On the heels of Stephen Harper's latest less than stellar performance on the global stage at the G8 in Italy, an article in Embassy Mag is filled with anecdotes of Harper abroad, and how he's not exactly making us friends:
Although the misstep by the prime minister will likely make few waves with Canadians—most of whom are busy enjoying summertime—experts say it adds to a troubling pattern in Mr. Harper's approach to foreign policy. They say he seems content to miss opportunities to contribute to the international dialogue, instead commenting on internal, domestic politics that international journalists will have no interest in.
You'll remember Rona Ambrose's attack on the Liberal environmental record in Nairobi back in 2006. While, of course, it wasn't a hit with Liberals, the global community wasn't a fan either. Overall, it seems foreign policy just isn't a priority for Harper:
"Foreign policy is not [Mr. Harper's] main interest," said Errol Mendes, a professor of international law at the University of Ottawa. "It would be interesting to know how many average citizens of the G8 would know who our prime minister is, whereas they certainly knew who Trudeau was, even Mulroney. So the fact that he does not shine on the international stage does impact on us having profile."Some interesting observations in the piece from Canwest's David Akin:
...the Canadian leader is so poorly known that photographers are constantly asking who Mr. Harper is.
Mr. Akin recalled that at the prime minister's first G8 Summit in St. Petersburg in 2006, Mr. Harper avoided the press for three entire days, even as every other G8 leader loudly trumpeted their messages to the international press gathered on site.
"He was so uncomfortable he was invisible, he physically looked smaller in that '06 summit...he seemed really out of his element," Mr. Akin said. "When you're travelling with him, there's never enough information about his activities, about who he's speaking to. The read-outs that we get from the PMO communications when he meets with other leaders are frustratingly bland and vague."
Ouch. Andrew Cohen is also critical:
"What struck me about this is that he was relentlessly and unnecessarily partisan," Mr. Cohen said. "And you wonder why he did it; it doesn't help him internationally and it doesn't help him at home...so why did he do it? Maybe because he just can't help himself.
"We will probably have to wait...before we ever know what kind of a prime minister he was in those summits, but my sense is if we were doing innovative things and we were as daring as once we were, we would know."
Pollster Frank Graves says the domestic impact for Harper is likely minimal:
"Most people are paying very little attention," said Frank Graves, president of Ekos Research Associates polling firm, though he said he suspects Mr. Harper regrets the attack on Mr. Ignatieff, and the impression it may leave on the public.
"Why would he have offered up this gratuitous and what turns out to be erroneous critique of his competitor in Canada when he'd just done a reasonably good job otherwise?" Mr. Graves said. "That might reinforce this view that he has difficulty transcending partisan instincts."
I think Graves is probably largely correct on the domestic polling side; I don't think foreign policy or even Harper's embarrassing international stumbles are likely a vote-mover for many Canadians. But political calculations aside, our decreasing credibility on the global stage does bode ill for Canada on a number of fronts, both economic in our ability to attract trade and investment, and in our ability to influence global affairs.
I'm going to take issue with Graves' comment though that he thinks Harper regrets the attack on Ignatieff. He's right, and he's wrong. Harper undoubtedly regrets that he got bad information, I'm sure of that. Harper doesn't like being embarassed. But don't believe for one second he regrets the impulse to attack. It's ingrained in his psyche, his very nature.
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