Unless Stephen Harper has a secret deal that puts a lie to everything Barack Obama has said in public, he had better gear up—and be seen in Washington to be gearing up—for another historic Canadian fight with the Government of the United States. For what it’s worth from a dry perch in Toronto, I think Harper better be building his new Cabinet around the approaching Keystone pipeline decision and Canada’s frayed credibility as an environment and energy regulator.
Harper’s brand is fixed and will remain as it is long after he leaves politics: he’s an unlovable, ruthless fighter. This is no time to try on a tender new image. His Cabinet shuffle should serve the effective SOB he’s understood to be.
Although someone else might fill the bill, it would seem that it would make the most sense to put MP Chris Alexander in either the Environment or the Natural Resources portfolio. In either job, the young man from Ajax-Pickering could be the point man, and prod on Obama’s Keystone decision.
Alexander would be a gamble—a fighter’s gamble.
He’s not in Cabinet now, but he is a superb and scrappy debater; is telegenic, from pivotal Ontario; and had a successful career in Canada’s diplomatic service. Indeed, he was in Afghanistan standing side-by-side with the Americans.
If Obama chooses to turn down the Keystone pipeline, it will be because he’s accepted the radical proposition that it’s his business to manage CO2 emissions in Canada.
Canada isn’t an obvious ally to put in trusteeship, and climate change is not a file on which Obama is well equipped to fight. He’s shown no impressive leadership on climate change. Congress, most polls, and American business overwhelmingly support Canada’s position. Harper, however, has been an especially reliable US partner and didn’t climb in Canadian politics playing on anti-American sentiments. At this moment, Obama may expect a stolid Stephen Harper to accept a “no” decision on Keystone without making much of a fuss.
Harper had better start disabusing him of that expectation soon.