Sunday, February 22, 2009

Now that the hoopla is over and the Emperor has returned to Rome carrying a snow globe tribute as a "Canadian" souvenir (aren't they all made in China these days) the pundits are opining about what was accomplished with the visit. Do these things ever accomplish anything ? Well, it is nice to see a Canadian Prime Minister having to bow to the left to greet a US President. It's a nice change. Whether there is any substance to Obama's caring rhetoric is another matter entirely. Time will tell. Meanwhile, here's an opinion piece on the visit from the Harper Index, a site devoted to keeping a beady eye on Harper's beady eyes.
Obama turns the tables on Harper:
Prime Minister is forced to take or at least accept positions he normally condemns.
by Ish Theilheimer
OTTAWA, February 20, 2008 – a special report from The Obama effect on Stephen Harper was to pressure him into taking positions that appeared to contradict three decades of work as a right-wing strategist and ruthless political operator.

The news conference was without precedent and full of ironies. For decades, Canadian prime ministers have either pressured US presidents on progressive issues such as ending the Vietnam war (on which Pierre Trudeau pressured LBJ) or Iraq (on which Jean Chrétien pressured George W. Bush), or played up to them (as Brian Mulroney did with Reagan and Harper himself did with Bush).

Yesterday, the tables were turned. The wildly-popular Obama used his trademark charm and openness to repeatedly maneuver Harper into saying, or at least appearing to agree with, things for which he would have blasted domestic opponents. To appear onside with Obama, he even had to say a few things that stretched truth or credibility.

The focus on clean and renewable energy was unusual for Harper, who, despite his own close ties to the oil industry, painted himself as a champion of climate change action in the face of American obstruction. "Canada has had great difficulty developing an effective regulatory regime alone in the context of a integrated continental economy," he said. "It's very hard to have a tough regulatory system here when we are competed with - competing with an unregulated economy south of the border."

Environmental protection and addressing climate change was a key plank in Barack Obama's election platform, where Harper rarely mentioned these things in his. Yet the Prime Minister found himself saying, "When I look at the President's platform, the kind of targets that his administration has laid out for the reduction of greenhouse gases are very similar to ours."

Harper then made the startling claim that his and George W. Bush's proposal of "intensity-based" targets for greenhouse gas reductions, widely decried by environmentalists as a license to pollute, are the same as Obama's plans.

"You say we have intensity, they have absolute -but the truth is these are just two different ways of measuring the same thing. You can convert one to the other, if that's what you want to do."

As the David Suzuki foundation has written, "... even if intensity-based targets seem to call for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, actual emissions could very well continue to rise."

Harper was then forced to endure an Obama lecture on the problems that the "two relatively wealthy countries" share in terms of dirty energy sources. "Here in Canada you have the issue of the oil sands. In the United States, we have issues around coal."

Then the President mentioned the diversity of approaches that will be needed, including a cap and trade system. "There are other countries who've discussed the possibilities of a carbon tax," Obama said, months after Harper beat Stéphane Dion by mercilessly attacking the idea.

All this starkly contrasts with Harper's long-held views on climate change. In a famous Canadian Alliance Party fundraising letter in 2002, he called the Kyoto treaty, with its emphasis on carbon trading, a "massive transfer of wealth from rich countries to poor countries."
On trade treaties and NAFTA, Obama pushed for change, with Harper resisting.

"... With a NAFTA agreement that has labor provisions and environmental provisions as side agreements, it strikes me if those side agreements mean anything then they might as well be incorporated into the main body of the agreement so that they can be effectively enforced," Obama said. "And I think it is important, whether we're talking about our relationships with Canada or our relationships with Mexico, that all countries concerned are thinking about how workers are being treated and all countries concerned are thinking about environmental issues..."

Harper, who recently struck a trade deal with Colombia, where union leaders are routinely murdered, was forced to defend trade deals and claim he is concerned with protecting rights and environment through them.

"You know, our position is that we're perfectly willing to look at ways we can address some of these concerns, which I understand, without, you know, opening the whole NAFTA and unraveling what is a very complex agreement. But we had a good discussion on that and I think – I'm hopeful we'll be able to make some progress."

On stimulus, Harper used a new line to justify a federal budget that committed to only about half the two percent stimulus to which G20 nations agreed. He claimed that matching funds from provinces and municipalities will meet the gap. The Canadian stimulus package, he said, is "certainly larger than the kind of numbers the IMF was talking about in the fall with the provincial action that we will bring in to our stimulus spending – will be close to 2 percent of GDP for this year, a percent and a half for next year.

"This is not as large as the stimulus package in the United States," he admitted, without addressing whether it is legitimate to claim the provincial and municipal funds – money already in those governments' spending plans – as federal stimulus spending.

It will be left to Canada's opposition parties and the Canadian public to hold Harper's feet to the fire Obama has lit in support of progressive positions on environmental and labour rights.
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1 comment:

Sixth Estate said...

I was in Ottawa for the visit and particularly like your title ("the Emperor inspects the provinces"), as I think it captured quite aptly my own impressions.

Save for the "unplanned" (read: unannounced, presumably for security reasons) excursion into the market, Obama's visit took place within an armed camp in downtown Ottawa - streets barricaded (all the way from Parliament Hill to the airport, at one point), legions of police brought in from nearby cities, an internal bus service run by the police behind the lines, using commandeered public transit buses; and so on and so forth. I described some of it on my blog here.