Diane Francis on Canadian Politics

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Stephen Harper's Business Smarts

Diane Francis column for Wednesday Post May 10:

Canadians finally got it right when they turfed out the Liberals and took a
chance with the Tories and Stephen Harper.

Business is satisfied with his government so far, and should be. The tone of this government is vastly improved and in just three months there have been two achievements - the settlement of the softwood lumber deal and an excellent budget last week.

The budget hit all the right notes and even drew fire from the country's handful of neo-con commentators, all three of them. The significance

of this is that it means the budget positioned the Tories dead centre and away, policy-wise, from the extreme right as well as the extreme left.

In other words, the Tories are the country's only pro-business party of the
center. And that's a winning franchise in Canada from coast to coast. This is because the majority of Canadians understand that their welfare state can only be fuelled by wealth creation.

The budget also benefited everyone. Lower income families gained the most, proportionately, from the lower GST and the $100-a-month child allowance. The childcare funds also disproportionately benefit immigrants, who often share childrearing responsibilities in their homes among family members and do not desire, nor need, institutionalized daycare.

Clearly, the business-like manner of this government and the absence of scandal puts the lie to the labels of Stephen Harper as "scarey" or that the party is “populated by extreme wing nuts” ready to gut the social safety net.

Harper's leadership style is also a winner in the eyes of business. He
leads his caucus like a CEO runs a public corporation which means transparency, full disclosure to "shareholders” and clear messages from a single spokesperson.

The control of press communications has upset the Liberal media, and various scrum-rats, who are really fight promoters, not political reporters. They love nothing more than to ferret out showboats like Carolyn Parrish or other loose cannons. So far, so good and caucus discipline has held firm.

Most of all, the Harper government is good news because it means that the country's business community can relax a little. Business life is tough enough without facing worries over anti-American remarks by Liberals in cabinet or policies imposed by closet socialists who misunderstand or dislike capitalism.

Of course, not everything has been handled well by the Tories. The flag flap was a mistake and the government had no business making unilateral decisions without consulting veterans, the military or bereaved families.

But Harper’s economic policies are pretty flawless to date. And he deserves full marks for tabling legislation that will clean out the corruption that the Liberals left behind. Giving the Auditor General teeth is a great step forward, along with other measures.

Diplomatically, the Tories have pulled off the unattainable by settling the software dispute. For years, the nation’s softwood lumber producers have been damaged by the nastiness of the Liberals toward Americans.

The problem began when Jean Chretien appointed his nephew, Raymond Chretien, as Canada's Ambassador to the United States. Clearly, Raymond was better suited to another line of work. In 2000, he was quoted in the press undiplomatically favoring the Democrats over the Republicans in that election.

After the Republicans won, the gaffe was never overcome despite Raymond’s sudden transfer to Paris. Worse yet, Uncle Jean escalated the disdain through his own ill-considered words and deeds, then unleashing his name-calling anti-Americans. This was equivalent to the captain of the hockey team swinging at the referee.

So the Liberals lost the only viable solution to the softwood problem. To look like they were doing something productive, they foolishly opted to spend tens of millions of dollars in American and international trade courts.

It was a doomed strategy because appeals are endless, the softwood lumber has always been a special managed relationship exempt from the Free Trade deal and because American trade courts always favor the home team.

Softwood lumber has never freely traded because of politics and the Liberals under Chretien and Martin never understood how the U.S. system works.

Washington is not a parliamentary hierarchy, but a co-management system. This means that the only lobbyist and litigator that can help, or will, help foreigners fend off Congressional protectionism is the occupant in the White House.

And all it took on the part of the Tories was to bring back civility in its dealings with the White House. In no time, the administration waded into the controversy and stopped the damages imposed by protectionists on Canada’s softwood lumber producers.

Such relations are part of the DNA of the Tory party, by the way. This is because a pro-business party understands that diplomacy and trade are no

different than any deal between two parties. Mutual respect is the infrastructure needed in order to do business.


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