The Washington Diplomat / September 2011
By Larry Luxner
While Gary Doer may not have a direct line to the White House, he does have a better view of the Capitol than any ambassador in town. Looking through the huge plate-glass windows encircling his spacious sixth-floor office, Canada’s top diplomat to the United States can also gaze out at the adjacent Newseum, the National Gallery of Art and, rising in the distance, the Washington Monument.
The Canadian Embassy’s coveted piece of real estate at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue is symbolic of the uniquely deep ties between Washington and Ottawa — a relationship that takes on special significance this month as both nations mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Like everyone old enough to remember, Doer, the former premier of Manitoba for 10 years, can tell you exactly where he was and what he was doing the moment he heard the news.
“I had an early morning and was in the legislative buildings in Winnipeg when I was told that something had happened in New York,” he recalled in an interview with The Washington Diplomat last month. “I turned on the TV and saw the burning of the first tower, and right away I remembered the attempted terrorist attack years earlier. When the second plane hit, we all knew it was an attack. I watched in horror, thinking about the people I had met in those towers before in meetings dealing with the financial sector.”
Shortly after a third plane struck the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania — presumably en route to strike the Capitol — Doer received a call warning him that U.S. airspace had been closed to all incoming traffic.
By 9:45 a.m., the Canadian government had launched Operation Yellow Ribbon in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration to divert planes that were at least halfway toward their destination to U.S. airports to land instead at the nearest Canadian airport, as a safety precaution in case more attacks were imminent.
“As premier, we had an emergency plan in place for any kind of situation, but it was horrible for the passengers,” Doer said. “We knew that Winnipeg was along the route for planes flying from France and England to Los Angeles and San Francisco. And we had to ensure that there were no more terrorists on the planes.”
At one point, planes were entering Canadian airspace at the rate of one or two per minute. In total, 255 flights were diverted to 17 airports across Canada — most of them to Halifax, Gander, St. John’s and Goose Bay, though Vancouver took in 34 planes arriving from Asia, and an additional 14 aircraft found their way to Winnipeg. Some 33,000 passengers unexpectedly ended up on Canadian soil, and many of them later thanked their hosts for providing food, water, lodging and comfort.
In fact, a book called “The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 In Gander, Newfoundland” recounted how about 6,000 passengers swarmed the isolated Canadian town of only 10,000 people. Over four days, the residents welcomed their surprise guests by turning schools and legion halls into emergency shelters and opening their homes to give passengers showers, meals and warm beds, while local businesses offered up toiletries and clothing to those stranded without luggage.
Twenty-four Canadians died in the attack on the World Trade Center, an event that deeply moved this nation of 34 million.
“After 9/11, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in front of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, in solidarity with the people of the United States. Flowers were left at the U.S. Embassy every minute of the day. The bottom line is, Canada went into Afghanistan right after these unspeakable acts of terrorism,” Doer told The Diplomat.
“We got part of the twisted wreckage of the towers moved to the Peace Garden between North Dakota and Manitoba, with the name of every victim inscribed, and we continue to have a memorial commemoration every year,” the ambassador added.
On Sept. 11, 2002, about 2,500 people gathered at Gander International Airport for an official memorial service to mark the first anniversary of the attacks. Then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien told them: “9/11 will live long in memory as a day of terror and grief. But thanks to the countless acts of kindness and compassion done for those stranded visitors here in Gander and right across Canada, it will live forever in memory as a day of comfort and healing. You did yourselves proud, and you did Canada proud.”
Similar acts of commemoration will take place this September at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. For the entire month, the slogan “Canada Remembers 9/11” will grace the building’s façade fronting Pennsylvania Avenue.
In addition, said Doer, “our prime minister [Stephen Harper] will be in New York the day before, meeting with victims’ families. We will also be participating in a conference on resilience that the State Department is managing. At that meeting, we’ll have people from Gander. The event being sponsored by Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg in New York will be a very dignified and not a political event.”
The truth is, while the events of 9/11 undoubtedly brought the United States and Canada closer together, the two nations’ close proximity to each other has fundamentally changed the dynamics between the two nations — as a decade of beefed-up security redefined one of the world’s most economically important border relationships, for better or worse.
As of Jan. 31, 2008, oral declarations alone were no longer acceptable to prove Canadian identity and citizenship when entering the United States. For the first time, Canadians were required to present a government-issued photo ID such as a driver’s license — plus proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate — to cross into U.S. territory either by land or water.
A year later, Manitoba launched an enhanced ID card program, and by June 2009, all Canadian citizens had to present a valid passport or other “approved secure document” to enter the United States — part of $10 billion Ottawa has invested to upgrade its border security and emergency preparedness since September 2001. Likewise, all U.S. citizens must now present a passport before entering Canada or a NEXUS card for pre-approved travelers who cross the border frequently.
The revamped border rules have dramatically altered life in places like Richford, a Vermont town of 1,300 located only a few miles from Saint-Armand, Québec. “It used to be real simple. We just went across the border. Sometimes I wouldn’t even take my wallet,” Richford’s fire chief, Paul Martin, told the Associated Press. These days, he says, “If I get somebody I went to school with, I don’t have a problem. If you get somebody new, they have to inspect everything. It all depends on what kind of a day the inspector is having.”
Before 9/11, he added, Canadian firefighters from Saint-Armand would come to Vermont to help fight fires — and even staff the Richford fire station when his department was on a call. Now, they’ll only cross over for major fires.
Doer, asked about cumbersome border restrictions, pointed out that “over 40 of the last 45 incidents of potential terrorism have been domestic, according to [Secretary of Homeland Security] Janet Napolitano. We’re all very aware that threats could come from outside the country.”
Canada itself hasn’t been immune to acts of terrorism. In 1985, a bomb aboard an Air India jet en route from Toronto to London exploded in midair, killing 329 passengers and crew (including 280 Canadians). And in 2006, police officers prevented what could have been one of the most horrific crimes ever committed on Canadian soil.
During Project Osage, also known as the Toronto 18 case, 800 cops disrupted the detonation of three truck bombs targeting the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Canadian Broadcasting Centre and a nearby military base. The plot — in which 18 mainly Pakistani-born members of al-Qaeda were arrested and tried — involved taking hostages and beheading the prime minister and other leaders.
In mid-August, Napolitano and her Canadian counterpart, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, met in Doer’s hometown of Winnipeg to discuss border security, cross-border trade and other issues vital to bilateral relations.
“We must stop individuals and transnational criminal organizations that seek to exploit the border shared by the United States and Canada to traffic drugs, arms and other illicit goods,” Napolitano declared. “We will continue working closely with our Canadian partners through greater operational collaboration and intelligence-sharing to strengthen the security of both our nations within, at, and away from our border.”
But Doer says terrorism isn’t the most important issue that binds his country to the United States. Trade is.
According to a Canadian Embassy handout, more than 8 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with its northern neighbor, with almost $1 million worth of goods and services crossing the border every minute of every day. Measuring 5,525 miles in length (including 1,538 miles shared with Alaska), it is the longest border in the world.
It’s also one of the busiest, with more than 160 million crossings per year. In 2009, some 9.8 million two-way truck crossings at the border — from Blaine, Wash., to Calais, Maine — moved shipments valued at $270 billion. In 2010, Canada’s two-way trade of goods and services with the United States stood at more than $645 billion.
“Canada buys more goods and services from the United States than does the whole European Union put together,” the ambassador said proudly. “We are America’s largest customer. We’re your largest supplier of foreign oil. And we supply the largest number of tourists from outside the United States — 25 million visits in 2009, when the dollar was below parity.”
Those 25 million visits pumped $10.9 billion into the U.S. economy, while that same year, Americans made 11.7 million visits to Canada, spending $10.9 billion. Even more important, Canada represents the top export market for 34 states, with Michigan exporting $43.3 billion worth of goods to Canada in 2010 — more than any other state. Alaska, Florida, Hawaii and Louisiana are the only states for which Canada doesn’t rank first or second as a foreign export market.
Doer, 63, is proud to say that he’s been to all 50 states. “I know every back road in North Dakota,” said the ambassador, who assumed his current post in October 2009. Growing up in Winnipeg, the young Doer didn’t seem destined at all for a life in politics, reported Geoff Dembicki of The Tyee, an independent daily online magazine based in Vancouver.
“He dropped out of his first year of university to counsel at-risk juveniles, and by age 23, was deputy superintendent of the Manitoba Youth Centre,” he wrote. “One day, Doer walked around a corner and was nearly smashed in the face by a baseball bat. ‘You don’t forget something like that,’ he recalled decades later to Maclean’s magazine.”
In 1988, as an up-and-coming leader in the Manitoba New Democratic Party, Doer opposed the idea of a free trade agreement between Canada and the United States. But in later years, he became an outspoken proponent of NAFTA and has remained so, frequently extolling its virtues during the 10 years he was premier, or governor, of Manitoba, and for the past two years as ambassador in Washington.
A skilled politician, Doer won three consecutive elections to head the province, each time garnering an increased number of votes. He approached public service with business acumen, introducing balanced budgets during each of his 10 years in office while reducing many taxes, including a plan to eliminate small business taxes.
Yet he also led strategic investments in health care, education and infrastructure and — notably — the environment. In fact, Doer became one of Canada’s most ardent backers of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an early global effort to deal directly with climate change. “Not only would Manitoba meet its Kyoto obligations two years early, Doer promised to actually go four times beyond those targets, pledging big investments for renewable fuels,” Dembicki wrote.
As a result, in 2005, Business Week named Doer one of the top 20 individuals on the planet fighting climate change. (Back in 1990, he’d also been named one of Canada’s 12 sexiest men by Toronto women’s magazine Chatelaine,but that’s another story.)
All of which makes his strident lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline project all the more surprising — at least to some of his disappointed former allies.
Stretching some 1,700 miles from the Athabasca oil sands in northeastern Alberta to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas, the proposed $7 billion pipeline is an extension of the existing Keystone pipeline. First proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada in 2008, Keystone XL is intended to more than double the pipeline’s current oil capacity, from 590,000 barrels to roughly 1.3 million barrels a day when fully operational, which TransCanada hopes will take place by 2013.
The U.S. State Department has said it will decide on whether to approve the project by the end of the year (a permit has to be issued by the State Department because the pipeline crosses an international border). In September, the agency will be holding public meetings along the Keystone route in the capital cities of each of the states traversed by the pipeline, and a final environmental impact review is expected to be released shortly.
The environmental implications of the project have been hotly contested for years, largely because the extraction and production of oil from tar sands emits far more greenhouse gases and causes greater environmental damage than conventional oil drilling. In addition, transporting the oil carries serious risks, and safety concerns re-emerged after a broken pipeline spilled crude oil into the Yellowstone River in July (the Keystone extension would cross dozens of creeks, streams and rivers as it passes through Montana).
“In terms of emissions, the oil sands in Canada have obviously a certain amount of emissions, but coal in the U.S. is 60 times worse than the oil sands,” Doer told The Diplomat when asked about the project’s implications for climate change.
“We’re dealing with two challenges on emissions, but let’s not be too much holier than thou,” he explained matter-of-factly. “Canada has what the world needs, whether it’s food, fuel or renewable energy. We think it makes energy sense to rely on Canada, which is a democracy and close by, rather than from the Middle East, which is unpredictable. World demand will go up with India and China, and per-capita consumption will go down through energy efficiency.”
That argument is echoed by the project’s supporters, who point out that Canada is not only America’s biggest supplier of oil, it’s also America’s friendliest supplier — a far cry from the likes of Venezuela, Nigeria or Middle East kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia.
And Keystone could potentially be a game-changer in weaning the United States off Mideast oil. With 173 billion recoverable barrels of oil, Alberta’s tar sands are worth an eye-popping $15.7 trillion at today’s prices. The Calgary-based Canadian Energy Research Institute, which has oil company executives on its board of directors, claims at least 94,000 American jobs a year will be generated by new oil sands development between now and 2035, with that number rising to 179,000 jobs by 2035 if Keystone XL is approved.
On the flip side, the institute says that tar sands development will boost Canadian employment to 490,000 jobs — and a stunning 690,000 jobs if Keystone becomes operational.
The institute, in a June report, also claims that new oil sands projects will add $210 billion to U.S. GDP over the next 25 years. If Keystone XL gets the green light from Congress, GDP will rise by a whopping $359 billion.
That’s why Keystone XL — whose oil would most likely be shipped by Shell, Valero and ConocoPhillips — has been heartily endorsed by the state governments of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma; only Nebraska hasn’t yet given its blessing. “A number of Democrats have voted for a quicker decision on this because of the job component,” Doer noted. “They’re crying out for jobs.”
But environmental groups in both countries bitterly oppose Keystone XL — including thousands of activists who protested in front of the White House throughout August — as do 50 members of Congress who warned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a June 2010 letter that “building this pipeline has the potential to undermine America’s clean energy future and international leadership on climate change.”
Online petitions have also drawn thousands of virtual signatures in Texas and elsewhere, says The Economist, and last December, “a union of Nebraskan farmers, not known for radical greenery, voted to oppose the project.”
In addition, the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) accuses the Canadian oil industry of “turning one of the world’s last remaining intact ecosystems into America’s gas tank.” On its website, the NRDC says that “extracting tar sands and turning bitumen into crude oil uses vast amounts of energy and water, and causes significant air and water pollution, and three times the global warming pollution of conventional crude production.”
The ambassador though defended his country’s record on climate change legislation, insisting that “with the Montreal protocols, Canada and the U.S. led the effort to eliminate ozone-depleting materials, and it’s actually reduced greenhouse gases more than Kyoto. We do care about clean air and water in Canada. That’s one of the reasons we love living there. And that’s why we’ve agreed to the same 17 percent reduction by 2020 in Copenhagen that President Obama agreed to. We have already moved on vehicle emission standards; we just have different ways of getting there.”
Yet Canada’s record on climate change is less than stellar, according to the Economist, which reported that “critics of Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader of a minority administration, say this lack of progress has everything to do with the prime minister’s desire to protect the oil business and to avoid offending voters in Alberta, where his party has its core support.”
Nevertheless, for the moment, Canada seems to be in a fairly enviable economic position, having largely avoided the housing crash thanks to strict mortgage regulations. In the first quarter of 2011, the country reported annualized growth of nearly 4 percent. And its unemployment rate of 7.2 percent is a lot less than the 9.2 percent jobless rate in the United States, though it’s looking increasingly likely that Canada will post a second-quarter decline in GDP activity.
That, say economists, is a direct consequence of the weak U.S. market, which buys 75 percent of Canadian exports, as well as an unusually strong Canadian dollar. At press time, one “loonie” was trading at nearly $1.02; that makes Canada’s manufactured goods more expensive overseas.
“I’m not here to preach to the United States,” Doer said when asked how the Obama administration might extricate itself from the current fiscal morass.
“There are some things we do better than the U.S., and some things they do better,” he said. “When the recession hit, we put more money more quickly into infrastructure in Canada, and the U.S. had to put a lot more money into things like banks, because we didn’t have a collapse of the banking sector. President Obama inherited that banking situation, so what he had to do was different than what we had to do.”
It’s clear the ambassador has deftly transitioned from the world of politics to the trappings of diplomacy. Some speculated that the appointment of Doer, whose politics are to the left of center, by a conservative administration was in part to ensure good relations with the Democrats who controlled Congress and the White House in 2009.
Whatever the case, Doer dove right into his new job, casting aside politics to fight for Canada’s interests in the United States, whether it’s going down the street to lobby Capitol Hill against imposing trade protectionist policies to trekking across the country to drum up cross-border business.
“The biggest challenge for us is working in concert on international issues of strategic importance like cyber-security and regulatory reform,” he explained. “We’re trying to get some of the speed bumps of trade eliminated, like rules that don’t make any sense. Softwood lumber continues to be a problem. The great irony with softwood lumber is that both countries are going through pressures in housing demand, but Canada has increased its sales to places like China. We think we should be working with U.S. lumber producers on how they could improve market share, instead of fighting these historical fights.”
To that end, the most important priority right now, says Doer, is shoring up the slumping economy.
“Sometimes I think that if we could make our regulations more intelligent between our two countries,” he mused, “we could help create jobs rather than work in the opposite direction.”