U.S. Ambassador to Canada addresses students

The relationship between Canada and the United States is stronger than ever.

This is the message U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins brought when he visited campus Tues., Jan. 23 for a talk entitled “Canada and the United States: Dialogue with a Diplomat.” Wilkins was brought to campus by the university’s Institute for United States Policy Research.

This was the ambassador’s third visit to Calgary and the talk touched on some contentious issues including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader war on terrorism.

“The U.S. is committed to the young democracy in Afghanistan,” said Wilkins. “We have suffered more fatalities in Afghanistan than [anyone] else. The U.S. is committed.”

The question of Canada’s sovereignty over the northwest passage was also raised. With global warming, the seaway north of the Northwest Territories could open up for shipping and Canada has long asserted its propriety over those waters. Wilkins disagreed.

“It’s been the policy of the U.S. for many decades,” noted Wilson. “The northwest passage is a strait for international navigation. I’m not contesting [Canada’s] sovereignty over the land, I’m just saying it’s like any other strait.”

Tuesday also saw the implementation of a new law requiring passengers on any flight over the U.S.-Canadian border to carry a passport. Wilkins dismissed concerns over the potential damage to trade and tourism.

“The first phase is the air, and the message is that it can and will work,” said Wilkins. “I believe it will facilitate trade and travel because it will be safer and easier. [Now] you only have to carry one document rather than many documents. Over 73 million Americans have passports, and record numbers have been applying for them.”

The question of how much the relationship of countries’ leaders affects their overall relations was raised, and Wilkins was asked to compare Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s relationship with U.S. President George Bush to that of Harper’s predecessors.

Though Wilkins refused to make any comparisons, he did admit that over the last year, there has been a larger positive attitude towards the two countries’ relations and it has come from the top down.

“Whatever [leader] the Canadian people choose, the U.S. is going to work hard at developing a good relationship,” said Wilkins. “[However] over the last year, the relationship has been more positive and we seem to be trying to tackle problems together. I have to give credit to the Prime Minister and the President for putting an issue [softwood lumber], that was said to be impossible to solve, behind us.”

“There was a study that came out from the Woodrow Wilson Institute saying by about 10 points, both Canadians and Americans feel that there’s a better relationship, compared with a year ago.”

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