Sunday, November 23, 2008

Harper is Sounding Progressive Again - But Can We Trust Him?

It is reassuring to hear Stephen Harper aligning and reaffirming the APEC leaders’ decision NOT to resort to raising protectionist barriers to world trade. He is quoted as saying “Now is the time for opening doors, not erecting walls.”

Reports from CanWest reporter David Akin noted that Harper commented that “…the Great Depression was caused by countries letting banks fail, allowing deflation to run rampant and trying to balance their books at all costs, even if it meant raising taxes and slashing public spending.” Harper is reported to all of a sudden favour “unprecedented fiscal actions…to stimulate economic growth and ease tightening credit conditions.” As if he wasn’t already spending taxpayers money at an alarming rate leading up to the election.

So the economist in Harper is stimulus Keynesian after all, notwithstanding his rhetoric about no deficits and smaller government in the election just a few weeks ago. Gotta love it when politics turns to pragmatism and order and good government becomes a goal of the Reform/Alliance leadership.

It is an open question as to what Harper is really doing and if we can ever believe him at face value. He often says one thing for political purposes, including pandering to his base or to Quebec for personal power plays. And then he does another, often the exact opposite when it suits him…and it happens all the time. Canadians need a truthful and transparent Prime Minister who says what he means – the first time – and for the purposes of sound public policy – not just personal power and message positioning.

He said that he would control Alberta’s bitumen exports to foreign countries based on a countries environmental standards and record. It was a clear shot at pandering to the Bush White House and an attempt to marginalize China in the process. It was all tied to the Bush excuses to delay or not institute climate change policies in North America because of attitudes towards China on environment. Not good public policy in the context of Harper’s resent statements of not being protectionist or raising trade barriers in the face of the growing economic crisis that is enveloping the entire planet.

It is important to note that APEC is a group of 21 Pacific Rim countries whose economic leaders have been meeting since its inception in 1989 in response to growing interdependence among Asia-Pacific economies; APEC has become the premier regional forum for promoting open trade and practical economic and technical cooperation among Asia-Pacific economies.

Over the years, it has grown to a membership spanning four continents, and represents the most economically dynamic region in the world, accounting for approximately 40 percent of the world's population, 56 percent of world GDP and nearly half of world trade.

It is a very vital forum for Canada and Alberta and B.C. in particular given our orientation to the Pacific Rim. We need the Pacific Rim countries to succeed for them to produce more trade and investments in our provinces, as well as providing continental energy supply and security.

I hope I can trust Harper at his word for a change, especially when he makes such practical and positive statements about governments taking initiatives to encourage trade. It is not his personal default position and it means he has to revise his attitude about the best government is no government and the marketplace should prevail to solve the problems of the world. That acceptance of an activist role and responsibility for government is a tectonic shift for Harper. I hope he means it and it is not just another piece of his continuing political positioning and posturing that he will once again either ignore or reverse on a whim.