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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco , Marit Stiles and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.


Why Is Prime Minister Stephen Harper Spending So Much Time Abroad?


John Capobianco:

Since we are passed the half way mark in Prime Minister Harper's first majority term in government, many folks (mostly pundits and media) are starting to take stock in the past few years since he took office. The one thing that is glaring is the PM's focus on international relations, both from trade relations perspective and his role with the UN.

This PM easily surpasses his predecessors when it comes to establishing bi-lateral trade relations with various countries, including many in South America and most importantly, in Asia. This is huge deal for Canada and it continues to play to the PM's strength, which is to focus on jobs and the economy.

Marit Stiles:

John forgot the major motivator for any international business travel: Airmiles!  But seriously, I think if you were to point out one of the greatest deficits of this Prime Minister and his government, it would be his lack of consideration for international relations and particularly the United Nations.

This is the PM who lost us our seat on the Security Council, let's not forget. And apparently we won't be trying to get back on.

All that aside, the Prime Minister should of course be going to the Ukraine. But he should be bringing a multi-party delegation with him.

That would have been the right thing to do.

Richard Mahoney:

I think every Prime Minister towards the end of their term in office starts to focus a little more on international affairs, and Prime Minister Harper is no different. Helping move the needle on Ukraine, as he is doing, is a lot more enjoyable than facing the music in the House on the botched appointment of Justice Nadon to the Supreme Court, or huge cuts to infrastructure funding and so on.

That said, I agree with John, and with the PM on Ukraine, and on the hard line on Putin. I think it is important to show solidarity on this, as we have done.

To Marit's point though, it was a mistake to prevent all three parties from going on the trip to Ukraine. Previous Canadian governments have done that, showing much broader support amongst Canadians, and expressing the solidarity that this issue deserves.


John Capobianco:

The mere fact that this PM is so respected among his international peers speaks volumes to the work he and his government have been doing over the last many years. With former President Bush and currently with President Obama - showing leadership with issues like Keystone, and especially showing leadership during the financial crisis, when many leaders looked to our PM and Finance Minister for answers on how to survive the crisis.

Marit, the PM does take multi-party delegations abroad when and where appropriate - Israel and Nelson Mandela’s funeral to name a few - I think he has a pretty good track record with respect to this issue.

However, regarding Ukraine... Richard, it was unfortunate that your Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, at a crucial time, made his comments post-convention - albeit he did apologize.

But as leader he should know better, and the PM has to show Ukrainians that Canada was solidly behind them during this crisis.

As we are seeing today, Stephen Harper is continuing to display the leadership Canadians expect of our PM, working alongside with other world leaders to ensure Canada is respected abroad, but more importantly to ensure Canadians get the benefit of this leadership back home by having more jobs and a stronger economy.

Marit Stiles:

Well, if "respect among international peers" is what Stephen Harper is going for, he has a very long road/runway ahead.

I would disagree completely with John's comment. If anything, Stephen Harper has driven a huge wedge between Canada and the US, particularly over his obsession with Keystone, paired with an environmental record and failure to address climate change that has made us an international laughing stock, and hindered relations with our trade partners, like the US.

Back to the subject of whether this is a legacy tour: I suspect in a sense it is. As Richard notes, it's not unexpected or unusual that a PM would, at this late stage in his or her career, start to look ahead to what legacy they leave on the international stage. Sadly for Canadians, most of our PM's trips abroad have highlighted the dwindling respect we are getting internationally.

Furthermore, not only does the PM appear to use these trips to avoid his daily grilling by Tom Mulcair in the House of Commons, he goes a step further and chooses to make big policy announcements - while abroad - on issues that affect Canadians right here in daily lives. Remember when he floated Old Age Security cuts in Davos... anyone? Maybe that will be his "international relations legacy" after all is said and done.


Richard Mahoney:

John, this government's decision to go alone to Ukraine was made for partisan reasons, as was apparent to all. To blame that on others is weak.

Fortunately, the response from Liberals and Mr. Trudeau has been to strongly support Ukraine and isolate Putin, so Canada's position remains strong, even though Mr. Harper struggles in public opinion here at home. While he travels the world and meets with others, he has quite a mess on his hands domestically. If he were in Canada today, Liberals would be questioning him in the House on his botched appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada. He appointed someone who was not qualified, and then the Supreme Court of Canada told him that the appointment also broke the law, violated the Constitution of Canada. His government’s response? "Well maybe we will appoint him anyway."

This is preposterous. One of the most important duties of a Prime Minister is to get appointments to our courts, especially the Supreme Court, right. The idea that he would scoff in the face of the Supreme Court and appoint Marc Nadon anyway is ludicrous.  

If Mr. Harper were in Question Period, they would also be asking him about our faltering economy.

Every economic expert says that one of the most important things that government can do to help a struggling middle class and a weakening economy is to invest in infrastructure. Yet on April 1st, infrastructure investment will be slashed by nearly 90 percent. This political decision, which was made by the Conservatives in an attempt to balance the budget for the next election, will do nothing to generate economic growth or help middle class families.

Moreover, the Building Canada Fund, which offers infrastructure funding to communities across the country, will not return to current funding levels until 2019.

At last month’s Convention in Montréal, Liberals passed a resolution calling for major infrastructure funding of up to one percent of GDP. It is time to invest and generate the growth that will benefit our communities. 

About The Salon

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties
Posted date : March 26, 2014

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