Friday, April 28, 2006

the extent harper will will go to bow to bush ...

Bush-Harper relationship proves personal ties bear fruit: U.S. ambassador
April 28, 2006

'You never want to get into a litigation contest with Americans. It's our national pastime...'

Bush-Harper relationship proves personal ties bear fruit: U.S. ambassador
April 28, 2006

The Bush administration heralded the softwood lumber deal as the dawn of a productive new era in Canada-U.S. relations following years of distracting disputes.

U.S. ambassador David Wilkins cited spats over lumber and missile defence but did not mention perhaps the greatest irritant of them all: differences over the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He welcomed the amicable tone between the Harper and Bush governments and predicted it would serve both countries well - starting with the softwood accord.

Call it a breath of fresh air, a new effort or new energy, he told a conference looking at the Canada-U.S. relationship Friday.

There is a sense . . . both in Ottawa and in Washington that we are entering a positive, productive stage in our relationship.

He said the countries might now start focusing on shared concerns and common objectives - not on the things that divide them.

Wilkins' address represented a far cry from his last nationally televised speech on the Ottawa-Washington partnership.

The U.S. ambassador warned Paul Martin during the winter election campaign that the former prime minister's jabs at the United States were putting the relationship on a dangerous slippery slope.

Wilkins did not refer Friday to the previous Liberal government but made reference to the strained relationship of recent years.

I think there is a growing awareness that you can disagree without being disagreeable, he said. We're all bigger than that.

Wilkins called the Canada-U.S. relationship the most peaceful and productive relationship the world has ever known, the ultimate success story.

So why tell a different story? It benefits neither of us, he said.

Our relationship is and has always been so much bigger and stronger than one issue - whether it be softwood lumber, or missile defence, or whatever issue among the relatively few issues we disagree on.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the seven-year softwood deal Thursday, saying it will return $4 billion of duties to Canadian producers.

Wilkins gave little indication about what projects the two countries could focus on now that softwood appears to have been dealt with.

But two of his predecessors interviewed Friday offered a shopping list of new issues the countries could tackle more easily.

The list includes continental integration, harmonized commercial regulation, border security, the economic rise of China, terrorism, the Middle East and Afghanistan, and poverty and violence in Africa.

Officials on both sides of the border have also indicated that the two governments could attempt some clean-air initiatives. Both have written off the international Kyoto accord and will be looking at common projects they might work on.

Having dealt with softwood makes such future endeavours a whole lot easier, the two former U.S. ambassadors agreed Friday.

Gordon Giffin - who served both the Clinton and Bush governments in Ottawa - said softwood sucked up considerable oxygen any time U.S. and Canadian officials met.

There are just a whole lot of productive things we can now spend a lot of time working on, he said.

Now the first 20 minutes of every meeting doesn't have to be consumed by each side pounding on the table about lumber.

Giffin said the Bush administration was eager to deliver a political win to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new government, which it sees as an ally.

Another ex-U.S. ambassador pointed out that it was also in Harper's interest to get a deal done quickly.

The lingering dispute would have dragged the prime minister down and even hampered his plans to visit the U.S. soon.

How would Stephen Harper even be able to go to Washington? said James Blanchard, a onetime Democrat Michigan governor.

He wouldn't have been able to talk about different issues without having this just hang over his head.

This needed to be resolved before we could put our relations back on track for the future.

He predicted Bush and Harper would enjoy an extended political honeymoon.

But that doesn't mean there won't be other irritants. Already, impending new U.S. legislation threatens to hamper border-crossing and become a major economic nuisance.

Starting next year, anyone entering the U.S. will need a passport or an as-yet-unspecified secure document. The law will apply to air and sea crossings by the end of this year, and to land crossings by the end of 2007.

There are fears on both sides of the border that the new law will slow tourist and economic traffic.

The passport requirement could be a major train wreck if it's not either changed, modified or managed differently, said Blanchard.

He said the border issue will receive more attention now that softwood is out of the way. But the last five years of debating lumber, he said, have been a waste.

He said Canada should have concluded a negotiated deal in 2000 instead of seeking to defeat the U.S. lumber lobby in court.

You never want to get into a litigation contest with Americans. It's our national pastime, he said.

I think that's the real tragedy - it's the wasted opportunities . . .

Anybody who's close to the issue knew it would never be resolved in court. Never. It was never going to happen.