An ambassador's perspective

- April 15, 2013

David Jacobson, speaking to students in University Hall. (Marcia Seitz-Ehler, Consulate General's Office photo)
David Jacobson, speaking to students in University Hall. (Marcia Seitz-Ehler, Consulate General's Office photo)

David Jacobson believes Canada is more like the United States than any other country in the world – but not without some important differences.

“There are probably no two countries in the world as alike as Canada and the United States, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same,” said Jacobson, the United States’ ambassador to Canada, on his recent visit to campus. He said those differences, owing a lot to historical experience, are “small but subtle” and that learning them has been one of the more rewarding parts of his job for the past four years.

Jacobson, who is winding down his time as ambassador — reports are that a successor will be announced shortly — came to campus on the invitation of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in late March to meet with students and discuss the Canada-U.S. relationship.

He shared what he identified as the Obama administration’s four priorities for the relationship: trade, the environment and energy, border security, and supporting shared values like democracy. From the $1.2 billion trade between the nations, to discussing border movement and travel, Jacobson’s talk was both conversational and substantial, offering insights into the administration’s take on a number of topics students were keen to learn more about.

On border security, for example, he discussed the need for a more efficient, effective system of checks and balances. “We’ve got to do more of the smart stuff that works and less of the dumb stuff that doesn’t,” he said. “We need to spend more time looking for bad guys and less time looking at my grandmother’s feet.”

Answering students' questions

Students had a number of questions about topics like the administration’s inability to close Guantanamo prison — “a disappointment” for them, said Jacobson — as well as the debt ceiling crisis and the Keystone pipeline. On the latter, Jacobson explained how the administration, like Canada, was “trying to strike the balance between jobs and economic growth and the environment.” He did acknowledge that, when it comes to environmental topics, the U.S. “will do better” than it has in the past.

Jacobson urged students to take an active role in the world around them and to take advantage of opportunities as they come. He noted that while lots of people got to know Barack Obama during his time in Chicago, not all of them ended up in his shoes. It was through his hard work and commitment that he was able to end up with what he called “one of the very best jobs in the US government.” (He said it’s been “an opportunity to do things that really matter to people in both countries.”)

“The most important thing you can do to make sure your future will be successful is to take advantage of opportunities as they come to you,” he said. “People who are successful know good luck with they come to it and then take advantage of it.”


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