Harper's panda politics

FESCHUK: Only a nation with a special rapport with China could rent its pandas for a huge sum

Time to shake off the shame of that Security Council defeat and put on a smile, Canada. After five years, Stephen Harper has finally secured a foreign policy triumph that doesn’t involve a Tim Hortons’ expansion. Ladies and gentlemen: we’re getting pandas.

Word has it that China has agreed to rent out a pair of giant pandas for extended stays at zoos in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec. It’s a pretty thrilling development—especially for the people of Toronto, who haven’t had the opportunity to observe a 300-lb. creature that eats 12 hours a day since way back in the mayoral race of 2010.

Cynics and also everybody have noticed that the Harper government is largely indifferent to minor global issues like climate change. But when it’s something as important as panda bears, the Prime Minister is willing to order the full-court press.

In July, Environment Minister Jim Prentice went to China to kiss ass and take names (of more Chinese functionaries whose asses also needed to be kissed). He then flew back again last week to seal the deal. Michaëlle Jean was dispatched this summer to tour the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Centre and make a personal pitch to the governor of Sichuan province. And in May, the Calgary Herald noted, “Treasury Board president Stockwell Day presented a panda proposal to high-ranking Chinese politicians.”

This may be my favourite non-Charlie-Sheen-claiming-an-allergy line printed in a news story this year. Stockwell Day making a panda proposal! And if you look at this next PowerPoint slide, you’ll see a chart illustrating ongoing stagnation in Canada’s Gross Domestic Adorability—with a cuddliness recession taking root in rural Alberta, most of Saskatchewan and all of Don Cherry’s house.

I can’t believe I ever doubted the efficacy of Harper’s foreign policy. In the span of a single month, he gets us two panda bears and access to the KFC Double Down. It’s only a matter of time until he coaxes America into letting us lease one to three Baldwin brothers. And then there will be no stopping us.

There are domestic implications, too. Harper will surely exploit his new acquisitions for political gain, building the panda brand by forcing his ministers to stay up all night to get matching black circles around the eyes. All Conservative policies will henceforth be Panda Approved®. And we can look forward to the photo op in which the PM awkwardly walks a panda to the first day in its new home and sends it off with a firm handshake.

Prentice, for one, wasted no time spinning the acquisition as a major victory for the Conservative government. “It is an indication of just how far we’ve come in terms of the relationship. The Chinese are very careful about the pandas and where they allow long-term transfers,” he said.

He’s right. We must be in tight with the Chinese now because they’ve rented us pandas for an exorbitant sum—the kind of transaction they’ve entered into with only their very bestest friends, such as Germany and Australia. And the United States. And Spain and Thailand and Singapore and Mexico and Japan and Taiwan and wait are we the last country on Earth to get some freaking bears out of these people? Are we going to be stuck with the slow-witted pandas—the ones every other nation passed on? Mommy, why does the cuddly panda bear keep falling out of the tree?

Listen: I’m not saying pandas aren’t cute. They’re very cute. They’re so cute that Newfoundlanders instinctively want to club them to death. And they present a real problem to the opposition parties. The Liberal response is expected to be swift, with Michael Ignatieff announcing that for the next 18 months he will be hosting two ring-tailed lemurs in his lush eyebrow habitat. Meanwhile, Jack Layton will protest animal captivity by releasing his moustache into the wild.

What’s really important is this: after five years, Stephen Harper finally has a legacy. He didn’t cut wait times or create those child-care spaces he promised. He didn’t balance the budget or protect the environment or smile without physical effort. But he did send half his cabinet around the world to beg for 600 lb. of panda bear for zoo visitors to enjoy and, presumably, Peter MacKay to wrestle late one night to impress a girl.

Sleep easy, Canada. Our long national nightmare of pandalessness will soon be over.

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