Harper, Bush, Hu Jintao see Wizard of Oz .. and Canada may have election this year too?

Sep 5th, 2007 | By | Category: Countries of the World

OTTAWA, SEPTEMBER 5/8. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is now in Sydney, at the 2007 summit of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum (APEC). So are  President Bush of the USA and President Hu Jintao of China. And Australian Prime Minister John Howard has just said that this “APEC meeting is undeniably the most important international meeting ever to have been held in Australia.” Philip Bowring of the International Herald Tribune, on the other hand, has complained that the “APEC forum lacks a meaningful role.” Like President Bush, Prime Minister Howard is in political trouble domestically. And a dubious APEC climate change plan the two leaders have concocted may put them “at odds with developing nations, who only want to discuss trade.” Yet the 2007 APEC summit may still mark some kinds of watersheds. Stephen Harper, e.g., will be the first Canadian prime minister to address the Australian federal parliament. And, it now seems, both Mr. Howard and Mr. Harper may be facing elections before the end of the year.

Howard and Kevin Rudd …

The part of the early September 2007 APEC summit that ought to interest Canadians most (or Americans for that matter) is the intriguing light it sheds on the state of the free and democratic universe in the strangely similar but also quite different Land of Oz down under.

John Howard, leader of the so-called Liberal Party in Australian federal politics (which we in Canada would nonetheless see, under Mr. Howard’s leadership, as arguably even more conservative than Stephen Harper’s party) has been Australian prime minister for the past 11 years. He has shrewdly practiced an aggressively right-wing populist politics, with a special appeal for the working middle-class “battlers” in the electorate.

John Howard’s magic, however, has lately been wearing thin (not unlike that of George W. Bush in the USA). A fresh Australian federal election is expected before the end of the year. According to one recent opinion poll, the opposition Labour Party led by Kevin Rudd “had an 18-point lead over Mr Howard.” Moreover, the “poll found that Mr Rudd’s personal approval had climbed two points since mid-August to 48 per cent, while Mr Howard’s personal approval slipped two points to 37 per cent … If an election was held today, 49-year-old Mr Rudd would easily win.” And this kind of polling data has been “an embarrassment for Mr Howard as he welcomed President George W Bush and other world leaders to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney.”

Mr. Howard’s popularity has lately diminished to the point where even recent hints of a juicy scandal do not appear to have hurt Labour challenger Kevin Rudd: “A boozy boys’ night out in a New York lap-dancing club has only improved the prospects of Australia’s opposition leader in his bid to unseat long-standing prime minister John Howard …Kevin Rudd had feared that last month’s revelation that in 2003 he spent a drink-fueled evening at the strip club would harm his reputation as a God-fearing family man and raise questions about his character … He had said he expected to take a belting in the opinion polls’ … But it seems Australians are more broad-minded than he gave them credit for and could hardly care less about his nocturnal indiscretions in the Big Apple.”

Howard and Bush …

As in the USA itself, John Howard’s strong identification with and support for George W. Bush’s American foreign policy – in Iraq and elsewhere – is particularly hurting his domestic popularity in the late summer of 2007 (er, make that winter down under, or something like that).

Howard has been a key US ally throughout the Iraq war. But more recently “public sentiment in Australia has turned against the war. Opposition leader Kevin Rudd has called for the withdrawal of all Australian troops from Iraq, and he is currently leading in the polls with parliamentary elections just a few months away.”

Mr. Bush has gone to the Land of Oz in high style. His US “delegation is more than three times larger than any other of the 21 countries represented at APEC – including the 300-strong Australian team.” And he “threw APEC organisers into a spin when he announced he would arrive two days earlier than originally planned.”

Mr. Bush’s unanticipated visit to Iraq, en route to Sydney, has also “made Iraq a surprise addition to the APEC agenda, at least for Australia’s politicians.” But “Prime Minister John Howard will stick stubbornly beside his ally, already promising to keep Australia’s troops in Iraq.” Mr. Bush is of course expecting a report on conditions in Iraq shortly. And: “Mr Howard will claim cautious vindication if the report points to security improvements, as must now be expected. Both Mr Bush and Mr Howard will use the cover of limited progress on security to blame Iraqi leaders for the country’s political quagmire.” In addition to meeting one on one with Mr. Howard during his APEC visit, Mr. Bush will be “meeting with Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd” as well, in what is “now one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the summit. Mr Bush will warn the Labor leader that pulling out from Iraq would be disastrous.”

At the same time, a “plan by US President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard to sign a climate-change agreement” at the summit “may put the leaders at odds with developing nations, who only want to discuss trade.” The “Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group isn’t the right forum to discuss climate change, Malaysia’s Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz was cited as saying by state news agency Bernama.”

Meanwhile, following his one-on-one “session with Prime Minister Howard, Mr. Bush will meet individually on the sidelines of the summit with the leaders of China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. And, in addition to Iraq, “issues expected to come up in the president’s bilateral meetings in Sydney include Iran, North Korea, Darfur, and repression of pro-democracy activists in Burma.”

Howard and Hu Jintao etc …

If John Howard were just another “Bush poodle” – and all-too-eager pawn of George W. Bush’s particular failing brand of US foreign policy – he would not be as successful an Australian politician as he at least has been until recently, over the past 11 years.

Yet Howard’s message to Australians in his first press conference of the APEC week also had a more subtle and even sophisticated plot. The “countries that comprise APEC represent eight out of 10 of Australia’s top trading partners. Total trade with APEC economies was worth about $250 billion in 2006 and that represents 70 per cent of our total trade … To have simultaneously here in Sydney the presidents of the United States, Russia, China, Indonesia and the Prime Minister of Japan is an extraordinary event and it does represent an opportunity for this country to be displayed to the world and most particularly to our region.”

Mr. Howard went on: “So I see this meeting optimistically and positively. I see this as an opportunity for the modern, sophisticated Australia through its largest city, undeniably the most beautiful big city in the world … to be paraded for the modern, sophisticated, tolerant, multiracial society that it is.” As the media in the Land of Oz have similarly urged: “Of the 21 countries represented at APEC, Australia has the third-highest per capita gross domestic product, behind the US and Canada … Strategically, as Howard points out, Australia will become more significant as the Asian giants, such as China and India, begin to dominate the world economy.”

Similarly, again, President Bush is not the only big league global leader in town for the APEC summit: “While Mr Bush was winging his way to Australia’s east coast, Chinese President Hu Jintao has been on the west coast, meeting miners and businessmen.” And then India has recently “applied to join the 21-member” APEC group, “along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and a number of nations throughout Central and Latin America.” Mr. Howard has “backed India’s case for admission to the Asia-Pacific club, and the sub-continental giant’s growing political and economic clout is likely to make it a favourite for inclusion.” (Though Howard has also “predicted that APEC will extend a moratorium on new membership until 2010.”) Finally: “Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and John Howard are planning to sign a document titled Australia-Japan Joint Statement for Enhanced Co-operation” too.

Howard and Harper …

With all this going on, you might wonder how the (still only somewhat beleaguered?) Australian Prime Minister John Howard will have all that much time for his fellow conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

At least until recently, however, the aggressive right-wing success story of Prime Minister John Howard, down under in the Land of Oz, has been something of an inspiration for Stephen Harper in the true north strong and free. And, along with attending the APEC summit in Sydney “Prime Minister Stephen Harper will … pay an official two-day visit to Australia, where he’ll be the first Canadian prime minister to address that country’s parliament.”

Canada’s “PMO director of communications Sandra Buckler” has told journalists as well “that while in Canberra Harper will talk with Howard and other Australian leaders about Senate reform … Buckler said the Conservatives have tried to take some steps to democratize the Canadian Senate, but the Liberal majority has stalled our term limits and our election bills’ … Australia like Canada is a large, modern, diverse and urbanized federation with the Westminster model, and if the Australians can have an accountable and democratic Senate, I’m not sure why Canada can’t.’

David Zussman, who “holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management in the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa,” has also noted that: “Mr. Harper will have many important issues to discuss with Mr. Howard since both countries face similar broad policy challenges such as health, transportation, foreign policy, climate change and energy. These discussions should be very useful to both leaders since there is so much they can learn from one another. The many characteristics our two counties share, such as being a federal constitutional monarchy within a Westminster system of government, will produce some valuable face time.”

One particular issue where Australia and Canada have at least similar logical concerns may not be discussed within earshot of any Canadian journalists. As CTV News has explained: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper could face tough questions about a U.S.-led nuclear initiative at the APEC meeting this week.” This “American initiative, designed to promote and safeguard the nuclear industry, would require all nuclear fuel be repatriated to the country that exported it for disposal … As one of the world’s largest uranium producers, Canada could face serious issues dealing with the waste produced by nuclear energy… The issue is also of interest to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who heads the world’s other leading uranium-exporting country … Both Harper and Howard could see the GNEP become a major election issue, but to date, the Canadian government’s position on the agreement has been a closely guarded secret.”

Finally, as CBC News has explained: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday [September 4] he will ask Gov. Gen. Michalle Jean to prorogue Parliament, short-circuiting the current session, which was set to resume Sept. 17 … MPs will be recalled Oct. 16 to start a second session of the 39th Parliament with a speech from the throne, he said in a statement … The CBC’s Don Newman reported from Ottawa that the move sets the stage for a non-confidence vote that could trigger an election campaign – a vote and election campaign that could turn on Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan … Opposition parties must decide whether they want to bring down Harper’s minority Conservative government, elected 18 months ago, and face another campaign.”

So it could be that both John Howard and Stephen Harper will be facing their respective free and democratic electorates again, before the fateful year of 2007 draws to a close. And who knows? Perhaps they will both win, or both lose? Or one will win and one will lose. (Or at least Mr. Harper will win back the same minority government he has right now!)

Meanwhile, both current leaders of the two former self-governing dominions of the now vanished British empire might want to keep in mind two thoughts from the original Wizard of Oz, back many years ago (in the case of the movie, as far back as 1939, when the Second World War began in Europe): First: “You, my friend, are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom.”  (President Bush might want to ponder this advice too, of course.) And then – the ultimate political advice for any democratic politician, right-wing, left-wing, or in-between: “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”

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