Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Duelling fellows and the G20 agenda

Interesting bit of two-step apparently going on at a Canadian think tank, as played out in the Globe today. Gordon Smith, a distinguished fellow, and Tom Bernes, a VP & director with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo write this op-ed on the G20 summit agenda, almost an apologia for the constraints that Stephen Harper faces as the one setting that agenda: "Canada can set the agenda – within limits." The limits they speak of are what you'd expect. He's a prisoner of former summit agendas, European current events, the multitude of actors involved, Canada's real lack of power on the world stage, yadda yadda yadda. This is much of the op-ed, although the latter part does suggest areas where Canada should step up and seek pragmatic solutions, using its intellectual leadership (not solely financial regulation but development, trade, investment, climate change and energy, etc.).

And yet...

As noted elsewhere in the Globe, CIGI, home of the above two authors, released a report last week entitled, "Leadership and the Global Governance Agenda: Three Voices," with a much more critical barb at Canada for its lack of G20 leadership. This CIGI senior fellow, Alan Alexandroff, seems to think Canada is missing an opportunity and takes a harder tack than his colleagues:
But the lack of a wider G20 agenda may be seen in retrospect as a lost opportunity for Canada and a lost opportunity in the creation of this enlarged Gx leadership institution. Canada is well aware of the challenges that the enlarged, diverse leadership of the G20 poses for the G20 leaders, and has kept the Toronto summit focused on the crisis commitments made earlier. Yet it has struck an approach that conveys a “sense of instrumentality and technical acumen” (Cooper, 2010); it has not sought to enlarge the G20 agenda beyond the economic and financial focus. It appears that the current Canadian government is content to restrict the G20 to “a strictly- defined-problem-solving capacity” (ibid.) The old axiom, “Strike while the iron is hot,” is not being applied here. Consequently, Canada risks this G20 summit being assessed as a failure, possibly branding the country with a reputation for poor leadership that could live on for some time. The Toronto G20 summit may not just be seen as lacking creativity, but may also call into question Canada’s leadership.(emphasis added)
That's a harsh charge directed squarely at Stephen Harper. Harsh especially when the summit has yet to occur. Still, it's possible to make given what we've seen thus far in terms of draft communiques and the Canadian obsession with the bank tax, etc. Unless there's something momentous coming, and there really aren't any indications of that as Harper plays caretaker in the run up to the summit, it's a charge that could stick. It's further reason why the billion dollar cost of the summit so easily captures the Canadian imagination. There's no off-setting sense that this is all worth it due to Canada's bold leadership.

Interesting bunch at the CIGI.