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David Jacobson was on campus Tuesday to field questions from 30 students as part of a six week "fact finding mission."
photos courtesy Ken Bendiktsen/University of Calgary

U.S. Ambassador talks shop with students

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David Jacobson, the brand new U.S. Ambassador to Canada, visited the University of Calgary on Tuesday as part of a six week "fact finding" mission. Jacobson, the deputy national finance chairman for U.S. president Barack Obama's campaign, sat down with the Gauntlet for an exclusive interview. He spoke about striking a balance between U.S. energy security and protecting the environment, Canada's mission in Afghanistan and the Buy American policy.
Gauntlet: What do you think your role is as the ambassador to Canada during Buy American and at a time where there is a big balance between energy security for the States versus the environment?

Jacobson: First of all, just by way of background, while there are issues in the relationship between the United States and Canada I think that the relationship between our two countries is perhaps the strongest it's ever been and I think in large measure that's a product of our president who is very, very popular here, more popular here even than he is in the United States. I think the relationship is strong, the fact that there [are] issues that confront us, there will always be issues between two sovereign countries that have as deep and as complex a relationship ­-- and as integrated a relationship-- as the United States and Canada, but I think the relationship is pretty strong and that's been my impression not just from the United States side, but from all the people I've talked with here in Canada.

In terms of what my role is, I think there are a number of things. First of all, it's my responsibility to speak on behalf of the president and on behalf of the American people here in Canada, and so I have the role of communicating my government's views to the Canadian people, and to Canada's leaders at the national level and at the provincial and local level. I also have an obligation to try and learn as much as I can about what's going on here in Canada so that I can relay that information back to my government so that my government makes decisions that are as informed and as good as they possibly can [be]. And then I think the third major part of my responsibility is what's referred to, at least by us in the state department, as public diplomacy. That I am the one who represents, at least our view, of the American people to the Canadian people and going to events like today and meeting people like you is part of that effort. So I think those are the three things.

G: Can you talk a little bit about Canada's role in Afghanistan from the American point of view?

J: I can. The first thing that I would like to say is that every American, indeed every like-minded person in the world should honour and respect the service and the sacrifice of Canadian men and women in Afghanistan. I believe there have been 131 soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and their sacrifice is to be revered. The other day I was in the airport in Ottawa and there's a lounge in the airport that's reserved for wounded veterans coming back from Afghanistan and I was there on a day where no one was coming back, but they took me in there and I signed, there's a banner on the wall that they ask people to come in and write notes to the veterans on and my wife can tell you when I wrote the note tears welled up in my eyes-- it's a tragic thing. So, my first point is that the service of Canadian men and women in Afghanistan has been extraordinary. With respect to the role of Canada on a going-forward basis, the best thing I can tell you is what my president has said, which is that the issue he is concerned about is not what Canada might do in 2011, but rather what Canada will do in 2009 and 2010, and how we can co-ordinate our efforts so we try to achieve the result that we both want in the shortest possible time.

G: Here in Alberta especially they're talking about the oil sands and legislation that could be put into law in the States. Do you want to talk about the balance between energy security and environmental concerns?

J: I think you've put your finger on it-- it's a balance. First of all, one of the reasons that I picked Calgary as the place to start on my Western swing is because it's the centre of the oil industry in Canada and I am here to learn as much as I can about the oil industry in general, and oil sands in particular. [Wednesday] I am taking a tour of some of the oil sands facilities. Hopefully I'll know more then than I do now. But, to get back to your question, I think it is a balance. Canada is a pillar in the energy independence and energy security of the United States, there is no question, but that the United States views Canadian sources of energy-- whether it is oil or natural gas, or hydro or anything else-- as safe and secure sources. On the other hand, particularly with respect to oil sands, there are environmental issues. Again, I take my cue from the president, as he explained on his first trip here to Canada, his first trip out of the United States, there is no silver bullet when it comes to energy. Canada has issues with respect to oil sands the United States has issues with respect to coal, and we need to be sensitive to those issues and I think we will be, but there has been an enormous amount of progress with respect to air and water and land environmental issues, with respect to oil sands over the last several years. I believe that there is very significant continued research, including at this institution, about that and I look forward to continuing progress, but it's a balance that needs to be struck.

G: Why do you think you in particular were chosen for Canada? I know you worked for Obama as a fundraiser, did that play into it?

J: I've known the president for awhile, we're both from Chicago. I was very involved in his campaign, I was the deputy national finance chairman of his campaign, but there were a lot of people who raised money, who gave money and I would like to think, and ultimately it's up to the Canadian people and the American people to decide, but I would like to think that the president chose me because he saw in me the qualities that he wanted in this important relationship. I am firmly committed to the policies and the values of this administration and I think, like the president, I believe that it's very important to look for common ground. That's going to be the most important thing that I can try to do here and I'd like to think that that's the reason that he had me come here.

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