An embassy cable written by US Ambassador David Wilkins the day the Cons were first elected in 2006 suggests Harper would be useful in advancing the US agenda for Canada and that giving him ” a success story” like the softwood lumber deal would “shore up” his ability to stay in office without appearing to “sell out to the Americans”.
It’s pretty well a quid pro quo blueprint for every Canada-US initiative Harper has dutifully followed ever since.
The election of a new government, after thirteen years of Liberal rule, presents opportunities for advancing U.S. interests in such areas as law enforcement and continental security, and in developing Canada as a more useful partner in the Hemisphere and around the globe.
Significantly, the socially liberal core values of the opposition are more in line with most Canadians than the minority Conservatives, weakening their mandate even further. Given a relatively weak mandate and tenuous hold on power, Harper will move deliberately but cautiously to get a few successes under his belt before doing anything even remotely bold.
Relations with the U.S. will be tricky for Harper, who along with many members of his caucus has an ideological and cultural affinity for America. But as he has done already with many of his core social and fiscal values, he will simply have to sideline this affinity in order to not be painted as “selling out to the Americans” to a skeptical Canadian public. I know Harper will be warm and cordial in his dealings with the U.S., but he also has to demonstrate that he has the ability to advance Canada’s interests with Washington, and he may feel compelled to step back from gestures that could be construed as a close embrace.
That said, I see a real opportunity for us to advance our agenda with the new government. I recommend early on that we look for an opportunity to give Harper a bilateral success story by resolving an irritant such as the Devil’s Lake filter system or entering into good faith negotiations to reach a solution on softwood lumber. Early success on a bilateral issue will bolster Harper and allow him to take a more pro-American position publicly without as much political risk.
Another area where the new government will seek engagement will undoubtedly be border security. Finding a few high-profile SPP-type deliverables to improve cross border movement of goods and services would help our image here as well as shore up Harper’s credentials. Laying this groundwork would then open the way for progress on cross-border law enforcement initiatives of interest to us, such as enhanced information-sharing, joint maritime operations, and more robust counter-narcotics efforts.
Enhanced info sharing on Canadians, the shiprider program, the imported war on drugs.
On other issues, Harper is committed to increasing spending on the armed forces and will do so, making the Canadian Armed Forces a more capable and deployable force; we have little to contribute to this debate and should stay out of it. He has also suggested that the missile defense decision could be re-examined.
With regards to our transformational agenda, there will be numerous opportunities for engagement. However, I suggest quietly working such cooperation with the new government through official, non-public channels, and that we focus on a handful of priority areas — keeping Canada in the game in Afghanistan as the mission turns more difficult and possibly more bloody; continuing to work together to keep the pressure on Iran; increasing support to the new government in Haiti, possibly even taking on more of a leadership role there.
And right about now I’m guessing you’re remembering some of Harper’s more bizarre outbursts on Iran, his caginess about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and Canada’s new “leadership role in Haiti” where DFAIT is buying up property to house an infusion of Canadian officials.
Back to Wilkins’ cable:
“We’re going to be recommending senior level visits and consultations on foreign policy issues to help bring Harper and his new, generally inexperienced team into the fold as more useful partners.
I look forward to helping connect the dots with the new government so we can effectively advance our agenda.”
Afghanistan, Iran, Haiti, enhanced information sharing, war on drugs, joint maritime operations, security perimeter . . . There’s also a section on Canada “engaging more actively in other hemispheric trouble spots such as Venezuela, Colombia, and Cuba.”
Has Canada done anything independent of this cable under Harper?
David Emerson, who crossed the floor to the Cons to implement the soft wood lumber deal a week after he was elected as a Liberal in Vancouver, is mentioned in a second Wilkins cable just after the deal was signed with USTR Ambassador Susan Schwab eight months later.
Here they are quoted discussing International Traffic in Arms Regulations, a US law which proscribes Canadian dual nationals from some countries from work on the arms deals that comprise 40% of Canadian defense procurement from the US, and the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative:
“It would be better, she continued, if we could look at issues as if there were a common border surrounding Canada and the U.S., rather than as an issue caused by the Canadian-U.S. border. Emerson agreed. He said that policies such as the WHTI are a “running sore” in the bilateral relationship and are inconsistent with policies to integrate the Canadian and U.S. economies to the maximum extent possible.”
So, again, Steve, we ask : How’s that US security perimeter deal with Barry coming along?