“…stronger than they have ever been…”
David C. Jacobson, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, recently met with members of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce Board and staff . The visit was part of a full slate for the Ambassador, which included a meeting with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.
During his meeting with the Manitoba Chambers, Ambassador Jacobson stressed that the relationship between Canada and the US is as strong as it’s ever been and that the level of trust between the two countries is high, which he says ‘makes my job easier.’
“The relationship between the United States and Canada is among the closest and most extensive in the world. It is reflected in the staggering volume of bilateral trade–the equivalent of $1.6 billion a day in goods–as well as in people-to-people contact. About 300,000 people cross the border every day.”
“When everything is in such perfect alignment as it is now,” he said. “You seize the moment.”
Stressing the two most important issues at stake for both countries are jobs and safety.
“If we continue to work together and are smart, we can be more secure and more efficient. And if we can make every effort to coordinate regulations between the countries we can achieve more efficiencies and do what makes sense.”
The roundtable discussion with members of the Chambers board, which is comprised of lawyers, accountants, bankers and business owners, brought a number of issues to the table.
Concerns were raised about the Protectionist policies such as the Buy American policy, that has been cited as a bad signal. The question raised by Manitoba Chambers President and CEO, Graham Starmer, pointed out that American and Canadian businesses do best when trade-restrictive policies are not pursued. The concern is that new job-creation package from President Barack Obama would resurrect protectionist measures that would require work on public infrastructure be done with US-made materials.
Starmer pointed out that it was a disappointment to hear about the inclusion of ‘Buy American’ provisions in the recent American Jobs Act announcements. “We have had this discussion before” as he expressed concern about the ramifications on consumers and businesses on both sides of the border.
Ambassador Jacobson pointed out that we are in ‘exceedingly difficult economic times’ and that the goal of the Bill is to give the U.S. economy a shot in the arm. He urged the group to think big picture and long term.
“I have probably heard more about ‘Buy American’ than any other single topic. I understand the concerns the Canadian people have. The President believes very strongly in free trade. There have been a lot of discussions and they have been constructive.”
“As for whether if only we could solve intellectual property rights, then ‘Buy American’ would go away, I do not agree with that. They are two separate issues and stand on their own. We are very concerned about intellectual property laws in Canada. We don’t think they are in the best interest of Canadians or Americans, but that is a separate issue that we have not linked.”
The Ambassador also was asked to address the concern of the millions of duel citizens in Canada who are facing uncertainty and anxiety over the recent voluntary disclosure of foreign assets to the Internal Revenue Service.
“We need to give better guidance to Canadians on this issue,” he conceded. “This is very complex issue and I am not an expert on tax issues nor am I an accountant. It is hard to give comfort to the grandmother who lives in Canada, has paid taxes all her life in Canada and is now faced with a myriad of complexities as well as the fear of losing her house and life savings.”
He went on to talk about the emotional aspect of one’s citizenship as well as the benefits of American citizenship. He urges people not to rush out to renounce US citizenship, especially in anticipation of avoiding tax consequences.
Other issues such as border security, energy policies and the ongoing relationship between the two countries were topics for discussion with the Chamber.
The Ambassador personally understands the frustration of cross-border travellers who’ve been ensnared in security restrictions since the 9-11 terrorist attacks having been red-flagged himself as a security risk.
“I have been stopped and (told), ‘We’re sorry Mr. Jacobson but we need more information, we can’t get you on the plane. This happened once and they got it sorted out — and then it happened again, not too much later.’”
Jacobson was ambassador at the time, a situation he acknowledged was “somewhat ironic.”
Jacobson eventually discovered “there was another person with a very similar name” who had been deemed a security threat.
“I don’t know what list they were on but they were not on the good guys’ list.”
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“This is a good example and there are lots of others, but it’s a good example of this sort of myth that surrounds our process. We are not trying to be bad guys. We are trying to be safe but we are trying as best we can to be reasonable.”
He allowed that ‘reasonable’ was not always the watchword in the immediate aftermath of the horrific 9-11 attacks. And that some of the excesses may account for Canadians’ continuing concerns about the prospect of a North American perimeter security deal.
Jacobson acknowledged that many Canadians are worried that Canada stands to lose some of its sovereignty and travellers could lose privacy protection of personal information that’s shared between the two countries. He thinks an education campaign is needed to demonstrate that Americans’ treasure their national sovereignty, personal privacy and civil liberties every bit as much as Canadians and would not agree to a deal that put those things in jeopardy. He also reiterated that there are no plans to ‘build a fence’ on the border but that the watchwords are how to be ‘safe and efficient’.
Jacobson stressed that ongoing discussions between Canada and the U.S. at the highest levels of government on a border security perimeter are encouraging. Both governments have been working together for months to develop border guidelines, with an announcement expected later this year.
“The discussions going on between the president and the prime minister at that level are very good,” he said.
“There’s lot of good discussion going on. It’s not unilateralism … now we have a plan to move ahead, where we’re going to agree, we’re going to amend, we’re going to disagree, but it’s going to be two ways.”
“Not only are our values not all that different – but our rules are not all that different either,” he said.
Jacobson reminisced about a family road trip that entailed crossing the border from Detroit to Windsor.
“For that seven year old boy in the backseat of the car traveling across the Ambassador Bridge, it was one of those defining moments. My dad had stopped the car on the US-Canada border so that half of the car – the back seat was in the US – and the front seat was in the Canada so that we take a photo of us literally on the border, “ he said with a laugh. “How ironic that many decades later the seven year old boy is now the Ambassador to Canada. Things will never be like that again but I am confident that our relationship can continue to be strong and for the greatest good.”