It was two years ago this week that we were in town as volunteers on Inauguration Day and by coincidence were back this week in Washington D.C. for some meetings at our office. It turned out to be perfect timing for several reasons.
First, we attended a terrific panel discussion at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Ave., called, "Canada-U.S.: Best Friends or Perfect Strangers" - in conversation with Macleans Magazine. Broadcast live on CSPAN 2 in the U.S. and CPAC in Canada, it was ably hosted by Peter Van Dusen, the evening featured Canada's erudite and highly effective Ambassador, Gary Doer, Macleans columnists Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne, along with author and commentator David Frum, Senator Pamela Wallin, 'Scotty' Greenwood, Executive Director of the Canadian-American Business Council and the Hudson Institute's Christopher Sands.
The essential outcome of the discussion?
Americans don't really know Canada - but freely admit it. While Canadians are very confident that they do know America, but don't know as much as they think. Also, we are at times "two nations divided by a common language." Pamela Wallin told the story of attending a high-level event in New York when she was Canada's Consul General there. The Canadian politicians were proudly proclaiming that Canada had tabled legislation to deal with the terrorist threat (post 9/11). The Americans attending were furious and quite put off at this news. Pamela figured out it was because in Canada, when legislation is 'tabled' it means it's presented before Parliament. In the United States, it means that it's been put off to some future time. [Actually it's very similar to a flare-up near the end of World War II in a meeting among Churchill, Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King. It was King that figured out that the word 'tabling' was the cause of the problem.] There were lots of keen insights into the relationship.
Highlights About the Relationship Between Canada and the U.S.
1. When Canadians complain about the 'thickening' of the border [impeding the flow of goods and services] the Americans tend to think that's a good thing (which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is reported to have said, after she was first appointed). So Canada needs to change its vocabulary (see 'tabling' discussion above).
2. The reality of media coverage is the old 'if it bleeds, it leads' and Canada gets hurt by that as it is not nearly as controversial.
3. Although the two countries have many similarities, Canadians like being different from Americans.
4. Canadians can sometimes come across as thinking they are better than Americans (besides hockey, of course) - health care, education and other social programs etc. However, there are many myths (Michael Moore) as Paul Wells said - that Canadians leave their doors unlocked at night....no guns....etc. are simply not true.
5. The 'framing' around the border issue has shifted under the Obama Administration from 'security trumps trade' to 'climate change'. Canada needs to make a better case for the work it's doing on climate change - otherwise Canada's heavy oil products may be replaced by those ethical leaders Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria or Saudi Arabia.
I asked a question about what the media could be doing differently or perhaps what new media models could be developed to focus more on the relationship between the two countries. A lively discussion ensued. You can find it on CSPAN 2 on the web
It's being repeated as well on CPAC.ca here: Canada and the U.S.:Best Friends or Perfect Strangers
Commenting on Negative Political Ads
Speaking of media, I was on CBC's The National last night analyzing the pre-campaign ads. So check it out at: www.cbc.ca/thenational (first item) analyzing the Conservative and Liberal pre-campaign ads.
Remembering Sargent Shriver
For journalistic buffs like Laura and me it was great to meet the legendary Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post, who was most gracious in his comments - and looked surprisingly spry. He reminisced that the first time he set eyes on Sarge Shriver - it was in Wisconsin - and he was struck by how he looked like he was this great-looking charismatic guy - had stepped out of a Brooks Brothers ad - remembering every detail of what he wore. Not bad for a guy into his eighties!
The whole event had a somewhat nostalgic feel to it, as yesterday was the 50th anniversary of JFK's Inauguration and Sarge Shriver was an important player in the Kennedy Administration.
Until next time...