I caught up with MP Gord Brown (Leeds-Grenville) and Treasury Board President Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka) watching speeches at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Brown has been at the DNC since Monday, Clement arrived Tuesday. They were both in Tampa last week.
What follows is a condensed transcript of our conversation.
Q: So when you come here, what are you doing and what are you hearing?
Brown: I am the co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary group. We do a lot of work with U.S. legislators, both in the House and Senate, at the federal level, and the governors and state legislators, so we use these conventions to see many of them at one time. We have run into a lot of senators and House members already. We are watching closely what issues affect Canada — whether it be border issues, trade issues, or having to do with the Keystone pipeline.
Q: What are you hearing from the Democrats on Keystone?
Brown: We’ve been hearing from some people that the route through Nebraska is getting changed and if that happens, that it’s going to go ahead. But we’ll see. Time will tell what happens in the election. The president did slow down the process. Of course, it’s important to Canada to see that go ahead. We heard in Tampa that they support that going ahead.
Q. In Tampa, it was pretty overt in the speeches.
Q. What are you hearing here? Is it mixed? Is it more pro-Keystone, anti-Keystone?
Brown: We’re not hearing much, really. Back when the president announced he was slowing down the process, there was a lot of anti-pipeline sentiment, but we haven’t really seen any here. Minister, have you seen many people protesting the pipeline?
Q. What about the Congress people?
Brown: Whenever we see them, they are glad to see Canadian legislators are taking an interest in what they are doing. We are warmly received.
Q: But has anyone been frank and said, we just can’t get behind Keystone?
Brown: No, I haven’t heard that.
Q: Anything strike you about this convention or the Republican convention in Tampa?
Clement: They are here to accomplish the strategic goals of the party. What you’re getting is each party trying to advance a narrative and a message about what has happened over the last four years. It’s interesting to see how they drive a message, drive a narrative. How they deploy their surrogates and their party elders and all the people that can be part of a broader picture of who they are and who they want to be. From a political perspective—as a political animal, it’s always a great chance to observe.
Q: Are there any speeches that stood out to you from either convention, that you thought were particularly good or bad?
Clement: We are looking at these to see what the message is that they want to express. I’m not here to critique their speeches. (laughs) … I think both spouses of the candidates acquitted themselves well, did what they had to do in terms of advancing the message of the candidate.
Q: How would you compare this to a Canadian political convention?
Clement: One thing I’ll observe is that American politicians seem a lot more comfortable talking about their family history, and the making of themselves, the values they grew up with — those kinds of things. That’s less of a common fare in Canadian political speeches where you might do a little bit of that just to set a stage and but then you dive right into a policy position. It’s just a different political culture that way.
Brown: Over the years I’ve been very involved in the Progressive Conservative Party, and back in the time when they had leadership conventions to select a leader, and it would be similar to convention like this. Here we already know the outcome, but before we moved to a one-member, one-vote process, we would have an exciting convention. And back then you actually didn’t know the outcome until the convention was over. I think we miss this sort of centralization and excitement that surrounds the political process here in the U.S. We don’t have that in Canada anymore. (…) In Tampa, they were very united in attacking President Obama, and here it’s the reverse — it seems very mcuh a blood sport here— not that it isn’t in Canada. Here you have a national TV audience each night when they really bring out the partisan
Q: Do you you think politics calmer in Canada, more genteel? Is American politics just louder?
Clement: They have more money so they can be louder. They don’t have the same campaign spending limits we have. We were told last week in Tampa that Republicans and Democrats had spent $150-million in advertising thus far just in the state of Florida.
We heard in Ohio that 16 million was spent on one Senate race. In Canada the most we can spend on an entire national campaign is about $20-million – for the whole 35-day campaign, by one party.
Q: Do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing?
Clement: We’re not here to have an opinion on that.
Brown: The legislators that I talk to spend a lot of time just raising funds. Raising funds as an MP is a part of the job for your riding association and a future campaign, but it doesn’t consumer all of our time the way it takes the time of Senator or House member in the U.S.
Q: When you talk to a U.S. lawmaker or official, what do they want to talk to you about?
Brown: The economy. They want to talk about our banking system. They always say they hear things are going well economically in Canada. We always talk about the strength of our banking system and the fact that our government has been working to reduce the deficit after the spending that we had to do coming out of the recession – the stimulus spending.
Q: Do you hear as much concern about the U.S. deficit here as in Tampa?
Brown: In Tampa, all they talked about was the $16-trillion deficit and how they were falling off the fiscal cliff and have to do something about it. I haven’t heard as much about that in Charlotte.
Clement: Same experience as Gord had in terms of asking about the banking system and the economy. Last night we were at the Montana delegation social and a lot of talk about Canada’s natural resources and how blessed we are. I think they are generally aware we have an enviable position.
Q: Do you see any big impact coming out of this election for Canada depending on who is elected?
Clement: Generally we have an excellent relationship with American friends, and we will work to advance Canada’s interests with whoever has the reins of power.
Q: What did you think of the article about Obama “losing Canada”? Is that true?
Clement: I think that was a bit overdeveloped as a thesis. We have a great relationship.
Q: It seems that Canada has become more confident as a country…
Clement: We have a spring in our step. We’re proud of our country. We’re displaying that. We don’t go over the top because we’re Canadian.