Saturday, February 21, 2009

Didn't Hurt

If you approach the meeting from a non-partisan perspective, it's safe to say Harper's dance with Obama, and the framing afterwards, works for the good news starved Prime Minister. Harper was quite steady during the press conference, forceful on certain issues, a strong performance. The reviews were positive, and the simple optics clearly help Harper's image.

What is particularly noteworthy, Harper has effectively given himself a free pass on the environment for quite some time. Complete bullshit aside, Harper and his minions have managed to create a new starting point, that virtually relinquishes past nothingness. Harper even went so far as to absolve the past Liberal government for it's inaction, with reference to the ongoing struggle to engage the Americans. Directly tying our environmental policy, with that of the Americans, means we now basically wait for legislation to slowly meander through Capitol Hill, all the while no pressure on the Conservatives to do much of anything.

Additionally, and more importantly, this "dialogue" on clean energy assumes the beginning of a process, with little expectation for immediate results. It is hard to underscore the importance of Obama endorsing things like carbon capture, and the "music to our ears" sentiment coming out of the oil patch serves as proof. The Conservatives can now present a unified effort, with a President who brings environmental credibility, their fates are joined. There will be no more embarrassing displays on the world stage, because Canada will merely defer to the American leadership, we will move in lockstep, with little space between us, effectively neutering much of the criticism. Any sense of affinity with the Obama administration is a plus for the Conservatives, expect to hear the "working TOGETHER" talking point ad nauseum anytime anybody dares mention the climate change file.

I view the fallout of the meeting as a "stop the bleeding" scenario for Harper. I suspect any afterglow is entirely temporary, as we return to the onslaught of bad news, but leaders generally do benefit from forums that allow them to look the statesman, this instance is certainly a high profile example. I suspect the PMO has a bit more of a bounce to their step now, sensing some success, in an otherwise gloomy predicament. Does it help Harper's stature? That remains to be seen in any lasting way, but it hasn't hurt, I think that a fair read.

14 comments:

catherine said...

I agree that Harper performed above expectations. Everyone was concerned about how Harper, who had a back-slapping, nickname type relationship with Bush, would interact with Obama. Obama's warmth and grace, combined with Harper's competent performance, saved the day for Harper.

Still, had Ignatieff been Prime Minister, we could have expected to see a warmer relationship on public display, and with words which had more in common with reality.

The Jurist said...

What is particularly noteworthy, Harper has effectively given himself a free pass on the environment for quite some time. Complete bullshit aside, Harper and his minions have managed to create a new starting point, that virtually relinquishes past nothingness. Harper even went so far as to absolve the past Liberal government for it's inaction, with reference to the ongoing struggle to engage the Americans. Directly tying our environmental policy, with that of the Americans, means we now basically wait for legislation to slowly meander through Capitol Hill, all the while no pressure on the Conservatives to do much of anything.

If only there were some sort of grouping contrary in interest to Harper - let's call that the "opposition" for the sake of argument - to actually apply pressure and prevent the Cons from weaseling their way to a free pass.

Joyce said...

Ignatieff and Obama have much in common. They both believe you have to try to bring the center right to your cause. I understand this objectively, but my intuitive side likes the Rae approach which seems more genuinely an independent Canadian approach distinct from an American approach.

Steve V said...

Jurist

The problem is, Harper will just defer, arguing we won't handicap our economy until the Americans are on board. Plus, you'll hear all this crap from Prentice about how he's in close contact with his counterparts in America, and they're making progress. I don't think you can understate the impact of Obama endorsing "clean" energy, because Canadians actually see him as genuinely committed. At least in the short term, the Cons can dodge and weave.

The Jurist said...

Steve: I don't see any significant difference between that and the Cons' strategy from the beginning. They've consistently claimed to be taking action while presenting excuses as to why anything substantive is always just a year or two away.

In fact, the real difference now is that they've latched onto a theory which directly contradicts what they've been saying since 2006: having spent three years claiming to be taking action, they're now trying to argue that it was impossible to do anything productive before. Which would seem to me to make for an enticing line of attack - not a reason for the Libs to cede yet another issue to Harper.

Joyce said...

Complying with the Liberals on the budget was always about pushing back action on the environment for as long as possible.
According to the "three hundred eight" blogspot, Ignatieff seems to be drawing support away from the NDP; there has been very little bleeding of support to him from the Cons. How permanent is that shift is another issue.

Steve V said...

No, I don't see any difference on strategy either. What is different, they now are attached to something which actually has credibility. The Cons argument has more weight, when attacked. It's all just optics, and a hope people have short memories, but this "new beginning" line might play, at least enough to counter effectively.

burlivespipe said...

Jurist - who said anything about ceding the environmental issue to Harper? The negligee-thin parsing of CON excuses, which is meant to take advantage of Canadians' overall good will to the new President, is what Steve's pointing out. They will try to use Obama as a vehicle of building faith with Canadians on a lot of issues, but notice how despite raising it with the president, Harper is not talking nuclear with Canadians. I think that's an issue that the opposition -- which includes that fringe party you belong to -- needs to hone in on. Otherwise, Harper will be happy to keep it hidden until a freak majority, then plop reactors across the country.
And while Obama's main environmental man muses about a carbon tax (that apparently is only unpalatable because of the economic downturn, either an excuse for inaction or a reality of elected governments), should we again tip our hat to the Harper-enabling Jack Layton? I'm sure your former members who consider the environment front and centre of their main concerns will agree...

Tomm said...

Steve,

Good Post. I am in pretty much total agreement.

I would also add that the comment from "The Jurust" about the CPC environemntal position is pretty accurate.

You and I have had many discussions on this over the past 2+ years and the CPC position has been pretty much a straight line.

1. Kyoto is a bad "trade" agreement that Canada should not have signed and cannot meet.

2. What happens post-Kyoto is of greater importance.

3. We (CPC) are not really plannning on doing anything substantive until there is an economic cost/benefit balance for us.

4. The economic balance is squarely with India, China, US and post-Kyoto.

Given this:

What is likely a more interesting discussion is to engage the CPC on absolutes, science and the future around greenhouse gases. I think it is this specific discussion that could be used to strip their science away from their policy directions. If the Environment Minister is cornered into making a statement that greenhouse gas increases and Canada's role is ONLY an economic issue, I think a new wedge will have been created.

If that isn't possible, then the CPC will just hug Obama's leg like a little kid. And it will work for them. Because the "fossil awards" are no longer any incentive and David Suzuki is just sounding shrill and petulant.

Steve V said...

"I am in pretty much total agreement"

What a shocker ;)

Tomm said...

We tend to agree on everything except political leanings, the evilness of Harper and his minions, the best envrionment policy for Canada and the strength of character of Liberal leaders.

Sadly, thos topics have pretty much been all we have discussed.

Shouldn't I be getting a fanfare on at least some delightful parting gifts?

Steve V said...

You want a red scarf?

Tomm said...

Shouldn't there be a few green ones kicking around?

Möbius said...

What is particularly noteworthy, Harper has effectively given himself a free pass on the environment for quite some time. Complete bullshit aside, Harper and his minions have managed to create a new starting point, that virtually relinquishes past nothingness.

Of course you've heard it before. This was Chretien's strategy in signing the Kyoto Accord some 14 years ago.