Thursday, September 27, 2007

Harper’s vagueness on big issues disappointing

I’m getting the feeling Stephen Harper just doesn’t trust us.
On two critical issues - the war in Afghanistan and climate change – Harper is unwilling to just say what he thinks Canada should do and let us judge whether he’s picking the right course.
It’s like we’re not quite smart enough, and the government needs to coax us along until we see the right way — his way.
Harper headed to New York this week to a United Nations conference aimed at saving the Kyoto Protocol - or at least developing an updated version.
He could have offered a clear vision, even one that argued that efforts to reduce greenhouse gases shouldn’t be allowed to hurt economic growth. That’s a legitimate position.
Instead, his 500-word speech was full of platitudinous generalities. (It’s online at the One of the many great things about the Internet is that you don’t have to rely on people like me to assess such things; you can read them yourselves in three or four minutes and form your own judgments.)
The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a successor to the 1998 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
But Harper didn’t actually utter the word Kyoto — not to support the agreement, or to say it was too tough, or unrealistic.
The message, basically, was that every country should try hard to reduce emissions and Canada would do its bit.
“There is an emerging consensus on the need for a new, effective and flexible climate change framework, one that commits all the world’s major emitters to real targets and concrete action against global greenhouse-gas emissions,” Harper said.
What does that mean, in the language of real people? Do you pay attention to “flexible,” or “real targets?” Or is it just politican-talk?
At the same time, Harper revealed Canada was joining an alternate climate-change coalition that
t includes the U.S, Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea. That group has rejected mandatory targets for greenhouse-gas emissions.
It’s a big shift away from a UN-backed climate-change plan with hard commitments, towards a much softer approach. (Canada was also set to participate in a U.S.-led greenhouse-gas conference this week.)
Our government wants a shift from absolute greenhouse-gas reduction commitments to intensity-based targets. If Alberta is increasing oilsands production, then greenhouse-gas emissions should be allowed to increase, Harper says. The goal should just be to reduce emissions per barrel of oil production.
Perhaps the Harper government does not believe a UN agreement to replace Kyoto is necessary, or in Canada’s interests. Perhaps it is opposed in principle to strict emission limits as a threat to the economy.
But in any case, the government — elected in January 2006 — should be ready to set out its position for Canadians.
Harper’s stance on our forces’ role in the war in Afghanistan is just as unclear.
Earlier this month Defence Minister Peter Mackay said NATO had already been told not to count on Canada’s participation in its current role when the mission ends in February 2009. His officials rushed to say he didn’t mean it.
This week, Mackay said the government will tell NATO whether Canada will extend the combat mission by next April.
That would leave the alliance just 10 months to find a replacement or adjust its battle plans. Given the reluctance of any other NATO nations to accept a combat role, that’s irresponsible.
Again, the government must have a position on the future of the mission. Why not trust Canadians, set out its policy and begin the debate?
Certainly, there is likely political advantage in delay. But Harper was elected in part because Canadians were tired of governments that put political advantage ahead of straight talk. He was supposed to be the straight guy, after Mulroney, Chretien and Martin. The one who trusted us.
And right now, it’s hard to feel trusted by this government.
Footnote: One factor in all this is the potential for an election if the opposition parties decide to defeat the government when Parliament resumes sitting next month, with the climate change and the war likely key issues. Vagueness can work well in election campaigns, unfortunately.


Anonymous said...

Murray Dobbin writes in "Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the Canadian economy is "the strongest it has been in a generation." His obvious pride in this situation prompted The Tyee to interview the minister to explore the government's policies that led to this development."

I found Dobbin's interview of Flaherty very helpful to my understanding of the New Government of Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Anonymous said...

That's funny. But only a little.

When I tried my hand at "commenting" a satirical Press Release from Lorne Mayencourts office, I got kicked off the Tyee site for good. Apparently, the idea that Lorne was going to try eating homeless persons excrement to determine which restaurants dumpster needed to be locked down (it's a Safe Streets issue), I "crossed the line". For that, I had all the comments I'd ever made removed and was banned from the site - the banning remains to this day.
Satire's only as clever as its audience and I'm afraid Mr Dobbins dabbling in the milquetoast variety.

Anonymous said...

It's deeply ironic and hypocritical when the Conservatives present themselves as the "Law and Order" party.
The "Law and Order" I know has as one of its cornerstones the primacy of contract. It's not a great intellectual leap to suggest that the West holds contracts and "agreements" and "signing on the bottom line" as fundamental - and binding - aspects of its civilization.
So when any elected government, acting as an agent of the peoples of Canada or its territories, signs an agreement, they are obliged to honour and adhere to the terms of that agreement.
It doesn't matter if I later question how "hard" the repayment schedule of my mortgage will be - I'm on the hook for it. And I seriously doubt that anybody (right or left) will hear out my sob story about how difficult it is.
The goevrnment that signed the agreement was one that Canadians voted for. Whether Mr Harper likes it or not, they were acting as agents for the people of Canada and as such, they made the people of Canada responsible for upholding that agreement.
We signed it.

And yet, here we have a "Law and Order" government of whiners and complainers snivelling about things being "too hard" and "unfair".
That attitude sounds a lot like the same people that Conservatives like to belittle and denegrate for being lazy, shiftless bums with no respect for the LAW.