Op-Ed – The Dawn of a New Trilateral Era

June 22, 2016

The Three Amigos summit could see leaders chart a ‘new course’ in the continental relationship.

By Senator Janis G. Johnson

Published in the June 22nd issue of The Hill Times

Every relationship of substance inherently holds a great deal of complexity. As with individuals, this also applies to nations, especially those that are neighbours.  One can never take for granted the need to communicate regularly and at best, in an open and frank way.  As recent experience has shown, an inability or unwillingness to do so can have significant consequences on a number of fronts.  Nevertheless, when parties are determined to listen to each other and come to common solutions, progress is never far off.  The upcoming Three Amigos summit, to be hosted in Ottawa next week, will be a demonstration of this renewed determination of working together on a trilateral basis.

Indeed, Prime Minister Trudeau has recognized the importance of revitalizing the North American spirit. As with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Trudeau the younger knows that having the White House’s ear is essential for moving the files forward that matter to Canada.  Likewise, in an effort to work closer with another fast-growing population and economy, he has reached down further south to our Mexican neighbours.  Certainly, this is a relationship that has been in need of closer attention for quite some time.

The Three Amigos Summit will provide Canada, the United States and Mexico with an opportunity to chart a new course in North American leadership. In the 21st century, we face challenges and opportunities far different from those that were before us at the signing of the NAFTA 24 years ago.  The steady rise of Asia-Pacific economies, most notably China, has presented each of us with tremendous economic prospects but also with extensive geo-political considerations to contend with.  Other parts of the world have also altered substantially, with the European Union facing unprecedented pressures on its unity and integrity and Latin America entering a new phase of political and economic upheaval.

This is ever more reason why North America must work in tandem, not in isolation, in order to strengthen its position in today’s global environment. Next week’s trilateral summit with U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will signal the beginning of closer collaboration.  Before this new era of cooperation took hold, the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade released a study one year ago this month, calling on Canada to re-engage with its two southern neighbours and work on pressing issues such as regulatory harmonization, energy infrastructure integration and developing common environmental standards.  I know that I and my colleagues on the committee are quite pleased with the developments and progress that has taken place since the release of our report.  We are also aware of the complementary role that parliamentarians can play in advancing bilateral, and in this case, trilateral relations.

For the past 5 years, it has also been my honour to serve as Senate Co-Chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group (IPG). Since 1959, the IPG has worked to connect Canadian and American parliamentarians at specific events on both sides of the border, where bilateral issues of concern can be discussed and with diligence, resolved.  This week, I am leading a parliamentary delegation to Washington, D.C. together with Member of Parliament Wayne Easter, the House of Commons Co-Chair of the IPG.  We are discussing outstanding bilateral issues with key U.S. Senators and Congresspeople who take a specific interest in an array of Canada-U.S. issues, be they cross-border trade flows, preclearance procedures, softwood lumber, Great Lakes shipping and water stewardship, the acceptance and integration of refugees from the Middle East or the future of the Arctic.  There is much to discuss and after 10 years of working on the IPG and 5 years as Co-Chair, I cannot stress enough the importance of face-to-face dialogue when making the case for Canada.  Whether at the level of Presidents and Prime Ministers or that of parliamentarian to legislator, open and regular communication is essential to achieving anything of substance.  This week in Washington, D.C. and next week in Ottawa, there will be a great opening for the advancement of both bilateral and trilateral cooperation that will take our three nations into a new and more rewarding era of progress.

Janis G. Johnson is a Senator for Manitoba and currently serves as Co-Chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group and is a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee.