The Harper Conservatives are fond of saying that Canada is “punching above our weight” on the international stage. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty famously used the phrase in a September 2010 speech to the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP), and we’ve heard local MP John Weston and other Tories use it on numerous occasions.
It’s mostly hogwash, though. We’ll grant that they’ve done a fair job of managing the economy domestically. The fact that Canada’s banking rules were more stringent than those in most other places long before Harper took office in 2006 is at least partly responsible for that. But Harper and Flaherty deserved some credit for the fact that we’ve fared better than most other developed countries economically in the aftermath of the 2008-’09 recession.
On the international stage, though, Canada’s influence is in many ways on the wane, at least partly because Harper and his ministers seem locked into a pattern of criticizing the Europeans debt crisis on ideological terms rather than weighing into the fray and trying to be part of the solution.
Last week, Harper’s comments in the aftermath of the Greek election — made in what Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson refers to as a “hectoring” tone — drew an icy response from Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who stated ungrammatically but pointedly, “We are certainly not coming here to receive lessons from nobody.”
Wrote Simpson, “Where, except on the Conservative backbench, would one get someone like Pierre Pollievre, MP? He said, ‘This Prime Minister will not force hard-working Canadian taxpayers to bail out sumptuous euro welfare-state countries and the wealthy bankers that lead them.’
“Here is blind ideology blended with profound parochialism of the kind that is giving Canada a well-deserved reputation for being increasingly an outlier, except when it comes to military interventions.”
Canada used to be a key contributor to aid for Africa; this government is cutting foreign aid by $319 million this year alone. It used to be seen as a leader on the environment, but we’re now viewed as a hindrance to real action on climate change and a haven for “dirty oil” profiteers — another example of an issue on which Canada’s global influence appears to be on the wane.
— David Burke