The BorderLines: Canada in North America conference series was conceived by various high-profile Canadian business leaders, academics, journalists, and scholars who saw the need for a re-evaluation of Canada's relationship with its southern neighbors. Intending to generate grassroots debate and popular dialogue across Canada, the BorderLines series held events in Calgary, Montreal, Halifax, Vancouver, and Washington, with the final conference scheduled for Toronto in Spring 2003. The Canada Institute hosted the two-day Washington conference, which included a session on Capitol Hill, a live television broadcast, two keynote addresses, and many discussion panels. The panels were filled largely by American speakers who provided the mostly Canadian audience with unique insight on how America perceives its relationship with Canada. BorderLines Washington was designed to capitalize upon the unique assets of Washington and thus included a mix of policymakers, experts, scholars, journalists, and politicians, in addition to a large contingent of Canadian business people, diplomats, and academics.

The majority of the conference audience came from Canada to get an American view of Canada-U.S. relations. Speakers addressed how Canada was perceived in Washington, learned about the policy-making process, and got a better understanding of the current importance of security as an over-arching issue in the United States. Many found the sessions sobering which occasionally prickled Canadian sensibilities, particularly regarding how little attention is paid to Canada in the United States. The security question was undeniably central, and there were diverging perspectives as to whether or not Canada is doing enough in this regard, and if the general perceptions in the United States of Canadian policies correspond to reality. There was consensus that the overall relationship between Canada and the United States is very strong, prosperous, and unique; however, there was also consensus that the relationship has been under strain since the ascension of the new administration and a lack of strategic direction on the part of Canada. Personality differences between leaders and divergent national policies were highlighted, as well as specific irritants such as the softwood lumber trade dispute, Canada losing attention in the United States to Mexico and the United Kingdom, and the friendly fire deaths of four Canadian by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The keynote address by Allan Gotlieb, former Canadian Ambassador to the United States, presented a concrete proposal for greater Canada-U.S. integration under what he called a "Community of Laws." This controversial proposal would put in place a common competition law and tribunal to replace the partners' trade-remedy legislation, a common external tariff to eliminate rules of origin and the need for customs agents at the Canadian-American border, and a common security perimeter to alleviate American concerns about Canada's anti-terrorism capacities. Most U.S. panelists did not see such a proposal as feasible given Congress' domain over trade, domestic protectionist pressures from industry, and the power of social welfare groups, mindful that "grand bargains" such as the Auto Pact and NAFTA have been successful in the past.

Conference Report

The conference opened with a morning session in the U.S. Capitol Building entitled "Canada and Borders, Canada and U.S. Security" where Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) addressed current trade and security issues facing border states. Senator Collins spoke frankly of her personal experience as a resident of a border community, and the subsequent importance she places on issues affecting border ties. She mentioned that there a perception in the United States that lax Canadian asylum policies contribute to the vulnerability of the United States, adding that if the perception was wrong, Canadians needed to get that realization out. Peter Boehm, Minister (Political and Public Affairs) at the Canadian Embassy, followed Senator Collins remarks, and extended the discussion to include Canadian and U.S. reactions to September 11th. Boehm also discussed his close working relationship with U.S. officials, including those at the White House, on working together on border and security issues.

The second panel entitled "How Does Congress View Canada?" featured more concrete discussion of policy initiatives, as Bob Van Wicklin, Legislative Director and Press Secretary to Rep. Amo Houghton (R-New York), and Darin Beffa, Legislative Assistant to Rep. George R. Nethercutt, Jr. (R-Washington), enumerated the activities and initiatives of the U.S.-Canada Interparliamentary Group and the Northern Border Caucus. Van Wicklin said that the dynamics of the Canada-U.S. congressional meetings are far more congenial than those with countries of Europe or the Asia-Pacific, and that every other country wants a relationship with the U.S. like Canada has. Beffa said that the relatively new Northern Border Caucus raises concern for border issues with Members of Congress from non-border states in order to elevate issues beyond their geographic limitations. Former Canadian diplomat Paul Frazer, now with Murphy, Frazer, & Selfridge LLP, provided suggestions on how Canadians might better achieve their policy goals when working with the U.S. government. According to Frazer, Canadians should work to cultivate substantive relationships with policymakers, as opposed to presenting themselves infrequently and after a problem has already arisen. In addition, Frazer suggested that Canadians should learn to approach Congressional staff members at all levels, with the intent at having their concerns raised at all levels of briefings. He also suggested that Canadians should keep in mind what the United States wants when framing their requests.

The conference then shifted locations to the Wilson Center where the remainder of the conference was held. After lunch, the first introductory panel began with a luncheon address by Allan Gotlieb, former Canadian Ambassador to the United States, entitled "A Better Way to Conduct Canada–U.S. Relations." His speech proposed deeper Canada–United States integration under what he called "A Community of Laws," where security would be the impetus and overarching principle. He said that any vision and initiative must come from Canada, that the United States would only react to, not initiate proposals with Canada; any initiative must address U.S. concerns about national security; and that a specific initiative should be a proposal for a "grand bargain" in which Canada's need for economic security would be matched with the American need for security. Janice Gross Stein, Director of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, followed with a discussion of the internal dimensions of security, which she argued affect all areas of society such as the ethnic diversity of cities, levels of interpersonal trust, security of the supply chain, etc. She asked whether absolute prevention of terrorist acts is even possible, and whether that should be Canada's goal.

David Massell, professor of history at the University of Vermont, then provided historical context to the debate, feigning surprise that Canada even still exists, and pointing out that the U.S. gets what it wants from Canada (e.g. natural resources) without annexation.

The next panel addressed the question "How is Canada Viewed in Washington?" Former Washington bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson, spoke of his experiences during his time here, emphasizing that there is little audience in the United States for Canadian news stories, except perhaps when Canada decriminalizes marijuana which would only serve to reinforce the socialist image many Americans have of Canadians. Those who need to know about Canada in the United States do know. Maryscott Greenwood, Executive Director of the Canadian American Business Council, used the analogy of binoculars to explain Canada–U.S. perceptions of each other, noting that a "friendship scorecard" was counterproductive. Americans tend to look at Canada from the wrong end of the binoculars, with Canadian issues barely registering in the United States. Canadian, on the other hand, look through the other end of the binoculars and tend to magnify the U.S. perspective. Her suggestion was to "throw away the binoculars and just see each other as they are." James Derham, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Department of State, explained that, unlike with many other allies, there is no one U.S. view of the relationship with Canada. He listed fourteen different government departments which all have relationships with Canada that vary according to their mandate. However, Derham stated that one characteristic is universal: Canada is reliable and secure ally.

The final panel of day one looked at "Canadian Successes in the United States." Adèle Hurley, Senior Fellow at the Munk Center for International Studies, recalled her experience in Washington as a lobbyist on the acid rain issue, and gave some lessons on what works to advance a Canadian agenda. She suggested various practical techniques, such as forgetting about Canada and putting oneself in the shoes of an American, and not becoming a "Canadian scold." She also gave advice on how to use discretion in order to gain trust, and to always remember that there are no permanent friends, only interests. She ended with a comment about the persistent but overrated focus on the importance of money for success in Washington, using the example of how non-profit organizations are able to manipulate media, capitalize on timing, and make the system work to their advantage. The last speaker of the day was Jim LeBlanc of S&H/LeBlanc International, LLC who provided a business perspective on how the political climate in Canada and the U.S. impacts Canadian business. He advised Canadians to acknowledge that there has been a fundamental change in the United States regarding security, and to leave their sense of moral superiority at home. He added that building coalitions with American partners, having a detailed strategy of working in the United States, and accepting higher levels of risk were ways to advance Canadian interests.

Following a reception, the Canada Institute co-hosted with MHz Networks and TVOntario a "Studio 2" live Town Hall broadcast from the Oculus of the Ronald Reagan Building on "Family Feud: America and its Allies at a Crossroads." Panel guests included David Frum, author of The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush; Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada; Maryscott "Scotty" Greenwood, Executive Director of the Canadian American Business Council and former Chief of Staff at the United States Embassy in Canada; John O'Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief of United Press International; Susan Rice, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; and John Duffy, Liberal Party of Canada strategist and principal at Strategycorp. "Studio 2" host Steve Paikin generated discussion from the panel and the audience on the topic of Canada U.S. relations in light of the impending war with Iraq. The audience of more than 125 people included the BorderLines conference participants and members of the Washington community.

The second day began with a panel on "Defense and Security: What Should Canada's Role Be?" and was chaired by Dwight Mason, Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who suggested that the 1938 understanding between Canada and the United States (e.g. that the U.S. would defend Canada if Canada would not allow its territory to be used as a means of entry by an enemy) needed to be re-evaluated in a post-September 11th world. Jack David, the United Stated Chairman of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, Canada-U.S., spoke of the dire need for greater resources to be spent on the Canadian military, and emphasized how "the homeland is a battle ground." He said that Canadian defense resources are so low that Canada cannot even cover its own defense, let alone help with North American defense. The next panelist, Gregory Foster, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, argued how the perceptions of Canada as freeloader, or the "soft underbelly" of North America, are greatly exaggerated. He pointed out how Canada should not try to live up to what American conceptions of what military and security should be; rather, Canada should try to develop its own definition of military and security, its own specialty areas, such as peacekeeping, nation-building, and emergency reconstruction. Bruce Swartz, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, concluded the panel with a discussion of the law enforcement side of national security, examining the various mechanisms through which Canada and the United States share intelligence, extradite criminals, and work together internationally.

The second panel in the morning looked at "Resource Issues: Water and Energy" and was chaired by John Higginbotham of the Canadian Centre for Management Development. The first panelist, James Chandler, Legal Advisor to the International Joint Commission (IJC), spoke about the history, structure, and purpose of the IJC, and allayed concerns about bulk water exports from Canada. Joseph Dukert, an independent energy analyst, addressed the group next and said that in energy policy, a balance must be struck between affordability, access, the environment, and time. North America is self-sufficient in its energy mix, he said, adding that energy trade benefits both buyers and sellers.

After lunch, Peter White, of Hollinger Inc. and co-director of the BorderLines project, introduced former Member of Congress John LaFalce who acknowledged that there were troubles between the Bush administration and the Chrétien government. He remarked that the still strong relationship is going through some difficult times, listing events such as the "moron" comment, the friendly fire deaths of the Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, and the new special relationships with Mexico and the United Kingdom. He also emphasized how in today's climate, security trumps trade and acknowledged that this tension would likely cause more problems in the future.

John Simpson, American Association of Exporters and Importers, spoke next on a panel looking at "Trade and Economic Issues: Is a Grand Bargain Feasible?" He said Canada and the United States need to go to the next step on cross-border trade; he did not feel that greater integration would happen because there are entrenched protectionist interests in the United States. He added that Congress has not come to the realization that further integration is necessary. Former trade negotiator Bill Merkin, Strategic Policy, asked rhetorically whether a grand bargain would make sense. He answered affirmatively, adding that such a plan is not feasible because special interests and the politics of trade in each country. He said that the United States is unlikely to give up trade remedy, noting that trade is the domain of Congress and "all politics is local. Until Canadians vote in U.S. elections this is not likely to change." Sidney Weintraub, Director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, did not disagree with Merkin that a grand bargain is extremely unlikely to be struck between Canada and the United States. Although such agreements may have been feasible in the past (the Auto Pact, for example), he suggested that a customs union would be better, acknowledging that it would involve considerably more politics. He said that discussion of a grand bargain would be easier if Canada had a better military, and acknowledged that Mexico's migration issues were a problem for increased North American integration.

The final BorderLines panel addressed "Canada in North America" and began with remarks by Carlos Rico, Minister of Political Affairs at the Embassy of Mexico. He expounded on Mexico's version of North America, stating that governments were playing catch-up to what markets were doing, and that in the post September 11 world, there is even greater impetus for increased policy coordination. He pointed out that Mexicans and Canadians are having bilateral talks with the United States at the same time, adding that it would be interesting to have greater bilateral Canada–Mexico talks. Christopher Sands of the Center for Strategic and International Studies followed, arguing that the formal government relationships between Ottawa and Washington are not very good but that general relationships among Canadians and Americans have never been better. He sees Canadians as equal to Americans on the social, business, and NGO network level. He sparked a heated debate when he said that Canada has missed every opportunity to miss an opportunity during the recent crises, and that Canada has overspent its political capital in Washington.

David Biette, Director, Canada Institute
Drafted by Stefanie Bowles