|Lies on wheels: Harper on "Arctic sovereignty"... and everything else|
During the election campaign it was easy to overlook these nuggets of insight into how our government works - and how it is thought of by U.S. diplomats and state department officials. But it's a good lesson is in what we ought to expect from both the Liberals and the Tories.
Revealed in these memos is the honest truth about the fact that back in 2003, on the same day that Chretien was accepting kudos for supposedly refusing to join the US invasion of Iraq, the highest level Canadian officials were meeting with their U.S. counterparts. They were offering Canadian military assistance in whatever "discreet" way was possible.
As the briefing note describes the message coming from the Liberals:
"Following the meeting, political director Jim Wright emphasized that, despite public statements that the Canadian assets in the Straits of Hormuz will remain in the region exclusively to support Enduring Freedom, they will also be available to provide escort services in the Straits and will otherwise be discreetly useful to the military effort.
"The two ships in the Straits now are being augmented by two more en route, and there are patrol and supply aircraft in the U.A.E. [United Arab Emirates] which are also prepared to 'be useful.'"
And the double-dealing methods of the Liberals were inherited gleefully by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. Harper made a name for himself as the defender of the Canadian Arctic, promising increased defence spending to maintain Canadian interests. This chest-thumping is part of a wider "cold war" in the Arctic in response to the fact that climate change is creating the potential to not only access massive suspected reserves of oil but also the possible Northwest Passage from Europe to Asia, dreamed of at least since John Cabot made an effort to find it in 1497. Control of the passage would be of massive strategic and commercial value.
But while Harper talked big, he has done little, a fact that didn't go unnoticed to U.S. Ambassador at the time, David Jacobson. He joked that while Harper said "the issue has never been more important to our country... one could paraphrase to state 'the North has never been more important to our party" since it helped the Tories win the 2006 election. However, while Harper talked big in public, he did nothing in private leading a diplomatic memo to state:
"That the PM's public stance on the Arctic may not reflect his private, perhaps more pragmatic, priorities, however, was evident in the fact that during several hours together with Ambassador Jacobson on January 7 and 8, which featured wide-ranging conversations, the PM did not once mention the Arctic."
And in a move strongly reminiscent of Jean Chretien's on Iraq, Harper has worked behind the scenes to try and find a way to extend the mission in Afghanistan beyond the promised end date of 2011. The documents state that as far back as March, 2009 the Tories were "putting all options back on the table" with regards to extending the mission. A senior advisor to Harper, in a meeting with U.S. officials asked for patience while "public rhetoric" caught up with reality.
And, during a meeting with NATO chief, General Rasmussen, in January 2010, Harper promised to consider the option of keeping troops on, only noting that America's withdrawal was "unhelpful" to him making the case for extension. He also noted that they needed to "manage" the public message and, from Harper's perspective deal with the political difficulties generated by the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. By the end of 2010 Harper had agreed to extend the "non-combat" mission, though there will still be Canadian soldiers on the ground.
Lastly, the Wikileaks memos note that Harper did an "about face" on the question of an elected senate. The Tories and before them the Reform Party have had a strong position of support for senate reform, to make the body elected. Yet, even though the Tories have been in power for five years they have made no moves to implement this platform. In fact, the first thing that Harper did upon receiving a majority in the recent election was to appoint three Conservatives who lost to the Senate. Back in 2008, a U.S. diplomat noted wryly:
"[The appointment of 18 senators is] a major about-face for a PM and a party that long campaigned for an elected upper chamber. The cost of the eighteen new senators also conflicts with political messaging about the need for official belt tightening."
What all this reveals is that from the point of view of the Wikileaks memos, the Tories and the Liberals are harder and harder to tell apart. In fact, with the revelation that CSIS continues to secretly and illegally deliver the names of "terror suspects" to U.S. authorities - a process exposed by the plight of Maher Arar - it is clear that our elected politicians are in good company in engaging in dirty politics, unaccountability and a lack of transparency.