Diane Francis on Canadian Politics

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ambassadorial View from Washington

Diane Francis column may 23


NEW YORK CITY - Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson set aside some time this week for an interview on his new job. His tenure has been dominated by the softwood lumber file, allowing him to spend only a handful of days in Washington, but there are many other interesting challenges ahead.

Q. How did your ambassadorship come about?
A. It came out of the blue. Derek Burney asked me early on in January, during the election, if I was looking for anything. I said no. I just want to see this team win. After the election, the rumor about me was bubbling and this was the only thing that would have brought me back in public life."

Q. What's the attraction?
A. "The attraction is to be in the most important capital of the world today...to be there, when both the president and prime minister have gotten around bumps in the road and all those problems are behind us."

Q. What's the attitude toward Canada?
A. "Certain people in the administration were quite upset with the Iraq decision. Some people said they were less upset by the decision than by the way the decision was given [without advance warning].

Q. What's the view toward Canada as an ally today?
A. "It's clear we are an ally because the Prime Minister's first international visit was to Afghanistan. This sent an important signal to our troops over there. It sent a signal to the Canadian people that it's important to us as a country to help a democracy survive and it also sent an important signal to our 34 allies in the Afghan coalition."

Q. The Canadian tourist industry is concerned about the new requirement, as of January 2008, that anyone entering the U.S. must have a passport. This will mean that Americans visiting Canada will have to have a passport to re-enter the U.S. and since only 20% have passports it will destroy tourism and conference sectors. What are we doing about this?
A. "Americans are not saying there has to be a passport. There could be an identity card. There is a group of Canadians and Americans working on the technology, how people can acquire cards and systems integration, or linking cards to data bases. Until they determine the action required, there's no need to pound on the table. Let's wait to see if we're facing a real problem on implementation."
"We have no quarrel with the security concerns. Security trumps most things in Washington. And Canada has been pulling its weight since 9/11. We have spent C$10 billion on border and customers securities, immigration cooperation, sharing information. Have we done enough? We have to do more."
"We also have to address misinformation. Two months ago, someone said 11 of the 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks had come from Canada. Not one of them did. This is frustrating. We are looking at ways of addressing that challenge by identifying what we've done to the American public. We don't want terrorists in our country anymore than Americans do. We don't want people blowing up the TD Centre or whatever."

Q. What dangers do you see lurking in the U.S. political climate that could adversely affect Canada?
A. "This country is thinking in a more protectionist and isolationist way than we've seen in a number of years. Leadership is important, both in the administration and Congress. They cannot let the most powerful nation in the world withdraw into itself."

Q. What about Canada's energy trump card?
A. "Energy is number one for us. Our export of energy is very definitely appreciated but this is not a card to play at this time."
"In oil, we are the number one exporter and sell more to the U.S. than Mexico, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. These countries have a less secure profile and we must nremind people of this reality so when the Americans come to us with another problem they have a more positive mindset. Our energy situation, particularly the oil sands, becomes a beneficial backdrop to any discussions with Americans."

Q. Given the C$'s strength is there any chance of a single currency?
A. "No. Look at the last 20 years. In 1986, the C$ was 69 cents, in 1990n it was 88.5, in 2002, 62 cents and now it's 90ish. Take that flexibility out of the economy, and you have to get flexibility somewhere else. One part of the economy might benefit from a fixed dollar and it would be worse for another part. By blending the currencies you would build in a new stress."

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