Friday, April 28, 2006

Standing up against Canada

Several major media sources have somehow claimed that Harper's softwood lumber deal is a victory rather than a complete concession - a fact which hasn't gone without due comment. But within one of the attempts to fawn over Harper's betrayal of Canada lies the surest indictment of Harper's actions:
There will be many complaints, protests and bellyaches from interest groups, opposition parties and sectors of the lumber industry that have been shortchanged in the agreement. They had already started before the seven-year deal was announced.

But the big political message of the day is that Mr. Harper pulled off a feat that eluded Paul Martin, by both strong-arming and smooth-talking Canada's provinces and lumber industry, and by cozying up to U.S. President George W. Bush. In doing so, he managed to get the two countries and the three major lumber-producing provinces -- Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia -- to reach a near-unprecedented consensus.
Now, I tend to the view that Canada should never have been looking to negotiate its wins in the first place. And there's plenty of reason to doubt that there's any point in negotiating another deal when the conflict itself arises out of the U.S.' refusal to live up to the last major trade agreement between the two countries.

But let's put that aside, and ask what policy should have been adopted if Canada was going to look to negotiate a settlement. From my perspective, the best strategy would have been to assemble Canada's allies on the issue...which if played right, could have included its domestic producers, its provinces, a Bush administration which for all its faults has at least tried to pay lip service to freeing trade rather than shackling it, and American industries who would be better off if Canadian lumber was traded freely rather than subject to CFLI's obstruction. Perhaps the Libs' stated animosity for Bush kept them from putting together that combination, but there's no reason why the Cons couldn't have put in more effort to band those groups together in order to counter CFLI's lobbying.

With all those groups lined up together, there would have been a serious chance to negotiate an agreement worth signing (to the extent the U.S. could be trusted to keep it). Maybe Canada would have had to leave some money in the hands of the U.S. government, or maybe it would have accepted a few lesser restrictions on its own industry...but surely an effort to negotiate the best possible deal wouldn't have led to Canada turning legal victories into negotiated defeats on every issue involved.

But instead of uniting those who share his interests and dividing his nominal opponents in order to secure the best possible deal for the country which he was elected to represent, Harper took the exact opposite tactic in order to make sure that some type of deal got done. Hence his strong-arming Canada's provinces and domestic industries, ignoring the potential for support for a reasonable deal from within the U.S., and accepting a deal which the Libs almost certainly could have achieved themselves if they'd been irresponsible enough to see it as a positive outcome.

It's been well pointed out that the end result will almost certainly be more arbitrary actions against Canadian goods as other industries (or perhaps CFLI again) decide that they'd like to take advantage of the next Harper windfall. But as bad as that end result may be, it's even worse knowing that the man nominally speaking for Canada in any conflict is perfectly willing to harm his own side for political gain.

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