Canada Foreign Policy
Sunday, April 30, 2006
  Chemistry

PM Stephen Harper appears to be able to resolve one outstanding issue after another. And while doing so, he demonstrates that public involvement in the process may not be a priority, and possibly not even desirable. Is anyone prepared to ask just how he seems able to go from one success to another, without so much as making the effort look anything like work? He has, after all, been in office for only a few nanoseconds.

Most recently, on 28 April 2006, the Conservatives reached a compromise with Washington that will extend the North American Aerospace Defence Command treaty (NORAD), an accord slated for renewal on 12 May 2006. What makes this agreement unique is, if media reports are correct, that its life shall be prolonged for an “indefinite period”. Furthermore, the deal, involving Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor and US Ambassador David Wilkins, concluded with a private signing ceremony in Ottawa. Not only was the event kept secret from reporters, the media found themselves having to press Canadian officials for confirmation that something had taken place. Indeed it was left to US officials to make announcements, and to explain some of the terms. For instance, we now know that Canada will have a new role in combating terrorism from the sea. The new version of the treaty, however, does not obligate Canada to revisit the ‘missiles in space’ debate. Furthermore, some media suggest that while parliament will be allowed to begin debating the new treaty early next week, US officials are operating under the belief that no ratification, no parliamentary vote is to be taken [For perhaps the finest coverage of the agreement, which also serves as the key source in this summary, see Bruce Campion-Smith, “Tories Quietly Expand NORAD,” Toronto Star, 29 April 2006. Story posted at http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1146261012750&call_pageid=968332188492&col=968793972154&t=TS_Home].

Just a day earlier Harper had signed off on a deal with the US on the softwood lumber trade issue. While some details of the accord have yet to be worked out, it is unlikely that any residual irritants will be enough to derail what’s been accomplished. And just how did Harper manage this coup? The Liberals laboured for years to reach a deal, without any success. Perhaps US Ambassador Wilkins has the answer, observing that the personal chemistry between Harper and US President George Bush not only made the outcome possible, but also suggests that this new working relationship will lead to many more successes in future. Wilkins said what happened is “a momentum builder…I think getting this irritant off the table allows us to take it to the next level and make it even stronger, more co-operative.” He also observed that Harper and Bush have managed to revive at least some of the magic that former PM Brian Mulroney and former US President Ronald Reagan had. In short, “U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins heaped praise yesterday on U.S. President George Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying their leadership and personal chemistry was a key factor in clinching a deal on softwood lumber” [citations in this paragraph from Michael Den Tandt’s “U.S. Envoy Credits Bush-Harper Chemistry,” The Globe and Mail, 29 April 2006. Story posted at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20060429.WILKINS29/TPStory/National].


Perhaps the real question is whether or not Harper is merely inking deals already reached by his predecessor, enjoying the windfalls, or whether or not his diplomatic and negotiating skills are so strong that Canadians must not be surprised should the pattern of success demonstrated during this last week of April become commonplace. On 27 April 2006 Peter MacKay found himself in Bulgaria for a gathering of NATO foreign ministers. Iran and nuclear weapons, while not an official meeting topic, was expected to dominate much of the off-the-record and informal discussion [See, for example, Paul Ames’ “Iran the Hot Topic at NATO Summit,” AP, 27 April 2006. Story posted at http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&pubid=968163964505&cid=1146133747006&col=968705899037&call_page=TS_News&call_pageid=968332188492&call_pagepath=News/News]. As issues such as Teheran are pushed closer to the top of Ottawa’s foreign policy agenda, Canadians may discover just how much chemistry Harper and MacKay really have.

Posted by Stan Markotich
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A discussion of geopolitics and Canada's role in the world. A series of essays to examine the components of Canadian foreign policy making. Psychological, sociological, historical, and cultural variables impacting Canada's perceptions of the world.

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