Thursday, May 10, 2007
US Ambassador entertains and charms the Fraser Institute crowd but says little
US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins addresses Fraser Institute in a crowded bar
You have to like David Wilkins. And Vancouver.
Where else in the world would you find a US Ambassador sharing thoughts and beverages with the likes of Marc Emery, marijuana advocate and potential lifer in an American jail for allegedly trafficking drugs into the Ambassador's country?
But there they both were, the Prince of Pot and the Ambassador of Bush, imbibing and pontificating in the Opus Hotel's lobby, brought together under the auspices of the Fraser Institute.
And make no mistake, the former Marijuana Party backer and legalization crusader Marc Emery is a very far right-winger - at least when it comes to economics.
But when the Fraser Institute's charming Leah Costello kindly passed the microphone to Emery during a Q & A, he made clear his views on the George Bush administration.
"Are you aware that most Canadians despise the US federal government?" Emery impolitely asked Wilkins to boos and catcalls from the audience.
"I don't agree with the assumption you make in your question," Wilkins responded. "There is genuine trust and friendship among Canadians. Not a day goes by without a Canadian coming up to me and saying - 'We appreciate the stand of your president'."
While that answer may have had some wondering which of the two was smoking more of the powerful stuff, none of those people were in attendance at the Fraser Institute event.
Who was there, among others, were Nick Geer, the former chair of the Insurance Corporation of BC, Doug Horswill, Senior V-P for Teck Cominco and Sara MacIntyre, the former head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in BC, now Director, Public Affairs and Communications for NaiKun Wind Development Inc, a private power developer.
Wilkins is a smart man who knows exactly what he is saying and how to say so humorously for the most part.
When an earlier questioner asked whether he prefers the US or Canadian system of government, Wilkins responded as only a veteran politician turned diplomat can.
"I see that when my guy's in charge, I like your system better. When my guy's not in charge, I like our system better," Wilkins said to many laughs. He then joked about having an American president being able to appoint all Senators, as the Canadian prime minister can, for an example.
Wilkins also understands his role well and gives amusing responses to disarm his audience, while not exactly informing it either.
"I'm basically not going to answer your question," he said at one point to large guffaws.
Later, asked to explain how what the difference is since he switched from being a partisan Republican elected official to a diplomat he responded: "I could give you the short answer - 'Keep your mouth shut'."
The closest Wilkins came to a newsworthy statement was when he addressed a question about US passport requirements for Canadians travelling to his country.
"I know you've got some problems with lineups and waits," the Ambassador understated.
And then it was off into the night for Wilkins. Diplomacy, you see, depends on never overstaying your warm welcome.