Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lawrence Cannon's very bad day

How many countries can Lawrence Cannon tick off in one day? Many, it appears. First, there's the U.S.: "Clinton blasts Canada for exclusivity of Arctic talks." Then there are the nations excluded from yesterday's "Arctic Five" meeting of Arctic coastal nations but who do belong to the preeminent Arctic decision making body, the Arctic Council: Iceland, Finland and Sweden. Then there would be Greenland, who agreed with the U.S. on the exclusion of the preceding 3 nations. Also cited in the Canwest report, "many in the European Union" and at least one British EU representative who characterized the narrowing of Arctic nations to 5 at such meetings as yesterday's as "worrying." Then there are the Inuit leaders in Canada who have expressed condemnation of their exclusion from the meeting, being the people who actually, you know, live there. All in all, quite the list. Lawrence Cannon has to have set some kind of record in international diplomacy with the fallout from his Arctic Five gathering on Monday.

Details from the CBC's reporting on the incident:
In her prepared remarks to open the meeting, Clinton said she had been contacted by representatives of indigenous groups, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, who all had similar concerns about not being invited.

"Significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region, and I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions," Clinton said.
So where does the Harper government's hesitation about being inclusive toward the Arctic come from? It's likely one more example of a partisan bias clouding their policy judgment. The Ottawa Declaration of 1996 established the Arctic Council, i.e., it was a Chretien government initiative. The Harper government, however, has preferred to emphasize military posturing in the north versus a multilateral diplomatic approach through the Arctic Council:
In his first year in office, Harper eliminated the position of ambassador of circumpolar affairs, who represented Canada at meetings of international bodies such as the Arctic Council.
We are represented now by a bureaucrat within DFAIT as our representative to the Council while a number of the other nations continue to have ambassadors, suggesting a difference in priorities. So this reluctance to support the Arctic Council, the larger body, has been characteristic of the Harper government from the start, despite Lawrence Cannon's defensive protestations yesterday:
"Canada does respect the Arctic Council," said Cannon, the sole participant in the closing news conference. "Canada was one of the co-founders of the Arctic Council."
We may have founded it, but the many ticked off nations, including the U.S. and the other nations who didn't show at Cannon's closing "joint" news conference yesterday, don't seem to be feeling the respect these days. Quite the development for the U.S. Secretary of State to purposely avoid a joint press conference in Canada.

Magnifying all of the above, Clinton's appeal during a CTV interview for Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the 2011 pullout date that we've set. The fact that the request came in this manner, as a matter of public pressure beyond diplomatic niceties, was also a notable event yesterday. It may, however, simply have been a reflection of the U.S. knowing our position is fixed and deciding to have a go at exerting pressure, going around it and to the public. But Clinton was nuanced in her statement and did explicitly recognize this is a Canadian decision, if there is to be one, that is. So I'm not sure there's much to be made of this. The Harper government last night was sticking to the position that the military mission ends in 2011 last night. Maybe we'll be hearing more about this issue today as the Clinton visit continues.

The Arctic meeting flub was enough to say it was not a great day Monday for Lawrence Cannon or Canadian foreign affairs leadership on the Arctic issue. The many countries that have weighed in are proof of that.