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Keystone statesmanship would be the real ‘no-brainer’

The five largest dairy-producing states in the United States are California, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania and Idaho.

Let's suppose, for the sake of comparison, that a U.S. president figured he needed the biggest four of those states for re-election and that every vote would count. So he reckoned that blowing open foreign markets for U.S. dairy products would be good for dairy farmers economically and for him politically.

So he turned his attention to Canada, with its supply-managed system for milk, and decided to deploy a full-court press on the Canadian government.

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He came to Ottawa and explained that free trade in milk would lower prices for Canadian consumers. Who could be against that? he asked, illustrating how lower dairy prices would be especially helpful for low-income consumers, who spend a greater percentage of their income on food.

His case, he declared, was so compelling as to be a "no-brainer." He sent high officials from his cabinet (agriculture, commerce, state) to Canada to make speeches extolling the virtues of free trade in dairy.

Suppose the American dairy industry hired lobbyists to crawl over Parliament Hill promoting free trade. Suppose the industry hired former Canadian ambassadors to Washington to lobby Canadian parliamentarians or offer advice to American dairy companies. Suppose state governors descended on Canada to press the case. Suppose the U.S. embassy in Ottawa and the U.S. consulates across Canada were all over the file, with the U.S. ambassador giving speeches here, there and everywhere, and offering interviews to all and sundry.

And then suppose, if all this action hadn't yet moved the Canadian government, the president returned to Canada and said that he wouldn't take no for an answer to his desire for free trade in dairy – that he would keep fighting until he got a yes and Canada phased out supply management.

How do you think Canadians and their government would respond to this kind of full-court press? The chances are we would tell the Americans and their president to stuff it. Our government sure wouldn't like it because the dairy farmers would be all over them to defend the current system, and these farmers count politically.

Chances are, too, that that the Canadian prime minister would be miffed to be told that the U.S. position was a "no-brainer" – the inference being that the prime minister must be some kind of dolt not to see how lower dairy prices would help Canadian consumers and food processors.

But for almost three years, the federal government, Alberta government and elements of the oil industry have been doing a variation (with one exception) of the hypothetical dairy case on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline. And it hasn't worked yet.

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The exception in the Keystone version is the Harper government's threat to send Canada's bitumen oil to Asia if Keystone isn't approved. This threat scares no one – Canada will try to send bitumen oil to Asia regardless.

Try, because sending bitumen to Asia doesn't depend on Keystone, but rather on Canada's own tangled, internal procedures, including opposition by the B.C. public and by aboriginal groups, buoyed by legal rulings that give aboriginals the power to delay or even block pipelines through territory over which they claim aboriginal rights.

For three years, the federal and Alberta governments have deployed all the strategies of salesmanship contained in the dairy analogy, without once approaching the issue as one of statesmanship.

Statesmanship involves figuring out what the other side needs to give you the answer you want, rather than repeating the same message about why the other side should want what you are selling.

Salesmanship does not require the side doing the selling to change any of its practices or engage in any self-analysis. Statesmanship requires the willingness to be self-critical, the ability to see the world as the other side sees it and to adjust practices so that the other side can say yes.

Salesmanship is for marketers and proselytizers; statesmanship is for those with an understanding of the complexities of the world.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail's national affairs columnist, has won all three of Canada's leading literary prizes -- the Governor-General's award for non-fiction book writing, the National Magazine Award for political writing, and the National Newspaper Award for column writing (twice). He has also won the Hyman Solomon Award for excellence in public policy journalism. More

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