Just Another Brick In The Wall
Date: Wednesday, November 08 2006
by Michael Nickerson
It’s a well-tested truism that the people who are able to break down barriers are the ones who get things done in life. Barriers to trade, barriers to diplomacy, barriers to communication and trust; they’re what stand in the way of people working together, understanding each other, and getting along.
It’s a simple enough concept that we teach it to children at an early age; we call it “cooperation.” And while it’s naïve to expect such a feel-good, Sesame Street mentality in the cutthroat world of politics, the least we can expect of a Prime Minister is that he not engage in the political equivalent of brick laying with regards to foreign relations and domestic governance.
Unfortunately, Stephen Harper seems to be more mason than mediator. The latest brick in the ever-growing wall around Fort Harper was laid with the Prime Minister’s none-too-subtle snub of the European Union. Citing a busy legislative schedule at home, and July’s G8 meeting in St. Petersburg, Harper would like one and all to believe that it was simply too soon, and that he was too busy to attend the joint Canada-EU conference in Finland.
It certainly had nothing to do with the issue of Kyoto being on the agenda, as Jason Kenney, Harper’s fact-challenged parliamentary secretary, went to great pains to make clear. Harper didn’t even know they were going to discuss the environment, or so Kenney says, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because Harper will be talking with a number of EU leaders next year, so what’s the fuss?
For the bricks-and-mortar-obsessed Conservative government, perhaps nothing, but for anyone concerned about our already strained relations with the EU, quite a bit. No one outside of the PMO is buying the idea that it’s imperative for Harper to stay on Parliament Hill for an extra few days while his legislatively challenged government remains log jammed and ineffective, due in no small part to Harper’s inability to compromise.
Yet, no one is going to attempt a confidence vote until at least next spring (despite Jack Layton’s recent sabre-rattling to the contrary), and Harper’s time would be better spent smoothing some of the European feathers he managed to ruffle over the summer, instead of more finger-waving rhetoric in the Commons accusing the opposition of doing what he argued as opposition leader it should do: namely not just blindly sign off on the government’s agenda, but debate it.
But blind acceptance of his agenda is just what Harper would like, not just at home, but by the EU and the world at large. Contemptuous of critique at the best of times, the Prime Minster knew full well that Kyoto was on the agenda, and some harsh criticism awaited him in Finland. Much as with the 2006 International AIDS Conference, the prospect of criticism has the curious effect of turning Harper not so much into a political turtle, but into a dismissive autocrat willing to wall off his opposition rather than confront it when it doesn’t suit him.
It’s a tactic that the parliamentary press corps, a group of ink-stained wretches left to fight for scraps of news outside the fortress walls, knows all too well. So too does Dalton McGuinty and his Liberal government, now that the Great Wall of Ontario seems well and truly cemented between Ottawa and Queen’s Park. Federal ministers, taking their cue from the prime ministerial inner sanctum, have been giving their Ontario counterparts quick and nasty escorts past the castle gates, barring them from the fortress until Ontario elects a government more to Ottawa’s liking. And AIDS funding has become nothing more than a promise and a dream for the world’s AIDS suffers, waiting for them, if not at the end of the proverbial rainbow, then somewhere over the walls of the PMO.
Now Europe and a questioning world, all wondering what happened to Canada and its commitment to the environment, are left to guess what’s going on with an anything-but-transparent government. Why, they must be wondering, is Canada about to break its international treaty obligations for the first time in its history? Short of satellite imagery to help them see over Harper’s self-constructed wall of insular foreign policy, they’ll just have to keep wondering until he lets them in.
Of course, with the ever-growing crowd being left to cool its collective heels outside Fort Harper, they’ll just have to take a number.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 9, 2006]