The 117th Congress.

Date01 January 2021

Moderator: Monique Smith

Speakers: The Honorable James J. Blanchard & The Honorable Charlie Dent

DR. SANDS: And now, we turn to a panel discussing the 117th Congress. And moderating this panel is a great friend of the Canada-U.S. Law Institute and the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Monique Smith.

Many of you know, born in North Bay, Ontario, Monique ran for provincial parliament, she was in the 2003 election. She served in the Parliament, not only as an MPP [Member of Provincial Parliament], but she also served as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care--a hot topic in the time of COVID. She was also Minister of Revenue, and Government House Leader, and Minister of Tourism. So, a lot of experience in the Ontario government.

She went on to become Ontario's first representative in Washington, housed at the Canadian embassy here, where she was a force to be reckoned with across Washington. Frequently on panels, outspoken, but also very direct about the importance of Canada-U.S. relations and the importance of Congress in shaping some of those relations. A diplomat, an educator, and now a senior advisor at Global Public Affairs--a terrific public relations and public affairs strategy company, that also supports the Canada Institute. Let me turn it over now, to Monique Smith.

MS. MONIQUE SMITH: Thank you, Chris. Very excited to moderate this panel. We're calling it the grand finale, the third act, and we think that, you know, we've saved the best for last.

(Laughter.)

I am delighted to be wrangling two former or, as we call ourselves, recovering politicians. First off, we've got Ambassador Blanchard. I am never sure if you're supposed to call them ambassador or governor when they retain all their former titles, but we'll go with ambassador. Jim Blanchard was born and raised in Michigan. He commenced his career as a lawyer. He was a congressman from 1975 to 1983. He was the governor of Michigan from 1983 to 1991, and then he became the ambassador to Canada from 1993 to '96. I think I got those dates right. He continues to be a good friend of Canada, and always one with a quick quip on the Canada-U.S. relations, so we're delighted to have him.

And we also have with us Congressman Charlie Dent, who is a former congressman. Was first elected in the Pennsylvania General Assembly from 1991 to '94, and then was elected to Congress in 2004 to 2018. Bom and raised in Pennsylvania, we've got two states here that have been at top of mind to many Canadians and many, many Americans over the last few weeks and months--Pennsylvania and Michigan.

And so, I'm going to let them both give us some brief remarks and then we'll get into some questions. Please throw out any questions you have in the Chat, and we're happy to take them.

First, I'll start with Ambassador Blanchard, for your five-minute opening remarks, Ambassador.

THE HONORABLE JAMES J. BLANCHARD: Alright, thank you. Thank you for helping us out, Monique. And Chris Sands, the Woodrow Wilson Institute, thank you, Jane Harman, and of course with our Canada-U.S. Law Institute, Steve Petras. Also, I want to acknowledge my co-chair, Minister Jim Peterson, who I've worked with for thirty years at this point. Anyway, we're just happy about this collaboration. And my partner, really, in our law firm, a Republican, Charlie Dent--who, I might add, did endorse Joe Biden.

(Laughter.)

So, you're looking at two guys who are happy about the new president and the states, the role our states played with his decisive election. It wasn't really close.

I want to start out by saying that I thought the previous discussions were all really good. The questions were really good. I want to try to figure out where I could add something of value, and I would start with this. The Congress will need to pass not only a new stimulus, and a COVID relief plan, but it really has to include substantial revenue for states and local governments.

We keep forgetting that, because of COVID, they not only had an increase in health care costs and expenditures, but more substantially, took a complete drop in revenue--income taxes, sales taxes, business taxes, gas taxes. Their budgets have been totally decimated. And if they don't get federal relief from Congress soon, they will be laying off teachers, police, fire, healthcare workers. It will act as a counter to any federal stimulus. So, we're not going to have a national recovery in the United States, with or without a vaccine, without strong states and their role. We cannot have them cutting spending right and left to balance their budgets, which are required under their constitutions. If they think we're going to have economic recovery, we won't, and that's really, really important.

And without recovery, Canada is not going to have a recovery. The impact--you know, both living in Michigan and also serving in Ottawa--the impact of the U.S. economy on Canada is enormously substantial. And so, Canadians should be hoping for decisive relief from Congress.

The next thing I want to say is, in December of 2016--four years ago, after Donald Trump was elected--Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a dinner honoring departing Vice President Joe Biden. And it was an exciting night. I was there, several of our former ambassadors were there, I think there were four prime ministers there. It was a glorious night in Ottawa, on a cold, early December evening. And it was just a total love-in between Prime Minister Trudeau and Vice President Biden. They both gave wonderful speeches--and, I might add, they weren't too long, so I was quite happy about that.

So, that's where Joe Biden's recent contact with Canada ended, up until his election and the phone call with Prime Minister Trudeau. So, I expect relations to be incredibly warm and good.

I don't know any member of Congress that views Canada as a problem for us. Every once in a while, somebody from the lumber district or dairy district. But really, I don't know anyone in Congress or any governor that thinks that aluminum or steel from Canada is a threat to our national security, not at all.

And the kind of rhetoric that we had to put up with these last few years, which probably delayed the modernization of NAFTA about a year, because of all this foolish rhetoric and name-calling--all on our side, I might add. So, I don't care whether it's the energy relationship, the environmental relationship, infrastructure. Hey, the Gordie Howe Bridge is proceeding. All these issues.

We're going to have a wonderful partnership that works. We won't agree on everything, it's a partnership that works. And we do need to deal with COVID and our economies, but the cooperation and partnership, I think, will be a hallmark of the Joe Biden administration.

MS. SMITH: Jim, you kept it in the timelines. I'm very proud of you.

HON. JAMES BLANCHARD: Thank you.

(Laughter.)

MS. SMITH: Okay, we're gonna go over to the view from Pennsylvania now, Charlie Dent.

THE HONORABLE CHARLIE DENT: Yeah. Well thank you, everybody. Thank you, Monique. And good to be with my good friend and colleague, Jim Blanchard. Thank you to Chris and Jane Harman from the Wilson Center for allowing us to participate in this important bilateral conversation.

On the previous panel, I was chuckling a little bit when I heard about this trilateral agreement, trade agreement, between the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, because I had actually suggested such a thing back when the British were Brexiting. And I had actually assembled a resolution of support for a trilateral agreement, until my staff tackled me and said, "You know, this is going to complicate NAFTA. Just might as well keep it to the U.S. and U.K."

(Laughter.)

Not sure how to figure out to put Canada in without excluding Mexico. So, bottom line is a lot of us been thinking about this for some time. But let me just say a couple of things about where we are now in the upcoming Congress.

I thought the message that was received from this election in 2020 was this: that President Trump was rejected, I would say pretty resoundingly. As Jim Blanchard said, it was a pretty solid, or decisive victory--seven million votes in the popular vote advantage, our margin.

And I would also argue ... So, the people were in many cases voting against Donald Trump or for Joe Biden. But there were an impactful number of, I'll say, swing voting Republicans and independents, who voted for Joe Biden and then voted either largely or straight Republican down ballot.

That was the message that I've taken out of this election. We've seen it in a number of states. And probably no better example than Pennsylvania, where the expectations were that Democrats were going to pick up seats in the U.S. House, probably take the state House back, diminish the margins in the state Senate. But what happened is, Republican statewide row offices, two of the three, they went for Republicans for the first time in for a very long time. And the state House Republicans picked up seats, and so did the state Senate, you know, held onto a very strong majority. And what happened in Pennsylvania happened around the country.

So, I look at this as a bit of a repudiation, both of Donald Trump and, I would argue, the left wing of the Democratic Party. So, I think that many people, they tired of Trump, but they were not comfortable with that far left wing. They felt Joe Biden represented kind of a center-left perspective, and that he was acceptable. But they wanted to place a little bit of a check on him too. And I think that is what happened--that many people decided to protect their interests with some kind of a divided government.

And so how does that...

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