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U.S. Ambassador to Canada Speaks of Canada – U.S. Relations at Glendon

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U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins chose a significant day for a public lecture at Glendon: September 11th (2007), the 6th anniversary of the tragic events in New York that have been at the core of U.S. internal and international policies ever since.

Left: David Wilkins

Introduced by Glendon political science professor Radha Persaud, who hosted the lecture, Wilkins’ talk was attended by York president Mamdouh Shoukri, York chancellor Peter Cory, U.S. Consul General to Toronto John R. Nay, Glendon principal Kenneth McRoberts, Glendon Distinguished Fellow David Collenette (who was Canada’s Minister of Transport during the 9/11 emergency), and a record number of Glendon students, faculty and staff.

Wilkins called the anniversary of 9/11 a “…sombre, sacred day in American history, […] where 24 Canadians perished along with 3,000 Americans.” He added that “…today was a good day for Americans to express their gratitude for the help they received from Canadians, who opened up their hearts and homes to those in desperate need…”, referring to those planes which were forced to land in Canada during this emergency.

Wilkins got his start in politics by serving on various community groups, which led to his participation in the South Carolina legislature. “I planned to serve for 2 years and stayed for 25 – I have always loved government and history”, he reminisced.

With 2 years’ experience as ambassador in Canada, Wilkins expressed his fascination with the dynamism of Canadian politics. He observed how two great democracies living side by side – Canada and the U.S. – apply democracy so differently. He compared the many checks and balances controlling the actions of the American President with the concentrated power and independence of the Prime Minister of Canada.

Wilkins emphasized his satisfaction with the improved relationship between the two countries over the past few years, following several issues in the past which set them at loggerheads, such as the softwood lumber issue and the controversy over mad cow’s disease. “We need to work together and trust each other”, he commented.

Ambassador Wilkins openly welcomed questions from the floor, in particular from students who sought his views on issues such as border-crossing problems and passport requirements for travel to the U.S.; America’s stance on climate change, and the mission in Afghanistan. “NATO countries need to pull together in the Afghan mission”, said Wilkins. “Canada plays an important role there and is doing a great job. Ultimately, individual countries must decide how much they can contribute and how long they will stay [there].”

In response to a question about the possibility of the U.S.’ building a NAFTA superhighway, Wilkins categorically stated that the U.S. has no plans in place for a North-American union which might supercede national sovereignty of the countries involved. “The U.S. considers borders and trade very important and wants to protect these, rather than abolish them”, said Wilkins.

Speaking of the most important aspects of Canada – U.S. relations, Wilkins stated that the relationship of the two countries is closer and greater than the interactions of any administrations, be they Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat. He affirmed that the two countries share common values, friendship and cooperation. They are each other’s most important trade partners, with the U.S. a chief customer of Canada’s huge natural resources of energy, water, wood, etc.

Ambassador Wilkins expressed his admiration for Canada and its citizens, and his pleasure at being posted here. He concluded by stating that “…Canada has much to be proud of”.

More about Ambassador David Wilkins:

David H. Wilkins is the 21st United States Ambassador to Canada, serving in this position since 2005. Prior to this, Wilkins served in the South Carolina House of Representatives for 25 years, 11 of them as Speaker of the House, the first Republican elected speaker in the South since Reconstruction, and one of the longest-serving speakers in the country.

In his 25 years in the Legislature, David Wilkins has been on the cutting-edge of most major reform initiatives. He wrote or co-sponsored the legislation on welfare reform, property-tax relief, education accountability, LIFE scholarships, judicial reform, government restructuring, and truth-in-sentencing. He was also instrumental in crafting South Carolina’s historic ethics bill and played a key role in the relocation of the Confederate flag and the fight to ban video gambling.

Throughout his career, Wilkins has received numerous honorary degrees and other awards including the 2004 Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award from the National Conference of State Legislatures, the 2004 Distinguished Service Award from the South Carolina Municipal Association.

A strong supporter of President George W. Bush, Wilkins served as state chairman of the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign and as co-chair of the South Carolina ‘Bush for President’ Campaign in 2000.

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, David Wilkins graduated from Greenville High School; he received his undergraduate degree from Clemson University and his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law. After service in the army, he returned to Greenville where he practiced law for more than 30 years.

Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny


Published on February 27, 2008