Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius

2006/11/01

Harper Bets on the Wrong Horse, Canada Loses

A possibly apocryphal story has Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications giant, donating oodles of cash to the 1992 campaign to re-elect the senior Bush in the hope of securing millions of dollars of contracts from the U.S. government. Bush lost, of course, but the Clitonistas were mindful of Nortel's treachery and essentially froze the company out of the bidding process for some years afterwards.

Fast forward 14 years, another election, and the Democrats are poised to win back both houses of Congress and create that most pathetic of spectacles, a lame-duck presidency. Canada and Canadian foreign policy are suddenly on the wrong side of political argument, a fact which will not escape the new tenants, as they grapple with contentious issues in Canada-U.S. relations.

In the American constitutional order, it's true that the executive branch is the superior one in the realm of foreign affairs. But in practice, the legislative branch holds a great deal of power. Legislation on border security issues, for instance, or soft-wood lumber need pass congressional scrutiny. The thousand dollar question is how a newly-minted Democratic Congress, bitterly and profoundly hostile to the Bush Administration and all its works, is going to view the sorcerer's apprentice, Stephen Harper?

There is some indications in this regard a meme is already in the making. A story floating around the AP wire this morning explicitly makes the link between the sagging fortunes of Bush and Harper:
Canadian Conservatives who hitched their wagons to the White House are finding their popularity fading with those of their allies in Washington.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives ousted the Liberal Party in January after nearly 13 years in office, pledging to thaw Ottawa’s frozen relations with Washington and ease the country to the right on social and economic issues.

Canadians were eager to try someone new and improve ties with the U.S., though President Bush is widely disliked in this country. Now, with his poll numbers sagging, Harper’s honeymoon appears to be over.

To be honest, the intent of the article is to report on Harper's sagging poll numbers. But it points to the perception among American opinion makers that Harper is a (somewhat) Canadianized clone of Bush. Harper himself makes direct reference to his ideological and political affinities to the Bush Administration, casting himself and the government as the unwavering, loyal friend.

"We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow," said the Victorian statesman, Lord Palmerston. For those who admire this precept, one has to wonder at the appropriateness and wisdom of attaching Canadian policy to the wagon of a foreign government on the basis of ideological, rather than national, interest. This Conservative goverment's unrelenting love affair with the Bush administration will find few admirers in a Democratic-controlled Congress. In the polarized hothouse atmosphere of U.S. politics, Harper will be rightly seen as a partisan flunkie, shilling for a discredited and lame-duck presidency. The damage to Canadian interests could be enormous, and this from a government intent on improving relations with Washington. It will be interesting to watch our New Government try to catch up with the new reality. Maybe daily, compulsary contemplation of Lord Palmerston's maxim will help.

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