September 18, 2018

by on March 23, 2010

What’s Past is Prorogue

Parliament of CanadaParliament is back in full swing after being suspended by Prime Minister Harper in December. Back then Harper insisted that prorogation was necessary to “recalibrate” his government’s economic agenda. Whatever the reason, now that he is back, the Prime Minister has wasted no time invoking Canada’s recent global successes, most notably Canada’s tremendous performance at the Winter Olympics, to help sell his government’s wide ranging and revolutionary reforms.

However, as most opinion polls show, Harper did not receive the post Olympic popularity boost that he was expecting. Harper’s conservatives currently hover at about a 35% approval rating. This is actually down 1% from the party’s rating before the Olympics and well off the 40% needed to secure an election majority. The reason that Prime Minister Harper has failed to capitalize on Canada’s new patriotism is that he has seriously misjudged it. The pro-Canadian fervor that Harper thinks should fit hand-in-glove with his economic reforms and their purported aim of assuring Canada’s place on the world stage actually serves to expose those reforms as downright anti-Canadian.

The Speech from the Throne and Harper’s comments in debate have made it clear that the Conservatives are pushing for dramatic changes to the Investment Canada Act and the Competition Act. Among other things, Harper wants to remove the ban on bank mergers and ease foreign ownership restrictions of uranium, airline, telecommunications and broadcasting companies. This agenda comes from the recommendations made in the June 2008 Report “Compete to Win” prepared by the Competition Policy Review Panel.  The speech from the Throne does not adopt every proposal in the Report but it has long been feared that Harper’s conservatives would, if they could secure a majority, seek to implement all of them. The report is unabashedly in favor of unregulated, free markets.  For example, the report recommends that Canada rein in the Department of Canadian Heritage by severely limiting its authority to review transactions affecting Canadian cultural activities. The report further urges that Canada adopt U.S. style reform with respect to taxation, corporate mergers, national securities regulation, and even immigration.

Harper reopened Parliament by touting Canada’s unique economic success and Canada’s ability to compete and win at the highest levels. Yet, in the same breath, he embraced an economic agenda that does not have a Canadian bone in its body. Why would Canada, fresh off the truly homegrown success of the Winter Olympics and proud in the knowledge that it is the only G7 country to escape the brunt of the worldwide recession, embark on a course of action that has only served to hasten the decline of the world’s largest superpower?

Canadians have always been suspicious of any economic policy that appeared to follow too closely a U.S. policy. In the past, Canada usually, and often begrudgingly, followed such a policy as simply the price it had to pay to participate and thrive in the global marketplace. It was the U.S.’s world. Canada was just living in it. Here and now, Canadians have every reason to flat out reject it. Canada is now in the position to provide much needed guidance with respect to global markets and regulation. There may have been a time when the U.S. style represented the model for the world, but it was not in this century.

The success of Canada’s athletes, the increased global respect for Canada and Canada’s resulting confidence does not serve to confirm Harper’s version of a Canadian world power. It serves to rebuke it. The Prime Minister is mistaking Canada’s success on the world stage as a mandate for his global agenda. It is true that Canada and Canadians believe now more than ever that it can play a leading role in global affairs. However, what is even more clear is the realization that Canada’s leading role can be accomplished on Canada’s own terms and using a uniquely Canadian approach, mindset and expertise.

Canadians will not and should not strive for Canadian global dominance unless it is a Canadian-styled dominance.

Interestingly, though he was probably not advocating for a Canadian superpower, Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff at least evoked it in his Address in Reply to the Throne Speech wherein he stated: “The Conservatives never grasped the fact that profound changes are taking place in the Canadian economy and the global economy [such that] Canadian expertise will become our greatest resource.” With such insight, perhaps the Liberal party could become the unlikely torchbearer of the new Canadian patriotism and in so doing fashion itself as the party to lead a Canadian Century.

It is laudable that Harper’s government should seize on the opportunity and seek to further elevate Canada’s status in global affairs. Yet, for the conservative party to not recognize the core strengths that are responsible for providing that opportunity and instead to try to fix something that is not broken shows a surprising shortsightedness. Especially when the conservatives had three whole months to analyze it.

Like the Prime Minister, Canadians are well aware of their newfound status on the world stage. Unlike the Prime Minister, Canadians are even more aware that they do not have to stray from their Canadian identity to keep it.

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Comments: 4

  1. by BrianR on March 23, 2010

    Just when I thought the Canadvocate was a mouthpiece for the conservative party! Yes, Harper has an intense desire to be just like George Bush. His use of post Olympic Canadian patriotism to push for his neo-con agenda is similar to Bush’s use of post 9/11 American patriotism to push for an invasion of Iraq.

  2. by nme on April 2, 2010

    Keith, do you really think that the liberals are the better party to lead the Canada that you envision, a Canada that leads the world? Iggy this week tried to chastise Harper for his G8 initiative regarding maternal health and all he managed to do was embarass himself in front of the world.

  3. by Keith Fraser on April 2, 2010

    I believe that any party can lead the Canada that I envision. No one ever thinks that the US is only a leading superpower when the Republicans are in the White House. As far as establishing a Canada that leads the world, yes, the liberal party, with its focus on adhering to traditional Canadian strengths, provides a means to do so. The point I was trying to make is that the evidence is overwhelming that Canada can lead the world by its own example. Not only can a leopard not change its spots, there is no need to.
    Also, don’t confuse Ignatieff with the potential of the liberal party. I tend to agree with you that his leadership skills so far have been lacking. The polls show that most Canadians feel the same way currently.

  4. by nme on April 13, 2010

    Keith, I noticed the link you posted about the Telecoms being upset about the proposed foreign ownership rules. This gives the Liberals a nice boost I think.

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