On Newt’s Canadian comment: Harper’s long view of Canada-U.S. trade

by John Geddes

After he won the South Carolina primary on Saturday, Newt Gingrich’s derisive remarks about Barack Obama’s relationship with Stephen Harper had a ring of partial truth about them.

Gingrich is quite right of course to point out that the Prime Minister is “conservative and pro-American.” And Newt stayed within the realm of reasonable comment—not always rigorously adhered to in this oddball Republican race—in suggesting that Obama’s rejection of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has gone piece toward forging a “Chinese-Canadian partnership.”

For there’s no doubt Obama’s refusal to approve the Keystone plan to pipe oil sands crude to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico prompted Harper to step up his cheerleading for a pipeline, likely Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, to pump Alberta oil to a Pacific port for tanker shipment to China.

But the imputation that Obama’s particular attitude toward Canada is what has bumped Harper out of his natural continentalist groove  is wrong. In fact, Harper was already growing deeply impatient with Washington’s frequently unhelpful handling of trade and border issues at least as far back as late 2007, when George W. Bush still resided in the White House.

On Dec. 18, 2007, I interviewed Harper at 24 Sussex Drive, and asked him about the mounting U.S. regulatory burden on Canadian people and products bound for America, as post-9/11 homeland security measures exacerbated what had been dubbed the “thickening of the border.”

Harper said Canada had, over the previous few years, “lost that special relationship with the U.S.”  He was surprising blunt in declaring that he was “certain this trend will not be reversed in the lifetime” of the second Bush administration. On the prospects of restoring the relationship after a new president was elected the following year, Harper was somewhat more optimistic, but noted gloomily that he was “far from sure.”

He has made an effort with Obama. Last month’s border deal stands as its main product. But that complex, contingent and incremental agreement isn’t enough to boast of a smoothly running relationship, especially in light of the Keystone rupture.

So what did Harper have to say,  in that late-2007 interview, about how he would react if the U.S. situation didn’t improve? He wasn’t very specific, but said Canada would “at some point” switch from the “strictly defensive strategy” of trying to fix trade relations with the U.S., to some new approach. I took that to mean he would look elsewhere for opportunity.

That response is taking shape now in the form of an arguably overdue push to more aggressively seek access and connections in Asian markets. Next month, for only the second time, Harper travels to China. If he’s been chased to Beijing, it’s been by successive presidents, Republican and Democrat, and not only by the current administration.




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On Newt’s Canadian comment: Harper’s long view of Canada-U.S. trade

  1. There was a lot of effort put into trade relations with China before Harper formed government.  It’s amazing it has taken him this long to see it’s value. 

  2. http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1119080–the-road-to-washington-runs-through-mexico

    There are other views as to whether Harper and previous federal govts have been using the best strategy they could have. I’m not an instinctive continentalist but some of this appears to make sense. It doesn’t appear to support a rosy view of the border agreement either.
    I find the notion of Harper having attempted to seriously address the special relationship to be specious…making pick plays on the Obama admin at various  international conferences and allowing youself to be goaded into undermining the Prez on fox hardly sent the right message to Washington.
    I actually don’t mind us charting an independent course, but i do object to Harper’s self serving revisionism.

  3. I still find it odd to hear Newt Gingrich calling Stephen Harper “conservative”.  I know that Harper is way too far right for some of us up here, but to NEWT GINGRICH???  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, on many issues Stephen Harper is to the left of Barack Obama for Pete’s sake.

    If a “Newt Gingrich conservative” was in the same position of power in Canada as Stephen Harper is (i.e. had control of a majority government) would we still have same-sex marriage, completely unfettered access to abortion, and a federally mandated health care system several steps to the left of “Obamacare”?

    Not that I want the Republicans focused on us damned hippies up here in Canuckistan, but let’s face it, in the North American context Stephen Harper is “conservative” the way that Joe Biden is “conservative”.

    • Very true, sadly.

      • LOL

        One man’s “isn’t that sad” is another man’s “thank the baby Jesus!”.
        :-)

  4. Then again, NEWT GINGRICH doesn’t necessarily have sterling conservative credentials either.

    Ann Coulter said of him “Newt Gingrich is the least conservative of these candidates AND the least electable”.  Joe Scarborough said “Newt is not a conservative” and “He sold us out on taxes”.

    Could be worse though.  Chris Christie (apparently not interested in a VP slot with Newt, lol) simply said “Newt Gingrich has embarrassed the Party”.

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