Airing our laundry in Public: On the Issue of Opposition Parties Lobbying American Politicians

“The NDP’s odious lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., against the Keystone XL pipeline has us wondering if the party has any clue of the importance of the energy industry to the Canadian economy. Energy stocks make up nearly 30 per cent of the listings on the TSX, second only to financials, with oil and gas issuers raising $11.3 billion in 2010. Forty-four per cent of the more than 100,000 jobs generated by the oilsands are outside of Alberta, with Ontario and Quebec, the heartlands of Canadian manufacturing, the biggest beneficiaries. And Alberta’s energy wealth makes this province the largest per capita contributors of equalization payments to Ottawa.”

  • Editorial: NDP should pipe down about Keystone XL, Anti-Keystone mission to Washington shows true colours; Calgary Herald, November 18, 2011

“OTTAWA — A senior minister in the Harper government has accused the opposition NDP of ‘denigrating’ and ‘undermining’ Canada by sending two of its MPs to Washington to voice concerns about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The message came Tuesday from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who blasted the New Democrats in the House of Commons and then left the chamber to repeat his criticism to reporters”

  • NDP ‘undermining’ Canada by lobbying against Keystone: Oliver; By Mark Kennedy, Postmedia News November 15, 2011

Last week, there was a ‘hue and cry’ about a couple of NDP MP’s trip to Washington. They were going to lobby against the XL pipeline and they were labelled as everything from ‘treasonous’ to ‘uninformed’. So I wondered did they start a trend or was this common practice. The answer scared me.

I knew that a couple of provinces maintained offices there. So since 1978, Quebec has maintained a network “of more than twenty-five offices worldwide. Six are located in the United States: New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington”. It is separate from the Canadian Embassy and has been used to argue against the federal government. Established by Rene Levesque, it started off as a way to communicate with American Politicians and Bureaucrats in the run up to the first referendum. However, like many organs of government, it has stayed around lobbying for Quebec’s interests.

Alberta in 2004, felt that is should do the same. It now has an office that is co-located in the Canadian Embassy. This office, though, lobbies against the Canadian Government when it suits the government of Alberta. Set up in the wake of Kyoto’s implementation, the office has helped Alberta premiers “educate the power brokers of America”, including House Speakers and various State Department officials, about the importance of Canadian oil to the US market. The Office, according to its website, is supposed to reinforce to key U.S. political and business decision-makers that Alberta’s “commitment and capacity to be a secure, reliable and growing energy supplier”.

One can see that these provincial offices are important to drive home the message of a government through understanding these offices goals. For example, one of the other goals of the office is to demonstrate that Alberta is developing “its world-scale energy resources in an environmentally responsible way”.  However, recent reports by the Federal environment commissioner Scott Vaughan, Fisheries and Environment Canada indicate that Alberta may not be on the “up-and-up” when it comes to their environment. For, when environmentalists final “incentivized” the Federal Government to act under its federal Statutes, the Alberta government could not produce studies to prove that their actions of the “oil sands” industry were environmentally responsible.

Consequently, Minister Prentice’s acted. He formed the Oilsands Advisory Council. Their report, called “A Foundation for the Future: Building an Environmental Monitoring System for the Oil Sands”, was submitted to the Minister was released in December 2010. It led to an announcement by the federal government on July 21, 2011.

On that date, “the federal government announced a new plan to monitor air quality, biodiversity and water quality in the Canadian oilsands region in an effort to provide “hard science’ to reinforce the fact that the oilsands are being developed in a responsible manner. Water quality and quantity will be monitored in the lower Athabasca River. Air quality will be measured at 14 sites for a range of contaminants and those results will be combined with satellite data.”  It was also noted that the new Environment Minister Peter Kent would work with the province of Alberta and industry to implement the monitoring plan quickly. Or put differently, there was not enough “hard science” to back up the claims of the Washington Office of the Alberta Government. One can only conclude that Premiers Klein, Stelmach and Redford have used the office to reinforce the government’s key message; no matter how wrong that message is.

However, it turns out that the Federal Official Opposition has also been doing this for years. For, while he was the Official Leader of the Opposition Stephen Harper told American Network Fox News that “most Canadians outside Quebec support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, despite our government’s decision not to take part in the war.

In an interview with the American TV network, Harper said he endorsed the war and said he was speaking “for the silent majority” of Canadians. Only in Quebec, with its ‘pacifist tradition,’ are most people opposed to the war, Harper said.

Outside of Quebec, I believe very strongly the silent majority of Canadians is strongly supportive,” the Canadian Alliance leader says.”

Or into other words, Mr. Harper is guilty of the same crime as the NDP. What is even worse was the fact that he was disingenuous. We are one country and a clear majority of Canadians have always indicated that Canada should not have followed the Americans into their adventure in Iraq. Whether, they be Quebecois or Albertans, our Parliament and Government made a decision together.

In March 2003 Harper went to American Media sources again. This time, he co-wrote a letter with Stockwell Day. Their letter to The Wall Street Journal condemned the Canadian government’s unwillingness to participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Again we can see that Conservative Politicians have been guilty of the same thing: going down to the US to ‘complain’ about how the Canadian Government or Canadian Parliament has been acting.  

If one were to think that this was new to those leaders, one would be mistaken. According to, “Mr. Mulroney was convinced that Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government had allowed relations with the United States, Canada’s closest ally and largest trading partner, to deteriorate badly. As opposition leader, he had met with President Ronald Reagan and had supported the U.S. invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983. Despite the war’s unpopularity in Canada, he argued that if “our friends need the benefit of the doubt from time to time, so be it.”.”

However, going to the US is not just for Conservatives or Progressive Conservatives. Sovereigntists are just as guilty. On October 15th, 2010, Daniel LeBlanc reported in the Globe and Mail that “in a speech to a U.S. audience, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe insists that Quebec sovereignty remains in the cards and says it would be a win-win for everyone in North America – except for those who still believe in the “Canadian dream.”. He was speaking to the Woodrow Wilson Centre and Hudson Institute as part of a two-day visit to Washington. While, Réné Lévesque in the 1970’s is said to have routinely met with David Rockefeller and US diplomatic personnel to reassure them that the PQ was no threat to the interests of Washington and Wall Street. Lucien Bouchard seems to have waited until he was a Premier to make his case, but he did:  In a speech to a New York Audience in April 1999.

Each Sovereigntist made the trip to quell American fears. Fears which President Bill Clinton voice at a Canadian government-sponsored symposium on federalism held at Mont Tremblant in October of 1999.  That was likely the end to a conversation that was first started in 1995 when Bill Clinton and Mr. Bouchard meet for the first time: President to the Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.

Throughout all of this history, one thing is clear: the NDP, the Progressive Conservatives, Conservatives and the Sovereigntists have all gone to the United States to make their pitch. They have all claimed to speak for some form of ‘silent majority’, even when no evidence for that majority exists. My feeling is that the only reason why the Liberals are not guilty of this is because we were in government throughout most of this time. Trudeau took over from Pearson, a sitting Prime Minister, in 1968.  So by the time, he became Leader of the Official Opposition in 1980, he knew everybody.

John Turner shares the same story. He recounts a tale, in the One on One series with Peter Mansbridge, where he was called by Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy a day or so before Robert’s assassination. Ignatieff, Dion, Martin and Chretien were all ministers before they became Opposition Leaders. All of them had access to foreign leaders and so had no need to run to the Americans: they already knew them.

So let us be clear, all Canadian Politicians want to tell their tale to our American friends and they all have the same reason: they all represent different interests in our Country. All of these interests are dependent on the US for decisions and outcomes for the American and Canadian Economies are so closely linked. If the NDP wants to stop a pipeline that has the support of the provincial and federal government, with majorities in their respective houses; the NDP has only one option: go to the States. If the Conservatives want to push Canada into a war, when they do not have a majority in the federal house; they only have one option – go to the States. By bolstering American diplomacy, the Conservatives have been able to get their ultimate policy goals.

This strategy is as old as the country itself. In 1891, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a Liberal, is quote as saying in a speech in Boston that I am a subject of the British Crown, but whenever I have to choose between the interests of England and Canada it is manifest to me that the interests of my country are identical with those of the United States of America. Please let us all get beyond the needless banter and let us talk about significant policy issues.

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