Friday, September 25, 2009

Obama Knows That Stephen Harper is Putting us on the Wrong Side of History

There is another great Facebook Group calling for changes to the Conservative Environmental policies. By change, I mean to actually have one.

Canadians deserve better than this.

Obama shines, Harper absent
Toronto Star
September 24, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama cut a bold figure on the world stage yesterday, delivering a forward-looking, energetic message to the United Nations General Assembly. George Bush has left the building. America is engaged again, and claims no monopoly on wisdom. The U.S. is canvassing for partners to tackle issues that bedevil the world.

But will the world rise to the challenge?

Are UN member states prepared to blunt the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and to reduce nuclear arsenals generally? Are they ready to fight terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan, support Mideast peace, curb global warming and reform the world economy?

"Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone," Obama said. "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

It was a powerful, principled appeal. And it would have been good to have had Prime Minister Stephen Harper tell the world how Canada intends to do its share. We are, after all, lobbying for a seat on the Security Council next year, and we have a stake in the issues Obama raised.

Sadly, however, Harper was absent as Obama and others rolled out their nations' views on world issues, before they moved on to the Group of 20 economic summit today.

Yesterday, while Obama spoke to the General Assembly, Harper was in Oakville, touring a Tim Horton's "innovation centre" and touting his government's tax policies. And on Tuesday, when Obama and others addressed a conference on climate change, Harper had a grip-and-grin with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

It was the third year in a row that Harper was missing in action at the UN General Assembly.

Jean Chretien also sometimes skipped the General Assembly when he was prime minister. But given the heightened attention this time, with Obama participating, Harper seems to have missed a golden opportunity to give prominence to Canadian views on global issues.

Harper explained that the speaking slot he was given by the UN was for tomorrow, when he'll be in Pittsburgh at the G20 meeting. (Harper's place at the UN will be taken by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, but because he is not a head of government, his address is slotted for Saturday night, when no one will be listening.) Harper also noted that, while he wasn't at the climate conference on Tuesday (where he wasn't invited to speak), he did attend the subsequent dinner.

Could Canadian officials have wangled Harper a better spot on the General Assembly roster and an invite to speak to the climate conference? Was Harper telegraphing his scorn for the General Assembly? Was he embarrassed by his government's dismal record on climate change? Whatever the case, for Canadians at least Obama's bold presence made Harper's absence all the more striking. (The Reform Party wanted to get rid of the UN)

Canada's stature won't be enhanced by these missed opportunities. And it's not much of a strategy for securing a Security Council seat.

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