Harper on Afghanistan and the economy

On the PM’s interview with CNN

by John Geddes

UPDATE: Harper hasn’t reversed himself on Afghanistan

After reading a transcript of Fareed Zakaria’s much-discussed CNN interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, I was left pondering two points Harper made, or failed to—one on Afghanistan, one on the economy.

1. The news out of the interview came when Zakaria asked what Harper would say if President Barack Obama requested a longer Canadian military stay in Afghanistan. Harper answered, in part: “I would have a question back for him. And that question would be: ‘what is your plan to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans so they can govern it?’”

Given that Canada has more hard-earned on-the-ground experience in Kandahar than any coalition partner, wouldn’t it make more sense for Harper to be suggesting—even insisting—what needs to be done, rather than asking a new President, who, after all, has much less background on the file, to propose a plan?

So Harper might reasonably have been asked, where is Canada’s road map to success, of some sort, in Afghanistan? (I think Canada should be spearheading a push to revive last year’s aborted plan to put a forceful, respected leader in charge of unifying the bewildering range of international aid and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan.)

2. When Zakaria switched to the economy, his tone was basically congratulatory—how has Canada avoided the worst of the financial meltdown and the global recession. “What should we do to get out of this mess?” he asked, implying, rather flatteringly, that a leader from well-regulated, sensible Canada might just have the answer.

Well, Harper didn’t. He offered a rather apologetic defence of Keynesian fiscal stimulus, combined with “interest rates near zero” (attention Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, as you contemplate another rate cut this week). But Harper closed by declaring that Canada has neither the fundamental banking issues nor the housing crisis of the U.S.  “We have a cyclical downturn,” he summed up, “but nothing that requires major government intervention.”

That left me blinking at my screen. A “cyclical downturn”? Today’s release of GDP numbers is expected to contain about the worst economic news in a generation in Canada. And “nothing that requires major government intervention”? In that case, I’d have to wonder why the January federal budget served up a $34 billion deficit, and why Ontario is expected to post a deficit of nearly half that, all on its own, later this month. I’d call that major intervention, and if the Prime Minister doesn’t, I’d be curious to know what he thinks is going on.




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Harper on Afghanistan and the economy

  1. But the man was so calm and soothing — or, dare I suggest, hypnotic. After all the talk about “Captain Kirk” for PM, might I suggest Fareed Zacharia instead. That would free Mr. Harper to expand his career as an illusionist.

  2. We have a cyclical downturn, but nothing that requires major government intervention.

    That was actually the most shocking part of the whole interview for me. This is just a “cyclical downturn”? no need for major government intervention?

    Didn’t the PM just finish threatening to send us all back to the polls if the opposition doesn’t give him immediate access to an emergency fund of $3 billion to be spent immediately. On the big EMERGENCY???

    The Prime Minister should go on CNN more often. I really kinda love the Canada he describes to the Americans.

    Kinda wish I could move there.

    • The cyclical downturn comment was only in relation to the housing market. We do not have the sub-prime mess. The big EMERGENCY, is the financial crisis.

    • It’s not so shocking when you consider the man never recanted his disasterous Nov FU – consistent really, i’ll leave you to decide what the consistency actually is! I’m left wondering when surpluses are going to enter stage left? [ or right as the case may be ] At that pt i think we may safely say the rabbit has found Alice once again.

      • Funny, during all that time of constitutional crisis, etc. I saw the term “Harper’s FU” quite a lot. It never occurred to me at the time people were referring literally to the Fiscal Update, I thought they were describing Harper’s “F You” to the opposition parties. Oh well, live and learn.

        • Yr right there is a lot of ignorance out there about the way our parliamentary system works, not least at the top!

    • Yeah, well, we’re never going to go into deficit again either. Which makes me think, wait, maybe we ARE going to defeat the insurgency!

      I’m so confused.

  3. It’s pie in the sky day here at Macleans. First Wells suggests that one person will be able to sort out the mess that is our chaotic mission in Afghan/Pak and now we have Geddes thinking that Canadians can tell Americans what to do militarily. What’s next. Expecting Con ministers to enjoy meetings with privileged academics?

    Though I do agree that Harper’s performance on the economy was a bit underwhelming. But I also give him, and any other leader, some slack because I prefer it when leaders talk up the economy rather than talk it down. Obama has been talking down the economy and I think their stock market tells you how people respond to that kind of talk.

    • Perhaps Macleans was infected by the same optimism that led our PM to call our current mess a mere “cyclical downturn” not requiring major government intervention.

      Some call that “talking up the economy”. Others might call it delusional. I’d call it delusional myself, If I thought for a moment the PM really believed it.

      • Funny, when he was speaking to a South American audience, it was a ‘Depression’. If this is a cyclical downturn that requires $34 B stimulus, heaven help us if it was real serious… Canadians are really second-rate with this PM, butter won’t melt and we’re not even worth the truth, only partisan shilling and bile. I’m wondering what he’d tell an Icelandic audience.

  4. Excellent interview. Harper is definitely gaining points of late and no doubt about it. Of course we are going through a cyclical downturn Duh! That’s what a recession is and they come and go in cycles and when you get right down to it we don’t need massive gov’t intervention. This is obvious and explains for one and all why we aren’t massively intervening our stimulus as per the Agreement at the G20 (the real reason) is just over 2 maybe coming up to 3% (this fall more than likely) as compared with nationalizing banks, underwriting mortagages and other real massive gov’t intervention – look I know harper haters just love to parse his words every which way but sunday and then come to some of the strangest conclusions one can imagine but just read or listen to what is said as it is true, plain spoken and to the point .. this I think is the real reason harper haters just don’t get it as they can’t stand people who talk plainly and to the point!

    • That 2% is a joke. It would only be 2% if all the cities and provinces are able to pay up on the infrastructure projects. The federal government is putting much less than 2% into the economy. Tall tales!

  5. Oh please, harper giving advise, what a laugh. He had no clue about the economic slide, he would have had us believe that all was fine, him giving advise to a popular and very intelligent leader, when he himself can’t lead. He can divide, just like bush, his mentor and hero. He can’t win a majority, but he’s going to tell obama how to govern, or at least suggest to Obama how to lead. Again I find this laughable. If he had his way, our troops would stay as long as he is in office, hopefully that won’t be long. He is to albertans what george mcgovern was to the rednecks in the south. A hopeless racist. What have the reformers achieved in the three yrs in office, zilch.

  6. Harper sounds prime-ministerial and makes us look good. I’m thankful he had the guts and the intelligence to out maneuver jack Layton and his quest to grad power at any cost. Could you imagine Harper visiting us and meeting with Duceppe rather than Ignatieff?

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