Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Learning About Canada's Situation in a Time of Uncertainty

Yesterday was the annual Canadian Global Affairs Institute conference.  I am a CGAI Fellow, so I got to participate.  The theme was a turbulent world and Canada's place in it.  I storified my live-tweeting of it here.  I learned a great deal from all of the panels, and I have some specific "oh my", "ummhmmm" and "I guess I am wrong" moments.

  1. I learned once again that there are heaps of very sharp people with keen insights into
    Canada's foreign and defence policies.  Not always consensus among them--whether Canada should move first with the US or duck and cover....
  2. While folks call Canada a trading nation, if one does not count energy and automotive parts with the US, not so much (John Manley).  While there was some discussion of alternative markets given an unreliable and increasingly protectionist US, I am just not sure that "diversifying" Canada's markets, something that has been a goal for quite some time, is going to happen.  The US remains the most important market in the world.  I remain also skeptical that the Chinese market is going to be all that friendly--getting into business with the Sopranos is problematic.
  3. I learned that Canada had planned to send something like 50 officers to participate in the Colombia peacekeeping effort, but cancelled it.  Why?  An easy win?  Playing a role in Colombia's peace is far likely to be less bloody and tricky than any of the potential Africa PKOs being considered.
  4. Mexico may have more leverage than Canada in NAFTA negotiations because Mexico buys most of America's corn (Laura Dawson)?  So, we cannot throw Mexico under the bus. Interesting. Of course, US is more sensitive to energy, which Canada provides bigly.  Nobody was able to clarify why Trump mentioned energy in the same breath as dairy and softwood lumber when whining about unfair, too smart Canada. 
  5. The Uncertainty Engine operates in trade, as Laura Dawson pointed out that there are multiple trade agendas in the Trump Administration, and it is not clear which one will gain ascendancy.
  6. During the first coffee break, I learned that #notallretiredCAF are that upset about Minister of Defence Sajjan's "boasting."
  7. This is the fifth round of softwood lumber disputes, and Canada has won every previous round at the World Trade Organization and NAFTA dispute panels.  So, Canada is not going roll over.
  8.  The energy panel had at least two speakers who were tied to the oil industry in one way or another, and neither denied the reality of climate change or the need to figure out some kind of carbon pricing.  Outstanding!
  9. The panel on deferring defence procurement was most instructive as the panelists had very clear perspectives about the process.  A key constraint is that if you don't give Defence lots of slots in Treasury Board's schedule, then it is hard to make progress (David Perry).  Which speaks to where Defence is as a priority.  Also, accrual funding sounds so much like cruel funding, and appropriately so.  I also learned that defence contractors are like students.  Just as students play with margins and fonts, thinking that they can fool professors, defence contractors try to lowball the government and the Treasury Board types can see right through it.  Delays are not just costly too government but raise risks for contractors (Pierre Lagueux).  Tom Ring: can we get the Canadian public to care about defence.  Me: well, if the government gave more money to academics studying defence ... (ok, we all know it is about me, not a new lesson).  Sahir Khan: the idea is trying to do three things at once: meet defence's requirements, keep costs down, and focus on Canadian jobs.  Can't do that all at the same time.
  10. I have been wrong! I have argued that readiness may not be well funded in Canada because there is no lobby for it, unlike the defence contractors who lobby for the big projects and unlike personnel which has retired military folks pushing for them.  Well, as it turns out, there is mostly an interesting division of the contracting/lobbying in Canada: US (and other outsiders) lobby loudly for their big platforms (ships, planes, etc), but that Canadian contractors are the ones who do most of the work on training and maintenance systems, and they lobby quietly.  Of course, I was told this by a member of the Canadian defence lobbying association, so insert grain of salt here.  Still, quite instructive. Also, there is apparently money for readiness but they are not getting it to the branches of the military for some reason (David Perry).
  11. The CGAI is making progress on the gender front: the keynote speakers were both women, and two of the panels had women as the majority of the speakers BUT the other three panels were "manels."  Who can be a grand poo-bah on the level of Bob Rae, John Manley and Jean Charest?  I am not an expert on the past biggies of Canadian politics and foreign policy.  How about Louise Arbour or Margaret Purdy who added expertise via their participation on the Defence Review? 

Finally, I love living in Ottawa, as I get exposed to stuff like this on a regular basis.  It is far easier and more fun to be an IR expert in a national capital.  I forgot to mention I had several interesting conversations with diplomats from other countries who are currently based in Ottaa and attended this conference.  Again, woot for the capital advantage.  Glad I could participate and even selfie while moderating

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