Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bit players

PMS' attempt to slip in a strengthened role abroad as one of his government's top five priorities received plenty of attention over the last few months. So how are the Cons doing when it comes to exerting Canada's influence in the Middle East? The Globe and Mail has the answer - and not surprisingly, the Cons have fallen far short of their supposed priority:
Mr. Abbas's top aide suggested beforehand that there was little riding on the talks. He suggested that Canada's decision to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won control of it in elections last year, and its refusal to allow diplomats to meet with PA officials, has diminished whatever influence Canada once had in the region.

In an interview before the meeting, Rafik Husseini, Mr. Abbas's chief of staff, said that because of the 10-month-old boycott, the Palestinian side knew little about the year-old Canadian government.

"Canada is not a big player in general and because, of course, of what has happened with the [economic] siege and with the no-talk policy towards Hamas, we cannot tell the difference between the old and the new government," he said.
If there's any relatively good news, it's that Peter MacKay seems to be backing off the Cons' previous position that essential actors would be deemed unfit to talk to, stating that Canada is willing to talk to any party interested in helping to solve problems in the Middle East. But this being MacKay, it's anybody's guess whether that actually reflects a change in policy or just a detour off message.

Moreover, even if the Cons have indeed changed their tone to be willing to engage various parties rather than presenting a good vs. evil narrative going forward, it's clear that Canada's influence has declined due to the past actions of Harper and company. And if year two of the Cons' stay in power really isn't going to consist of anything more than undoing the damage they did in year one, then it's hard to see why anybody should want to see them hold office any longer than could be avoided.

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