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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sometimes your best friends WILL tell you  

CBC Unlocked is reportingon Ambassador Frank McKenna's speech in Toronto: "The United States is a wonderful creation . . . (however) the government of the United States is in large measure dysfunctional."
Now, it shocked me to read this -- it seemed like, there's our boy McKenna, pissing off the Bush administration again! But he didn't intend a gratitous slam at the Bush administration -- no, actually he was just talking about the whole US federal government.
And to a Canadian, yes, it does look pretty disfunctional.
Here is what McKenna said:
The founders in the United States of America, because of the historical antecedence of the birth of that country tried to create a balance of powers that is unique to them. And what they’ve done is to create institutionalized gridlock. In large measure the government of the United States is so gridlocked that it does not function the way we know government would function. It might surprise you to know that the President of the United States doesn’t have all that much power. He doesn’t have power unless it’s assigned to him with respect to matters of trade. He cannot introduce a single bill. He doesn’t have that power. Even the budget produced by the President simply goes up to Congress and they can do whatever they want with it. He’s got very little power when you compare his powers to that of the Prime Minister of Canada.
Party discipline is virtually nonexistent in the United States of America. Everybody tends to freelance. It would be like having 535 Carolyn Parrishs all loose in your country. (Laughter) And that’s why in the 107th Congress, the recent Congress, 9,000 bills were introduced, 377 bills were passed. It is so difficult navigating a bill and building consensus that to get anything through the system is virtually impossible.
It’s a fact in the United States of America that the popularity of senators and congress people go up when they’re not in session. The people in the United States are so fed up with the gridlock which they see in Washington. Because it’s so gridlocked, so complex, everybody needs their own navigator. And as a result you see a huge explosion in a population of navigators. One senator has something like 75 people working for him which is more than the entire staff of my office when I was Premier of the province of New Brunswick by a factor of three; just to navigate through the system and to support the relationships with other Congressional leaders in the Congress of the United States.
There are 35,000 lobbyists registered in Washington. Imagine, 35,000 all designed to help you navigate through this complex system. They have more lawyers in Washington per capita than anywhere else in the world. And that’s why they say the streets of Washington aren’t safe to walk at night. (Laughter). My point is this. There are these thousands of people being paid to help navigate through the system and to protect the interests of the particular interest groups. My message to you as Canadian business leaders is, that you cannot afford not to be there.
If up to 40% of your production is going into that marketplace you’ve got to be there just as the American lobbyists and the American lawyers are there. And we don’t do a very good job as a country of protecting their interest in that marketplace. But again we’ve got to come back to what I said before about self-interest. In trying to resolve disputes we need to figure out the self-interest that will get through the maze and get to the prize at the end.
For example we recently had a case, it didn’t make a lot of news so you might have forgotten about it, where there was a missile being launched from Cape Canaveral and the solid rocket booster looked like it was going to fall on Newfoundland. Well Newfoundland didn’t like that one little bit. It was going to fall close to Newfoundland, they didn’t like it one little bit. So we tried to rattle some chains in Washington and man, it was just like, you know where’s Newfoundland, why do we care? I mean a solid rocket booster on Newfoundland, what’s the big deal? Well did you know that a lot of Texas-based oil companies have oil rigs there? Well why didn’t you say that in the first place? (Laughter). It just changes the chemistry of the issue very, very quickly.
So if O'Reilly and Limbaugh start getting after McKenna next week, at least you will know now what he actually said.

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