The talk of building walls or having troops patrol the Canada-United States border in the U.S. presidential campaign is putting more pressure on diplomats to remind Americans of the long-standing relationship between the neighbouring countries, says consul general David Alward.
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The tough border talk has come primarily from some high-profile candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.
Before he quit his presidential campaign in the fall, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker said a wall between Canada and the United States would be worth considering.
While Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon, said in December that he wants U.S. troops patrolling the Canadian border.
Alward, the Canadian consul general to New England, said these border threats made during the campaign mean extra work for the diplomatic corps.
"It is concerning when we hear that rhetoric take place. That is why the role that I have as a diplomat ... a big part of what we do is reach out to policymakers, whether that be at the federal level or whether that be at the state or local level," he said.
"So there is a better understanding of just how much we have in common, what that trade means not only in New Brunswick but very importantly in Massachusetts as well and what that translates into real jobs in real communities."
So far, Canadian diplomats haven't had to deal as much with border controversies created by high-profile Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The billionaire businessman has said he'd build a wall between Mexico and the United States, but not one on the Canadian border.
Alward said he believes that Canadians and Americans often forget how closely they are tied economically.
The consul general said Canada buys more from the United States than China, Japan, Great Britain and Germany combined.
The campaign chatter about beefing up border security doesn't always match the reality of what is already being done to keep people in both countries safe. Alward said the governments on both sides of the border have taken steps to ensure the border is secure, while still allowing for trade.
The idea of National Guard troops patrolling the border doesn't get very far with Alward, whose home in western New Brunswick is not far from the border with Maine.
"There is a border patrol that already does exist. We do have a strong and secure border across Canada and the United States on the northern border," he said.
"I think it is important to remind people just how much work does already take place between our two countries and it is important for us to be vigilant as well."
While the presidential race will occupy most of the focus of 2016, Alward said he's also closely watching other races, such as the New Hampshire Senate election where Republican Kelly Ayotte is up for re-election.
Watching trade issues
If candidates' campaign statements aren't keeping him busy enough, Alward said he is also keeping his eye on other potential trade issues.
The consul general's office will be watching the developments in the softwood lumber negotiations in 2016.
The trade agreement expired in October and it has been a source of acrimony in the past for trade officials.
There is also a North American Free Trade Agreement challenge worth more than $70 million in damages over the government-aided revival of an idled paper mill in Port Hawkesbury, N.S.
Alward also said he's been following other pieces of legislation that have been hurting Canadian businesses in the United States.
Alward, a former Progressive Conservative premier of New Brunswick was appointed consul general to New England last April by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
The former premier said he watched the Canadian election from his post in Boston but he said he was focused on his new diplomatic role.
New priorities with Trudeau government
With the defeat of the Harper government, Alward said the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has brought in its own set of priorities.
"I think their priorities match very well with the work that has been ongoing in New England with the consulate here as we think about energy files, especially hydro as an example," he said.
Alward diplomatically avoided comparisons between the two governments — the one that appointed him and the one that he now serves.
"The public service will adapt and adjust according to that. But thus far, I think there has been a very good tone that has been set by the new government," he said.
"The priorities, if we think about innovation, energy and the environment, those are things that are important to Canadians and they are the types of things that we have been working on for quite some time."