Friday, January 27, 2006

Harper picking a fake fight with the U.S.= Smart politics

I've been watching the media coverage yesterday and today of Stephen Harper's Captain Canada routine over Arctic sovereignty and while it rang false immediately, I think I've finally got it completely figured out.

The final piece actually came into place today over a finger-licking good KFC lunch, reading the Mop & Pail's fact check on the issue. Read its the last three paragraphs and you'll see what I mean.

I think it likely began with President Bush's congratulatory call to Harper, which probably went something like this:

GWB: Hey way to go Harpie! I'm smiling, eh! Ha Ha Ha. But why the minority, H-Dog?

SH: Well sir, it was looking good for us. Canadians really do want change. I think however they still had some---
GWB: Those nasty Liberal ads sayin' u was my crony freaked them, huh?
SH: I'm afraid so sir. I think we're going to have to walk a delicate line—
GWB: When you comin' down to the ranchero H-dog?

SH: Actually sir, I think it would be helpful it we could do something that would let me show my independence, show that I'm my own man, but not something that would upset you too much of course.

GWB: I think I see what you're sayin' dog. Talk to my man Wilkie Wilkerson and work something out.

So, here's how it went down. Ambassador Wilkins, who has managed to keep quiet since the early days of the campaign, suddenly opines on one of Harper's pet issues, saying the U.S. does not recognize Canada's Arctic claim. Nothing new, but a red blue flag for Harper since it was one of his campaign issues.

And the timing is perfect for Harper to lay the smack down on Wilkins during his inaugural press conference as PM-in-waiting. When the media don’t bring up Wilkins' comments during the Q&A Harper brings it up himself:

"We believe we have the mandate for those from the Canadian people and we hope to have it as well from the House of Commons, but it is the Canadian people we get our mandate from, not the ambassador from the United States."

It sounds eerily similar to Paul Martin's comments when Wilkins rebuked Liberal environmental policy in December, doesn't it?

Why it's a win for Harper: Two reasons. The first, on day one he gets to show he's not Dubaya's man or a lackey of the U.S., but a strong defender of Canada. Second, it increases support for his Arctic sovereignty policy. Armed icebreakers at the North Pole sounds a bit loony, but standing up to the U.S.? Now we're talking. Remember, most Canadians are leery of the Bush Administration. So, if it pisses off Bush it can't be that bad an idea, right?

Why it's a win for the U.S.: At first I thought the win was just helping out their buddy H-Dog, and maybe a quid pro pro down the road. But the G&M fact check put the final piece in place. The U.S. wants to negotiate here; their primary concern is security. They just want the area secured. They'll do it if we won't, but if we do it that's even better as I hear their military is stretched a bit thin these days. So, by increasing support for Harper's Arctic sovereignty policy the long-term security goals of the U.S. are advanced.

So, there you go. It's a win for everyone. And smart politics.

And not to worry. Dubaya is still smiling, eh?

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Jeff said...

I know CT, Alcan is already up...dammit man, if we talk about it they can nail us for stock manipulation. Shhhhh!

Red Tory said...

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who had this take on the situation. If I'm not mistaken, Harper made a point of raising the subject himself at his press conference.

That whole multi-billion dollar deep-water port, troop carrying icebreakers boondoggle-in-the-making I thought was absurd from the outset and this lends justification to having it go forward. Plus his phony “dust up” with Wilkins makes it appear that he isn’t just a Bush’s lap dog.

Altogether I’d say it was a clever little pantomime.

Anonymous said...

Harper's plan has the definite ring of the 1987 Defence white paper 'Challenge and Commitment' issued by Perrin Beatty as Brian Mulroney's Defence Minister.

The white paper talked extensively about the need to protect artic sovereignty, and acknowledged the disagreement with the United States over the claim to the northwest passage.

It argued the need for increased surveillance and civilian and military presence in the Arctic in the form of a Polar 8 icebreaker, a system of short range radar stations, and a fleet of nuclear subs.

The rationale given - which was suspect even at the time - was that it was necessary to deny access to the Soviets, since they may be able to launch a strategic strike. Of course, they had not only mapped the arctic by then, but were using delta class subs that could launch an ICBM attack from the black sea.

One assumes the real reason was that our allies were pushing us to beef up our military in general (and buy from them in particular).

Sound familiar?

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Well, I agree that Harper played this reasonably well (though what else would we expect from a Canadian Prime Minister, the arctic is ours, and we will govern its use, thank you very much, and I think every Canadian is on board with that.) But I hardly think this was an American ploy of any kind. Harper may not have been answering a question, but Wilkins certainly WAS. He was directly asked (by Jeffery Simpson) what the U.S. thought of the icebreaker/protecting arctic sovereignty idea, and I have heard from people who were at the speech that the ambassador actually went out of his way NOT to say anything controversial. He merely (quietly) restated an American policy (that Arctic waters are INTERNATIONAL waters) that has been the American policy since before I was born. And, he went out of his way to downplay the importance of the issue in the context of our bilateral realtions. That's it.

And I'd like to say as well, (and this comes from someone who is NOT a fan of the Tories, or Harper) that, while Harper's response was politically savvy, that doesn't make it disengenuous. I think Harper truly believes in Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic, and as Prime Minister, he intends to defend, and indeed assert that sovereignty.

I don't necessarily think buying 3 armed ice breakers for billions of dollars is the best way to do it, but I don't disagree that SOMETHING needs to be done to protect our arctic sovereignty, and ensure that in the future Canada determines how, when, and by whom the NorthWest passage is used. To my understanding, the Law of the Sea does seem to indicate that we forfeit our rights in this area if we're not around to defend them. So, as long as the military gets enough money for the things they REALLY need, and the ice-breakers don't end up costing us way more than the Tories say they will, this is a bone I'm willing to let go.

If one expects the Tories to compromise while they're in power, those who are not in power will need to compromise too.

This isn't anywhere near the type of hill I want to die on.

Robert said...

Some good points L.K.O., but still, I'd want to double check the 'law of the sea' on one; my understanding (which admittedly could be wrong) is that it's the land which belongs to Canada which projects our territorial limits in the North. I somehow doubt we should be expected to be sailing around it all of the time to maintain possession.

Perhaps we could do with the Ice Breakers, but $5 billion for defence of the North? From whom?

Jeff said...

Yes, Jeff Simpson did ask the question but that doesn't necesarily negate by tin foil hat theory. Simpson is the consumate establishment journalist, the question could have been a plant. Simpson needs to ingretiate himself with the new regieme to maintain his insider access. Although, he'll probably have to wait a few more years for that Senate seat he's had his eye on.

RossK said...

And there was nothing the bookended boomerang comments from Jason Kenny today that discredits your hypothesis bcerinTO.