Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama's Ottawa Visit Marks the Beginning of the End of Stephen Harper.

I have been swamped this week and no time to post and frustrated because there is so much going on, both in my world and the rest of the world.

I wanted to share some preliminary observations on the Obama visit in a political and policy context. I will be doing a much more extensive analysis on events and implications over the week end and distributing it to the Cambridge Strategies subscriber list early next week.

The bottom line is there were no surprises coming out of the Obama visit. It really was so short and frantic time-wise that it has to be more of a pit stop than a State Visit. There was the usual commentator gushing coming from the MSM. They picked up on the human interest angle more than the politics or policy pronouncements, which while preliminary, were potentially profound. More on that next week but infotainment seems to be the default position of MSM these days.

I think the Ottawa visit was, from a Washington perspective a dress rehearsal for logistics and security when Obama travels overseas on more serious trips. I think Obama’s advance team used Harper as a shill to test out their Presidential travel and protection procedures in a very safe place like Canada. The meeting between leaders was abbreviated orchestrated and the new conference looked like they were filling time with homilies and platitudes.

Policy substance was hinted at but it was diverted into future “dialogues” to happen between officials. On the personality side it was good to see Obama extend his time with Harper to 90 minutes from an hour and with Ignatieff to 35 minutes from the 15 minutes the PMO allocated.

Typical shabbiness from the PMO to delegate the Obama –Ignatieff time to the hospitality of a hanger at the airport - but that is just what we have come to expect from the hyper-partisan Prime Minister Harper.

The new secret weapon Canada has on the diplomatic front is Governor General Michaelle Jean. Obama seems to be most comfortable and communicative with her and why not given the symbolic between them.

My sense is the Obama visit is the beginning of the end of Harper politically. The perfunctory visit to Canada that was a dress rehearsal for more serious international visits is one thing but I sense Obama’s advance team sized Harper up as a waste of time. He is in a weak and weakening position politically, an acolyte of the Bush White House and will only pay lip service to Obama’s progressive agenda.

The world orienting story and grand narrative changed when Obama got elected. Harper is lost and languishing in the past glories of Reagan and Bush years and is out of dated and out of touch. Obama knows that and decided to waste little time on Harper due to his tenuous grasp on leadership.

The PMO tried in the most self-conscious and inept ways possible to draw parallels between Harper and Obama and could only muster embarrassing linkages like both are “family men” and “outsiders.” One has the urge to divert one’s eyes in the face of even reading such embarrassing stretches of reality and pretenses of rapport.

On the other hand, the parallels between Obama and Ignatieff were obvious. Both were Harvard educated, academics, teachers and accomplished writers. Harper is apparently writing a book – on hockey. Obama noted that he he has actually ready Ignatieff's books during their airport hanger meeting. Iggy appropriately played down the media musing on his similarities to the President by noting “Look, there’s only one Barack Obama…I’m a politician in Canada. Let’s keep it under control here.” Can you ever imagine Stephen Harper uttering such a self deprecating statement?

Canadians are tiring and distrusting of Harper and will soon dismiss his judgment, question his ability and worry over his commitment to actually deliver the stimulus needed to resolve the recession crisis we face. His only saving grace is the polls showing general feeling of optimism of Canadians indicating they believe that we will weather this storm before the end of 2009. That optimism was measured before the headlines of today showing that once mighty Alberta has also fallen into a sharp recession. Alberta has moved from an $8B surplus to a $1B deficit in a mere 6 months. That is sobering and serious stuff that will no doubt resonate adversely across the psyche of the nation. I will have more to say on that in later posts.

I still think we are into a fall 2009 election. This is ironically consistent with Harper’s fixed election law. remember that laws he blatantly ignored for reasons of retaining personal power and to hell with the best interests of the country? Right now Ignatieff holds the strings and the trump cards and Harper is forced to dance to a different tune than he wants to and it is music that he does not even seem to know. It is just a matter of time before Harper quits or losses and returns to private life as a fellow in the Fraser Institute.