Gary Doer is one of the newest ambassadors in town, having represented Canada for just over three months. The veteran politician spent a decade as a provincial premier, but the bare-knuckled atmosphere inside the beltway should be a breeze compared with one of his first jobs as a counselor at a youth detention facility. He spoke with U.S. News about U.S-Canadian relations and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Excerpts:
Which issues consume most of your time?
There's so much going on between our two countries that people just don't see. Obviously, trade is visible. The jobs that are created by trade are visible but often underestimated in terms of their benefit. The work we're doing together in Afghanistan is visible and understood. I think that an area of cooperation that would surprise people, and that I've been very favorably impressed with, is intelligence. The U.S. has a lot of resources in intelligence, more than we do. But Canada has some windows on information that might be unique, and it gets shared in very useful ways. There's tremendous cooperation between your security people and our security people.
How do Canadians view the U.S. fight against terrorists?
We may have some connection to the attacks of 9/11, but we have less connection than Americans. Ever since the horrible attacks of 9/11, it has been important to convey to Canadians not just the threat but also the emotion of being a target that is felt by the United States. It's important for us to have a consistent message. The comments our prime minister made last year, that an attack against the U.S. is an attack against Canada, is an important message to reiterate to Canadians over and over and over again.
Yet some Canadians (and Americans) have bristled over new travel restrictions. How do you explain the changes along the world's longest friendly border?
It is important for us to point out to the Canadian public, and I see this as part of my role, that it's not a human right to travel between the U.S. and Canada. Just because for years we've gone across the border playing baseball and hockey against each other and whatever else, it is not a human right. It's a request to visit another country or ship goods to that country subject to their conditions, and obviously security is one of those conditions.
Canada is strongly opposed to the "Buy American" provision, which requires that U.S. firms get the edge in landing stimulus contracts. How do you make your case?
When there's a problem with legislation, like the Buy American legislation, we feel it's important to point out that Buy American means Closed America. And Closed America will eventually mean Less Jobs America. But three sentences are more difficult to convey than just one sentence.
How do you convince Americans that Buy American is bad for them?
We've got to get out into the congressional districts and say, "These are the suppliers that are employing U.S. workers, that are supplying Canadian companies, that are in turn shipping products to the world." We've got a Canadian company in Philadelphia making water treatment equipment and shipping it to Canada. We're shipping billions of dollars in water treatment equipment and employing people in five congressional districts around Philadelphia. Don't pass legislation that will cut off our nose to spite our face.
But Congress passed the Buy American measure. How do you explain that to Canadians?
Most of the time the prime minister comes down to Washington, goes to the Oval Office and meets with the president, and makes positive statements. I think it was useful in that context that Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and [Senate] Majority Leader Harry Reid in September. I think it was good for the Canadian public to see that there is more than one level of government here.
Have you been successful at mediating between Washington and Ottawa?
When I became ambassador a few months ago, the toothpaste was already out of the tube; the Buy American legislation passed in the spring of 2009. So as ambassador, I talk about mutual interest, vested interests. I don't talk about love, trust, and pixie dust. Being nice is great. Being good friends is wonderful. But you've got to talk about things that are difficult. The economy is tough in the U.S. and tough in Canada, and you have to talk about things that are not going to be good for jobs. You have to talk about how a populist position in one country means the loss of jobs in the other country.