A Common North American Future

October 28, 2015
Nieto Obama

As published in Embassy News, October 28, 2015

The arrival of a new federal government in Ottawa heralds a change in direction for Canada, not only in policy, but also in tone. Observers are optimistic that a fresh approach will also extend to the Canada-U.S. relationship. After several years of protracted tensions between Washington and Ottawa, which have resulted in a significant impasse on several issues, the prospect of moving beyond the preexisting stalemate has finally arisen.

As with any change in government, a window of opportunity emerges to work together in addressing the most pressing issues from a new vantage point. Of course, the tone is always set by the leaders. All else tends to flow therefrom. As former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney noted, “The relationship with the United States is something the prime minister alone has to nurture the same way he would tend to the most delicate flowers in a garden. It’s that important.” Indeed, the chance to bring these flowers back to life has now

I have had the great honour to serve as the Senate Co-Chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group (IPG) for the past 5 years. Established in 1959, the IPG is comprised of parliamentarians from all major political parties and is one of the oldest and largest IPGs. Canadian MPs and Senators participate in an annual visit to Washington, D.C. and take part in meetings all across the U.S. to be Canada’s voice at the table.

Along with a bilateral annual meeting, members of the IPG attend conferences of U.S. governors and state legislators that provide Canadian parliamentarians the opportunity to engage in fruitful dialogue with their counterparts on issues ranging from local border transportation to shared water bodies to the flows of integrated supply chains, just to name a few. As the 42nd Canadian Parliament convenes later this year, the work of the IPG will continue with a new team of Canadian parliamentarians who will “make our case” south of the border.

Moving forward, a new tone is also expected in relation to Mexico, our other, often-overlooked North American neighbour that – along with the U.S. – has been our NAFTA partner for over 25 years. Canadians are well aware of the transformational benefits achieved from expanded trade with the U.S., yet many remain unaware of the great promise that exists with Mexico.

With a predominantly young population and a growing middle-class that is equal in size to the entire population of Canada, Mexico holds immense potential for increased economic, political and cultural engagement. Far-reaching reforms carried out by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto have sought to overhaul the country’s education and judicial systems, liberalize the energy and telecom sectors, and improve standards of democratic governance. These are all areas where Canada is able to offer its expertise and provide its assistance. How exactly Canada can do this is what requires further thought.

The necessity to look into the state of the trilateral Canada-US-Mexico relationship spurred the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, of which I am a member, to undertake a study of the current trends and emerging opportunities within our continent. After hearing from a wide range of experts in business, government and academia, the Committee noted the recurring view of the need to address several critical issues within a trilateral context. These include regulatory harmonization to facilitate our trade flows, as well as formalizing continent-wide energy and environmental cooperation to meet our common need for secure energy sources while also effectively mitigating climate change.

In June of this year, the Committee issued its report entitled North American Neighbours: Maximizing Opportunities and Strengthening Cooperation for a More Prosperous Future. Among the report’s nine recommendations, there exist measures that can be taken immediately, such as the full elimination of the visa requirement on Mexican nationals wishing to visit Canada. To their credit, the Trudeau Liberals have made a commitment to realizing this necessary step in order to move our relations forward. Measures such as eliminating the visa requirement will open the door not only to more Mexicans who wish to visit and do business with Canada, but also to realizing several of the other recommendations in the Committee’s report.

Our recommendations were developed with the goal of improving people-to-people and business-to-business ties among the three partners. It is the Committee’s hope that the policy proposals within the report will pave the way for further trilateral cooperation. Auspiciously, efforts to increase trilateral dialogue at the political level are already underway.

Last December, an inaugural meeting of North American federal legislators was held in Washington, D.C., and a vast array of issues touching all three nations were discussed. Trilateral cooperation is also taking place at the state and provincial level, with the first-ever Summit of North American Governors and Premiers from October 30-31 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Next year, Canada will be hosting the North American Leaders’ Summit, where our countries’ leaders will set out common objectives.

The need to return to a trilateral framework has been recognized by prominent American voices as well. The Council on Foreign Relations commissioned an Independent Task Force Report chaired by retired U.S. Army General David H. Petraeus and former Deputy Secretary of State and former World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick. Entitled North America: Time for a New Focus, the key conclusion of the Task Force’s report is that “It is time to put North America at the forefront of U.S. policy.”

The recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, in which all three countries participated, provide further impetus to work together more closely within a rapidly integrating and increasingly competitive world. It is my hope that, by reengaging with Mexico and addressing issues from a trilateral perspective, Canada will be well-positioned to prosper with this emerging economy and, concurrently, to strengthen the partnership it enjoys with the U.S.

Senator Janis G. Johnson is a Conservative Senator and is the Senate Co-Chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group. She has been a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade for over 7 years.