The Hon. David Wilkins
United States Ambassador to Canada
Issues in Canada-U.S. Relations
Chairman: Dr. John S. Niles
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Anne Fotheringham, Owner, Fotheringham Fine Art, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Alex Gold, American Studies Student, University of Toronto; Reverend Canon Kimberley Beard, Senior Pastor, St. Paul's On-the-Hill Anglican Church; Dr. Murray Frum, CM, Chairman, Frum Development Group; John Nay, Consul General, U.S. Consulate General in Toronto; Stephen Hewitt, Manager, Corporate Communications, Corporate and Public Affairs, TD Bank Financial Group, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Dougal Macdonald, President and Managing Director, Morgan Stanley Canada Limited; The Hon. Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters; and Donald A. Guloien, Senior Executive Vice-President and Chief Investment Officer, Manulife Financial.
Introduction by John Niles
Your Honour, Past Presidents, Directors, honoured guests, and members of the Empire Club of Canada:
For North America, the world changed forever six and a half years ago when Osama bin Laden and his followers delivered a depraved and degenerate assault on the world's most mighty nation, inflicting unprecedented hurt and destruction, and shattering North America's sense of invincibility and inviolability forever.
Horrified by the scale and brutality of the attack, Canada and the world responded by reaching out to the United States.
Over six years later, the echoes of 9/11 still reverberate across the world. Al Qaeda has been damaged but not destroyed. Its ability to operate has been curtailed, many of its original leaders have been killed or captured but its ideological strength in many respects remains intact.
Its followers believe violence against civilians is justified. These terrorists motivated by these extremist views have attacked across the globe, from Casablanca to Jakarta, from Riyadh to Mombassa, from Madrid to London. Some strike across borders; others choose to attack at home.
Though many more attacks have been prevented as countries have strengthened their defences against terrorism, there is mounting concern that in the process, fundamental rights and freedoms have been seriously infringed or put at risk.
As a result, the law that the then-Liberal government enacted six years ago that allowed suspected terrorists to be held without trial, and that could compel them to give testimony to the knowledge they have regarding terrorism before a judge comes to an end in Canada today at the very hands of those who enacted it in the first place but who now sit, not in government but in opposition.
The question that remains unanswered is whether or not we have been made safer by those actions first taken or by those actions now taken.
As one who comes from a military family, and who has had one member of our family die in Iraq while covering the war, I personally do not believe we have been made safer by this action.
In January of 2002, the Canadian Forces joined the multi-national coalition called Operation Anaconda. In 2003, the Canadian Forces assumed a six-month command rotation of the International Security Assistance Force and in 2005 Canadians assumed operational command of the multi-national Brigade in Kandahar with 2,500 troops, and supervise the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar, where Al-Qaeda forces are most active.
During this period, the co-operation and communication between the United States and Canada has been at times stormy and tumultuous and at other times productive and profitable and perhaps even providential.
I say this, because, as a minister, I was interested to hear that Ambassador Wilkins during his farewell as House Speaker to the South Carolina legislature said, "God told me to go to Canada." I can see why. It is God's country after all.
Ambassador Wilkins was nominated by President George W. Bush to become the United States Ambassador to Canada on April 27, 2005, and was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate on May 26, 2005. On June 29, 2005, he became the 21st United States ambassador to Canada.
Since his arrival in Canada, Ambassador Wilkins has worked extensively with various U.S. and Canadian officials, seeking resolution on high-profile files including softwood lumber, BSE (mad cow) and the Western Hemisphere (Passport) Travel Initiative. He has travelled extensively throughout Canada, visiting every province and territory, and has tirelessly encouraged visits to Canada from high-profile Americans such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary John Snow, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, as well as numerous White House officials, senators and congressmen.
Ambassador Wilkins was actively involved in the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) meetings in Cancun in the spring of 2006 between Prime Minister Harper and President Bush, as well as the second meeting between the two leaders when President Bush hosted the Prime Minister at the White House later that summer.
Ambassador Wilkins was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1980 and served there for 25 years. He quickly rose through the ranks in the House of Representatives, serving six years as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and two years as speaker pro tem before being elected speaker, a position he held for 11 years. He was the first Republican elected speaker of any legislative body in the South since the 1880s and retired as one of the longest-serving speakers in the country.
In his 25 years in the legislature, David Wilkins was on the cutting-edge of most major reform legislation including South Carolina's historic ethics bill and the Education Accountability Act. Wilkins played a key role in the relocation of the Confederate flag from the State Capitol Building and led the fight to ban video gambling.
Throughout his distinguished career, Wilkins has received numerous awards including the 2004 Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award from the National Conference of State Legislatures. He has been named Outstanding Legislator of the Year by a wide range of organizations and was also named the National Republican Legislator of the Year.
A strong supporter of President George W. Bush, Wilkins served as state chairman of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and as co-chair of the campaign in 2000. He was appointed by the President to the Board of Visitors to the United States Academy at West Point in 2002.
A native of Greenville, South Carolina, David Wilkins graduated from Greenville High School and received his undergraduate degree from Clemson University and his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law. After service in the Army, he returned to Greenville where he practiced law for more than 30 years.
Please greet with me the Honourable David Wilkins.
Well thank you very much John for that warm introduction. It is truly a privilege and a pleasure for me to be back here in Toronto and back at the Empire Club. I truly appreciate those out with the pending snow storm coming. You truly honour me with your presence. Where I come from, we would all be at home by now building a fire and drinking hot chocolate. I'd have stopped by the drugstore for milk, bread, and hot chocolate. We'd be hunkered down in our homes waiting for the two or three inches of snow that we might expect.
Well, thanks for being here. I am also delighted that John Nay, our outstanding Consul General in Toronto, is here to my immediate left. He does a great job representing our country in your country.
I have been privileged to be here now for 20 months, travelling around your vast and beautiful country and getting out and seeing folks from all walks of life. I have talked to thousands of Canadians across your country and it really has been a great privilege.
I have had the great fortune of getting to know many of you. Some of you have had the fortune or misfortune of having heard me probably on more than one occasion.
So this afternoon, I thought I would do something a little different. Rather than give a formal speech, I thought I would just have a conversation--a conversation with friends--and talk a bit about maybe four issues, pressing issues, that we are dealing with right now; and then share some personal insights, personal thoughts, with you about what I have seen and learned in your great country; and then, if we have time, take a few questions.
I have been profoundly blessed to be in Canada during this unique time in history. So many moments stand out. I got to visit the troops heading to the Gulf Coast in Halifax and a thousand young Canadians going down to help us after Katrina. I then visited the folks from the Vancouver rescue squad as they returned from New Orleans after pulling 119 Americans off rooftops and treetops. I have seen examples of that all over this country. Wherever I have visited, friends were helping friends and neighbours were helping neighbours.
When I got here, the first thing I said was that I wanted to accentuate the positive. And my goal, although it may be simply stated, is to leave the relationship stronger and more resilient than the day I found it.
I think we are making some progress towards doing that. I think the relationship between our two countries is now on the upswing. Recent polls bear this out. It seems to me that our leaders are looking at problems as a shared responsibility, working together, and working to fix problems rather than fix the blame.
I think tone at the top matters and leadership matters. I give the President and the Prime Minister a great deal of credit for the upward swing in the U.S.-Canada relationship. It is getting stronger and I think there are tangible examples of that.
One problem was softwood lumber, the one issue that people told me would never be resolved on my watch. I witnessed in Cancun last March the Prime Minister making a very compelling case to the President about the need to resolve that issue. The President got engaged and had serious discussions to effectuate an historic agreement on an issue that was really an irritant and by many a defining issue in our relationship. Now that is behind us because that is what friends do. We work out problems. We resolve issues.
Another problem is BSE. When I got here, the borders were closed to Canadian cattle. The President said we wanted to open the borders. We wanted to follow scientific data from the agriculture department but, ultimately, we wanted the borders open to Canadian cattle. We are well on our way to getting back to pre-2003 status where the borders will be fully open. Pending regulations will further reopen the borders to Canadian cattle seven years and younger.
And so we will be virtually back to 2003 standards and that is a great example. Even now when we have a mad cow discovery, the borders remain open for the cows 30 months and younger because there is a process in place between our two countries to make sure folks on both sides of the borders are protected and the borders don't get closed and the cows continue down south.
That is a great example of working through problems.
Diplomacy depends on relationship building. When you get right down to it, it is like a marriage or a business or friendships or politics; it is all about building relationships and building foundations of trust. I believe that is exactly what is happening now. I see it every day: phone calls going back and forth between top officials on both sides of the border.
Just last week, for example, you had the White House Drug Czar, John Walters, in Ottawa meeting with his counterparts. You had Secretary Chertoff meeting with his counterparts. You had Secretary Rice meeting with her counterparts. You had Commerce Secretary Gutierrez meeting with his counterparts. All meeting, all strengthening their relationships, one meeting, one friend at a time. I think that bodes well for the relationship between our countries.
One other thing I have observed since I have been here is the fact that we are two great democracies side by side but we practice democracy somewhat differently. I am fascinated as a political junkie having been in politics for 25 years, and on the ballot 13 times. I am fascinated by the differences. I don't know that one country does it better or worse. We do it differently. I think we both do it very well.
Your Prime Minister with a majority government--although the President of the United States is often thought of as the most powerful person in the world--has a much greater concentration of power in that one position than we do. We have more of a check-and-balance system, more of a clear separation of powers. But the parliamentarian system is a combination, as you know, of executive and legislative branches together.
Could you imagine the dynamics that would be changed in Washington, D.C., if the President of the United States could appoint members to the Senate or if he could appoint Cabinet officials or judges without confirmation hearings? I mean, up here you appoint one day and the minister starts work the next. It would change the dynamics. I marvel at your Question Period. What would happen if every day the President had to travel to the Hill and take questions for 45 minutes from Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid? It would truly change the dynamics in Washington. It is fascinating to compare if we adopted this or if you adopted that.
Another thing I have observed is that people everywhere I go ask me who are going to be the presidential candidates--Democrat and Republican. Well, we don't know. There is great speculation. We know when our election is. Up here you spend all your time talking about when the election will be! And so it is great to compare things and great to see differences.
I want to talk to you seriously about a couple of issues, though. The one that seems to be on everybody's mind and gets the most concern and rightly so is the issue of passports.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), adopted by our Congress in 2004, will require passports for people travelling from Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico heretofore exempted from that requirement. Now they will be required to have passports or a trusted traveller program card like NEXUS to enter the United States.
The air portion of WHTI went into effect January 23 and it went very, very smoothly all across Canada. Very few people did not have passports. There was 99-per-cent compliance. With those who didn't comply, our security folks used good common sense and discretion and allowed people to travel to the United States if they had proper identification. Our consuls general all across Canada worked very closely with your officials, airline officials and airport officials, to make sure there was a smooth implementation. We were all very pleased with the way that it went.
The land portion and the sea portion go into effect, as you know, sometime between January of 2008 and June of 2009. There is a lot of speculation of when that might be. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security have to certify to Congress, after consultation with Canada and Mexico, that they are ready to implement it and then three months later, it goes into effect--but no later than June of 2009.
Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff and Secretary of State Rice were here in Canada last Friday. Based on comments they made and what I understand, I believe it will be implemented. I believe the land portion and sea portion will be implemented sometime during 2008. It could be implemented as early as January. It is up to Secretary Rice and Secretary Chertoff to certify when it will be ready, but I believe it will happen sometime during this administration. I do not believe it will happen after the administration leaves office. It is a law passed by Congress. It is required to go into effect. The only way it won't go into effect is if Congress rescinds the law. Based on the comments I have heard in Washington, I do not believe that is going to happen but, obviously, they have every right to do that if they so choose. I believe we need to get ready for it.
Simply put, the message I try to give to Americans and to Canadians is get a passport. It is that simple. Or a NEXUS card or other trusted traveller card.
I know there are those who push back on it and those that say it is going to cause confusion and delays at the border. I think if we all buy into it and get behind it and all work to implement it smoothly, it will have the opposite effect. It will make it easier.
There are literally thousands of documents that security officers have to look at--drivers' licenses, birth certificates. If you narrow the documents down to a passport or a NEXUS card or, in the case of American citizens, a passport card that will be available for American citizens some time this summer, the process will be easier. It will facilitate trade and travel, not impede it. There is no one in Washington, no one in the United States, who wants to impede or do anything detrimental to this wonderful trade relationship we have with our friend Canada, the largest trading relationship the world has ever known. We don't want to do anything to impede tourism between our two countries.
But what we need to do, I believe, is all get on board and work towards a smooth implementation. Just last week, Secretary Chertoff announced that minors 16 years and younger would be exempted from this requirement and those who are 17 and 18, if they are part of a team, a ball team or a group with an adult with the proper documents, would be exempted. Those are the things we are working on. It is still a work in progress. There are still rules to be promulgated on this.
But, again, I would say to you that Americans are getting the message. We are issuing passports at a record pace at well over a million a month now. Some 75 million Americans now have a passport, well over the number more than a year ago. We'll probably issue 18 million passports this year alone to Americans. We are getting the message. We are getting passports so we can travel to Canada.
I would urge you all to use your influence to urge your friends to get a passport and urge your elected officials to work together with us for a smooth implementation. If we can make it as smooth for the land portion as we did for the air portion, it will be very, very good.
The second issue, very quickly: intellectual property rights, copyright laws. We are asking the Government of Canada to strengthen your copyright laws. A lot of pirating goes on; a lot of counterfeiting of movies and songs and whatnot. This is not some effort to protect some high-paid Hollywood star or studio. It is about ensuring that Canadian and American innovators and entrepreneurs are encouraged and protected so they will continue to make North America competitive in the world marketplace.
We are working with the Canadian government on that issue. We have met with Ministers Bernier and Oda and members of the Prime Minister's staff and we are requesting a stronger copyright bill be introduced and be passed. We are joined by the U.S. and Canadian motion picture, sound recording and computer software industries. Right now the copyright laws or the intellectual property right protection in Canada is considered the weakest of the G-7 countries, so we are asking that it be strengthened. It really does cost the Canadian economy a huge amount every year, estimated to be about $10-30 billion per year.
Third issue: SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership). We had ministers in Ottawa last week: Mexican, Canadian, and American. They were meeting in preparation for the Leaders Summit/Conference to be held in Canada later this year between Mexico, United States, and Canada. There is a lot of speculation, a lot of talk, about what the SPP is. Let me just quickly say what it is not. It is not about becoming a North American union like the European Union. It is not about creating a common currency or giving up our national sovereignties or our identities.
What is it about? It is about creating a North American strategy to compete in a global economy. It is about better co-ordination between our countries to respond to emergencies especially those that take place near the border. It is about co-ordinating response to situations and threats like the avian flu and developing communication plans and strategies on potential impact on border crossings. It is about reducing the cost of how we do business and better integration, fewer duplicating regulations, and less bureaucratic red tape.
Fourth issue: Afghanistan. All freedom-loving countries are truly grateful for Canada's role in Afghanistan as part of the UN-sanctioned NATO mission there. Brave Canadian troops continue to do some of the heaviest lifting as Afghanistan makes significant progress. It really is hard to argue with the success of the mission in Afghanistan.
Think about this. The Taliban have been driven from power. Al-Qaeda has been driven from its training camps. Afghanistan is a free nation. And Canada, which rightfully prides itself on its fierce protection of civil and human rights, has been part of an historic and sweeping change that has carried the light of liberty to a people that for so long had only known darkness under the Taliban rule. Women, who were oppressed and denied educations, are now serving in Parliament; 91 of them. President Karzai has appointed the first woman to serve as a provincial governor. More than five million Afghan children are now in school. About two million of those are girls. The Afghan economy has doubled since liberation attracting $800 million in foreign investment and more than 4.6 million Afghan refugees have returned to their country.
Afghanistan, like Canada and the United States, now enjoys a democratically elected president and national assembly. And that is because Canada and the U.S. and other freedom-loving countries stood in the gap. We didn't run when it was hard, when it was dangerous. As President Bush said, "We didn't let this young democracy whither away."
And just imagine if we had. Imagine if the terrorists still had Afghanistan as a base of operation. If we leave now, the terrorists will follow us home. As President Karzai said when he visited Canada last year, the tragedy of September 11 showed us the cost of ignoring Afghanistan was far higher than the cost of helping it. In places like Afghanistan, the Sudan and Haiti, the U.S. and Canada are partners and as part of an international group are truly a force for good. Our multilateral efforts are important and they are making a difference to the world's poorest and most disadvantaged citizens.
I have said this many times but I believe it bears repeating. I believe just as you do, that this U.S.-Canada relationship is so vitally important it is worth our constant care and attention. And in these very turbulent times, it is comforting I think for all of us to be able to look across that border and see not only a neighbour but also a best friend and an ally now and in the future.
Thanks for sharing your time with me. Thanks for inviting me back. Hopefully, we have a minute or two for questions. I am happy to take questions.
God bless Canada and God bless the United States.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Stephen Hewitt, Manager, Corporate Communications, Corporate and Public Affairs, TD Bank Financial Group, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.