In the end, by the time Canadians got out of bed this morning, there was no climate change agreement in Copenhagen, notwithstanding American spin the night before.
Instead, after a haggard looking, bloodshot-eyed President Obama left town—because of an impending snow storm in Washington, it’s being reported—delegates simply “took note” of the three page accord reported in this morning’s papers.
That Prime Minister Stephen Harper was still standing last night was itself no mean feat, given the ambush of Canada at the meeting. But he also has much reason to be smiling beyond the profound disappointment of those who organized the attacks.
The Copenhagen meeting ended with minimal results and without formal agreement because of the profound differences between China and the United States. And because Chinese premier Wen Jiabao refused to blink or to believe the American promises or to be wowed by President Obama’s charisma—and was even prepared to boycott a couple of meetings to which he had been invited.
The accord that the U.S. and China hatched sets no goal for concluding a binding international treaty. Now, the onus is on Mr. Obama—whose approval rating at this point is now the lowest among elected presidents since Gallup began polling in the 1950s—to persuade the Senate to pass carbon legislation, which will be impossible before the 2010 mid-term elections and unlikely before the next presidential vote in 2012, when Kyoto is slated to expire.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Harper can manage the issue of climate change in Parliament beyond the next federal election by moving incrementally in areas such as clean energy. And he can avoid the nasty inter-provincial disputes and threats to national unity that surfaced among the premiers in advance of, and at Copenhagen.
Which brings us to the big loser of the past week—and I’m not referring to Canadian business leaders who, like their counterparts around the world, were looking for certainty and did not get it.
In what turned out to be grossly premature anticipation of an agreement at the conference, Premier Jean Charest broke Québec’s traditional alliance with Alberta, which goes back to the days of Peter Lougheed.
He will find that Alberta and other western provinces are far less amenable to making concessions in public procurement that the EU sees as a sine qua non of a free trade agreement with Canada. And he will pay a price in other areas at forthcoming meetings of the Council of the Federation—a body whose creation he championed.
Mr. Charest’s attempt to turn his policy disagreement with Ottawa into a dispute over the federal treaty power was laughed out of court by constitutional experts and by his own former chief of staff.
The only result of this sideshow was to give new ammunition to the sovereigntists who seek to replace him and then to destroy our country. Which is a strange legacy for the man known as Captain Canada in the 1995 referendum.
Oh, and one more thing.
Jean Charest will now be persona non grata among Conservatives in large swaths of western Canada. Any hopes he or his well-heeled supporters had to succeed Stephen Harper as leader of the Conservative party now lie in the ash bin of history.
Just one more reason—a bonus, if you like—for the Prime Minister to be satisfied with the results of his short visit to Copenhagen.