Monday, March 22, 2010

Canada's G8/G20 leadership in the spotlight

The coming G8/G20 set of meetings is shaping up to be a test of leadership for Stephen Harper. Focussing on economic issues in particular, this should be an occasion for Stephen Harper, Economist™ to shine. This is what they've been telling us, setting expectations quite high. So, let's accept those high expectations and see what's in store...

As this CP report from last night notes, "G20 struggles to deal with China, U.S.," there are wide differences of opinion on the Chinese and American sides as to future economic directions, namely in terms of the global trade imbalance. As host nation, Canada seemingly has an influential role to play in managing those differences:
"As the summit's host, and because it is seen as an honest broker, many G20 countries are looking to Canada to sort out the differences, which are rapidly escalating, sources tell The Canadian Press."
...
The key goal of June's G20 summit in Toronto is to stabilize the global economy for years to come, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated last week in an address to G20 negotiators in Ottawa.

Central to that goal is finding ways for China to do less global selling, and the United States to do less buying and borrowing.

Unless China lets its currency appreciate and unless the United States brings down its debt load, the future of the global economy is up in the air, explained Dobson in an e-mail exchange.

Both countries, however, are digging in their heels, increasingly reluctant to make the wholesale changes that many believe are necessary for the fundamental rebalancing of global forces.

And now the G20, in Canada's hands, is perplexed at how to move forward.
Since Mr. Harper does such an impeccable job domestically of playing peacemaker, working cooperatively with others, yada yada yada, this should be just another day at the office. We should expect Harper to provide skilled, statesmanlike leadership and actually help to resolve such differences within the G20. And then during the meetings, hopefully refrain from taking partisan shots at domestic political opponents...oh, wait.

Not assisting the situation facing Harper, however, is the point that the report makes, that there are Asian, European and North American factions growing within the G20. Additionally, there's that pesky, festering problem in terms of the logistics. The Harper government's decision to hold the G8 in Huntsville, separate and apart from the G20 Toronto location, due to its stubborn commitment to making all that cash dumped into Tony Clement's riding actually worthwhile, is irking those nations not in the G8:
Canada's decision to hold the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., right before the G20 meeting in Toronto at the end of June is still not sitting well with emerging markets. They feel the smaller group is "dictating the show" and "cooperating and colluding to set the agenda" for the G20, sources say.
We've spent $50 million for Tony's riding for international meetings that never should have been properly scheduled there in the first place due to an obvious lack of hosting facilities. But heck, who cares about ticking off members of the G20 as long as Clement wins his seat next time, right? They are nothing if not stubborn.

Climate change is also lurking in the background as an issue and apparently there's little progress on it out of this working group that's been set up to try to steer the G20 in advance of the meeting. Canada co-chairs that group. So it's an open question then as to how hard Canada is pushing to make progress on the climate change issue as a G20 agenda item. Given this government's track record, we can well imagine how hard they are pushing it, if at all.

Harper's effort to steer this meeting toward financial sector regulatory reform without considering a tax on banks in order to provide a bailout fund of sorts in the event of future meltdowns is a further issue to watch. British PM Gordon Brown is pushing that tax, France supports it, the U.S. is considering it as well. Notably, David Cameron, the British Tory leader came out on the weekend in support of a bank tax too, even if one is not agreed to internationally: "Tory leader David Cameron details plan for bank tax." Cameron is electorally motivated, to prove he's a common man type and not the Etonian (he's #2) he really is. Still, an interesting contrast to Harper and the idea is worth consideration. Canada is not an economic island, the downfall of other international banking institutions impacted us all. An internationally agreed to bank tax in order to hedge against such harm in the future seems to be common sense. The anti-tax ideology that Harper brings to the table, however, doesn't seem to fathom any flexibility or foresight even for such a tax that other nations and his political confreres are seriously considering in the wake of an international debacle.

Then there's the whole maternal and child health issue that is supposed to be a leading priority from Canada at the G8. We know what happened in the past week, the Harper government decided to play politics with whether or not it was committed to family planning as part of the initiative, in contrast to the explicit commitments to it from other leading G8 nations. Not to mention our own commitment to the concept as articulated in the G8 summit communique last year. Not exactly a good harbinger of leadership and international same-pagedness coming through on that issue for Harper. He may even have damaged his credibility on other issues.

Lots going on around this G8/G20 meeting. It's supposed to be one of those tick the box items for the Conservatives that bolsters Harper's standing, the whole international stature thing, in a similar way we were told that the Olympics would. We shall see how that conventional wisdom pans out too. Looks like a host of issues, pardon the pun, that could prove problematic and the conventional wisdom just doesn't seem to be holding up this year.