Working with U.S. “political arsonists” for Canadian interests

Congratulating the political winners south of the border sounds like a formality, but it is an increasingly important one for Canadian officials to indulge in. ...

Congratulating the political winners south of the border sounds like a formality, but it is an increasingly important one for Canadian officials to indulge in. With the U.S. facing serious fiscal challenges and contentious politicking, having Canadian issues stay top of mind for U.S. representatives in Congress will remain challenging.

Frank McKenna, Canada’s former ambassador to the U.S., recently told Business in Vancouver, “We always have to fight to be heard down there, because they have so many urgent situations, and we’re not one of them. It doesn’t mean they don’t have affection for us, but we’re not a problem for them so they don’t devote a lot of time to us.”

Gary Doer, Canada’s current ambassador to the U.S., and John Manley, president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, both told BIV that Canadian officials have become quite adept at telling congressmen how important trade with Canada is for their respective electoral districts. It’s one way to tell them how important the relationship is with their northern neighbour.

But the nature of the relationship is also important. Chris Sands, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a distinguished professor at Western Washington University, noted that it remains vital for Canadian officials and businesses to have meaningful connections with representatives from all three branches of government in the U.S.

At a recent Vancouver Board of Trade event, Sands noted, “I sometimes refer to the president and the prime minister in the Canada-U.S. relationship as the firemen of the relationship. They’re not there for the day-to-day management, but when something goes wrong, we call them in to put out the fire.

“Well, Congress is sort of the arsonist of the relationship. Their job is to pour some fuel on the fire and cause trouble.

“Many Canadians don’t want to involve them in anything important, and yet, the reason we have duplicative regulation, regulatory overlap, is the influence of a particular congressman, committee chairman or senator. If we don’t engage them, there’s every opportunity for them to undermine the gains that we are making for future regulations.” •

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