Watch Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada, discuss priorities for Canadian foreign policy, including climate change, the Americas and NAFTA, security in Afghanistan, and arctic sovereignty.
A Conversation with Stephen Harper [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]
Speaker: Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
Presider: Marie-Josée Kravis, Senior Fellow, The Hudson Institute
September 25, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations
MARIE-JOSEE KRAVIS: Hello. I’m Marie-Josee Kravis, and I’m very happy to be able to introduce to you Canada’s prime minister. But before I do so, I’d like to ask everyone to please turn off cellphones and BlackBerries — conceived-in-Canada BlackBerries, I should say. (Chuckles.) And also I should say that this meeting is on the record, and it’s being webcast to all of the council’s members across the country.
I’ll be brief because we’re running a little late. But many of you, when you think of Canada, I think, recently have really been thinking about the Canadian dollar and the exchange rate, but there’s much to the country. As you know, it’s — Canada is the United States’ most important trading partner. It’s its largest supplier of oil. In fact it’s the world’s second-largest oil producer.
So I think we will have interesting discussions with the prime minister as to how all of that — what all of that means going forward in terms not only of North American relationships on security and prosperity, but also in terms of our military alliances, humanitarian alliances, and also the issue of climate change, all issues that the prime minister has agreed to discuss with you today.
Stephen Harper comes to us with a very interesting background because not only is he the leader of the Conservative Party, but he is unique among Canadian politicians and, I think, many politicians around the world in that he created his own political party, the Canadian Alliance Party. And he then brought that party together with the Conservative Party to then assume the leadership of the Conservative Party and become prime minister. And he’s now the prime minister, leading a minority government that technically speaking is probably the minority government with the largest — that’s the longest minority government in Canada’s history.
So I welcome Stephen Harper. And he will make a presentation and then take questions. Thank you very much.
Please, Mr. Prime Minister. (Applause.)
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: “Merci beaucoup,” Marie-Josee. Thank you very much, Chairman Rubin, President Haass. Our consul general, Dan Sullivan, is here. And thank you all, ladies and gentlemen, for attending here today.
Let me just say at the outset how delighted I am to have this opportunity to address the Council on Foreign Relations. In our judgment, there is no better forum, no organization more respected or influential than the council when the subject matter is the complex area of foreign policy. Your independent, nonpartisan work helps provide policymakers with the insight and perspective needed to build a better world. So it is for me a great honor, and I do greatly appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
We all know it is a challenge to understand the world we live in and the competing interests and values that shape international events. This challenge would not be so great if all the countries of the world were free, open, pluralist societies like ours, committed to democracy and equality of opportunity, committed to free and fair trade, aspiring to the principles and values that we as Canadians and Americans share.
But sadly, they are not. All of us here believe in a world in which freedom, democracy human rights and the rule of law are paramount and pervasive, but the reality in which we live is unfortunately otherwise.
And therefore, the tasks before us are sometimes — are often difficult, I should say, and sometimes daunting: preventing terrorism from reaching our shores; stopping the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; bolstering fragile states; helping rebuild societies shattered by chronic conflict; tackling climate change at the global level; sustaining and spreading economic growth and prosperity.
No country acting alone can successfully meet all of these challenges. They are too complex and too enduring to be addressed even by the world’s single most powerful nation.
(Speaks in French.)
So success in this global environment requires concerted action among capable, committed like-minded nations. Success requires middle powers who can step up to the plate and do their part. Success demands governments who are willing to assume responsibilities; seek practical, doable solutions to problems; and who have a voice and influence in global affairs because they lead not by lecturing but by example.
(Speaks in French.)
Since assuming office 19 months ago, our government has been making a deliberate effort to be that kind of a government, to bring Canada back as a credible player on the world stage. Canada’s back not because of new rhetoric or electoral promises but because we are rebuilding our capabilities. We have rebuilt Canada’s national balance sheet with ongoing budget surpluses, a falling tax burden and the lowest debt among G-7 countries.
We are building an energy superpower with the largest potential for free-market-based supplies of oil and gas in the entire world. We are reasserting our sovereignty and presence in our Arctic. We are renewing our military, both personnel and hardware. And we will be bringing new focus and effectiveness in the near future to our international assistance.
Domestically and internationally my government is preparing Canada for leadership. Take Afghanistan as an example. Canada did not hesitate a little more than six years ago when terrorists hit this great city and Washington, DC. The United Nations Security Council authorized military action to remove the Taliban regime, and Canada was there immediately.
(Speaks in French.)
We are part of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan because we believe it is noble and necessary, a cause completely consistent with our country’s proud history of supporting international action to fight oppression and brutality, and to assist our fellow human beings. Since 2005, Canadian troops have been in one of the most violent regions of Afghanistan — the southern province of Kandahar. And there has been a significant price, as we were reminded yesterday with the death of a Canadian soldier and the wounding of three others. 71 Canadian soldiers and one of our diplomats have fallen in Afghanistan, as well as a Canadian carpenter who was murdered by the Taliban after he built a school for the children of a remote Afghan village.
The stark reality is that there can be no progress in Afghanistan without security: the security provided by the sacrifice and determination of our men and women in uniform. Without security, development workers cannot provide reconstruction or humanitarian assistance. Police and corrections officers cannot ensure justice and peace. Diplomats cannot help rebuild democracy or enhance human rights.
In short, without security, there can be no hope of any kind for the people who live in Afghanistan, and that is what we are providing. Take education. In Afghanistan in 1991, there were barely 700,000 children in school, all of them boys. Today, there are 6 million children in school, and a third of them are girls — 2 million. Education means all the things to Afghan families that it means to our families — a future for the young and for society, hope and progress incarnate for men and for women alike. And as a consequence, it will mean a more secure future for all of us.
Now of course, I am in your city this week on another matter, excuse me, where Canada intends to lead by example, and that is the challenge of climate change. Yesterday at the U.N. climate change meeting and at last night’s dinner, leaders joined with the secretary-general to discuss solutions to the problems of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
(Speaks in French.)
Let me be clear. Canada believes we need a new international protocol that contains binding targets for all of the world’s major emitters, including the United States and China. And it is through such targets that the development and deployment of new clean energy technology will be stimulated.
That is what we are doing in Canada. We’re implementing a national system of mandatory greenhouse gas emission reduction across major industrial sectors. Our plan will reduce Canada’s total emissions by 20 percent to the year 2020, and 60 to 70 percent by 2050. And make no mistake; this system will impose real cost on the Canadian economy. At the same time, by basing our early targets on emissions intensity, we are balancing effective environmental action with the reality that Canada has a growing population and growing economic output.
The message is that we need to take action. We owe it to future generations, just as we owe them the opportunity to have the economic prosperity that we do today. We owe them both — sustainable environment and a prosperous economy.
In the global fight against climate change, Canada will do everything in its power to help develop an effective, all-inclusive international environmental framework that recognizes national economic circumstances, just as we did with the successful Montreal Protocol on the protection of the ozone layer, on which I should add that international progress could not have come without the leadership at the table demonstrated by the United States and China.
The solution to climate change cannot and will not be one size fits all, but neither can nations treat this issue as simply somebody else’s responsibility. This is the message we’ve delivered at home to Canadians. It’s the message we brought to our G-8 colleagues in June at the summit there in Heiligendamm. It’s the message we gave to APEC countries and business leaders in Sydney, Australia, two weeks ago, and it’s the message I conveyed during discussions here in New York.
Now let me turn to the main issue I want to discuss today, and that is our own neighborhood, the Americas.
(Speaks in French.)
Our new government has committed Canada to active and sustained reengagement with the hemisphere to advance security, prosperity, and democracy. I visited the region this summer. The contrasts were stark, and they are worrisome. While many nations are pursuing market reform and democratic development, others are falling back to economic nationalism and protectionism, to political populism and authoritarianism. Democracy, economic progress and social equality are still very much a work in progress in the region.
That is why it is so important for countries like Canada to engage, to demonstrate that there are workable models that can meet the aspirations of citizens. We cannot let the choice be characterized as simply unfettered capitalism, on the one hand, or old socialist models, on the other. I suggested that there are other ways, such as the Canadian approach, a model of constitutional democracy and economic openness combined with the social safety nets, equitable wealth creation and regional sharing arrangements that prevent the start of exploitation still seen far too often in the Americas. The Canadian model has resonance. Leaders, experts, businesspeople, social advocates in the region want Canada’s assistance in building their institutions for democratic governance, their human rights systems and their economy. I told them that we would be there to help.
(Speaks in French.)
In Haiti, the visceral linkage between security and development is most evident, and Canada is deeply involved in the promotion of both. I visited a Canadian-funded hospital in the slums of Cite Soleil. Until last January, when U.N. troops led by Brazil cleaned up a cesspool of warlords and gangs, such a visit would have been unthinkable. That’s what I mean by the inherent linkage between security and development.
On my hemispheric tour, I also went to Colombia, where our government is undertaking free trade negotiations. This is in Canada’s own strategic trade interests, but it will also assist that country to continue on its path of overcoming a long, dark history of terror and violence, and moving its people to a future of economic and democratic development. In my view, Colombia needs its democratic friends to lean forward and give them a chance at partnership and trade with North America.
I am very concerned that some in the United States seem unwilling to do that. What message does that send to those who want to share in freedom and prosperity?
(Speaks in French.)
There is a lot of worry in this country about the ideology of populism, nationalism and protectionism in the Americas and the governments that promote it, but frankly, my friends, there is nowhere in the hemisphere that those forces can do more real damage than those forces in the United States itself. And if the U.S. turns its back on its friends in Colombia, this will set back our cause far more than any Latin American dictator could hope to achieve.
I say this because I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to defend our shared interests and values at home as well as abroad, and more open trade in the hemisphere is consistent with our values and in all of our interests. Let me take NAFTA. Now, I know NAFTA has become somewhat of a whipping boy to some the United States just as it is to some in Mexico and even to some in Canada, but the fact is that NAFTA has been unequivocally good for all of our countries. In spite of the naysayers and the doomsayers, I could recite a litany of economic statistics to demonstrate its success, which is why virtually nobody, not even the critics, actually do suggest we whip it up.
But I would say, more importantly, look south of your own border. Today Mexico’s economy is not only growing, but it now has genuine democratic elections and peaceful transfers of political power, and it is engaging with the United States and Canada on security matters. All of these things were unthinkable in the era before NAFTA was signed. I could farther south to Chile, a country with which Canada signed a free trade agreement exactly 10 years ago. Today Chile is so stable and prosperous that after years of turmoil, violence and dictatorship, it is now a member of the OECD.
Let me conclude by returning to the theme of security. It is security and prosperity that bind our two nations.
(Speaks in French.)
At the North American summit that Canada hosted in Montebello last month, I was struck by the power of the message sent to us by leaders from the American and Canadian private sectors. They appealed to us to see the connection between security and prosperity. They told us that without the “and” we won’t have either. Frankly, that is why we continue to be concerned about the U.S.-Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. We understand and support and are working with the U.S. government on the principle, that is security, but we don’t think that the WHTI is currently conceived as either well thought-out or practical.
And we regret that we have not been able to make land pre-clearance happen today, just as we made air pre-clearance happen in the past. Canada and the United States must be capable of managing our border in a way that does not turn it into a barrier to commerce or to our shared prosperity. Of course, our commitment to security and to our shared values, as I’ve said today, extends well beyond our borders.
(Speaks in French.)
Working with other middle powers, Canada can and Canada is making a real contribution to protecting and projecting our collective interests, while serving as a model of a prosperous, democratic and compassionate society, independent yet open to the world. It is a contribution that I believe is increasingly important as we meet today’s challenges, challenges that the United States cannot succeed in addressing alone, nor should we expect it to. These challenges need the different perspectives, concerns and capabilities that partnership brings. It only makes sense to consult, to compare notes and to share challenges.
Canada is doing its part, taking an assertive role on the world stage, leading by example, taking risks, making investments, extending our voice and our influence. In our Arctic, in Afghanistan, in the Americas, on climate change, on secure borders, in each of these we may not always be in agreement with the United States, but we are committed, engaged and working for real and positive results, working for a world that is open, for a world of opportunity, a world where human potential is unlocked by freedom and made possible through democracy, working for a safe and prosperous world for all of us.
Thank you. “Merci beaucoup.” And I look forward to your questions. (Applause.)
KRAVIS: “Merci” — (off mike).
I’d like to perhaps just start the discussion and invite also any of you who have questions that when you do pose your questions, to please identify yourself and your affiliation. But I will maybe just pursue one of the points that you mentioned with regards to NAFTA.
KRAVIS: And the point that you made is that no one, even the staunchest opponents, is willing to tear the agreement up. But my question is, is anyone willing to extend the agreement? I know that you’ve extended the agreement to Chile and you’re considering other such pacts, but here in this country there seems to be resistance to extending this any further, and I wonder if you might comment on populism and protectionism.
HARPER: Well, first of all let me just say that Canada is engaged right now in — we’ve kind of revived our interest in signing free trade agreements after some years of absence. We just recently signed one with the European Free Trade Association. I mentioned we have negotiations with Colombia and also with Peru, with the Dominican Republic, with CARICOM, with the Central American Four, and we’re talking to Jordan on similar projects. So we’re engaged in trying to diversify and deepen our trade linkages.
You know, I believe that Canada’s economic relationship with the United States is its most important relationship in the world. I believe we should do everything we can to strengthen that. That’s been my long-standing position. I’ve always supported the free trade agreement, continue to think that we can build upon it, and I think history has demonstrated a candidate can do that and maintain its independence on the things that matter to Canada’s unique national character.
My own sense is that — my own sense is that any talk of deepening NAFTA or strengthening trade relationships on this continent is not going to happen in the immediate future. My conclusion after a year and a half in this job is that notwithstanding the reasonably good relationship I think we have with the United States government, that the United States government post-September two thousand eleventh — I’ll attribute it to that — has very much become preoccupied with security, and security that has very much a strong emphasis on national sovereignty and national borders.
And I think that until we’re able to couple that somewhat better, that the prospects of deepening our economic relationship are limited. What we want to do is make sure we don’t go backwards in any way. That’s why we’re working with the administration and other interests in the United States to make sure the WHTI, when it’s implemented, is implemented in a way that does not impede commerce and economic relations. But as I say, I think security, as opposed to — you know, as opposed to the economy, is the primacy — is the primary focus of policymakers in the administration, and not just in the relationship with Canada, but in all relationships.
KRAVIS: Well, that became clear in the immigration debate also, also in the U.S. My question, I guess, more whether you thought the U.S. had the stomach — and putting aside the security issue — but have the stomach to go along with the efforts that you have been — have put forth to deepen and expand the trade — the trade agreements.
HARPER: Well, I can give one example where there was willingness. The administration shortly after our government took office took initiatives with us to resolve the long-standing softwood lumber dispute. Softwood lumber is a major part of our trade. It has been a problematic area since it was not included in the very first FTA signed in the late 1980s, and we did — we did manage to put in a long-term softwood lumber arrangement between our two countries that was, I think, broadly supported in the United States but certainly abroad, had and has brought industry support in Canada. So that was an example of resolving a significant trade problem in a way that, I think, provided some framework and stability, that deepened what we had before.
But you know, as I said in my remarks, I’m — I am deeply concerned about — you know, and I’m not pointing the finger here; I’m talking about an overall discourse as the United States is in this electoral cycle, a discourse that I see populism, protectionism and nationalism in an unhealthy sense running through it. It bothers me, it concerns me, particularly vis-a-vis Canada. Canada and the United States have the closest relationship of — probably of any two countries in history, and certainly the most integrated and important economic relationship of any two countries in history. And I think anything that, on either side of the border, anybody who questions the importance of that or who works contrary to those interests, I think is not serving the public very well.
KRAVIS: Yes, please.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, I’m — (name inaudible). I’m a writer and journalist. You spoke about bilateral trade agreements and some limited multilateral trade agreement, but what about the WTO and the current attempts to try and revive Doha Round, which would liberalize the world trade regime? The perception (is), as you know, among third-world countries that the developed countries, this one in particular, are refusing rather adamantly to end the subsidies to the farmers. How do you feel about that? Do you feel that the Doha Round can be indeed revived?
And related to that question, on the question of immigration, there’s also a perception that as — (inaudible) — open to free trade and to immigration, Canada may be in a sense a recipient of the kind of immigration that could perhaps jeopardize the security of North America.
HARPER: Yeah, well, thanks for both questions.
First, on the WTO, Canada wants to see a successful and ambitious outcome to the world trade talks. I’m — I guess the word we’re supposed to use these days is guarded optimism. I may be a little bit less than that in my assessment, but Canada is pushing for a successful outcome. I agree with you, developing countries perceive there’s not been enough openness on the agricultural front in developed countries. Developed countries perceive developing countries have not been willing enough to open up the non-agricultural sectors at the same time.
I think probably the truth is that everybody is right, and what I have said to other leaders is that I think the way to get a successful world trade deal is for everybody to aim very high and be very ambitious. I think if we aim for an incremental, a small incremental trade deal just to say we’ll get one, I think what we find is that in all our countries the forces who are the sectors that are damaged by more open trade will be very vocal, and the winners will not be obvious. I think we should all aim high so that the winners are obvious in every country and so that there is some political support.
So I think the solution is to be more ambitious, not less ambitious, on the WTO, but clearly it’s struggling. And fast track authorities expire here, and that’s going to be a significant problem.
On immigration, first of all, let me just say, in Canada, like the United States, we’re an immigrant-receiving country. You know, I think it’s — immigration is much more of a consensus in Canada. I think there’s agreement, you know, across the mainstream of the political spectrum that immigration has been overwhelmingly positive for Canada historically. We see some challenges on the economic side in recent years, but socially, culturally. And Canada has — not unlike the United States, but I think Canada is particularly proud of the reasonably strong record we have of integrating immigrants into the mainstream, of overcoming the social divisions and ghettoization that you see in a lot of immigrant-receiving countries.
Now, we’re not perfect. We have our problems but Canadians are — you know, in spite of or, I think, actually because of our commitment to multiculturalism, I think we’ve been a success in that. And we take a view in Canada — yes, we expect immigrants to adapt, and particularly over time, the generations to adapt to the Canadian way of life, become Canadians. But we also believe that Canadian society changes to some degree to reflect immigrants themselves. And we believe that’s a good thing.
You know, we have — there was, I’m sure, in this country, widely reported — we had some arrests of, you know, terrorist suspects last year in Toronto. That investigation was assisted by large numbers of people in the immigrant communities themselves. You know, we have a good commitment to the Canadian way of life and to our values. And I believe overwhelmingly that when people come to Canada, or for that matter to the United States, they come because they want to belong. That’s why they come. And we should welcome them and celebrate that.
I do want to respond a little bit more detail, if you don’t mind me asking. Because there has been and continues to be suggestions that the relatively generous nature of Canada’s immigration, or more particularly its refugee system, constitutes a security threat, either to Canada or to the continent. I would agree, we have a very liberal refugee system compared to most countries.
That said, it’s a big leap to go from, it’s a liberal immigration system, to, it’s a security threat. We have security screening procedures. We do deport people. We deported 12,000 people last year. We identify security threats, in most cases, long before they ever arrive at our shores, and deal with them there.
As I say, we do deport. We do incarcerate people. We do monitor people and we work closely with all agencies in the United States in terms of these responsibilities. They’re shared responsibilities towards our continent.
So you know, we do bristle when I hear these suggestions. There was a report recently. It was — it talked about a terror suspect that was arrested at the Canadian border some years ago for travel in the United States. First of all, this was not a refugee. This was an immigrant. But in any case, that arrest took place through the cooperative action of Canadian and American authorities.
So we take our responsibilities very seriously. The United States has no more secure border — no more secure border — than its northern border. And I don’t just mean its southern border; I mean its eastern and its western border as well. The most secure border of the United States is its northern border by far, and we take that responsibility seriously.
KRAVIS: Thank you.
I know there are many hands that have gone up, so I’m going to ask everyone to limit themselves to one question, please.
Over here, ma’am.
QUESTIONER: (Audio break.) Paula DiPerna, Chicago Climate Exchange.
You alluded to a change in overseas development assistance and a tweaking of that. I wonder if you could elaborate and whether your views about conditionality, and particularly whether you intend to introduce a higher degree of environmental screening or conditionality of any kind.
HARPER: The short answer is no, I can’t answer that. We intend to have a policy announcement on that in the upcoming weeks. We have done, over the past several months, a thorough review of our foreign aid, concluded that it’s not nearly as effective as it could be. And we will be announcing a number of measures to make it more effective in terms of promoting a range of Canadian interests and values.
QUESTIONER: Thank you, Marie-Josee. My name is Peter Goldmark. I work for Environmental Defense.
On the subject of climate, Prime Minister, you were very clear this afternoon on your support for binding limits. That would place you, on the eve of the emitters conference, on a different course from President Bush, who has resisted binding limits, and seem to put you more in the camp of the Europeans, who are supporting binding limits, and many of whom view the major emitters conference as the last chance for the Bush administration to show some seriousness on this subject. Can you talk to us a little bit about what role you plan to play starting Thursday at this conference and what courses you plan to advocate there?
HARPER: Well, I —
QUESTIONER: You want two minutes in French — (laughter) —
HARPER: It’s up to you.
KRAVIS: I think this is fine.
HARPER: You know, very quickly, we — as I mentioned, we had a high-level meeting yesterday through the Office of the Secretary-General. We had a dinnertime discussion last night with a smaller group of leaders. And as you know, there are a whole series of other processes ongoing. I think we’re — you know, I think it’s a step-by-step process. I don’t think we’re necessarily going to head an agreement very quickly.
But, you know, I do think Canada has somewhat of a middle-ground position on this, and I described it this way. You know, we share with the United States — and the United States’s president, I should say, assured everybody last night that his process is intended to supplement, to complement the U.N. process, not to detract from it — that’s what he told all the leaders.
On the issue of targets, the United States has signed on to statements at the G-8 and at APEC that would seem to imply targets, although admittedly they sound like self-described targets as opposed to being part of a binding international regime, and that’s where we differ. We do believe that technological change is what’s going to solve this problem, but that technological change isn’t going to happen in earnest until signals are sent pretty clear to the market that it must happen and it must happen on some kind of a realistic timeline.
You know, on the one hand, there are some countries that are pushing for a framework that looks like the current framework. I think the deficiencies of that are obvious. If you go for hard pacts as the only kind of target, by definition, the only kinds of countries that will sign on are countries that have no population growth and fairly limited economic growth. That’s what happened with Kyoto. And then you end up exempting the developed world, and, quite frankly, for countries like Canada and I think the United States and Australia and a number of others, that kind of a framework creates real difficulty. Then the upshot is you have what you have with the Kyoto Accord, which is basically now two-thirds of world emissions outside the regime.
So I think that we do need binding international targets. I think it’s a global problem. I actually don’t think we’re going to get there just through a series of national targets. I think there has to be an international framework, but those targets have to be described and established in a way that recognize not just poor countries but different economic circumstances, and so that they can apply to a range of economic conditions.
I happen to believe strongly that you’ll — if one takes this seriously, you’ll conclude that you need targets based on intensity of emission for economic unit of economic output. That’s the kind of targets, I think, will — the only kind of target, I think, will work globally. But certainly not all other countries share that view, and some — at the dinner last night, I would still say there’s a wide range of disagreement on where we need to go. But we are certainly trying to pull people towards, you know, targets, yes, but flexible targets that accommodate different circumstances.
KRAVIS: But you’ve also announced that Canada has joined the Asia-Pacific Initiative.
KRAVIS: And what — in that vein, what —
HARPER: Well, we had asked — we had expressed interest in that some time ago. It’s a, as you know, an organization designed primarily to promote the development and spread of technology to deal with climate change. It’s not an organization that — you know, that is advocating targets or advocating some particular overall framework.
In fairness, it was reported in Canada yesterday, for instance — there was an anti-Kyoto group — it’s not really true, because Japan is a member and Japan is a signatory and a reasonably successful signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, so it’s — it is a group, though, that, as I say, is doing important work, and more importantly, represents one-half of global emission, over one-half. And my strong view is if you don’t get leadership from the United States and the developed world and from China in the developing world, we will not get an effective protocol.
On the other hand, if we do have leadership and participation from those two countries, I believe that everyone else will follow. So we want to be in various forums where we can work to make that a possible outcome.
QUESTIONER: Well, thank you. I’m Allen Hyman, Columbia University Medical Center. For many decades, the Antarctic continent has been recognized as international territory open to nations all over the world for exploration and for scientific study. Very recently, the Russians have sunk their flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole. What do you think the message from Putin was, and do you recognize the Arctic Ocean to be analogous to the Antarctic continent?
HARPER: I’ll comment on the latter. No, obviously we don’t recognize an exact parallel to the Antarctic continent, where, as you know, all territories south of 60 degrees is essentially international territory, and much of Canada’s land mass lies above 60 degrees north, so that would not be a position. Now, there is an international convention on which Russia and other countries are working to delineate basically the continental shelf and the relevant economic and other claims that may proceed from that.
I think my former foreign minister was pretty clear about Canada’s displeasure with the Russian stunt — I think that would be the best way to put it. (Laughter). President Putin assured me that he meant no offense, nor any — (laughter) — nor any intention to violate any international understanding or any Canadian sovereignty in any way, and needless to say, I always listen carefully when Mr. Putin speaks. (Laughter).
KRAVIS: Please. Yes?
QUESTIONER: I’m Ted Sargent (sp) from Paul Ice (ph), Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you for your initial remarks outlining the long history of shared values and beliefs between our two countries. We are — we’ve been told since 9/11 that we are hated for our values and beliefs by Islamists and — (inaudible word) — and others who mean harm to the United States. Canada is not hated. How do you explain this? (Laughter).
HARPER: Well — (laughter) — I’m trying to think of how to answer that one. (Laughter.)
MS. KRAVIZ: We have a different way of expressing —
HARPER: I’m not sure, first of all —
MS. KRAVIZ: You can answer — (inaudible).
HARPER: Yeah, sure. (Laughter).
I’m not sure, in all fairness, that the United States is hated. It’s certainly hated in some circles, the United States as a nation. I suspect in the circles where the United States as a nation is genuinely hated, and you mentioned a couple of them, I suspect Canada is equally hated, as are all countries that stand for those values. The American administration, to be frank, is more widely unpopular than the United States itself, but that’s ultimately an issue for American domestic politics.
I’ve always taken the view that the Canadian prime minister and the Canadian government have a responsibility — Canadian prime minister has a responsibility to establish a good working relationship with the president of the United States regardless of political party or regardless of political discourse in either country, and we do our best to work productively with the American administration.
Canada is perceived differently. I think Canada is different, but Canada is also perceived differently internationally. You know, Canada has no history anywhere in the world of conquest or domination. It’s probably hard to perceive of Canada being in that kind of a position. Canada is also perceived, you know, as a — maybe a less pure model of values of the United States, but a more complex one.
We are a bicultural country, which I think gives Canadian political leaders and its foreign policy people a more inherent understanding of the importance of cultural difference in a pluralistic world. We have different social systems, we have different government structures, some of which resonate much better in other parts of the world than the equivalent American model. And in that sense, I think Canada’s both a positive and a non-threatening force, and what my government is trying to do is make sure we can use those values to promote positive change in concert with our allies.
What I don’t want to do is what Canadian governments have sometimes done in the past, which is to stand on the sidelines bragging about our differences, lecturing and not really accomplishing anything. We want to take a different tack. We want to take a different tack.
QUESTIONER: Mr. Prime Minister, I understand that one of the things that is galling to Canadians about the United States is that while the U.S. looms very large to Canadians, Americans are largely oblivious of our northern neighbor.
QUESTIONER: But one of the things that brings Canada to my awareness is communications that I receive from animal rights organizations. And they report on the continued policies that permit the clubbing of baby seals in Canada. At a time when there’s a commodity boom that is bringing the Canadian dollar into parity and even perhaps to an appreciation relative to the U.S. currently, can’t the Canadian government find more humane employment opportunities for those citizens who are engaged in this field clubbing?
HARPER: Sure. Well, first of all, that is a falsehood, but it continues to be spread. The — in Canada the practice of clubbing and, frankly, the culling of baby seals has been outlawed for 20 years. Yet some organizations continue to say that, continue to use stock footage from decades ago, to fundraise. We have a small sealing industry. It’s dedicated today to humane and regulated practices. The seal population is exploding in Canada and it’s not an endangered species by any means. And in fact, we’ve invited the European Union, who has been most vocal on this, to send representatives and to do a(n) on-the-ground inspection of the industry. They can see for themselves what we’re doing.
I guess the position of Canadian governments historically, and it’s our position as well, is that this is a small industry of animal husbandry, there is no reason to discriminate against it any more than any other industry of animal husbandry, and that we will not be bullied or blackmailed into forcing people out of that industry, who depend on the livelihood, based on things that are simply on stories and on allegations that are simply not true.
KRAVIS: Thank you.
In the back. And I’m just going to — as you’re getting the microphone — I’m surprised no one’s raised the issue of water with you.
HARPER: Oh, yeah.
KRAVIS: Maybe we can come to that after this question. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Unfortunately, not my question. My name is Kate Kroeger. I’m with the American Jewish World Service. And my question for you, Prime Minister, is a broad one. Do you think that in Canada you’re entering the era of minority government? And if so, what do you think the implications are for Canada projecting and executing a coherent foreign policy?
HARPER: Well, Canada now has had two minority governments in a row. If the various conservative parties had been united over the past 14 years, which they weren’t until recently, we would have had minority government over that entire period as well. So I think with the current political alignment — I’m probably not supposed to say this, my election strategist won’t like it — but with the current political alignment, I think the possibility of minority government at any election, including one in the near future, would loom very high.
Does it affect Canada’s foreign policy? You know, in terms of the day-to-day setting of priorities and taking of positions on the world stage, not very directly, because quite frankly, this is largely under executive authority. I may be criticized in Parliament for it, but in most cases, if I can make my case to the Canadian people, I can pursue, you know, an aggressive or well-defined foreign policy. And I don’t think our government, on anything from the Middle East to — you know, to Afghanistan to climate change, has had any hesitation in taking well-defined stands and stands that are sometimes highly criticized in Parliament itself.
At the same time, I believe, and we’re committed as a government to ensuring that when we actually deploy Canadian resources, Canadian troops around the world, that that is supported by Parliament. And so, you know, we have a big challenge, obviously, with the deployment in Afghanistan. It’s — we’ve had a lot of casualties. And unfortunately, those who committed us originally to the engagement now see political points in being against it.
That said, I guess I believe what a former Canadian leader told me. I believe that when it comes to foreign affairs and global security, this is one area where you do what is right in the long-term interest of the country, your allies and the world, and that Canadians, whether they agree or disagree with an individual decision, will support a government that it thinks conducts foreign policy in that manner. If they think a government conducts foreign policy not in that manner, or has a weak or visionless foreign policy, then you’re in trouble.
So I will put it this way: that under a minority government, this government’s foreign policy will not change — will not be any different than it would be under a majority government.
KRAVIS: Please. Don’t — just behind you.
QUESTIONER: My name is Richard Erb, and I’m a council member from western Montana, just below Glacier Park and Flathead Lake. But I’m tempted to ask you a question about the coal project and the coal methane project, but I’m not going to ask that question. (Laughter.) What I want to —
HARPER: I’m not going to answer. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: I’m glad you didn’t — (off mike).
QUESTIONER: When you look around the world, in many countries with conflicts among ethnic groups, indigenous tribes, religious groups that cause tension and sometimes bloodshed, what lessons from Canada’s experience in dealing with these issues do you think would be most relevant to the rest of the world?
HARPER: That’s — it’s a really good question, and obviously one of the things that Canadian diplomats try and do is, you know, do try and work with other countries where there is ethnic or tribal conflict to impart lessons from Canada. Now, you know, one of the biggest lessons from Canada is that these problems aren’t solved overnight. I mean, Canada as a peaceful, prosperous society took a long time to develop, and we had our ups and downs along the way.
You know, I think that there’s, first of all, a lesson that comes from all democratic societies, and that is that the process of democratic government is not about final victory. It is a process. And it’s about not just the legitimacy of this year’s election, but the legitimacy of the next one as well, where the same people will air many of the same issues over again and may get a different verdict.
One of the problems in pre-democratic or non-democratic societies is that the political culture of leaders of all factions is aimed at total and complete domination forever. And you don’t just — you know, you don’t just win an election; you then figure out how you’re going to wipe out your opposition for good, you know, through any means necessary. And I’m concerned about this. I’m concerned that as Western nations, we don’t fully understand this.
And you know, I think we often rush into certain types of democratic processes in non-democratic societies where the outcome will not be a free and democratic society. The outcome will be the majority outvoting the minority or some group, you know, and I’ve — if I can speak bluntly, thinking of Hamas and Hezbollah, who see the vote as only one of a number of tools to pursue their political objective, not as a commitment to the democratic process inherently.
So I think, you know, all countries — all of us as Western countries need to think carefully about how we project and what we understand about our democratic values and how we project those abroad, so that as we promote democracy, we get democracy, not something else.
In terms of Canada, you know, I think Canada’s unique experience is the reasonable — it’s not problem-free, but the reasonable accommodation of major cultural and linguistic differences in the country.
And you know, I would say it’s an extension of what I said earlier, particularly on the part of the majority, you know, to — I guess that probably we would say in Canada there’s no real majority. Today we’re such as a — you know, a regional and multiethnic, multicultural society. But to the extent that there’s historically a majority, getting the majority to understand that accommodation of the minority and of the minority’s needs and of the minority’s — the difficult position of being a minority is critical to the overall health of the body politic in the long term. It is not simply ever — it can’t ever be simply a matter of the majority, defined in an ethnic sense, imposing its will on a smaller part of the country.
And I think if you look at Canadian history — and I don’t just think English/French, but I think of way back, Catholic/Protestant, or east versus west — whenever we have had — and Alan would know this — whenever we have had an incident where one section of our country, either defined regionally or ethnically or linguistically, has imposed something on the other against its will, we have lived with the consequences of that for decades. And that must be avoided at all costs. So there’s more to putting together a majority in governing our country than simple math.
KRAVIS: Well, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much. This has been a very, very informative session. (Applause.)
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