Tuesday, September 15, 2009

 

THE PACHYDERM NEXT DOOR

Another manifestation of the decades' old conundrum of the mouse sleeping next to the elephant: Prime Minister Harper heads to Washington and New York to repeat Canada's case against America's growing trade protectionism.

Wednesday's one-hour photo-op with Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the world's most famous mansion is really more for the folks back home. It's basically designed to raise Harper's international profile just in case a Parliamentary misstep back in Ottawa plunges the country into a Federal election no one wants. And, for which some politicians would likely to get a severe thrashing at the polls...I digress.

Futile as the open trade effort may be. Harper and those who surround him know these days the real power in Washington comes from the Democrat controlled Houses of Congress. Though D.C. and the rest of the United-States are mired in the more pressing issues of the health care reform debate - both leading Congressional Democrats; Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and Harry Read, the Senate Majority Leader, have at least made time to hear the Prime Minister state his case on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, before he heads to New York for a speech to the Canadian-American Business Council.

Any power has pretty well eroded from all three levels of Government here at home to mitigate against the impact on the Canadian business sector of the "Buy American" provisions which were included in the close to One-Trillion dollar U.S. stimulus plan adopted by Congress late in the spring of this year. At July's meeting of Canadian Municipalities in Whistler B.C. it took several behind the scenes arm-twisting initiatives from Federal officials to narrowly avoid the additional embarrassment to Canada of having the country's major cities refusing to do business with the United States in retaliation...after all that is not the Canadian way!

There is some anecdotal evidence frankly that some Americans; Governors in particular, may be getting tired of Canada's whining against U.S. protectionism.
Just wrapping-up today in Saint John, New Brunswick is the annual conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. I was the CBC's lead reporter at the first conference 33 years ago in Sugarbush, Vermont...as well as the second: In St. Andrews, New Brunswick...and third in Chatham (Cape Cod), Massachusetts - Humour me, I am old and given to digression. - This week's session in Saint John hasn't received much media attention. It seems to me far less than past conferences. Perhaps telling is that Governors from Connecticut and New Hampshire didn't bother to attend, while Massachusetts' representative was the State's Lieutenant-Governor. The six New England Governors combined represent a population of about 40-million American consumers, clear targets of lobbying by the Premier of Quebec and his four Atlantic provinces counterpart: Graham of New Brunwick; Ghiz of P.E.I; Williams of Newfoundland; and Nova Scotia's Dexter...all hit as hard as any other Canadian region by the economic meltdown which began in the U.S. a year ago.

Tradition dictates that the 2010 meeting of the Governors and Premiers take place in the United States. The economy may turn better in the interim. It's hard to tell though whether America's spiral into protectionism, fueled by an ongoing psychosis over securing and hardening its borders, will also turn-around no matter what arguments Canada may advance on the issue. If we're going to bed down with an elephant, maybe we should be planting peanuts!

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