Monday, June 21, 2010

Paul Martin's big week

So Deficit Jim and the boys (yes, boys, no women) will be going around the world today to tout Canada's financial record. Like the anti-bank tax jaunts we've seen recently by the Harper ministers and Harper himself, they're now stage managing the lead-in to the summits this weekend. What must it feel like to be the governing party, riding the coat tails of a former government's achievements, yet travelling about boasting about it? There must be a bit of sheepishness inside of these ministers, reading their PMO written speeches around the world, knowing that they landed on third base as a government, economically speaking.

The world knows it too despite the travelling Conservative road shows. "Much of the country’s resilience stems from policies—such as bank regulation and sound public finances—which predate Mr Harper," said the Economist in early May. And see the AP report here again on the story of Canada getting its house in order in the '90s and sticking with firm financial regulation, in the face of bank pressures (and Conservative support for deregulation). George Osborne, the new British Treasury guy, for example, is looking to cut the deficit there and is looking to Canada in the '90s as a model. It's not entirely an apt model for the Europeans, the chatter is growing on that point, but nevertheless, those nations continue to cite our record for inspiration.

Then there's the synchronicity of Canada hosting the G20 itself, with Paul Martin one of the world leaders to give its creation a solid push. Putting aside the security and cost nightmares that have cropped up for some nations (namely, us) in executing it efficiently, the expanded group beyond the historic economic powers can be seen in hindsight as a prescient move given the recent financial crisis and a practical responsive move given economic failings witnessed in the '90s (Mexico, etc). Over the weekend the Globe provided a reminder of Martin's role in its creation.

Meanwhile, what are we looking at from Stephen Harper as we enter this summit week? The sky high costs have overshadowed a lot ("A loonie boondoggle"). That scrutiny will continue. He stubbornly resisted expansion of its agenda to include major issues like climate change. So, not surprisingly, we go into these events with a mixed perception as a result of Harper's track record on the world stage. Admired by some, dismissed by others. Will we see a display of middling moderation by Harper of the big players this week? China's already made its big move on its currency prior to the summit, what was to be one of the big issues but now off the table. Will there be more agreement to disagree on a bank tax?

No doubt Harper's operation can certainly work the p.r. angles on all of this. The travelling roadshow of ministers today is another demonstration of that. They've likely got a significant p.r. strategy all mapped out for the week, the weekend and the follow-up, with story lines of success ready to go, no doubt many of them around Harper's leadership, irrespective of factual outcomes on the maternal health initiative, financial regulation reform, etc. Harper's summiteering is shaping up to be a large scale brag about Canada's financial record, a good part of that foundation inherited. But you can bet that we'll be sold that it's so much more.