CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Gary Doer has been on the ground at both the Democratic and Republican conventions over the past two weeks, "flying the Canadian flag" to a barrage of the biggest power brokers in the United States.
"All the people who are going to be making decisions in both parties are here," Canada's U.S. ambassador said in an interview in Charlotte, N.C., during a break in his jam-packed schedule of briefings at the Democratic National Convention this week.
"You meet governors, former governors, congressional representatives, candidates, senators, people who are advising and informing policy on the teams that are standing for the presidency of the United States," said Doer, one of 70 foreign ambassadors who descended upon the conventions.
"So it's a very good place to meet a lot of people very quickly. You just walk down the street and you meet them."
Doer said he's been struck by the vast differences between Canadian and American political conventions as he's taken in the events in Tampa and Charlotte.
"The corporate, special interest lobbying that goes on at both conventions is quite overwhelming," he said, sipping a mug of black coffee a few blocks from the downtown Time Warner arena.
"There is very little debate on the convention floor; you don't get debates about Afghanistan on the convention floor, or debates about trade versus protectionism on the convention floor, like you would see at a political convention in Canada."
Instead, each U.S. convention had a slickly produced, carefully controlled narrative as U.S. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican rival for the White House, run neck-and-neck in public opinion polls.
In Tampa, it was all about Romney's likeability, Doer said, while in Charlotte, Democrats tried to get the word out that Obama deserves respect for his foreign policy triumphs and the job he's done dealing with a devastating economic recession.
"You have a disciplined message but democracy, as muddy as that can sometimes be — you don't see it in as transparent a way as you see it in Canada."
Which convention was best? Doer, ever the diplomat, declined to say, although he did allow that he loved Bill Clinton's speech. He even provided a fleeting — and bang-on — imitation of the 42nd president, although he refused to reprise it before a rolling video camera.
"We won't know what is the most successful convention until we see in about a week whether anybody broke out of this tie," he said.
"And even then, after this convention is over, we're moving into the debates, which I think, if things are really close, will be very important."
The media often declares there are no knockout punches at debates, Doer pointed out, but those highly rated prime-time faceoffs can be tremendously significant even without electrifying verbal smackdowns.
"Those of us who have actually been involved in them know that it's about a 72-hour period for the feelings of the public to translate into the voting intentions of the public," the former Manitoba premier said.
The outcome of Nov. 6 presidential election will have serious implications for Canada, he added — no matter who wins.
There would obviously be a sea of new faces in the White House if Romney were to succeed in denying Obama a second term.
But even another Obama victory will represent change for Canada given there will be a new secretary of state. The U.S. State Department will ultimately decide the fate of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, among other vital bilateral business.
Hillary Clinton says she no longer wants the job and is leaving politics, although the streets of Charlotte and the convention floor were abuzz this week with persistent rumours she's running for the party's presidential nomination in 2016 despite her denials.
That speculation went into overdrive following her husband's impassioned defence of Obama at the convention on Wednesday night. Obama, so the chatter goes, will now return the favour by endorsing his current secretary of state in 2016.
Sen. John Kerry is rumoured to be at the top of the list to replace Clinton in the job. But Doer points out Kerry might be a risky pick for Obama if the Democrats emerge from the election with only a razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate.
The White House may want Kerry to stay put in the Senate rather than open up his Massachusetts Senate seat for a potential Republican pick-off.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, could then be a safer choice, Doer said. Rice is married to one-time CBC producer Ian Cameron, a native of British Columbia.
After his visits to Tampa and Charlotte, Doer flew home Friday to get back to work in the U.S. capital. He made an appearance with Environment Minister Peter Kent and Lisa Jackson, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as they signed a newly amended Great Lakes water quality agreement.
The amendments address problems with invasive aquatic species, habitat degradation and the effects of climate change.
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