Wednesday Night #1351

23 January 2008
We are delighted that at the suggestion of Consul General Mary Marshall, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins will be joining us for (part of) this Wednesday Night’s Salon. Ambassador Wilkins’ visit is particularly timely given that the Republican Primary was held in his native South Carolina on Saturday, however, we understand that he would prefer not to discuss the current election campaign, and is much more interested in talking about his Christmas visit to the U.S. and Canadian troops in Afghanistan, at the invitation of the Honourable Peter MacKay.
Ambassador Wilkins was named to his post by President Bush in 2005 and at the time of his confirmation hearings stated that security and trade issues – like softwood lumber and beef – were among his priorities. Although there was a change in government soon after his arrival in Ottawa, resulting in somewhat more sympathetic interlocutors, he has had to address a number of contentious issues including those related to intellectual property protection, the SPP meeting of last August, Arctic sovereignty, the ongoing problems of security versus facilitation of cross-border traffic and the consequences of the weakening U.S. economy.
The Ambassador has travelled extensively throughout Canada and has reached out to Canadians in person and through the Embassy Website (a great improvement over the previous site).
Other topics sure to be discussed:
The catastrophic events in the global markets and President Bush’s economic stimulation package
The just-released Report of the Independent Panel led by John Manley on Canada’s future role in Afghanistan [NDP Leader Jack Layton reacted negatively to the recommendations, as did BQ leader Gilles Duceppe; Stéphane Dion is reserving judgment]
The defiant move by Homeland Security head, Michael Chertoff to change ID requirements for all crossing the Canada-U.S. border as of January 31
Our nuclear proponents will also be interested in the recent statement on nuclear energy by Energy Secretary Bodman at the World Future Energy Summit.
A few questions have come in for the Ambassador and we welcome more:
1. As the Ambassador is from a coastal state, I’d also be very interested to hear his thoughts on the viability of the National Flood Insurance program — which to my mind is a guaranteed way of putting people and infrastructure in harm’s way.
2. What he thinks the prospects are, realistically, for a deeper NAFTA
3. What would he suggest Canada does to improve the management of common North American problems.
Pertinent Links
David Wilkins: America’s next ambassador to Canada
CBC News Online | June 22, 2005
Number Crunching
Tuesday March 20, 2007
Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins stepped up the pressure on Canada on copyright. The speech that launched a round of media coverage has now been posted by the U.S. Embassy:
” … we are requesting a stronger copyright bill be introduced and be passed. We are joined by the U.S. and Canadian motion picture and sound recording and computer software industries. Right now the copyright laws or the intellectual property right protection in Canada is considered the weakest of the G-7 countries. So we are asking that be strengthened. And it really does cost the Canadian economy a huge amount every year. It is estimated to be from some $10 to $30 billion per year.”
Leaving aside the rhetoric, what is particularly remarkable about these comments is the claim that Canadian copyright law is costing the economy between $10 to $30 billion per year. Obviously any estimate that varies by up to $20 billion is not particularly credible. Further, even the low end figure looks ridiculous as it is four times the losses claimed by the MPAA in China and is more than three times the total amount of cultural goods that Canada imports from the U.S. every year. Or considered another way, the $10 billion figure is more than the Finance Minister committed yesterday to new health care initiatives, the environment, education, and special services for armed forces veterans combined. And that is the low end – the $30 billion figure represents nearly 13 percent of total government revenues and nearly equals the total amount of provincial transfers and subsidies. All of this from “a lot of counterfeiting of movies and songs and whatnot?”
Wilkins encourages Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2009
Dec 29, 2007
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The U.S. ambassador to Canada says he’s unsure how the death of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto will affect Canada’s upcoming parliamentary vote on troops in Afghanistan.
Ambassador David Wilkins says: “It remains to be seen” if the crisis in Pakistan will affect how Canadian legislators vote.
As ambassador, he is encouraging Canadian officials to extend the country’s military operations in Afghanistan beyond its current commitment that ends in February 2009. The ambassador left Afghanistan on Wednesday after a three-day visit with Canadian and American troops, at the invitation of Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
Wilkins praises Canada’s role in Afghanistan

OTTAWA: With U.S. appeals to NATO allies to step up their military roles in Afghanistan largely unheeded, Canada’s parliament faces a crucial vote this winter on what form, if any, that nation’s participation will take next year.
At his Greenville home for the New Year holiday following a trip to Afghanistan over Christmas, U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins told The Greenville News that any vote on the “contentious” issue would be close.

The Report (photos and more)

In his opening remarks, the Ambassador made the point that he has traveled over 225,000 miles across Canada and feels that he has gained an appreciation for the country in its diversity of big cities, little cities and rural areas, and its various regional issues. He mentioned the issues that have been resolved since his arrival a little over two years ago and raised one current point of contention: the new restrictions on cross-border travel.

Slights, insults and ignorance, especially when magnified by citizens, politicians or the media in an attempt to augment their own popularity, circulation or audience, have the capacity to lead to mistrust, anger, racism or in the extreme, in war and/or genocide. Quebeckers appear hypersensitive to statements by otherwise unworthy citizens of their own or other provinces, as are Canadians of statements that are viewed as thoughtless or prejudiced by politicians or citizens in the United States.
Despite the short-lived anger or perceived insults on the part of individuals, or officials, on either side of the border, Canada and the United States exist peacefully side-by-side, despite differences in the way the democratic process is exercised. One of the dilemmas faced by both our countries is how to convey the positive contributions that each makes to the other. Although our diplomats and our governments attempt to do so, neither is completely successful in spreading the word to the greater public. This remains a challenge as some of our elected officials on both sides of the border continue to spout myths (e.g. the 9/11 terrorists who came across the border from Canada).
Because it is the duty of Parliament and Congress to protect their own national interest, there will inevitably be conflicts, but to date, with compromise on both sides, most have been resolved amicably. Currently, one outstanding issue is whether the Northwest Passage constitutes a navigation, security, or a sovereignty issue, not only between Canada and the United States, but between Canada and all countries that would use the Arctic Ocean as a waterway as it becomes navigable year round. Whatever the outcome with other nations, it is predicted that Canada and the United States will resolve the differences between them in an amicable manner. [Unfortunately, there was no time for discussion of UNCLOS, the legitimacy of Canada’s sovereignty claims, or his predecessor, Ambassador Paul Cellucci’s position on the issue]
Do we need to buy six submarines?
That’s a decision for the sovereign government of Canada, but we have always come to one another’s aid, whether during ice storms in Quebec and Ontario, Katrina or 9/11

The Cross-border –ID
The other current irritant to neighbours who have historically crossed the border virtually unhindered, is the implementation of more stringent rules for border-crossing identification documentation. The news that the Department of Homeland Security is pushing to tighten identification requirements at U.S. land borders by doing away with verbal declarations starting Jan. 31, elicits two concerns; the first is the impact that this action will have on trans-border commerce. The second is that the Secretary of any Department can unilaterally over rule congressional legislation that bars DHS from implementing a post-Sept. 11 regulation that requires all travelers entering the United States to present a passport or similar secure form of identification and proof of citizenship. That rule, passed in 2004 and set to take effect this month, was delayed until June 2009.
[It should be noted that air travelers have been dutifully carrying passports for some time; however they represent only 10% of all trans-border traffic]
The change is expected to worsen travel delays and backups along the U.S.- Canada border, which recorded 72 million crossings in 2007. The U.S.- Mexico border is even busier, with 226 million crossings, but noncitizens already need extra documentation to enter the United States there. With increasing trade between us, it is essential that all travellers, especially truckers, not be delayed because of these regulations. However, when one considers that in the last five years, thirty-one thousand people were caught by U.S. immigration officers at the Canadian border using false documentation and/or claiming to be returning U.S. citizens, the necessity for upgrading becomes more evident and will be successful as long as immigration staff is augmented to deal with any significant resulting systemic delays.
Afghanistan
In the light of continuing Taliban attacks and increasing Canadian casualties,Afghanistan and the probability of ultimately winning there, remain important topics at Wednesday Night. The publication of the Manley report this week will trigger debate in Parliament, but it is generally acknowledged to be a lucid assessment of the situation. Afghanistan is a tribally divided, impoverished, physically inimical country – “a sparse land” – , where the enemy can easily hit and disappear, crossing the porous Pakistani border to hide with impunity. Those who have witnessed the Canadian presence at first hand emphasize that Canadians should be very, very proud. The morale of the Canadian troops is high, progress is being made, with 6 million kids now going to school and receiving medical care (immunization); the Afghan army is becoming increasingly proficient, but the Afghani police still have a long way to go. It is absolutely essential the before we (the Allies) leave, there be a stable government in which the citizens have confidence. If we leave now, the progress that we have made will be lost, very likely with a return to the Taliban, and the government of Canada is correctly requesting a greater NATO presence and participation. The 3,200 contingent of U.S. Marines is going to help greatly.
NATO was originally designed to protect Europe, but if it fails to shore up its troops in Afghanistan as requested by Canada and the U.S., its own future role could be open to question as well as the ultimate fate of Afghanistan, with a ripple effect throughout the Middle East.
Burning question: U.S. Primaries: race or gender?
In the U.S. primaries, the question of political philosophy at times appears to take second place to that of race or religion and whether Black women will favour Obama or Clinton. Some observers have conjectured that in South Carolina, Black men will favour Obama and that Black women will support Clinton. [The results suggest that this was a red herring]
Organization and money may lead Hillary Clinton to the Democratic candidacy. As for the Republican nomination, with the timing of Fred Thompson’s withdrawal, Huckabee may fade, Giuliani’s concentration on Florida may prove to be a mistake and thus it’s down to McCain or Romney.
Whatever the colour of one’s political preference, it is undeniable that this race is by far the most interesting that we have witnessed for many years. It is also pertinent that while both our countries claim to have successfully integrated immigrants of a myriad of ethnic origins (the “melting pot” versus the “mosaic”), Canada has yet to equal the U.S. in terms of political success stories of members of minority groups- we need only look at the membership of the Cabinet to see how far we still have to go.
In view of an early departure for Quebec City in the morning, the Ambassador and Mrs Wilkins left Wednesday Night, after a gracious word of thanks for his openness to dialogue from Beryl Wajsman.
The remainder of the evening was ably chaired by Canon David Oliver OWN.
The economy
In the United States there is no doubt that the losses (from the subprime fallout) must be absorbed. In Canada, we don’t even know how much the losses are and this is hanging over our heads. Despite a constant stream of promises from the Pan Canadian Committee of Third Party ABCP Investors, we still don’t know who owes what/how much to whom.
The best con is based on the greed of the mark. There is little doubt that the greed that led people to buy homes that they couldn’t afford and banks to grant injudicious loans that they could sell off without affecting their balance sheet, added to the predictable end to the traditional forty-year business cycle, have been the source of the current bank crisis and stock market downturn.
It is obvious that in the United States, the losses from the sub-prime crisis must be absorbed. Sadly, although this is not a racial problem, it is Blacks, Hispanics and other low-income families who have been sucked into the greed of lenders, ultimately leading to homelessness. [We commend the “60 Minutes” report on the severity of this problem and how it affects more and more communities]
Over the years, the nature of banking has changed. Originally, banks invested a portion of deposits in order to earn a profit. Perhaps due to easing government requirements, greed, and/or a general decline in business ethics, it is the bottom line that now is the determinant of business practice. In the process, the lessons of the Great Depression seem to have been forgotten. In the 70s and 80s, regulation of the banking industry was dismantled and banking has since been invaded by investment bankers. In the process, we have created an enormous credit (derivative) bubble – household debt of 140% in the U.S. The current situation will take a long time unravelling. The U.K. has record consumer debt, and a crisis similar to the current one in the U.S. is a distinct possibility.
Although the Federal Reserve decision to lower interest rates appears on the surface to be counterproductive as it was easy loans that were considered to have been a prime source of the problem, it is expected that lower interest rates will ease the problem in the short term, but would probably be counterproductive if allowed to persist over a longer period. The stimulus packaged proposed by President Bush includes rebates for each household, which it is hoped will stimulate consumer buying. This does not, however, respond to the overwhelming credit card debt that is part of the current economic crisis.
It is anticipated that the weakness in the Market will last most of this year. Fortunately, a lot of new wealth has been created around the world and it is hoped that the emerging world will act as a counterbalance to the problems in the West. The price of oil may be considered to be an ongoing inverse indicator of progress in the recovery.
The unusual conclusion of this Wednesday Night, in a nod to the tradition of certain legislatures in the United States, was a prayer offered by the Special Chair, Canon David Oliver:
Each of us in our own way has a sense of those things that are ultimate and important, and in times of crisis we turn to those things that are ultimate, whether our silence, our sense of our deepest self, or that which we call God. We ask that wisdom may prevail among leaders, financial and political, that we may have a good year wherein justice may flow.

 

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1351"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson February 4, 2008 at 9:33 pm · Reply

    The Ottawa Journal reports: “Four of Canada’s largest banks have agreed to support the restructuring of $35-billion-worth of asset-backed commercial paper, working with the Pan-Canadian Investors Committee on the plan.
    The Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Nova Scotia said they will join National Bank as lenders in a $14-billion margin call funding facility which will serve as a backup line of credit for the bonds that will replace the frozen non-bank ABCP. The investment vehicles were a key factor in the massive credit crunch which struck the North American markets in August.”

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