Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, was in DC today meeting with President Obama and President Calderon of Mexico. After the meeting at the White House, Mr. Harper accepted an invitation to a Q&A at the Wilson Center in the Reagan Building. I was fortunate to get an invitation to attend from the Canadian Embassy.
You can see that for most of the one hour session there were two people on stage. Mr. Harper was clearly the most articulate and intelligent of the two.
For those of you who have seen this format at Netroots Nation, it takes some skill to put aside your ego and be the Interviewer instead of the interviewee. Mr. Harper was treated to approximately ten questions over the one hour period and the privilege of hearing Ms Harman go on and on about what she thought about various issues. Unfortunately, the audience came to hear Mr. Harper and not Ms Harman and they were deprived of his opinion for most of the hour.
I don't know why I expected different from Ms Harman. You can find a backgrounder on her from Seneca Doane prior to the 2010 election here.
The gory details over the jump....
I won't go into a verbatim quote by quote from the interview. The webcast is here. You may have to wait a day or so to get the movie.
Ms Harman started the discussion the topic of "Competitiveness and Innovation". Mr. Harper pointed out that his government was interested now that they have a majority government in making major changes not "microlevel" changes to Canada. He talked about "streamlining the regulatory environment" and setting "clear timelines" for Environmental reviews. Not surprising that the Environment and Environmentalists are in the way of the Canadian Utopia.
Ms Harman fawned on Mr. Harper saying she was envious that "You can do things with your budget that we only dream of". Probably thinking of cutting 19,000+ civil service jobs which is in the Budget brought down this week.
Ms Harman asked Mr. Harper "How did Canada stay healthy during the financial crisis?" Mr. Harper pointed out that Canada has a strong system of financial system regulation which protected the housing sector. He noted that Canada started stronger than the US and thus was more resilient to the financial crunch. He pointed out that Canada put a $60B financial stimulus in place to help the economy keep going. Ms. Harman asked if that went to the private sector and an incredulous Mr. Harper said "No, we put that it the public sector". Even the most right wing Canadian politician sounds so reasonable compared to Blue Dog political theory. Ms Harman went on about LA's 30-10 plan and infrastructure banking. Mr Harper said, however, that the stimulus money is now being pulled back and the focus is on cuts to the budget to get to a balanced budget by 2015. We shall see.
Ms. Harman moved to the energy issue and Mr. Harper said that "shale gas is going to be big" in the US. Clearly, Keystone was in everyone's mind and Mr. Harper made it clear that he felt that oil and gas will dominate the energy supply for the next 100 years. He did recognize the Climate Change implications but explained that he feels that since oil and gas will dominate the energy supply for the next century, Canada has to protect that industry. He explained that even if Keystone goes through (and he said "Nebraska has cleared the environmental objections" over the pipeline... nice try but Nebraska is not the EPA), Canada will proceed with diversifying its market to Asia. He said "We have been shown that even our best customer can change their mind and we cannot have a sole customer". Very reasonable, I suppose, but doesn't deal with the Canadian Environmental issues. Ms Harman asked a question from the floor about implementing carbon offsets for the differential in carbon from the oil sands over other sources of oil. Harper clearly would not go there.
They talked about the auto industry ("Americans may not know that the average North American manufactured car crosses the border 16 times before it is sold"), nuclear power, and Syria. Harper was asked about the Arctic and melting ice leading to increased ship traffic. He offered up Canadian participation in the Arctic Council and Seabed convention. He deflected the questions of Arctic sovereignty deftly.
Harman asked a question from the floor about the Canadian Health Care system. It was clear that Canada is not questioning single payer. But Harper acknowledged that health costs were an increasingly difficult issue for all civilized countries (I wondered if he included the US in that group). He, of course, thought the solution to this increased cost was to "grow the economy". Never mentioned "cut the profits" of the health care equipment and drug suppliers.
At the 55 minute mark, I got my question into Harman's hands:
As a US researcher who has active collaborations with scientists in Environment Canada, I have had recent phone calls to my colleagues there answered with the reply "We have been told not to talk to people outside Environment Canada". My own interest is in an air quality related program that I understand is facing cuts. I know Mr. Kent, the Environment Minister, has informed the House that no such "gag order" exists. Can you assure your scientists at Environment Canada that they can have free and unfettered access to their scientific colleagues outside Environment Canada to explain which programs will continue and which won't?The reason for this question is pretty clear to people who have been following the events at Environment Canada since last August. The link is from the January 24, 2012, AGU EOS Forum. With nearly 8.3% further cuts to Environment Canada in the 2012 budget and threats of termination to employees who talk to reporters, I thought it was a fair question.
What did Harman actually ask?
We have a question here from someone who is interested in air quality and wants to know if Canada will continue to work with the US.Not my question, but I am sure that two people did not ask AQ related questions today.
Mr. Harper said "Of course we will continue to work with the US on air quality". Question over and a big smile on Harper's face. He "dissembled" and said the cuts only amount to 2.3% over the next three years. Maybe for the whole government but clearly not for Environment Canada that sees a sequence of cuts over 10% per year in the outyears of the budget.
I was disappointed that Mr. Harper was never placed on the spot today, but given his mastery of the topic, Ms Harman didn't have a chance. She was more interested in telling us what President Obama said on this or that. I was not impressed with the name dropping.
The final question actually put Harper on his heels:
What do you think is the greatest misconception that the US has about Canada?I replied in the audience (and too bad Harper did not hear it):
That Toronto has a professional hockey team.Instead Harper said that the biggest misconception is that Canada can be taken for granted. He told the story that someone told him that the reason Canada is treated badly by the US is because Canada is just like one of the family.