It’s not up there with the morale of Wall Street executives or the health of uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions. However, how about a little Friday speculation on what the US presidential election could mean to Stephen Harper, and his chances to accomplish something truly historic as a Canadian economic reformer?
Like it or not, Harper’s immediate conservative agenda, his re-election, and any dream he still has to be another great shaper of Canada’s place on this continent would, by far, be best served by the re-election of that American liberal Barack Obama.
The cornerstone of his foreign policy—in the Middle East, in Europe, on climate change, and in responding to the Great Recession, for instance—is being the US president’s loyal ally. He’s never used any disappointment in the relationship as an opportunity to build bridges with Canadians who dislike the US.
The payoff is not yet obvious. Nevertheless, what’s most important is that his pro-American perspective has not yet done him any harm in Canada. Harper still has, once the north-south Keystone pipeline is finally approved, plenty of room at home to go further in rationalizing Canada’s economic relations with the US—if, in three weeks, the most popular politician in Canada gets re-elected as president of the United States.
The next step for the Beyond the Border initiative to lighten the burden of the Canada-US border will likely entail turning “pilot programs” on information-sharing and joint law enforcement activities into formal practices. The Harper government also has tabled legislation that will explicitly set aside numerous Canadian environmental laws to facilitate a new Detroit River crossing to bolster and secure commerce across the industrial heartland of the continent.
These measures won’t make history, but they will bend Canadian sovereignty and give environmentalists more ammunition to attack the Harper government. They can be pursued, however, at manageable political cost because deal-making with Barack Obama is popular in Canada, and helping him restore the American economy is popular as well.
Conversely, if conservatives Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are elected, Harper will be both branded as a fellow traveler and constrained in doing anything new and big with Washington.
Setting that aside, why shouldn’t we start wondering what might be possible in a Barack Obama second term?
American liberals desperately need a new economic growth strategy that would also ameliorate the steady concentration of private economic power. And they need to be seen to have practical ideas to strengthen the US internationally. Canada wants to be a trade and investment power in Asia, but it has no power to protect its interest as an equal.
Harper might consider re-opening those unused binders from the free trade talks of the 80s. If the Canadian nationalists of the last century are ever going to be challenged over the limits they’ve set on the Canada-US relationship, when would be a better time than in the second term of an immensely popular US president?
If Obama wants to do something bipartisan and of direct interest to the recovery of US manufacturing and his northern Democrat base, why not consider seriously a new deal with those peculiar left conservatives in Canada?