Harper sells to the world, and back home

Address to UN was intended to promote mission in Afghanistan to Canadians

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The Gazette, Friday, September 22, 2006

Stephen Harper took two messages to New York, one for Wall St., and the other for Main St. The first was for the people in the room, the second for the folks back home.

At the Economic Club of New York, the most important forum of its kind in the United States, Harper preached the benefits of Canada's virtuous cycle, and reminded the audience that Canada was, in his words, "an emerging energy superpower."

At the United Nations General Assembly, the most prestigious platform in the world, Harper used the venue to remind the audience at home that "the UN's mission is Canada's mission."

Not a U.S. mission, or even a U.S.-led mission, and certainly not one led by George W. Bush. But a UN mission, led by NATO, with Canada playing a leading role as it has in UN activities since its founding in 1945.

Altogether, Harper mentioned the United Nations or the UN 21 times in his 15-minute speech yesterday. He did not mention the United States once.

He quoted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, not President Bush, on the imperative of confronting terrorism, and how it was a direct attack on the UN and all it stands for.

The UN General Assembly is where the world meets. It is an architecturally splendid but acoustically challenging hall. It is also a challenge to fill it - delegations are always calling around begging other countries to come and hear their guy, so he isn't embarrassed by cutaway shots of empty seats.

For Harper, the hall was perfect in terms of a setting, and the resonance for his message at home. In framing Canada's Afghan mission as a UN mission, he was also able to rewind the tape to 9/11 as the seminal event behind the mission.

"The United Nations," he said, "recognized shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, that the Taliban regime, by its promotion of terrorism, was a threat to international pace and security."

In other words, the Taliban hosted Osama and the gang.

The Taliban would be the same guys who forced women to wear the burka, did not allow women to work, and forbade girls from attending schools. In the current insurgency phase, they blow up schools built by Canada and other donor states, and murder teachers in front of their pupils.

Now, Harper could point to five million Afghans repatriated from refugee camps, five million children in school, 10 million people voting in free elections, and more than one fourth of the seats in the Afghan parliament held by women, "remarkable," he said, "in a nation where a few short years ago girls could not attend school and women had no rights of any kind."

For the rest, Harper spoke of Canada's contribution to the UN mission in Haiti, an important domestic political issue in Quebec, as well as the unfolding human tragedy in Darfur.

There was tough talk, too, about "other challenges internal to this organization," notably the farce of the UN Human Rights Council, and the failure of UN governance initiatives. He declared that "the taxpayers of member nations" were entitled to "more independent oversight mechanisms, more robust accountability for how funds are spent, and human resources practices that are based on merit."

What a concept. The Accountability Act on the East River.

If Harper's UN address was meant to rally support for the Afghan mission at home, his Economic Club speech was one long boast to Wall St. of Canada's virtuous cycle in fiscal policy and our abundant riches in energy.

Consider: "We are projected to lead the G7 in GDP growth this year and next. Our current account is in surplus for the 27th consecutive quarter. Our national pension plan is actuarially sound for the next 70 years. And we have dramatically lowered government debt - to around 35 per cent of GDP - the lowest in the G7 and falling...our corporate tax rate is now lower than the United States...Canada's back: we're on the best economic footing of any of the G7 countries."

Again on our energy resources: "We already rank fifth in the world in total energy production. Seventh in global oil production. Third in global gas production. Second in hydro-electric generation. First in uranium production. We are America's largest supplier of oil, natural gas, electricity, and uranium."

Translation: We have what you need, be nice to us.

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