Former U.S. president Bill Clinton is apparently the type of American whom Canadians like to deal with. During a whirlwind visit to Canada in mid-October that saw him give three sold out speaking engagements in Toronto, Calgary and London, Ont., Clinton received a standing ovation after saying he sympathizes with Canada's position in the long-standing softwood lumber fracas with the states. He told about 5,000 people attending the London event the only one of the three highlighting the topic of Canada-US relations that he doesn't see how Prime Minister Paul Martin “can be anything but really publicly very tough” on the softwood lumber issue, given that billions of dollars are at stake as a result of the dispute. Even though Clinton said he ultimately sides with the American position that says Canada is subsidizing its softwood lumber industry, he noted Canada has won in the World Trade Organization and NAFTA forums, “so in that sense I'm sympathetic.”
Christian Darbyshire, one of the organizers of the London event, says that although Clinton's personal charisma is a huge factor in his popularity, it was also the message of sometimes “having to step up to the bear”, ie our neighbours to the south, that caught the attention of those who paid either $85 or $99 to see Clinton at London's John Labatt Centre. He won't say how much Clinton was paid for his appearance (some news reports indicate he can get as much as US$160,000 for a speaking engagement), but acknowledges the venue and the private plane used to fly Clinton here each cost $30,000.
Buoyed by the success of the Clinton event, Darbyshire and business partner Andy McCreath are in the process of putting together a cross-country series of speaking events focusing on US-Canada relations. One has already been organized for Calgary Jan. 31, focusing on energy issues between the two countries: a timely topic given that Prime Minister Paul Martin hinted in a speech while in New York in October that access to Alberta's oil might become a tool to be wielded in trade relations with the U.S. The series will feature US Secretary of Energy Abraham Spencer, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and Alberta Energy Minister Greg Melchin. Representatives of two markets that also have an eye towards Alberta oil, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and India's Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Mani Shankar Aiyar, have been invited, but their attendance hasn't yet been confirmed.
As US-Canada relations heat up over issues ranging from same-sex marriages and the medical use of medical marijuana to softwood lumber and control of the oil sands, Darbyshire expects there will be more interest in hearing from leaders and opinion makers south of the border especially when they tell us that what we're doing is right.