The World is Stephen Harper's Playground

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Written by Gonzalo Moreno

Consider this: last weekend, at a UN climate summit in Nairobi, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose managed to make her country, and the world in general, a much shinier, happier place, all in a three-minute speech. She used the speech to slam the Liberals for their lack of a cohesive environmental policy, which she used as an excuse for Canada’s dismal record in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

This predictably angered the Liberals, who, besides saying it’s not true, were supremely annoyed that a federal government official would use an international forum to make a partisan speech. It also angered the Conservatives’ parliamentary linchpin, the Bloc Quebecois, because Quebec is trying its best to meet Kyoto targets through provincial initiatives and Ambrose refused to speak of concrete targets in her speech. Last, it baffled representatives from other nations who were present at the summit, because Canada signed onto Kyoto and is doing nothing to meet its targets, yet has not disavowed the Treaty, presumably to save face. In a hard weekend’s worth of work, Ambrose managed to get the opposition out for blood, alienate her party’s allies in parliament and decrease her country’s standing in the international community. She's a triple threat.

Consider this other snippet: Stephen Harper was stood up by Chinese president Hu Jintao earlier last week in an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Hanoi. The rebuff came after the PM had toughened Canada’s stance regarding China’s appalling human rights record, especially as it pertains to Tibet, religious freedom, and Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen who is in being held in a Chinese jail on terrorism charges. Of course, Harper could have used the programmed meeting, which the Chinese themselves had requested, to tell Hu all of these things in private. But it’s much cooler to be the guy that pointed the finger in public, so the Harper Government ignored the most elementary rules of diplomacy, pissing off not only the Chinese but also Canadians with business interests in China and many in the international community. Not to mention that having a meeting would have been much more helpful to Celil’s cause than not having it.

It would be nice to believe that, in view of this episode, Harper is being righteous, and not merely posturing and erratic, when configuring Canada’s foreign policy. That’s a tough one to swallow. To begin with, the Harper government has, in its first months in power, shown little concern for the plight of Maher Arar, another Canadian citizen who was left to rot in a foreign jail over terrorism charges. The only difference between thw two cases is the country that brought the charges forward. I would like to believe that Harper is concerned for the fate of Celil, but I don’t see him going after Arar’s jailers in the manner that he likes to go after Celil’s jailers.

If that wasn’t enough, earlier this month Harper pulled out of a EU summit because he didn’t like what was going to be featured in the agenda and didn’t want to be told off about it in an international meeting. In short, he can point fingers in public as a form of international diplomacy, but he is mortally afraid of having the finger pointed at him in the same context. This is hardly coherent behaviour. In fact, in both instances it is profoundly hypocritical.

And what is this issue that Harper would rather not talk about with the EU? Not surprisingly, the PM excused himself when he learned that the Kyoto Protocol would be discussed in that summit. The same issue that he sent Ambrose to deliver a partisan speech on. The issue that ultimately proves that this government’s behaviour regarding foreign policy is so hit-and-miss that it is no wonder that whenever they do something for the so-called ‘right’ reasons, this country, and half the world, has to run for cover.

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