- James Blanchard, Speaker
- Paul Cellucci, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- This is a moderated panel. John Ibbitson acts as moderator. The address is a series of questions and answers, an exchange of views. Questions from the audience were also addressed.
First question to Paul Cellucci regarding John McCain and the Republican race.
Ibbitson: “... what kind of a hill does John McCain have to climb and how do you see him climbing it?”
Cellucci: Start with the premise that this race should be won by the Democrats and why that is so. The Republican views about Obama and Clinton. The Democrats’ views of McCain. McCain will be competitive. A close election.
Ibbitson: Question to Mr. Blanchard: “Do you think John McCain is the one person who could defeat either Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton?
Blanchard: Yes, a close election and why that will be so. Remarks about John McCain and his strengths. The Democratic response to McCain. The speaker’s declaration as co-chair of the Hilary Clinton campaign in Michigan. Youth voting in this and future elections.
Ibbitson: The Democratic race. Remarks about Clinton vs. Barack. A corrosive campaign in the Democratic camp. “Does this get resolved after June 3rd and the party comes together .... or what are the dangers that this goes all the way to the convention and splits the party?”
Blanchard: Waiting until late August to patch up the party too late. Knowing the nominee by the middle or end of June. Details of the status of the current campaign.
Cellucci: Recalling the 2004 election and John Kerry. The great challenge for the Democrats. The perfect solution.
Blanchard: Working to get them on the ticket together.
Ibbitson: One of the greatest questions that Canadians have on their minds. Promises about NAFTA. How concerned should Canadians be?
Blanchard: First, a disclaimer about who the speaker speaks for, and who he doesn’t. Understanding the concern, but not seeing anything that is hostile to Canadians in terms of trade agreements. Where hostility has been shown.
Cellucci: Response to Mr. Blanchard’s remarks about the thickening of the border. John McCain as a free trader. The valid concerns in Canada.
Blanchard: George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and trade restrictions against Canada.
Cellucci: Follow-up. Republicans with committed determined free traders.
Blanchard: A difference between the two parties with regard to effects of the loss of manufacturing.
Ibbitson: Remarks about the U.S. Congress and lobby groups. “What can any president do to get the government working?”
Cellucci: No doubt about needing help from Congress. Candidates who run on an anti-immigration platform.
Ibbitson: “Is it true Mr. Blanchard that the lobbying firms in Washington have become so powerful now that it is impossible for any president or even any Congress to assert its will?”
Blanchard: Why that is a myth, with example and explication. Tax cuts. The value of the American dollar.
Ibbitson: [States that Cellucci would agree with Blanchard’s assessment.]
Cellucci: Why the Republicans are winning. Comments about Americans and tax cuts.
Blanchard: Why the people supported Governor Cellucci’s tax cut.
Blanchard: The Clinton era. The speaker’s attitude towards tax cuts and borrowing from the future.
Cellucci: Borrowing in time of war. Americans today. History as the judge of George W. Bush.
Ibbitson: The role of God in politics. Suggestion that this campaign different and how that is so. “... what role do you see religion as a political force continuing to play in American life and how will it shape politics?”
Blanchard: Agreement with regard to a resurgence of religion in the United States. Differences in Canada and the U.S. Comments on Democrats and Republicans and the role of religion.
Some back-and-forth on a specific issue about Iowa and New Hampshire.
Ibbitson: “... are you concerned about the power of the religious right within the Republican Party? Or do you welcome it?”
Cellucci: Some facts. The freedom in both countries to make religion an important part of your life or not. An historical perspective for Canada.
Blanchard: Remarks about McCain and Jerry Falwell.
Cellucci: Counterpoint and some back-and-forth on this issue.
Ibbitson: Questions from the floor – two put together into one: regarding Mr. McCain’s age and who might be the best vice-president for him.
Cellucci: No concern about age and why. The speaker’s list of favourites for vice-president.
Ibbitson: “Do you think the Democrats will play up the issue of Senator McCain’s age in the campaign?”
Blanchard: No, with explication. Comments about a possible running mate for McCain.
Cellucci: An advantage that McCain goes last.
Ibbitson: Concerns of the audience – circling back to the question of trade. Recommendations to the next president with regard to two or three initiatives that Canada could take to get the dialogue going again about improving trade across the border.
Cellucci: Remarks about the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). Some specifics re NAFTA. The continued economic integration of the North American economy.
Ibbitson to Blanchard: “What is your take on the health of the SPP?”
Blanchard: Agreement with Cellucci that it is not dead. What went wrong. All three candidates good for Canada. The Clintons both friends to Canada. The need for a harmonized comprehensive agreement on energy and the environment. True also for immigration and manufacturing regulations.
Ibbitson: Back to the horse race. The solution to the Michigan and Florida problem regarding the seating of their delegates?
Blanchard: The first class mess that this is. Details of this issue and what the speaker thinks will happen. Also what should happen to resolve it.
Ibbitson to Cellucci: “And you’re just laughing at this aren’t you?”
Cellucci: Another danger for the Democrats and how that is so.
Ibbitson: Thanks and closing remarks.
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- Apr 17, 2008
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April 17, 2008
Forum on the 2008 United States Presidential Election
Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, and Special Counsel, McCarter & English LLP, in Boston
Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada and Partner, DLA Piper U.S.
Chairman: Catherine S. Swift,
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests:
Stephen Hewitt: Manager, Corporate and Public Affairs, TD Bank Financial Group, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada
Joseph Singh: Grade 11 Student, St. Michael’s Choir School
Reverend Canon Kimberley Beard: Senior Pastor, St. Paul’s On-the-Hill Anglican Church, Unionville, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada
Mark Feigenbaum: Chairman, Republicans Abroad, Canada
John Ibbitson: Moderator, Washington Columnist and Correspondent, The Globe and Mail
Scott Jolliffe: Chairman and CEO, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP
Lisa Baiton: Vice-President, Government Relations, Environics Communications Inc., and Second Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada
Adrienne Jones: Chair, Democrats Abroad Canada
Andrew T. Molson: Vice-Chairman, Res Publica Consulting Group, and Member of the Board of Directors, Molson Coors Brewing Company
Raymond Chrétien: Senior Advisor, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, and Former Canadian Ambassador to the United States, France, Belgium, Mexico and Congo
Mike Pedersen: Group Head, Corporate Operations, TD Bank Financial Group.
Introduction by Catherine Swift:
The current U.S. election is arguably one of the most interesting ones we have seen in some time. It is the first election since 1952 that neither an incumbent president nor vice-president is in the running. From my personal perspective, I have never experienced a U.S. election that has attracted so much attention and interest among Canadians. That being said, I did hear recently that there are many people in the U.S. who are suffering from a new syndrome characterized by the inability to become aroused by any of the candidates. This syndrome has been called “electile dysfunction.”
We are very fortunate today to have two former U.S. ambassadors to Canada, one Democrat and one Republican, here to discuss the election and its implications for Canada.
Paul Cellucci received his law degree from Boston College Law School in 1973 and also graduated from the Boston College School of Management where he served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps. His career in government began in 1970 when he was elected to the Hudson Charter Commission. In 1976 he was elected to the first of four terms in the House of Representatives. In 1984, he was elected to the Massachusetts Senate and during his third and final Senate term became the Assistant Republican Leader. He was elected Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts in 1990, and became Governor in 1997. He became the twentieth United States Ambassador to Canada in April 2001.
James Blanchard received a BA from Michigan State University in 1964 and an MBA from the same school in 1965. He studied at the Minnesota Law School and was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1968. After several years of practicing law, he was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, serving from 1975 to 1983. He then served two terms as Governor of Michigan from 1983 to 1991. He was then appointed Ambassador to Canada, a position he held from 1993 to 1996.
Our moderator today is John Ibbitson. John graduated from the University of Western Ontario with an MA in Journalism in 1988. Since then, he has worked as a reporter and columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, Southam News, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He has written several books of fiction as well as on political topics. In August 2001, he was appointed Washington Bureau Chief of the Globe and Mail.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. It is a pleasure and an honour to be with you today to have a forum on the United States 2008 presidential election with two people who know more about what’s going on in that election than many others—one a very well-informed Republican and one a very well-informed Democrat.
This is an unusual format. Our goal here is to get a dialogue going through a series of questions and answers leading to what these gentlemen in a previous life might have called a full and frank exchange of views. We are very keen to hear from you so rather than just waiting until 15 minutes before the end of the session and then asking for questions, we would like to do something different. I believe you have cards on your tables. I assume you all have pens. If you would like to ask a question of the candidates, please just write it out now or at any time during the course of the afternoon and if you raise your hands someone will come and take the card from you. They will pass it up to me and I’ll ask the questions. This is your chance to prove that you are much better at asking questions than reporters. There’s one other note. All that stands between Ambassador Blanchard and his family in Florida is a three o’clock flight, so this session will end at one-thirty absolutely promptly. I have given him my word on that.
I’d like to start, if I may, with Ambassador Cellucci with a question about the Republican race. John McCain has had the presumptive nomination for more than a month and yet he still seriously lags in fund-raising against the Democrats. There are real questions within the conservative base of the party as to whether he is the right candidate for them and of course he has the legacy of having to answer for a Republican administration that at this point maybe the least popular since Herbert Hoover, so what kind of a hill does John McCain have to climb and how do you see him climbing it?
We have to start from the premise that this race should be won by the Democrats. We have an unpopular war in Iraq, we have an economy that’s in decline, and, you’re right, I think the President’s approval ratings are around 28 per cent. Of course Congress is at 22 per cent, even lower, so the Democrats should win. You also see it in the turnouts in the primaries and the caucuses, which have been far greater with Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton slugging it out. There’s real enthusiasm and momentum on the Democratic side. Barack Obama has done an unbelievable job of raising money over the Internet, small contributors pouring in millions and millions of dollars, and it has been more of a challenge on the Republican side both in terms of turnout and raising money. It looks good for the Democrats but the interesting thing is the Republicans have actually nominated or will nominate a candidate who I believe is going to run very strongly in the fall. If you were to ask Republicans their views about Barack Obama they would be negative. If you were to ask Republicans their views about Hilary Clinton they would be quite negative. If you ask Democrats their views of John McCain they have a favourable view of him. That’s a remarkable thing in American politics. He is a war hero. He’s been tested under fire. He’s independent. Even though he’s a Republican, people see him as being very independent of the President. So I think that this campaign has had a lot of twists and turns and there will be a lot more twists and turns. I don’t think either one of us can predict today the outcome, but I know that John McCain will be competitive and I believe he will rally the conservatives in the party with either one of the democratic candidates and he will get the money he needs to be competitive. I think this election is going to be close.
What do you think Mr. Blanchard? Do you think John McCain is the one person who could defeat either Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton?
Yes, I think this election is going to be close. Two years ago I predicted a Democratic tsunami with the mid-term elections and we had that. I have that feeling in terms of the energy of Democrats, yes, but John McCain is the only Republican the party could have nominated that can make this a race. The reason is he has found a way despite the Iraq war and the huge federal deficits to distinguish himself from George W. Bush. Whether it’s opposing torture or talking about multilateral diplomacy in Europe, supporting climate change or supporting campaign finance reform, he has an independent profile. Democrats of course are going to argue that John McCain is more of the same—tax cuts for the rich, prolong the Iraqi war, enormous loss of respect in the world, huge federal deficits, where under Clinton we had a surplus. It is going to be an interesting battle. I have to declare myself here ladies and gentlemen. I am co-chair of the Hilary Clinton campaign in Michigan but we have two fabulous candidates. I’m worried that this protracted campaign is diminishing them and they are going to need each other to win. I think they will embrace each other when the moment arrives, but in the meantime, as Ambassador Cellucci referred to, Barack Obama raised $50 million in small contributions over the Internet in the month of March. Hilary raised about $25 million in small contributions on the Internet. This is enormous. There’s nothing like it going on in the Republican Party. All the young voters are in there. Most of the younger voters prefer Obama but we are having record turnouts in all of our primaries and caucuses. We have not seen the likes of this, and the new voters, the millennials that we have talked about privately, people born between 1982 and 2002, are moving into the electorate. There are 42 million of them. They’re much more civically inclined than their parents or grandparents. They appear to be voting and turning out. They are going to reshape the map of America. The only question is whether that is in this upcoming election or in four years. The Republicans have run into a perfect storm with all the problems including 81 per cent of the public feeling the country is heading in the wrong direction, but I think presidential elections tend to be close and I think we are going to see either a very close election or a Democratic blowout. It won’t be the reverse.
You have hit on the Democratic race. Speaking personally this is the most exciting political race I have ever seen in my career as a journalist, but it is getting more and more negative. Hilary Clinton started out questioning Barack Obama’s qualifications as a commander-in-chief. She then raised doubts about his sincerity in the renegotiating of the NAFTA deal but we will get to that in a subsequent question. Now she is accusing him of being elitist and out of touch in comments that he made about rural voters. This is corrosive and the McCain camp are taking careful notes so what is going to happen? Does this get resolved after June 3rd and the party comes together and bygones are bygones or what are the dangers that this goes all the way to the convention and splits the party?
I don’t think it will go all the way to the convention, which will be late August. We cannot wait until late August to patch up our party. It would be a losing effort so I think we are going to know who the nominee is by the middle of June, maybe by the end of June. Right now Barack Obama leads, as you know, by about 135 or so delegates. That’s not a lot when you look at the totality of it. The way for Hilary to get the nomination is to win big in Pennsylvania, to win most of the remaining states, and convince the super-delegates that she is much stronger against John McCain and I think in the major states she is. Both candidates by the way will need what are called super-delegates to get the nomination. They cannot do it with the delegates who are elected in these primaries. There are not enough of them. If Obama is ahead in delegates and is similar in the polling against John McCain and if the super-delegates were to go for Hilary it would be very difficult on the party. They need each other. I hope that if Hilary gets the nomination, she offers the vice-presidency to Barack Obama. Whatever happens they are going to have to embrace each other, they are going to have to swallow their pride, and they are going to have to campaign vigorously for each other around the country. But I am worried that this long drawn out campaign has diminished their stature. It’s interesting though on the issues. They are pretty much alike and that’s a good sign. Whether it is health care or ending the war in Iraq I hope it’s a good sign for the future of our country.
I talked earlier about the momentum and the motivation within the Democratic Party right now. If you think back to the 2004 election, John Kerry thought he had won on election day because he turned out in Florida and Ohio the numbers the party had determined it needed to win and a lot of the exit polls confirmed that by saying Kerry would win Florida and Ohio. Yet the Republicans turned out even more, particularly in the rural, suburban voting districts, and President Bush won that election. This is a great challenge for the Democrats because Hilary Clinton will try to convince the super-delegates that she can win the big states they need to win. She is running ahead of Obama in Ohio and Pennsylvania, in Florida, and in Michigan versus McCain. In most of those states she is either ahead or tied with McCain and Obama is behind. She is going to make the case that she can win those big states and the Democrats cannot win without those states. If she were to get the nomination and Obama is denied it and his supporters think it has been taken away from him, how do you then motivate his supporters to continue working and get out to vote in November? Even if Obama gets it, a lot of the Hilary supporters may well go to John McCain. I mentioned earlier he’s got very variable views from Democrats. This is the big challenge to the Democrats. The perfect solution is to put these two on the ticket together. If someone can figure out how you do that I think they are going to get a prize from the Democrats.
The two of them may not know it but we are all going to be working to get them on the ticket together. They are going to need each other and by Labour Day they are going to be loving each other and liking it because it is our election to lose as Democrats for all the reasons we have mentioned. It really is. Most of you people here are aware of it but it is ours to lose but we have to be unified and Paul Cellucci is correct about the turnout in 2004. I think this time though we are going to have a massive turnout if these primaries are any indication.
I think one of the greatest questions that Canadians have on their minds is the sudden emergence of NAFTA in the debate. Since 2001 it has to be said that the Canada-U.S. border despite the best efforts of many people is thickening. I think the reason for that is the Department of Homeland Security has taken over control in Washington and is implementing new and restrictive measures which the State Department and the White House either aren’t able or aren’t willing to overturn. And now we have the Democrats threatening, or promising to reopen NAFTA if they can’t get new provisions. So let me start with you Ambassador Blanchard, just how concerned should Canadians be about this promise by both Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton to renegotiate the most vital trade agreement we have ever signed?
Given the incredible press coverage of their statements, I need to first give you a disclaimer. I don’t speak for Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama or John McCain on trade policy. That’s number one. Number two. I haven’t seen anything that Hilary Clinton said or Barack Obama has said that is critical of trade with Canada. I think their concern is job loss or unfairness in dealing with countries that have low wage and labour standards and low environmental standards. I think that’s become a template for how to deal with it and that’s going to be true vis-à-vis China or anywhere else. So my sense is that the next president, whoever that is, will have to let our Congress and country digest all the trade agreements we have and figure out a way to improve the ones we have. I have not seen anything that would constitute a threat to trade with Canada. In the audience is Jim Peterson, a former cabinet member, and also Raymond Chrétien. They will remember that when I was ambassador I read the Red Book, which said the Liberal Party’s platform was to renegotiate NAFTA. There were some side agreements that were made that improved it, but the whole thing wasn’t opened up. I’m not saying that Obama and Hilary don’t mean what they say. I think we have to take them at their word and I can understand why Canadians might be concerned. I just haven’t seen anything that is hostile to Canada. As you pointed out, hostility to Canada has been shown by the Department of Homeland Security taking the border and now requiring passports for people who have to go back and forth between Detroit and Windsor, making it harder for the movement of goods and services and people, and treating Canada like it was leaking like a sieve for terrorists which is not true. I’m worried about that and I know our leaders in Congress are worried about that and they have tried to delay legislation relating to that. The thickening of the borders is a real issue. I don’t like the idea. I know this is a long-winded answer. I don’t like the idea that it was easier for me to go back and forth to Canada when I was 16 or 18 or 25 years old and a lot harder now even if I wanted to wave around my fancy title. A lot harder. That’s wrong and it needs to change.
I would just point out that the thickening of the border has been done in response to a law passed by the Congress of the United States that requires Homeland Security to keep track of everyone who enters and leaves the United States. Basically, we have been exempting only two groups of people from that law—U.S. citizens and Canadian citizens. I believe that technology will be our friend as we hopefully keep pushing this off a little particularly the passport requirement. I haven’t got my NEXUS card yet. People with a NEXUS card go right through while I am waiting in line to see the customs officers. I think we need more time. John McCain is a free trader. He understands that when you lower trade barriers you create more and better paying jobs for your people. You keep inflation in check, you keep interest rates low and a lot more goods become affordable for your citizens. He is a great free trader and he voted for NAFTA. He is not in the contest that Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are having of who can take us out of NAFTA the quickest. I understand what Ambassador Blanchard has said, but there ought to be some concern here in Canada because they are making some pretty strong statements and if they win and if there is a Democratic Congress to go along with them there’s going to be a lot of people pushing them to follow through on what they said they would do. I think that would be very bad for Canada. When one-third of its GDP is based upon exports to the United States, it is not a good idea to see significant changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement. I find it ironic because if you look at polls of Canadians they much prefer Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton to John McCain. Yet I’m not so sure that’s in the economic interest of Canada.
You made a good counterpoint but I would also mention that when George W. Bush ran for president we thought he was the father’s son. He talked about free trade and practically the first thing he did was slap a 27-per-cent tariff on lumber. He also slapped on steel tariffs. During Bill Clinton’s time I can’t remember any trade restrictions against Canada.
Just a quick follow-up there. It is Nancy Pelosi who won’t even let the Columbian Free Trade Agreement come up for a vote. The fact of the matter is pretty clear. The Republicans have committed determined free traders. The Democrats are under a lot of pressure from various constituencies and interest groups not to be free traders.
There is no question that we are much more sensitive to people affected by the loss of manufacturing and there’s no question that we have not done a good job of transitional assistance for workers who are laid off for whatever reason. That’s one difference between the two parties.
A year ago when I first came to Washington one of my first stories was to cover an immigration bill, a bill which absolutely should have passed. It was a bill that had both Republican and Democratic support. It had the full support of the White House, it had the support of the leadership of the Congress and yet it was defeated. And indeed, I have to say after one year of covering and writing on the United States Congress, that the House of Commons seems like a model of efficiency in comparison and that is saying something. This leads into the first question from the floor. Regardless of which candidate becomes the next president, what comments would you offer as the nationwide perception is that Washington is paralyzed by various factors such as powerful lobby groups. What can any president do to get the government working?
I think it goes back to the point I made earlier. The approval rating of the Congress is now at 22 per cent. That was a good immigration bill co-sponsored by Senator John McCain. It should have passed. I think the American people are frustrated with the inability of the Congress of the United States to take on big issues and get some results. They may not agree with everything that is in a particular bill but they know that we have to get results to move forward. I think Senator McCain will come particularly well equipped to focus on some of these big problems and get those results. But he is going to need some help. There is no doubt he is going to need some help from the Congress of the United States and I think whoever the new president is he or she is going to have a honeymoon period, and is going to have some political capital that he or she will need to expend early on in his or her administration to take on some of these big issues and get some results on immigration and so on. The candidates in both parties who run on this anti-immigration platform don’t do well. They make it such a big issue and end up not winning. The American people understand we have got to secure our borders and we have got to fix the system, but they also know that a lot of these people who are in the country illegally do very important work and if we sent them all home tomorrow the economy of the United States would collapse. So the bill that the Congress failed to pass would have been a big step in bringing some order out of what is really now a little bit of chaos.
Is it true Mr. Blanchard that the lobbying firms in Washington have become so powerful now that it is impossible for any president or even any Congress to assert its will?
I think that’s a myth. Absolutely. I agree with Paul Cellucci on immigration. Both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton and John McCain all supported the immigration reform bill. I believe there are as many or more Democrats supporting it as Republicans which is why you see the Democrats doing far better now with Hispanic voters for example. But on the gridlock there is an interesting question. Under the U.S. system of checks and balances and three branches of government and two houses of the legislative branch, our system was designed to thwart the consolidation of power. Gridlock is very common unless there is a huge overwhelming consensus. There really is. In other words our system was designed not to work. The parliamentary system on the other hand, whether it is in England or in Ottawa, is supposed to be efficient so you Canadians have no excuses about what is going on. I’m following your minority government with the Liberals opposing everything Harper would like and then voting for it. It has become really confusing. You have me baffled here. One final point. When the power was consolidated, which was the first six years of George Bush with a Republican Senate, Republican House, Republican President, Republican Supreme Court, what did they do? They took America from the largest surplus in our history to the largest deficit. They have got us into a prolonged war. They cut taxes for the rich and waged a war and then told the people it didn’t really matter. The value of the dollar has dropped to an all-time low and America’s respect in the world including in Canada is at an all-time low. So much for an efficient system.
You would I’m sure agree with that assessment.
The Democrats always talk about taxing the rich. What they forget about America is that we are a country where if you are a low-income person you want to become a middle-income person. If you a middle-income person, you want to become a high-income person. It’s the American dream. When I was Governor of Massachusetts I put a tax cut on the ballot in 2000. Massachusetts was a pretty liberal state. In the 2000 election they voted for Al Gore over George Bush by 31 points. Yet the people of Massachusetts approved my tax cut, 59 per cent to 41 per cent. The American people understand that you have got to put money into the pockets of families, and you have got to make sure that businesses are competitive in the global economy. We have one of the highest tax rates on corporations in the world. John McCain wants to bring it back from 35 per cent to 25 per cent so we can be more competitive. We can compete with Western Europe, with China, with India, and other emerging giants. I think the Democrats misunderstand the American people. Most American people want to be very wealthy. They don’t want to pay high taxes when they are. That’s why the Republicans are winning.
The reason why they supported Governor Cellucci’s tax cut is because he was a wonderful governor.
During the Clinton era we had 22 million new jobs, record home ownership, trade expansion, we got along well with Canada, we worked on peace in Northern Ireland, and peace in the Middle East and had a record budget surplus, so you don’t have to cut taxes for the rich to have a successful accounting. But I would agree, all things equal, I love tax cuts. I just don’t like to borrow the money from my children and grandchildren. That’s all. That is my only concern.
I would argue also that we have historically in the United States borrowed in time of war. We are at war on two fronts—in Afghanistan with great help from the Canadian Forces and in Iraq. A lot of people disagree with the war in Iraq and John McCain was one of the people who convinced the President to go with the surge and basically overrule the Rumsfeld policy and the surge has made a lot of progress. We still have a long way to go. There have always been cycles in America where the economy is strong and weakens but we always come back strong. We have a great standard of living, a great quality of life for our people, we are still the main defenders of freedom at home and abroad, we are a powerful force for good on this planet whether it is a Democratic president or a Republican president, whether we are running deficits or not. That’s been the history of the United States. President George Bush is not held in high regard I know here in Canada and even in the United States now with a 28-per-cent approval rating, but I think history will look back on him and judge him much more favourably. History gave great marks to Harry Truman who was not very popular when he was in the Office of the President of the United States. They are going to look back and say that George Bush kept Americans safe, there has not been another terrorist attack, he put in policies and programs that should keep our country safe in the decades to come. History will be the judge.
Day to day on the bus covering an American politician is very much like day to day on the bus covering Canadian politicians and elections. The two campaigns are in fact remarkably similar. There is however one meaningful difference and that’s the role of God in politics, the role of faith-based issues in election campaigns. I would suggest that this campaign is different from previous campaigns. On the one hand the religious conservatives who have been in the past so dominant within the Republican Party seem fractured and confused. They didn’t get from George Bush on abortion or on gay marriage or other issues many of the things that they wanted from him, even though he was by far their favourite president, and as I say they are not at all sure that they can have any confidence in the present candidate. But the real change is on the Democratic side, where Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama go out of their way in forum after forum and discussion after discussion to emphasize the role of God in their life, the depths of their faith and how important religion is to them. It is almost as though they are trying to woo away confused, conservative, religious voters and bring them back into the Democratic camp. So I would like to ask the two of you, we will start with you Governor Blanchard, what role do you see religion as a political force continuing to play in American life and how will it shape politics?
I think you’re right. There has been a real resurgence of religion. I have run for office 10 times and no one has ever asked me my favourite scripture or passage in the New Testament or Old Testament or really ever asked me my religion. Canada is more of a secular country. United States is a religious country. I used to joke and say in the U.S. there is a church on every corner. In Canada it is a coffee shop or a bank. So there is a dramatic difference in the two cultures as is the amount of money put into politics, and religion and money really don’t mix very well. I believe the reason George Bush was re-elected in 2004 was support from faith-based voters, both evangelical Protestants and right-to-life hard-core Catholics. When I would run into a Bush supporter, religion or faith somehow crept into the conversation, so the Democrats are worried about that. I think both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama try to make sure that they don’t leave themselves open to the charge that they aren’t spiritually committed or at least they want people to know they respect religion. In our country, as you know, even though we have the First Amendment separating church and state, it seems to get more mixed together than in Canada where you don’t have such a provision. It is really unusual. I think the way religion has become intertwined with politics is actually an ominous sign. I don’t think it is a good trend and I think our Democrats are trying to make sure people respect religion and its role but it is not a winning issue for Democrats. We’re too multi-faceted in our support groups for that to be a winning edge, but it is critical for Republicans. I’m going to let Governor Cellucci speak about it but I will just note the following. In the Iowa caucuses, the first contest, a Baptist minister, Mike Huckabee, who is a very attractive candidate I might add, but a Baptist minister no less, won the Iowa caucuses, even though Mitt Romney spent 20 times more money and had a huge business record. That actually gave an opening to McCain to go to New Hampshire and then restart a failed campaign to become the nominee. It is really interesting that in the Republican caucus in Iowa or the Republican primaries the most religious and the most evangelical candidate wins. That tells you the power and what’s changed America.
If that were true, then Mike Huckabee would be the nominee, not John McCain. He won Iowa.
But he paved the way. Paul Cellucci The point I’m making is obviously Mitt Romney was hurt mostly by Huckabee, because Romney had raised a ton of money. Huckabee won Iowa and then won New Hampshire. Lights out, the game is over. He would have been the nominee.
But I guess the question is are you concerned about the power of the religious right within the Republican Party? Or do you welcome it?
I just pointed out the fact that the most religious of the candidates did not get very far, so to say that there is some sort of undue influence of the religious right in the party has not been proved. John McCain, who many in the religious right are a little bit uncomfortable with, is the nominee so the point you are trying to make is not true. That is the only thing I am saying and the great thing about both of our countries is that you have the freedom in Canada and the United States to make religion an important part of your life or not. That is the great thing about living in these two countries. We have got to put things into some historical perspective as well. There is a difference between these two countries now, but it wasn’t that long ago if I have read my history correctly that the Catholic Church had a lot of influence in the politics of Quebec. No one in the United States said, “Isn’t that terrible. Canada is such a religious country.” So put things into perspective, that’s all I am saying.
Well I think it’s interesting that with George W. Bush, as distinguished from his father, there was a huge surge of evangelical voters in places like Ohio and Florida, which really helped him and I don’t think anybody denies that. One reason I like McCain is he doesn’t try to wear religion on his shirtsleeves. That’s one reason I like him as Republicans go but what did McCain do very early in this campaign? He went to Jerry Falwell’s church and spoke. Actions speak louder than words here. I thought that was rather bizarre for a guy who had been trashed by Falwell four years earlier.
Jerry Falwell is a citizen. You can go and speak at his church. Barack Obama goes to his church in Chicago. There’s controversy about that.
Yes, there is.
When you are campaigning for the presidency of the United States, you reach out all across America. That’s the only way you can win.v
Two questions have come from the floor, so let’s put them together, and they both concern Mr. McCain. The one concern is his age. He would be 72 if elected president. Do you think he is going to signal during the course of the campaign that he plans to be a one-term president in case anyone is afraid that they are going to have an 80 year-old president? And in light of various conservations we have had about Mr. McCain’s strengths and weaknesses, who do you think would be the best vice-president for him?
I don’t think he is going to limit himself to one term. We have term limits for the president of the United States, two terms, and I don’t think you want to make yourself into a lame duck the day you come into office. I have been to many campaign events with Senator McCain and he always introduces his 96-year-old mother pointing out that he has got some pretty good genes. Anyone who has been through the intensity of a presidential campaign must know the energy it takes, the commitment and the determination it takes. John McCain not only has been through it, he has been thriving on it and he essentially has won the Republican nomination for president. It is going to be one of those contrasts particularly if it is Obama in terms of age, but it will be one factor. As far as Vice-President, Senator McCain says he is looking at about 20 people. He says 100 people think they are on the list, but it is really only about 20, and the advantage Senator McCain has is that the Democrats go first. Their convention is in August because of the Olympics. The Republican convention is not until the first weekend of September. It is very late so he will have a good sense of what the Democrats have done, and what the polling looks like. If he can pick a candidate who could deliver a state that ordinarily votes for the Democratic candidate that would be big. I have a few favourites. I love Condoleezza Rice, I love Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, but it is way too early.
Do you think the Democrats will play up the issue of Senator McCain’s age in the campaign?
No. It probably will be a factor with some people but I don’t think it is a problem. I don’t see it as anything that should exclude him from thinking about serving eight years. It is really a matter of health as you pointed out. He is very healthy and vigorous. If you think about what these people go through, that’s incredible stamina for anybody. It is hard enough for a 40 or a 50-year-old but he is going to be 72. The big thing would be if Barack Obama is the nominee in his mid-forties and John McCain is 71 going on 72. It is going to be a huge generational kind of battle and the experience factor will probably be bigger as it is discussed. Change and a new generation, a new day for America in the world, versus an experienced person who will probably stay somewhat steady with what is going on. I don’t think it will be an issue but you are going to have a woman or an African-American or a guy going on to 72. It is very unusual. If you add Mitt Romney in there as running mate, a Mormon, these are all firsts. There is no way to measure it, but I think he is healthy and he is doing well and that’s that. As for running mate, as Governor Cellucci has pointed out, you want to pick someone who is qualified and someone who can maybe help you pick up a state you wouldn’t get otherwise or secure a state that is really important. So he could look at the Governor of Florida Charlie Crist, he could look at the Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty. If for some reason we don’t nominate Barack Obama and his people feel that they weren’t properly respected and given the proper support, then we could go with Condy Rice. You never know. There are a lot of things that can happen.
I think it is an advantage that McCain goes last. James Blanchard The key is to pick someone who is qualified, who can help you win. Sometimes even when people are not very friendly, they join forces.
Just on the question of how remarkable things are becoming in American politics. The portrait of Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State, was unveiled earlier this week, and the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made some very gracious remarks actually. She pointed out that it has been 12 years since a white man was Secretary of State in the United States, which is quite remarkable when you think about it. Because of the particular concerns of this audience I’d like to circle back to the trade question. More than three years ago now, the Presidents of the United States and Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada agreed to launch the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) as both of you know well. Its most important provision was to attempt to harmonize the regulatory regimes especially of Canada and the United States, so that products that were certified as safe and responsible and reliable in one country could cross the border without having to go through an entirely new regulatory process; one effort to make significant improvements in thinning that border. The three continue to insist that the SPP is alive but everybody knows it’s dead. Everyone in Mexico City, everyone in Washington, and everyone in Ottawa you talk to, provided you are talking off the record, will tell you that it has been relegated to the bureaucrats who are told to not work too hard or file for overtime. In the light of the death of SPP or at least its moribund nature what would you specifically recommend to the next president as two or three initiatives that Canada could take to get the dialogue going again about improving trade across the border?
I’m not convinced the Security and Prosperity Partnership is dead. It could be in a period of not much happening with the U.S. elections taking place. We have already had some success. The minimal risk rule, which was put in place for beef, has been technically part of that process. Now if we find one mad cow in Alberta we don’t shut the border to Canadian beef and hurt Canadian farmers and people who work in American slaughterhouses. I think it is something that should go forward. I think business communities on both sides of the border need to let their Prime Minister and their President know that this is something that we should move forward with. Regarding NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, we should continue the economic integration of North America so that we can compete better against Western Europe and China and India. I think it is going to be a lot easier for Senator McCain, given his record and his positions and his strong support as a free trader, to move in that direction. I think it might be a little harder for a Democratic candidate who’s made a lot of statements and will most likely have a Democratic caucus. I think this is a big point of difference and I think there is a little danger for Canada. I think we have to be vigilant but I personally think the continued economic integration of the North American economy is good for all three countries but particularly for Canada and the United States.
What is your take on the health of the SPP?
On the SPP I’m not familiar with all the details. I have gone to some meetings where it has been discussed. I agree with Governor Cellucci. I don’t think it’s dead. I think they made a mistake in having such a huge laundry list of goals or specific desires that watered down the importance of the relationship. I think they need to focus on two or three things and really work at them and I also think that relations between the U.S. and Canada should not be put on hold in order to get a tripartite agreement with Mexico because the issues are different. There is a lot of commonality but the issues are different. I think all three possible presidents will be good for Canada. By the way I don’t think there’s been a better president, better friend in the White House for Canada, since FDR than Bill Clinton and I would expect Hilary will end up in that same category. All I can tell you is she has spent more time in Canada than I think Obama or McCain or a lot of other people. She is no stranger. I spent a lot of time in Canada with her so I think what you want is someone who is knowledgeable, has a sense of the history of the two countries, and a sense of involvement. Let’s take one example—climate change. The fact is both of our governments are going to have to do something about climate change and the intertwining of energy and the environment. It’s really critical for Canada and the U.S. We are going to have to have a harmonized plan or it is not going to work. One good thing about McCain is that he is committed to that, as are the others. As I said, as Republicans go I think he is great. Anyway the point is we have got to have a harmonized comprehensive agreement on energy and the environment. You cannot treat them separately between the U.S. and Canada. That’s true with smoothing the border. It is true on immigration. Obviously it would be true on harmonizing manufacturing regulations.
Let’s go back if we can just to the question of the horse race. That is always the most fun. We have a question from the floor. What is the solution to the Michigan and Florida problem regarding the seating of their delegates? You have no idea how hard it is to write this in a single paragraph day after day, but in essence Florida and Michigan broke the rules by holding their primaries too early. The Democratic National Committee stripped them of their delegates. Hilary Clinton left her name on the ballot in Michigan; nobody else did. Guess what? She won Michigan. Nobody campaigned in Florida so she won Florida. Nothing can happen unless both sides agree. It is too late to do it over, there is not going to be another primary, so how do you guys get yourselves out of this?
Well a first class mess is what it is. I think both Florida and Michigan will be seated. If Barack Obama had supported a redo of the primaries we would have had them. He’s worried he is going to lose another big state whether it’s Michigan or Florida. The thing to keep in mind, and Governor Cellucci referred to it earlier, is that Barack Obama has only won one major state, his own. He’s lost all the large states that constitute the electoral vote that you need. As a matter of fact, if the Democratic Party has a unit rule like the Republicans, winner take all primaries, Hilary would have won the nomination on March 4. So the question is now, because the two states moved their primaries up because they wanted to be relevant and not let Iowa and New Hampshire kind of dictate things because those are not reliably Democratic states, we are in a heck of a mess. The Hilary Clinton campaign in Michigan said it would play by whatever rules Michigan set up. So that was why we left her name on the ballot, and that’s why some of the other candidates did too. But the Democratic National Committee in my opinion has lost its way. It’s obsessed with its rules. We are not using common sense, we are not thinking about winning the White House in the fall, they’re flirting with a McCain victory, and they’re jeopardizing goodwill in Michigan and Florida. The Democratic National Committee should step in and figure out a way to resolve this. They haven’t. They have said, “Well let the two campaigns resolve it.” The two campaigns are not going to resolve it because one or the other is going to think it gives someone an advantage. That’s like passing the buck. They are going to have to step in on it and not just do it at the end of the process when Michigan and Florida feel further aggrieved. In the last 60 years only one Democrat has been elected president without Michigan. Only once in 60 years. That was Jimmy Carter who ran against Gerald Ford of Michigan. It’s a heck of a mess. I believe we’ll be seated but I see the Democratic National Committee doing what Mo Udall once said about Democrats: When the going gets tough we Democrats form a firing squad in a circle.
And you’re just laughing at this aren’t you?
It is another danger for the Democrats. It is how do you dis-motivate people. This is one of the ways you do it. Over a million Democrats voted in the Florida primary. It is not their fault that their party leaders moved the date in violation of the Democratic Party rules. So you are basically going to disenfranchise those people. That would not be good for the Democrats. Just another note on the horse race. Until about probably a month ago I was convinced as a Republican that we would be better off running against Hilary Clinton, because Hilary tends to be a polarizing figure with baggage, whatever you want to call it. I have never understood why some people just really dislike her. I have worked with her. I think she’s bright, competent, capable. I don’t agree with a lot of her policy positions but she is polarizing. So I thought she was the one that would be the best for the Republicans but in the last three or four weeks I have been looking at the polling data. I think Barack Obama’s inexperience is starting to come to the forefront. States like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan are really pretty critical for a Democrat to win the White House. She’s running well ahead of Barack Obama versus John McCain. This is going to be very interesting. I’m now convinced the Republicans would have a better shot against Obama so we’ll see.
I have a plethora of questions here to ask and several of my own but I’m afraid a plane awaits so I will close by thanking both of you for what was extremely informative indeed. I could get a couple of news stories out of this if I put my mind to it. I wish you both all the success for your respective campaigns in the months to come.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Mark Feigenbaum, Chairman, Republicans Abroad, Canada, and Adrienne Jones, Chair, Democrats Abroad Canada.