It’s conceivable that Canada’s second Calgary prime minister will end his career much like its first, R.B. Bennett: chasing dreams of wealth across the Atlantic.
Stephen Harper isn’t a traditional anti-American Tory or a Depression prime minister desperate to find new markets in Europe. However, Ottawa’s public service still pines to get out from under America’s shadow and loves to negotiate offshore—and Washington insiders see no career or national advantage in trying to build a stronger partnership with Canadians.
Consequently, Canada’s government is gambling, first, that two have-not provinces—Quebec and New Brunswick—will facilitate additional Western oil exports via an Atlantic port, and, second, that demographically declining Europe will help Canada become “less dependent” on the growing US market. Both projects demonstrate that you don’t have to be a shallow right-winger to give the 19th century another try.
To be fair, for a moment, it’s quite possible that Harper isn’t terribly excited about either enterprise. Almost alone, he still refers to “North American” energy security. Nevertheless, both long shots have been dignified in Canada by the Obama administration’s flippant diplomacy toward Canada and its indifferent approach toward a sustainable North American recovery.
In a piece in the Financial Times on the stalled Canada-EU trade talks and pending US-EU trade talks, Joshua Chaffin repeats speculation that “Washington has been encouraging the Canadians to dig in their heels, knowing that any concessions they win will be a starting point for US negotiators.” Chaffin goes on to note that the EU and US negotiating dynamics will be different: “…they are more evenly matched, whereas the EU economy is almost 10 times larger than that of Canada.”
Chaffin doesn’t offer a clue about what Canadian negotiators think of this rumored American suggestion. It’s a bit rich, however, to imagine that US officials with no demonstrable interest in protecting (let alone expanding) free commercial relations with Canada would tell Canadians to try to act like big boys in Europe.
Instead of negotiating a grown-up customs union with the US to match Europe’s, Canada is now off negotiating on its own. This is a perilous position that wasn’t necessary.
Obama and Harper keep trudging along as conservative administrators in the least imaginative sense of the word.