Is It Better Who You Know, Or What You Know?

Fall 2005 CSANews Issue 56  |  Posted date : May 23, 2007.Back to list

During a recent chat with several of my American friends who also happen to be retired newsmen, it was brought to my attention that the Canadian media took some "cheap shots" at the new U.S. ambassador to Canada, Paul Wilkins. The Ledger, a Lakeland, Florida newspaper had published an editorial headlined, "Uh-Oh Canada."

"Why would the Canadian media do this," I thought, so I decided to do some research.

Here's what I learned!

The editorial continued by saying, "Wilkins introduced himself to Prime Minister Paul Martin in Ottawa last June and Canadians may have been glad to see him again: It was the first time he visited the country in 30 years."

In an interview with Canada's CBC News, the newly appointed Wilkins said that he had been to Canada only once, and that was in the mid-1970s. He told the interviewer that he'd visited the Niagara Falls area. When pressed for other cities he had been to in Canada, he named none specifically. When pressed further, he said that he'd visited the area "back toward Indiana" where he was stationed in the army, but added that it was "well, obviously above Indiana."

CBC News also noted that Wilkins was given a standing ovation by the South Carolina assembly, where he had served for 25 years, the last 10 years as speaker. The report said that Wilkins told the crowd he had been nominated "to serve as United States ambassador to Canada, our friend and neighbour to the north." The news report added, "That was his only reference to Canada during his fiveminute address."

It was not a good beginning for the ambassador to the United States' largest trading partner. Wilkins, at the time, apparently had no experience in foreign relations and the impact of Canada as a trade partner of his home state of South Carolina seemed to have not made an impact on him.

Let's look at some statistics.

In 2003, according to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, the South Carolina-Canada trade exchange totalled $3.8 billion. An average of more than $10 million crossed the border daily. South Carolina sold $2.4 billion worth of goods to Canada. In fact, the state sold 22 per cent of its foreign exports to Canada, making its northern neighbour the state's second-largest foreign market. In turn, South Carolina looked to Canada for $1.4 billion in goods. The study also showed that the Canada-South Carolina trade supported 69,000 jobs in the state.

Just before the deadline for this column, I learned that in 2004, according to the South Carolina Department of Commerce, Canada gained back the number one spot (a position held for 25 years), just slightly ahead of Germany.

Here's a fact that surprised me! I thought agriculture, especially peaches, would be South Carolina's leading export to Canada, but no, it's motor vehicle parts to the tune of $340 million. That's not counting $106 million in just engine parts. Automobiles accounted for $236 million, the second-largest export. There's a large BMW plant in South Carolina – I guess a lot of Canadians drive BMWs and don't eat peaches.

Canadians, according to The Ledger, noted that Wilkins has denounced Canadian softwood producers as having "unfair trade practices." South Carolina is a major softwood producer, but still imported $39 million of softwood lumber from Canada in 2003. It also said that he was a "Ranger" in 2003, meaning that he raised more than $200,000 for President George W. Bush's campaign last year and was co-chairman for Bush's campaign in South Carolina in 2000.

This could be a good thing for Canada, because it means that Wilkins should have close ties to the White House and that the president should listen to him. Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, a former ambassador under Bill Clinton, told Canadian reporters that Wilkins' political background "gives him the qualities you need," the most important of which is "being the ear of the president."

Despite his apparent lack of knowledge of all things Canadian, Wilkins is apparently easygoing and has a certain Southern charm; it's in stark contrast to Paul Cellucci, the previous ambassador who criticized Canada for not supporting the United States' involvement in Iraq and for not wanting to participate in a missile defence system.

Wilkins, in my opinion, is to be complimented for commenting to the Canadian Press after two weeks of briefings by the State Department, "The more I've learned, the more I'm impressed with it." Shouldn't the briefings have taken place prior to the announcement?

Anyway, the next time I chatted with my friends, I made sure that they read this column. I also reminded them that sometimes it's – who you know! Then we ordered another pitcher!

Give back $27 million in aid!
In my previous column, I told you about the shenanigans (problems) that occurred within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The agency was assigned the responsibility of providing aid to victims of the hurricanes last year. Well, the agency has asked thousands of Floridians whose homes were damaged (or not) to give back more than $27 million.

Many of the problems came from FEMA providing money for items that were later covered by property insurance policies, from more than one person in the same household applying for benefits, and from processing errors.

FEMA is asking one Escambia County household to return $50,723 for a home that was not a primary residence. An additional 63 households owed more than $20,000 each.

And get this! A trailer belonging to FEMA (who provided them for victims whose homes were unlivable) in Haines City, Florida was hooked up to utilities behind a home being illegally used as a boarding house. The trailer wasn't stolen, but was being used as an illegal rental. Apparently, there were a lot of FEMA trailers in people's backyards while they continued to live in the houses. And one of the houses was (suspiciously) burned to the ground. Honest folks, eh?

Outlook's look at humour
A student became lost during a solo cross-country flight. While attempting to locate the aircraft on radar, traffic control asked, "What was your last known position?" The student replied, "When I was number one for take-off!" Hellooooooo!