfortable about Harper’s trips to a Romney White House?

Without Obama and a vote in US elections, Canadian politics would likely shift: improving the rewards of being a vigilant Canadian nationalist and increasing the risks of being a continental opportunist.

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