Canada, Obama, and the G20


Whether it is energy, Afghanistan, global warming, fiscal stimulus, or auto bailouts, it seems the Canadian government is constantly scrambling to adjust to the policy initiatives of Barack Obama and his administration. While Obama is unquestionably leading, we seem to be following.

On oil, Obama may be preaching energy independence and recognizing Canada as a friendly supplier, but he is no fan of Alberta’s so-called “dirty oil” from the tar sands. So Canada is now looking into reducing carbon emissions from the sands through technological means. Obama has also acknowledged our role and contribution in Afghanistan, and he is aware of Canada’s 2011 deadline for withdrawal. Yet, just last week, he announced a new strategy calling on NATO to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” al Qaeda, even though he tacitly acknowledged Harper’s suggestion that a clear victory against insurgents is increasingly doubtful. Harper and his minority government can’t easily reverse course on Afghanistan, but Obama’s new plan has made it so there is no way we can walk away from an active military role without consequence. Over the weekend, Obama announced he would host a 20-country forum, where Canada, along with big polluters like China and India, has been invited to discuss how to fight climate change at a post-Kyoto summit scheduled later this year. There is no way the Harper government will be able to keep its lukewarm environmental policy intact nor will it be able escape trying to sound green when that forum occurs. Finally, on stimulus and bailouts, it is hard to see where we differ. The only difference is that Obama is doing what was in his program, while the Canadian government seems to be constantly adjusting its own policies to follow Obama’s lead.

Canada’s Conservative government is beginning to pay the political price for its copycat routine, as recent poll numbers put Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff ahead of Harper in popularity. Respected journalists across Canada, like Maclean’s Andrew Coyne, have derided the governing Tories as devoid of principles and criticized them for delivering a Liberal-style budget and policies. This may explain why the Liberals have managed to support the government without paying any noticeable political price. Harper, by contrast, is in a position where he must defend higher spending, record deficits, and bailouts similar to what Obama is doing in the United States. It seems that, when faced with the choice between the “real thing” and a leader who is out of sync with his purported principles, Canadians prefer the ideologically authentic politician. This does not mean Harper is mishandling the economic crisis or running an incompetent government. Rather, it shows Canadians prefer a leader governing from conviction as opposed to one who adjusts to the proverbial political winds. (It remains to be seen, of course, whether Mr. Ignatieff is in fact the real thing.)

Personally, I have no trouble with a government doing what is right and useful in a given circumstance, even if it seems to be in a reactive mode or has set aside some of its political program. It is called pragmatism and realism. That said, the Harper government should seize the opportunity to reset and restart on the eve of the G20 summit. He should sing our praises to the world—using the G20 summit for this purpose would be a ideal opportunity. A recent article in Newsweek by respected columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria lauding Canada’s banking system as the most secure of the G8 countries, showing how well we have fared on energy issues compared to the US, and celebrating our universal healthcare insurance is a case in point. We know that Canada has over the years led in areas where our neighbour to the south has lagged behind. Prime Minister Harper has taken to the US media in recent days to state our case, but we must say and do more. As nations welcome the arrival of a new US President to this world forum, one who is open to a multilateral approach and is engaging in areas that his immediate predecessor neglected, Harper should seize this moment as an opportunity to reclaim a certain role for our country where we do more than follow the Obama agenda. We can actually complement and, in some cases, go beyond White House policy. Reclaiming our leadership in world diplomacy—the hallmark of Canada’s profile in the post-WWII world—would be a signal that Canada is shifting away from the Bush years and is prepared to be a leader and a broker on issues affecting the future of this planet. At the end of the day, there is nothing to be ashamed of in following the Obama agenda if it coincides with our national interests. But maybe, just maybe, we can once again stand out as an example to the world. The G20 meeting could be a good start.


Canada, Obama, and the G20

  1. Re:

    “This does not mean Harper is mishandling the economic crisis or running an incompetent government.”

    Could have fooled me…

  2. High hopes for the Harper “team”, John. I wonder when Canada was leading the G20, and when it started to become the laggard, eh?

    Harper is clearly out of his element…and he will continue to look the jester amongst the court of the G20 if he starts taking credit for things he has in the past been diametrically been opposed to in the past.

    He is a total anachronism here…

    • You are so right . Harper is Bush clone. ABH….anybody but Harper sounds right .

  3. , ” Reclaiming our leadership in world diplomacy—the hallmark of Canada’s profile in the post-WWII world—would be a signal that Canada is shifting away from the Bush years and is prepared to be a leader and a broker on issues affecting the future of this planet”

    Hmmm, how exactly are we gonna do that with our Foreign service about to get millions cut from its budget? Bad move Harper, or were you planning to let the armed forces fill this role?

  4. “celebrating our universal healthcare insurance is a case in point. We know that Canada has over the years led in areas where our neighbour to the south has lagged behind.”

    The USA has been bankrupting their future taxpayers just as fast as their so-called leaders to the north – with plain old medicare, medicaid and prescription drug assistance and without the full blown, North-Korean-style universal free healthcare enjoyed by Canadians. So we’re closer to our American neighbors than you think. We’re both headed for the poorhouse, only the policy details and the rhetoric are different.

    “Harper should seize this moment as an opportunity to reclaim a certain role for our country where we do more than follow the Obama agenda.”

    Not sure what you’re wishing for here. You mean, like implementing a North Korean style energy policy, even faster and harder than what Obama wants? Nationalize auto manufacturing and start cranking out government-designed lemons right away instead of dithering over bailouts and agonizing over selecting the automakers’ boards of directors? Push for a global paper currency, unbacked by anything but the lies and promises of diplomats? Start invading Pakistan all on our own, with or without USAF help? Now that’s real leadership. Don’t just go down with the ship, but hustle right on down to the bottom of the hold and start drilling more holes in it.

  5. I’d be inclined to cut Harper some slack except he has demonstrated that he and Harper’s New Government are slack in virtually every policy area; finance, the economy, environment, foreign affairs, food safety, immigration, the RCMP seem run amok . . .

    I’d list them all but I’d have to list them all. There is not a single cabinet minister nor a single portfolio that has performed even adequately. Inadequacy seems endemic to Harper’s New Government.

    Starting with the November 2009 F.U. I’d be interested to have someone type out a list of even minor successes or progress on any file? Off the top of my head, convincing the Governor General to prorogue – thus saving only his own and his government’s neck – has been the only accomplishment of note?

    It’s not like there is no track record to refer to. What makes anyone think Harper’s performance will now improve? Wishful thinking?

    Harper’s new government has been feckless in governing and what popularity it retains was won on attacking the opposition and on attacking non-CPC Canadians rather than tackling [obvious] problems. He inherited government at the most auspicious moment and he’s done nothing positive, achieved nothing of note. Paint his portrait, an empty suit will do, and hang him here:


    He’s had his opportunity. He’s accomplished nought.

    • Harper focuses so much on maintaining power and trying to outsmart his opponent — and I’ve become so accustomed to it. That’s what he does. He doesn’t improve things, he just focuses on maintaining his power and finding his ‘precioussss’ – the majority government.

      I thought therefore, silly me, that the announcement of a new Secretary to the Queen (for co-ordinating her visits) was an attempt to undermine the position of the Governor-General; who has been shut down out of sight ever since Obama casually invited her to the White House, and they appeared to be having so much fun laughing together.

  6. Though I gave Harper a chance (think Martin & Dion are decent men, but didn’t want them to be PM) I have started to be disappointed by what I perceive as a lack of imagination and as one commentator puts it, a certain anachronism. Though many of the other leaders not have changed, the game has, and Obama made it so.

    Intellectual and vigorous, speaking to his constituents in the manner of adults – whether or not you agree with his policies, it’s hard not to be impressed by the man. Leadership is redefined.

    PM Harper, we must all concede, is no fool, and his speaking style is fairly frank, and free of Bush-style sloganeering and folkisms, but almost anyone looked better than W. Now that they have to stand next to BHO, our pauvre PM et al. must feel somewhat diminished…they certainly seem so.

    So, I’ve been casting about of late. Looking at the Canadian political landscape, I see only one person who could offer a favorable comparison to the POTUS…and sorry Jack, I don’t mean you, but you seem like a good guy. (Your moustache is a definite maybe though…)

    So, I would like to see Michael Ignatieff emark on a bit of a speaking tour. Give us long, complete, frank, and even a bit inspiring discussions on a range of issues…substantive issues of the sort that Wells is always telling us get no coverage…write op-eds, go on TV and discuss. I’m not talking about campaign style party rah-rah either…there’ll be plenty of time for that soon enough. Scholarly discussions of the direction of the country in the long-view, not the view of the next electoral cycle. I think there’s an appetite for that now in the country.

    Mr. Ignatieff, you’re this >< close to winning at least this vote…clinch the deal.

    • You know that would be fine, except i’m not sure Michael’s got a lot of new ideas. But he does look good in the town hall setting, and i’m sure he’s still finding his feet. Sadly perhaps, he’s no Trudeau or Obama, but in fairness, who the hell is?

      • I think Michael has a lot of guts; he’s done amazingly well considering that basically he’s new to politics. He’s hitting his stride, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens after the Leadership convention. Looks to me like he’s lost about 30 pounds too – works a lot harder than Harper does.

        I’m sure he has ideas, but he’s just keeping them to himself until the time is right. He’s not exactly lacking in brains.

    • I think Ignatieff has learned to keep his new ideas (Quebec nation, carbon tax) to himself after his first run at the Liberal leadership.

  7. conrad black says Harper need a personality transplant . He is right. Maybe a little Don Cherry would help .

  8. As the public opines a penchant for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff over our current PM, it is interesting to note that personality holds no great weight in our Canadian context relative to the cult-like following Barack Obama has garnered. Though other/past American political leaders have harnessed the power to mobilize, Obama’s leadership style seems a hybrid capable of bridging generational and cultural gaps like never before. His presidential campaign and now his Administration orient the populace towards a mission of rebuilding the nation’s economy, policies, reputation, and identity. He is proving to be a tactful leader, steering America towards a redefined collective self. Indeed, Putnam would be proud to see us all bowling together again. Perhaps the G20 Summit has proven that such cooperative discourse is possible among nations.

  9. I don’t think Harper is up to the job. I think he’s on the lazy side, really, and this is more than he bargained for.

Sign in to comment.