Canada-U.S. relations OK: former diplomats

Former ambassadors from both countries say the relationship is strong but insist that the USMCA must be ratified

The breakfast may have been bland when the Pacific North West Economic Region kicked off its annual summit in Saskatoon last week, but the accompanying panel discussion was anything but.

David Wilkins and David Jacobson, former U.S. ambassadors to Canada, Mike Kergin, former Canadian ambassador to the United States, and moderator Scotty Greenwood delivered the flavour in the form of laughs, real opinions and raw truths about U.S.-Canada relations.

Jacobson used a joke about marriage to describe his views on the Canada-U.S. relationship.

“When I got married I told my wife, ‘if you leave me, I’m coming with you.’ And that’s how I see Canada and the U.S.,” he said.

“Our relationship is stronger than the politician of the day or the politics of the day.”

Kergin said Canada’s role in the relationship is more like a duck.

“It all moves smoothly on the surface, but it’s working like crazy underneath,” he said.

“We have to work hard under the radar to make sure our interests are taken care of.”

With a topic like U.S.-Canada relations, the conversation naturally moved quickly to U.S. President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the stalled U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

When Greenwood asked the panel about their thoughts on the new trade deal, they all agreed that they wanted it ratified, although they were all skeptical about the chances of that happening before the 2020 U.S. election.

“It’s crunch time, it’s time to get it approved. Americans want it approved. Canada approved it. Two years is long enough; let’s get it done,” said Wilkins.

“The longer we go, the closer we get to the 2020 election, the harder it will be to pass legislation like the trade agreement. Some Democrats are holding it up because they don’t want to give Trump a win.”

Despite the skepticism over quick ratification, the panel was convinced that no politician in Canada will stand in the way of Trudeau getting the deal approved.

“The agreement is too important for the country for his opposition to play small politics and not pass it,” Kergin said.

When Greenwood asked the three former ambassadors for advice they might have for their successors, Wilkins said it is important for American ambassadors to immerse themselves in Canadian culture.

“Get out from behind your desk in Ottawa, talk to as many Canadians as you can,” he said.

“Travel. Get out among the people. I always said 90 percent of what I did was just showing up.”

Kergin provided some hope and optimism for the relationship by comparing the U.S. to a ship in rough seas.

“It always rights itself in the end,” he said.

“Or it’s the Titanic,” Greenwood interjected before Jacobson wrapped up the discussion with his final thought.

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘in the end the United States always does the right thing, but they exhaust all other alternatives first.’ ”

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