Liberal International Trade critic Scott Brison was recently in Washington DC to meet with US legislators on a variety of issues. I spoke to him after Question Period today, about it.
Q: Tell me about your trip to Washington.
A: It was great. We were at the National Governor’s Association meeting for two days, and during that time I had one-on-one meetings with 28 governors, which of course represents well over half, to discuss Canadian issues and to defend Canadian interests. During the Congressional visit, I participated in meetings with 24 Congressmen and Senators. It was a range of issues – one was the incoming Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which the US is bringing in to require a passport to cross the Canada-US border. This is extremely ominous in terms of Canada-US trade and the seamless movement of people and goods between our two countries. The other was Secretary Napolitano’s recent security review of the northern border, which is quite ominous. The country-of-origin labelling, which could have very negative repercussions for our agricultural interests – those were some of the issues that I addressed while I was down there as well as US State-level protectionism. National protectionism and state-level protectionism in the stimulus measures – we’re very concerned about that continued sentiment, but we had extremely productive and constructive meetings. I have in fact followed up with some of the Congressmen since then on specific issues, but it was a great trip – incredibly productive.
Q: Trips like these – what do you hope they accomplish, especially when you’re an opposition MP as opposed to a government one?
A: Legislator-to-legislator relationships are extremely important in the US, and the American legislators I dealt then, and the American legislators I’ve dealt with over the last ten years, these relationships transcend partisan differences. And in fact, the Harper government made a fatal error in its first three years in government and only focused on Bush-Republicans and Republicans in the House and Senate. My meetings and the meetings of the Canada-US Parliamentary Association dealt with representatives of both parties. Now that there’s been a sea change in American politics, Canada’s at a disadvantage because of Stephen Harper’s narrow approach to Canada-US relations. But it was terrific. In fact, legislators in the US are extremely powerful, and the president of the US actually has to spend a lot of time engaging legislators seeking their support and deal making to get their support on his measures, to get support for the legislation he wants to pass. And governors are important – four of the last six presidents have been former governors, and his new Secretary of Commerce is a former governor of Washington, and a couple of weeks ago on Saturday, I met Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who was the governor of Kansas, and early the week after, she was named by Obama as his nominee for the new Health and Human Services Secretariat in his cabinet, so that goes to show the importance of governors. There is much more fluidity between national and state-level politics in the US than there is in Canada, and US governors are extremely important to Canada-US relations.