It might well be that the meeting between “Steve” and George this week marks the beginning of a real change in Canada-US relations. Depending on your geo-political view, the change might be for the good or bad, but there seems little doubt that there will be greater cooperation between the two countries than there has been in years. That is not to say that the two nations have not cooperated, but things on the surface have been decidedly not smooth since Bush’s first electoral “victory” in 2000.
Ally or not, I personally find it problematic that Stephen Harper might actually understand the geo-political situation in the same way that George Bush does. Certainly his policies more closely parallel the US on important international issues than did his Liberal predecessors, but then again there really was no clear foreign policy while the Liberals were in power, so comparisons really are difficult. For now, it remains to be seen whether Harper is auditioning for the “clever side-kick” role that seems to have been relinquished by Tony Blair. Improved dialog between the countries is welcomed, but I am sure that Harper is aware of how tolerant Canadians are of openly kissing American ass.
The lucky timing of the meeting on the heels of Kim Jong-Il’s missile tests let Bush sneak in a jab about the need for a ballistic missile shield (“We’re trying to make sure, by the way, that the missile that he fired wasn’t headed for Canada” – a thought that kept me up late at night all week), which Harper dodged, while leaving opening the option for future Canadian participation (“Canada is not prepared to open a missile-defence issue at this time“. Note the signature wink to his right-wing, big-military special friends).
Canadian participation means two things to the Americans – international acceptance and money. Since Harper aknowledged the importance of the missile shield and we’ve just decided to donate $15 large to the American defense industry in recently-announced defense expenditures, Bush basically has what he wants for the time being. Further Canadian involvement in missile defense can quietly be arranged through NORAD, as the Liberals likely planned to do it, or through further defense integration in the Fortress North America plan that the US has promoted.
Where exactly this goes is anyone’s guess – it depends on whether Harper does understand the stakes of the 21st century in the same way George Bush does. Harper has proven to be a good political tactitian so far, so I expect that he will avoid too many gestures to the Americans before he has secured his majority government (amid the wreckage of the Liberal party, a sad near-certainty in my view). However, at that point I expect to see a distinctive shift toward a US approach to government; small-government when it comes to social programs and taxes and big-government on issues like defense and policing.
Happy, happy, joy, joy.