With two calculated speeches, Stephen Harper has articulated a blessedly coherent vision of Canada's expanding international role. At the Economic Club of New York, the Prime Minister spelled out what Canada brings to the United States, such as energy security, and what it expects in return, including an assurance that security measures will not impede border traffic. At the United Nations yesterday, he reminded his listeners of Canada's role in the tough peacemaking mission in Afghanistan - and then warned that the UN cannot defeat terrorism if it cannot reform itself. Emphasizing his message, Mr. Harper told the Economic Club: "Make no mistake, Canada intends to be a player."
It was an estimable performance. And it has effectively countered charges that Mr. Harper has toadied to U.S. President George W. Bush, tailoring his policies to reflect U.S. desires. The New York foray is his declaration of independence. No one, despite the discreet language of diplomacy, could misunderstand his intention to put Canada's interests in the forefront.
First, Mr. Harper outlined what Canada can do for the United States. Canada ranks fifth in total energy production. It is the largest supplier to the United States of oil, natural gas, electricity and uranium. Those are formidable advantages in a neighbour that is "modern, democratic, prosperous, peace-loving." Or, as he reminded his prestigious Economic Club audience: "Canada is an emerging energy superpower, the only stable and growing producer of this scarce commodity in an unstable world."
There are huge advantages for both nations in deeper co-operation, as Mr. Harper noted. He wants to enhance the pragmatic North American Economic and Security Partnership with Mexico and the United States. Canada-U.S. economic integration is already strong: More than $1.5-billion in goods and services and 300,000 people cross the border each day. The Conservative government is also boosting border security.
And then came the hook, an emphatic reminder of how easily this mutual prosperity could founder. Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, the United States will demand a passport or an equivalent secure document at its land borders starting Jan. 1, 2008. That requirement is a recipe for chaos, if only because Washington has not yet determined what technology it will use. "Let's take the time to get it right," Mr. Harper urged, asking his influential audience to pull strings.
That theme of co-operation for mutual benefit is woven throughout. Mr. Harper repeatedly stressed Canada's contribution to the battle against terrorism: Troops are on the ground in Afghanistan; Canada has earmarked nearly $1-billion in aid and technical assistance. "Those two actions - rebuilding a shattered society and providing a stable security environment - go hand in glove," he told the UN General Assembly. "This is the United Nation's strongest mission and, therefore, our greatest test. We cannot afford to fail." The UN, he added, must ensure that its failings do not hamper its earnest efforts.
Then came the second hook. Canada is doing its part abroad and it expects respect at home. And home includes the disputed waterways of the Northwest Passage. "We will defend our sovereignty over all our territory, including over the islands, waterways and resources of the High Arctic, even if that conflicts with American claims," Mr. Harper said.
Taken together, the two speeches constitute a realistic approach to a formidable world. There is idealism. There is the tough calculation of the bottom line. And there is no doubt that Canadian interests are central. Good.