January 26, 2012: Ottawa

Over the last two days, I participated — along with military, political and diplomatic leaders from the United States and Canada — in the 228th meeting of the Canada-US Permanent Joint Board on Defense. The PJBD says as much as anything about the nature of the relationship between our two countries. In a world marked by profound change, the Board is Permanent. It was formed in 1940 by the Ogdensburg Declaration, to create a body that could consider, in the broad sense, the security and defense of the northern half of the Western Hemisphere.

Each country provides a co-chair, along with a mix of military and civilian members. The Canadian co-chair Laurie Hawn, the Member of Parliament from Edmonton Centre, is my friend from our trip together to Afghanistan over Christmas in 2009. Laurie was joined by the new US co-chair, John Spratt. John is a recently retired congressman from South Carolina. During his distinguished career he was the Chair of the House Committee on the Budget, and the long time member of the Armed Services Committee. The two of them will, no doubt carry on the Board’s distinguished tradition.

The first US co-chair back in 1940 was Fiorello LaGuardia. He famously said: “My generation has failed miserably. We’ve failed because of lack of courage and vision. It requires more courage to keep the peace than to go to war.” The meeting here in Ottawa was part of our bilateral effort to display the courage and the vision necessary to keep the peace in North America and around the world. (I believe LaGuardia also invented the phrase “your plane is delayed.”)

During the course of the meeting, we signed three agreements that will contribute to the safety and security of our citizens on both sides of the border. The first was the Civil Assistance Plan (CAP), which is a plan for Northern Command in the U.S. and Canada Command to provide support to civil authorities in the event of a disaster in either country. The second is the Combined Defense Plan (CDP), which gives guidance to our militaries on how to defend North America. The third is a Memorandum of Understanding that will allow us to share information more readily.

Among the attendees at the meeting was the Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, Marc Grégoire. Commissioner Grégoire is leading the Coast Guard during an exceptionally exciting time. In addition to their daily duties of search and rescue, maritime safety and security, icebreaking and maintaining navigation aids, today, January 26, 2012, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Commissioner Grégoire indicated this would be commemorated on the newly released Canadian 50 dollar bill. The Canadian Coast Guard is part of Canada’s National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy and, as part of that project, design work has begun on a new state-of-the-art polar icebreaker.

I’d like to join the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Bob Papp, who was also at the meeting, in congratulating the Canadian Coast Guard for 50 years of service to Canada, humanity and the environment and to offer my thanks for being such a valued and critical maritime partner of the United States.


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