Uninvited guests, unintended consequences


Canada appears destined to be dragged into the centre of the U.S. presidential debate once again.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain has sought and received an invitation to Ottawa to give a speech next week on free trade.


McCain’s choice of topic and venue is unlikely to be coincidental. Even if the nominee himself makes no mention of NAFTA-gate, the planeload of American reporters travelling with him will undoubtedly make the link, prompting yet more grief for Obama. His appearance may also provoke some additional awkwardness for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. –

Canadian Press (via CTV News)

I’m sure he means well – or, at least, means no specific ill will towards the Prime Minister. But honestly, you’d think John McCain, or someone on his team, would have realized this may not be quite the right time for an extraterritorial campaign swing through the neighbouring nation’s capital, at least from the point of view of the current Canadian administration.

After all, even under ordinary circumstances, a Prime Minister really isn’t supposed to play favourites in a US presidential campaign – a lesson that you’d think Stephen Harper, of all people, would have taken to heart in the aftermath of the NAFTA/Obama/Clinton/Brodie/PMO/CTV/Wilson Leak Debacle.

Harper, however …

is also all too aware that, even after Kevin Lynch exonerated, albeit halfheartedly, his soon-to-be-former chief of staff, the question of who leaked the now infamous memo to the Associated Press is still an unsolved mystery. The list of suspects, in fact, has recently expanded to include at least one card-carrying Republican: Frank Sensenbrenner, who, according to the Toronto Star, was foisted on the Canadian embassy last year, at the express behest of the Prime Minister’s Office, yet who was apparently never interviewed by Lynch.

That’s one reason why a Commons committee is getting ready to launch its own investigation into the leak itself; specifically, how it was handled – before, during and after the story broke – by the Prime Minister’s Office, and PCO. Sensenbrenner’s name is almost certain to come up, which could cast the whole affair in an entirely different light – and not one particularly flattering for the government, given the overwhelming Canadian preference, even amongst Conservative voters, for Obama over McCain.

Given all that, next week’s visit couldn’t possibly come at a worse moment for the Harper government, which will likely be on the defensive before McCain’s plane even touches down on Canadian ground. As for the speech itself, McCain won’t have to worry about the turnout – the event sold out within minutes of being announced – but it’s unlikely that many senior PMO or ministerial staffers will be in attendance, as their presence would set off a fresh flurry of speculation on cosiness between the Conservatives and the McCain campaign. Even though this is by no means an official visit, his mere presence in Ottawa will be seen, rightly or wrongly, as evidence that the PM is doing whatever he can to help out his Republican buddies.

All in all, the best thing that could happen right now, as far as the PM is concerned, would be for McCain to re-check his datebook, and discover that he has inadvertently double-booked, and has a prior engagement somewhere far from Ottawa that he simply can’t miss.

UPDATE – My editor emeritus agrees that it would be better for all concerned if McCain stayed home. If the Republican hopeful does turns up as scheduled, however, and requests a meeting with the PM, he thinks that Harper should “sit down with him in private, avoid any gratuitous photo-ops, and make it abundantly clear that [he] is equally eager to get together with Obama if he ventures north of the border.”


Uninvited guests, unintended consequences

  1. Another option would be to give Obama some equal time? hmmmm .. I would love to see that .. in fact considering that there are times when we Canadians tend to spend more time and energy monitoring American politics than we do our own it is down right too bad we couldn’t ask them both up here to have a few townhall debates – what a weird thought but it would be brilliant .. if only?

  2. We’re just not that lucky, alas – because that would be the best show ever, and would almost make up for not having an election of our own, at least for the moment.

  3. Duh – I’m sure David Wilkins, Harper and Wilson have relayed to the Republicans/Bush/McCain gang that Obama is popular in Canada.

    Strategy: Have McCain come up here presidential looking like to talke free trade – when we all know McCain is not an economist by any means.

    Yup, we’re sure going to be fooled by having McCain come up here to grace us with his presence.

    How stupid.

  4. Will McCain be giving back the $1 billion that Harper sacrificed to get the softwood lumber deal, after claiming for months the only issue was enforcement?

  5. I serioulsy doubt that McCain’s people didn’t consult with the Harper team in deciding to come. Does anyone know if there has ever been a presidential candidate to do same in the middle of campaign?

    This can’t be a coincidence.

  6. My thoughts;

    1. McCain might sway some of the thousands of people living in Canada who can vote in the US. Every vote does count.

    2. This will be played in the media in the US and will focus a lot on NAFTA-gate (or whatever one would like to call it). McCain won’t even have to mention it.

    3. McCain’s people would probably only notify, not ask. If they asked, the PMO would likely say yes only if Obama asked a similar request. Or they might say no, since they don’t want to look like cozzying up to Republicans since we could be in an election campaign this year or close to the signing in ceremony next winter.

    4. I’m not sure how much larger the movement against oil sands has grown in the States but it could also be a topic in his talk. Courting some of the green vote down south perhaps?

  7. Wayne – I agree. Our current debate system isn’t very engaging (far too staged), and I find it ironic that Duceppe seems to always do the best, IMO anyways…

  8. I am glad there is a Presidential candidate who is going to stand up for free trade. I want to hear McCain say he is going to protect this agreement that has benefited Canada. There is a lot of anti-Canadian rhetoric coming out of the Democratic Party these days that blames Canada and free trade for economic problems in the US.
    Why hasn’t the Canadian media gone after them? Especially from Obama and Clinton? Instead, you play favourites with Obama who is threatening to play games with our economy and rip up the agreement.
    I look at it differently, I hope that Harper gets involved with the US Election — especially with this particular issue that will affect our country.

  9. What difference does it make if the president favours or doesn’t favour NAFTA? We’ve had three decades of explicit support for NAFTA at the Executive level but Congress gets to pick and choose what to follow in terms of softwood lumber, a cowboy judge in Montana can pronounce on agricultural trade and ill-considered and unevenly applied border inspection policies can delay or harass shipments from Canada. If the US wants to talk trade they should send us someone in charge.

  10. This is purely for optics — McCain wants to look viable as a foreign statesman, which his Bush-league superior has never mastered. He wants to play up a divisive issue that hurt Obama in the northern states, even tho the Democratic posing (of late) is likely more vote-getting in the current climate. That Harper is even tempted to put this stamp on this demonstrates just what a narcissistic ninny he is… I’m sure John Howard has sent him a thank-you note (to go with the Charest card).

  11. Schreiber and Airbus are having a conservative fund raiser ? Will stevie and brian be there ?

  12. In 2000, neither Gore nor Bush knew a darned thing about Canada and we were pretty sore about it. Now that McCain is coming, which will likely raise Canada’s profile in the news in the U.S. and likely the election, we start to complain.

    Typical of media and the public. We want one thing, then when we get it we come up with an excuse of why we no longer want it.

  13. Being a mere unsophisticated political observer, what it looks like to me is that McCain is paying a courtesy visit to thank Harper for his unprecedented interference in Obama’s leadership campaign, and to request an encore from Harper in the presidential campaign. So he’s coming to work out the details with Harper first-hand, no loose-lipped go-betweens involved this time.

  14. Could you please not use the term “administration”? In Canada, we don’t have administrations, we have governments. The term “administration” is an Americanism. It’s the Harper government, not the Harper adminstration.

  15. McCain will double talk, misquote and cause absolute havoc for this government.
    Harper can expect a major backlash over this!

    If the Unions have any smarts, they will create a major stink about this Bush Toadie!

    Stay out of Canada McCain!