A quirky element in the neurotic power relationship between Canada and the United States remains the uneven significance of saying “no” to the other side. Globe-preening Canadian governments profit inordinately when they can say “no” to the global power next door. On the other hand, saying “no” to Canada can be devastating—whether Washington notices or not.
Last week, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his senior Liberal colleagues gleefully reminisced in the national media over the 10th anniversary of their un-bidden public declaration that Canada would reject any request by George W. Bush to support the US-British invasion of Iraq. That decision to not act stands above all the other things Jean Chretien didn’t do during his 10 years in office.
Within as many weeks, Stephen Harper could receive from Washington a “no” of devastating consequences—to his relationship with the US government, his vision of Canada’s future, his reputation in Canada, and his chances of surviving another election.
The theatricality of Obama’s pending Keystone decision is appropriately noted.
There is, in fact, little American substance at stake in the decision. The thousands of US jobs that wouldn’t happen along the pipeline will soon be found elsewhere in America’s dirty fossil fuel Renaissance—and, in any event, their fate pales against the jobs being killed each month by Washington’s symbolic campaign to fix Washington’s balance sheet by the mid 2020s. The environmental movement and its latest campaign recruit, hedge funds magician Tom Steyer, sees the oil sands entirely in marketing terms.
The lack of showmanship on the Keystone Project by the Harper government, however, crises out for greater attention.
With enemies circling, there’s no way Jean Chretien would have sat still and relied on opposition Congressmen and Congresswomen and dull Canadian lobbyists to make his case in Washington.
The Prime Minister will not be credited for playing by Queensbury Rules in Canada and will enjoy no quarter if he loses like a gentleman in Washington.
(Those of you who think you have deep inside knowledge that the President has Harper’s back can ignore what I say next. Those of you who remain nervous might appreciate the following rather aggressive advice from an Obama Canadian to a quintessentially Canadian Prime Minister standing in the headlights.)
If you’ve got Goliath on your side, Mr. Harper, don’t look for your own David; coach Goliath.
The Prime Minister has the confidence of a big majority in Canada’s Parliament and, as reported by Politico, also has majorities in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. It needn’t be repeated that Keystone also has overwhelming support among US business leaders and the technocrats the President relied on to fight the recession.
Don’t wait to mobilize their support after Obama turns you down. They won’t go back to him after he’s decided. Why not secure a resolution now from Canada’s Parliament, supplementing what passed last week in the US Senate?
The Prime Minister should be able to ask his Parliament to be clearer and more aggressive. Conservative and Liberal MPs, at least, should be able to remind Washington, and the President, of the support they’ve enjoyed since their economy tanked in 2008; of the fragility of the present recovery in both countries; and of Canada’s open hand to jointly tackle climate change, continental security, and economic recovery.
Canadians don’t expect you to need the same face time with the President that the Prime Minister of Israel has enjoyed. However, they wouldn’t think it too pushy if you literally went to Washington to make your case directly to the President—and let it out that you’d be pleased to spell out politely what’s at stake, before a joint session of Congress.
There is no value in downplaying the economic consequences of a “no” simply to bolster jobs and housing starts this spring.
The capital markets, more likely, would probably appreciate the candor; and Americans would definitely listen if the Prime Minister argued: killing Keystone now could abort economic recovery in Western Canada and that could spread across Canada—the United States economy’s best customer.