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December 2, 2016: Tom Palaia, US Consul General for AB and SK.   US Embassy web page

Tim Anderson introduced our guest speaker, Tom Palaia, US Consul General for AB and SK. Tom has been based in Calgary since 2015, following several international postings, most recently in Cuba. He is married with two kids who love the skiing here. Interestingly, he has also had experience in Guatemala and has seen the contributions Rotary makes there.

Tom began by thanking us for the invitation to speak, and expressing his appreciation and respect for all that Rotary does, both in the local community and globally.

He and his staff, like all US consulates, are very busy now preparing for the transition to the next US administration. By far the largest integration and cooperation of US businesses is, of course, with Canada. The US and Canada represent the largest bilateral exchange of people and goods. For example, 7,000 people in Alberta pass through US Customs every day. The efficiency and effectiveness of businesses and processes for exchange between our countries is critical to both our economies. Even a 1% or 2% reduction or slowdown would have tremendously negative impacts.

Tim Anderson asked what is changing at the border such that there seems to be a "tightening" around, for example, having a history as an adolescent with a toke or two and being refused admission. Tom replied that, almost always, there is far more to a refusal than an ancient toke (and he sees the actual reports with respect to such refusals at an Alberta border). The changing marijuana legislation in several US states, and anticipated in Canada, can complicate border crossings and there is/will be lots of stuff to sort out as a result of these changes. There is, however, tremendous pressure growing to ensure that borders are safe and secure. This is particularly true with the incoming US administration. Tom stressed that there is excellent communication and cooperation between US and Canadian border officials.

Ben asked how the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms plays in preclearance for US border crossing. Tom answered, again, that the level of cooperation and, in some cases, integration of US and Canadian officials result in both jurisdictions working together and continually trying to improve efficiencies and effectiveness, respecting the rights of each other's constituents. The Nexus application is, for example, a joint country process.

Chris Davis, remembering the TV programme Due South, in which a Mountie is embedded in a US law enforcement office, says he looks forward to the time when such embedding is mutually established, then segued into wondering what President-elect Trump's perspective might be on the old US - Canada auto pact. Tom replied that we must realize the huge extent to which so many business processes weave between the US and Canada. Businesses change and the economy changes and every US president since Ronald Reagan has tweaked and updated NAFTA. Don't panic. There will always be updates required. (A resident in SE Asia should be far more worried about the TPP than we should be about NAFTA.)

David Watson asked Tom for his perspective on the softwood lumber dispute. Tom replied that it's typically been seen as a much bigger deal in Canada than it has in the US. The issue is also complicated by differences in needs and expectations among Canadian provinces. It will be, he anticipates, an active topic over the next six months.

Chris Davis thanked Tom for providing such an informative perspective on what are currently such timely issues for all. Tom replied that he has never before lived in a city where he has experienced such community spirit and support as Calgary.

  • Terry Felton, Tom Palaia, and Chris Davis
    Terry Felton, Tom Palaia, and Chris Davis

reported by Les Morgan

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