Evidence of meeting #5 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was energy.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Glen Pearson London North Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome.

Mr. d'Aquino, you've been around a long time. You've seen a lot of administrations come and go. You've seen various administrations up here come and go. I would like to ask a political question. Obviously, in your modelling of what you do, and over the years that you have been doing it, you sit and watch the states fight against an administration of the United States as provinces here develop different standards. You watch as groups like the auto industry, for instance, try to meet all of these various standards and have great difficulties doing it. Also, you're watching as federal administrations north and south of the border are not providing the grid kind of framework that is needed for the kinds of things that are being built.

You talk about two federations and how we need to harmonize. I understand that. But the question of politics always enters into it, and this picks up a little bit on what Ms. Brown said. We live a life here in Canada, it seems to me, of successive minority Parliaments. So every time you do a model of something you want to do for your organization, suddenly there's an election and something gets switched again. I know this is happening. I'm glad I'm not in the boardroom listening to you guys as you talk about this, but I know it must be deeply frustrating. Every time you think you're getting somewhere, all of a sudden something changes.

Here is my question for you. In regard to the institutions that we have as a federal government, regardless of who is in power at that particular time, how do you see strengthening those institutions so they survive those transitions? In other words, you would have a federal government come in and you might have a totally different environmental standard, or other things. I know you look at that. You're trying to be in it for the long haul. We often play for the next year, up to the next election. What are the ways in which you, in your organization, can help us to transition, so that whoever is in power at that particular point has institutions there that can help us build on the successes you've already put out there?

4:45 p.m.

Chief Executive and President, Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Thomas d'Aquino

You're absolutely right that we do have those conversations on a regular basis, but then again, I don't want you to think that we are holier than thou. We have a lot of conflicts within our own family, within our own community. I mentioned a little earlier some of the struggles among the various producers of energy. It's the nature of the beast that we will have people of different views. That's one of the great virtues of the great democracy we live in, that you're going to have differences of opinion, differences of interest, and appropriate institutions that would allow for brokering those differences.

You said it's a political question. Let me answer in a somewhat political way and say the following. First, I believe—and it is my view that a good number of my colleagues share this view—that with all the foibles and the problems we have, we really do live in the finest country in the world. We believe that. It's not just a throwaway line. One of the reasons we believe that is that we have a federation that allows for the give and take and the flexibility that one needs in a country of this gigantic size, where we literally have pockets of people and regions, and we've come up with a system. When I was a young lawyer doing post-graduate work and I was studying the Constitution, I did a course on comparative constitutions, looking at the constitutions of the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, India--because it's an interesting one--and Canada. The conclusion I came to is that we are truly blessed to have a federation with a parliamentary system.

Now the specific answer to your question. Number one, we have to pay really close attention to the public service as an extremely important resource that bridges changes in government, that bridges changes in political complexion, and I don't think we have been doing that adequately. One of the greatest strengths of Canada in the lead-up to the Second World War and beyond was that we had this professional, independent public service, respected by both opposition and by those in government, where politicians and public servants worked together. I don't see that working nearly so well anymore. We have a public service that has lost a lot of its lustre, we have a public service that is somewhat dejected, and I think we have a public service that has seen artificial barriers being thrown up that I don't think are healthy.

I would say that a good, strong, independent, professional public service made up of the brightest and the best is one way of helping to bridge those transitions.

The second thing I would say is that--and it's easy for me to say, I don't sit in your wonderful crucible of democracy, Parliament--from the outside obviously we would like to see closer cooperation among parties and between parties. You may say I don't live in the real world. I've never been elected. I don't understand. Whether we're facing extreme economic hardship, the way we are now, or trying to come to terms with a national environmental policy that works for all parts of the country, or trying to come to terms with how we deal with terrorism in North America, or whatever the case may be, what we'd like to see is closer cooperation and some of the partisanship jettisoned in favour of really trying to come to terms with the kind of issues we're faced with.

The third thing, I would say, is the relationship between the provinces and the federal government. There have been various times when we have seen it work better. There have been various times when it has been godawful. When you look at all the areas of cross-fertilization, whether it's financial regulations, the debate over whether there should be a national regulator, environmental policy, governance policies, energy policy, in all these areas where there is overlap it is really important that we have the two institutions working together as closely as possible.

That's a very political answer. It may not give you a very satisfactory answer, but when we look at countries around the world, even with some of the problems we have we don't do too badly. We would like to see it work a lot better in some cases, and that's entirely up to you.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. d'Aquino.

Mr. Goldring.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I would like to make a comment on my colleague's comments about the great distances in Canada; they certainly are very true. A lot of the reason involves air travel, of course. They haven't yet invented electric airplanes, so we're rather tied to the system. And just as a matter of fact, the Turks and Caicos islands are closer to Ottawa than my riding of Edmonton East is.

We have to be careful when we're instituting environmental institutions. I draw an example here from what has happened in the past in Sudbury, where their approach to cleaning up the area from International Nickel was to build a 600-foot smokestack. Yes, the lawns started growing in Sudbury, but it just shoved the pollution into the air and transferred it over a thousand square miles. You ask, have we learned?

I was in the Caribbean and I saw Japanese trucks. I asked whether there was a Japanese community there. No, out in the harbour was a huge ship, and apparently what happens.... The Japanese, of course, do a wonderful job of environmental controls and of removing the vehicles from their streets and roads when they fail the emissions test, but they load them onto ships and send them to the Caribbean and sell them there. Where's the net gain in that? We must have realistic approaches to this.

That was just a comment. Let me turn to the question of the sustainability of Canadian supply, because I think that's as important as sustaining the American supply. They have hurricanes in the gulf. As we saw in the summertime, it shut down and boosted the costs on both sides of the border. Do we have the capability of providing Canada sustainably during those periods, without having that surge and apparently very high prices and a shortage of supply, even here in Canada? That would be one concern.

My final comment would be on this thickened border issue. Is consideration being given, particularly for shipments that flow through the United States to Mexico or flow through the United States to the Caribbean and beyond, to using our coastal ports, Atlantic and Pacific, in conjunction with American seaboard ports? Time is money, and I would think they'd look at the financial consideration of going around particular border areas—maybe through lesser-utilized ports of the Americas and also directly into markets like Mexico—rather than through Canada.

There are a couple of questions there.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Goldring.

4:55 p.m.

David Stewart-Patterson Executive Vice-President, Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Perhaps I could comment on your last question first, concerning border congestion. I think Canadians are as ingenious as anyone else in dealing with problems that way. One of the reasons, for instance, that we have the opportunity to transform Vancouver into a North American gateway from the Pacific, as a transit corridor into the rest of North America, has to do not only with our domestic infrastructure but with the fact that the port of Los Angeles and the other major ports on the U.S. west coast are too crowded. We have the capacity; people will choose to ship through us.

On the other hand, if the Canada-U.S. border gets clogged up, that starts to count against Vancouver as a gateway, and we have to deal with issues on the land border. The fact that we've seen congestion at some of the major land crossings, such as Windsor, has stimulated greater interest in water crossings, for instance, across the Great Lakes and short routes on inland waterways. If we fall down or get clogged up in one area, people are going to look for better solutions. That's a normal and ongoing process.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Was there not some initiative for the Atlantic ports to expand the trade on the American seaboard? Did that actually materialize? Is it due to lack of infrastructure funding to expand and move it? The Canadian ports seem to have the capacity for the shipping, but do the American ports have the capacity for the receiving?

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Goldring.

Mr. Patterson.

4:55 p.m.

Vice-President, Economics and International Trade, Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Sam Boutziouvis

There is a Pacific gateway initiative that has been under way for a couple of years. It has connected the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert further north, through the Prairies and into the U.S. Midwest. There's also an Atlantic gateway initiative that is under way to develop and enlarge the port of Halifax. It will bring in container traffic from India, for example, and get them connected by rail through the eastern provinces into Quebec and the other major areas, the United States in particular, and then link in to the rail networks, which will take such cargo into the U.S. Midwest.

So the answer to your question is yes, sir, there are initiatives under way to target infrastructure so the cargo can be linked multi-modally from the ports of Canada--because we'd like to promote port development in Canada--through our rail system, and then as efficiently as possible through the various Canadian and U.S. border points and into the U.S. Midwest.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Boutziouvis.

Madame Deschamps.

February 25th, 2009 / 4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I'm sorry, but I've come a little late and I unfortunately missed your statements. So I referred to the document you submitted. Among other things, I have that of Mr. d'Aquino in my hand. On page 4, you say that the global economic crisis makes it important to launch bilateral initiatives and to strengthen relations between Canada and the United States. You refer to three areas. But where does Mexico stand? Should we make it an equally important partner? We put a lot of energy into developing agreements between Canada, the United States and Mexico. I would like to hear what you have to say on that, on the current economic context.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Good question, Madame Deschamps. Very good.

4:55 p.m.

Chief Executive and President, Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Thomas d'Aquino

Thank you, madam.

Mr. Chair, I believe some of the previous witnesses may have dealt with the issue of Mexico. Let me just say that 15 or 18 years ago the relations between Canada and Mexico, other than as a place to go and have a good holiday, were virtually non-existent. Our political relationships were almost non-existent. Certainly our commercial and trade and investment relationships were non-existent. When Canada and the United States successfully concluded the free trade agreement, the very first mission to come to Canada, on the part of senior Mexican business leaders, came very quickly, and the Mexicans said to us, “We now have a new President, we have ivy leaguers in the cabinet, and we want to be part of this free trade agreement.” One of my colleagues said, “You mean sometime in the next twenty years”, and the answer was “No, sometime in the next year or two.”

That really was the first manifestation to many of us in Canada that Mexico had really begun a true revolution, what the Mexicans call apertura, the opening up. Here was a country that had a long and tortured history with the United States, a lot of baggage, a cartelized union structure, and oligarchs in their industry. We found it hard to believe that this country, with roughly 40% of its population in dire poverty, would want to be part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The result of that was very, very close and rapidly developing relations between us and our Mexican colleagues. We developed deep, deep friendships that went right up to the level of working closely with the last four Presidents. And as you know, with the approval of NAFTA, that model became the first model in the world where a country that was truly a developing country had signed a free trade agreement with two of the richest countries in the world.

We then had NAFTA, and then we had the SPP, and those relationships have continued to develop and deepen. To us, the Mexican relationship, as I mentioned in the paper, is extremely important. I say that because Mexico is a country of roughly 100 million people. It's a country that has a very big footprint on the continent, particularly on the United States. The two-way trade and investment has grown quite exponentially.

We see a lot of potential, going forward. We like the Mexicans. We work well with them. Therefore, in our view, Mexico should be a top priority—along with the United States, the European Union, China, India, and Japan—as a country we have to devote a lot of time to.

Let me conclude by saying we've had little bit of a dispute with some of our close colleagues—some of them, I think, may have appeared before you—who have argued that trilateralism has worked against us, that every time we have to engage in discussions in North America that involve trilateralism, it results in the Canadian-American relationship being somehow dumbed down.

We've had some direct experience with that. There is some truth to it. That is one of the reasons, while we still strongly endorse trilateral cooperation, we are now pushing much more strongly for intensification of bilateral relations with the United States and bilateral relationships with Mexico. We think it's very, very important to do so with Mexico because, frankly, if you look at the growth of trade investment and the growth of political relations between our two countries, you will see that in the next five to ten years Mexico will be a major factor for Canada as well.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

In an entirely different connection, I see that your organization will be organizing a summit of Canadian business leaders in Washington on March 23 and 24. What will be on the agenda there? What are your priorities?

5 p.m.

Chief Executive and President, Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Thomas d'Aquino

We're going to talk about a lot of things we've already talked about. First, we'll be talking about the Canadian economy and that of the United States, about the economic crisis and about the importance of very close cooperation between these two countries.

Second, we'll be talking about energy and climate, because they're very, very important.

Third, we'll be talking about trade relations and investment in both countries.

Fourth, we'll be talking about security. We'll talk about national defence, but also about the security of borders between Canada and the United States.

Lastly, we'll talk about the cooperation that must absolutely exist between Canada's political agents—including you—and those of the United States. That's very important in our minds because your presence and your influence in the United States makes it possible to increase Canada's influence in general. Those are the main points that will be on the agenda on March 23 and 24.