Monday, April 20, 2009

Harper and the free trade myth

I’m doing far more writing in my head than on the blog or elsewhere lately, and I’m not sure that anyone is the poorer for that. The times are changing thankfully and watching things unfold is both instructive and encouraging. Except for dear old Canada, stuck with an anachronism for a Prime Minister.

While the world rapidly readjusts to new economic and political time Stephen Harper insists on preaching the myth of free trade. At the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain his free-trade refrain has made him appear a bit of a lone wolf. Fine for Harper perhaps, but not for Canada.

From the outset the free trade push was dubious. I recall then Aussie treasurer and later PM, Paul Keating, going on at length about dismantling protectionism to create a ‘level playing field’. Paul still bleats about it, but it never happened cobber and never will.

John Howard managed to dismantle many of the old protection mechanism in Australia, but he replaced the likes of agrarian socialism with corporate socialism, merely shifting the zones of protection. Bush talked of fee trade but continued to builder higher and stronger walls.

Despite his waffle, his dreams, neither Harper nor any other Canadian PM is going to dismantle the entrenched barriers across his country. In many cases these issues are not only the prerogative of the provinces, but firmly held by the very people likely to support the Conservatives.

A government in decline

You don’t need to be a student of semiotics to recognise the signs and symbols presaging the fall of a government. Certainly the polls are suggesting Harper would be in danger if he went to election now; but he has no need to and polls are not always reliable. He can hold back his judgment day, but the signs are clear it is looming.

Harper’s party is a roughly cobbled coalition of the right; a party suffocated by his leadership and the dominance of the Alberta conservative heavies. While the rest of his party has been left to flounder now his Alberta fan club are starting to see the end in sight. They want to see a new potential leader, but know that another Albertan is out of the question. Problem is they have ‘killed’ them all off.

Having turned most other provinces away Harper really only has the west to depend on and only a fool would depend n the stout yeoman farmers of BC and Saskatchewan. Even if he could depend on them the real numbers are in the East where his support is dwindling.

I’m still not sure what the election trigger will be. It’s unlikely to be another coalition attempt and as dramatic as it gets at times the Mulroney scandal only serves to split the Conservatives more, not break them. Just one more sign, one more weakening for when the final event tips them out of office.


abi said...

Cart, I'm ashamed to admit that I know a lot less about my northern neighbor than I should. But I was surprised when Canadians installed that right-wing anachronism, as you aptly put it, as PM. Let's hope the tipping point comes soon.

Cart said...

Abi, I know the US isn't used to looking outward, but given Canada is such a vital resource basket for the big neighbour perhaps it deserves more attention.
Canada's mere 30 million population have an enormous impact on US wealth potential.