Sunday, February 14, 2010
What the Rest of the World Knows
Three weeks ago, Stephen Harper went to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. With his characteristic self satisfaction, he advised the participants that the nations of the world should follow a policy of "enlightened self interest." According to Don Tapscott, the movers and shakers were "underwhelmed." The international community took the measure of Mr. Harper some time ago; and The Economist expressed its collective opinion, when it declared that he is a man who acts out of "naked self interest."
That judgment was reinforced last week, with the release of a new international poll, indicating that Canada's standing in the world has fallen significantly since Mr. Harper's ascension. In China, the perception that Canada has a positive influence on world affairs has fallen from 75% in 2008 to 54% last year. In the United States, during the same period, Canada's positive image has fallen from 82% to 67%. And in Britain, which we used to call "the mother country," the numbers show a similar precipitous decline, from 74% to 62%.
Certainly, the government's disregard for environmental policy has a lot to do with those numbers. But I'm willing to bet that, when Mr. Harper touts Canadian financial institutions, the rest of the world knows that the stability of our banks has nothing to do with him. They remember that it was Paul Martin who put this country on a sound financial footing -- and who first floated the idea that the G8 should be expanded to the G 20. It was The Economist which eventually defined Mr. Martin as "Mr. Dithers." But it was also willing to give him his due. The magazine does not give Mr. Harper the same benefit. In Europe, at least, the prime minister is seen as a poseur, who takes credit where it is not due, and who shifts blame when it is due.
Mr. Harper's shell game was on full display at home last week, when the Prime Minister's Office launched an attack on the CEO of the Toronto Dominion Bank. Speaking to another economic conference in Florida, Ed Clark told his audience about a pre-budget conference which he and several others attended with the prime minister. "We had a meeting two weeks ago," he told his audience,"and almost every single person said raise my taxes. Get this deficit down." Unfortunately, Mr Clark said, Harper "doesn't listen, but you get to chat with him."
A day later, the PMO distributed an email, claiming that, "another member of Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff's so called 'economic brain trust,' Bay Street Banker Ed Clark, lectured Canadians from sunny Florida on our need to pay higher taxes." -- as if the bankers in Florida were somehow a cut above the hoi polloi in Switzerland. And, as if the policies which Mr. Martin and Mr. Chretien put in place back in 1993 had nothing to do with Canada's financial health.
The rest of the world knows that the Emperor has no clothes. So do the country's bankers. And the polls suggest that ordinary citizens are beginning to see what the Prime Minister looks like under that blue sweater.