Paul Wells on Obama and Harper: “[A]pparently neither can take much of the other.”

Maclean’s Paul Wells gives a frosty take on the Harper-Obama relationship, focusing on Keystone.  But Wells fails to mention the Beyond the Border Action Plan or the Regulatory Cooperation Council.  BTBObserver on why that omission is significant–perhaps even more significant than Keystone.

Is the Harper-Harper chilly?  Maclean’s Paul Wells gives this frosty take.  

In short, Wells seems to say yes on Keystone–but is silent on the Beyond the Border (BTB) Action Plan and the Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC).

Why is this omission important?  Notwithstanding the importance of Keystone, and the mixed signals on the likelihood of its approval, BTB and RCC’s longterm impact on the Canada-U.S. relationship may be even larger.

From Paul Wells’ editorial:

It always comes as a relief when a doomed relationship finally sours into real animosity. Enough of frosty grins and forced bonhomie. Let the hostilities commence. Take Stephen Harper and Barack Obama. You may have to, since apparently neither can take much of the other.

On Sept. 26 in a New York City hotel ballroom, the Prime Minister sat onstage in front of a business audience and took questions from CNBC TV anchor Maria Bartiromo. When the questions turned, inevitably, to the possibility that the U.S. President might reject the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta into the U.S., Harper’s answer amounted to an assertion that Obama has no say in the matter.

“My view is, you don’t take no for an answer,” he said. Which is odd, because the decision to approve Keystone lies, ultimately, with Obama. That’s precisely why the U.S. opponents of oil-sands development have pressured him to reject the project: because it’s one of the few decisions in the messy U.S. system that is the President’s alone. So “no” does indeed seem to be one of two possible answers on Keystone.

What if Obama says no? “We haven’t had that,” Harper said, “but if we were to get that, that won’t be final. This won’t be final until it’s approved and we will keep pushing forward.”

It was an astonishing statement, and I’m sorry Bartiromo didn’t come back to push Harper to explain his answer. It was oddly familiar, and it took me a while to place the precedent. In 1997, when Lucien Bouchard was the premier of Quebec and Stéphane Dion was the Chrétien Liberals’ lead anti-separatism enforcer, Bouchard finally decided he had had enough of Dion’s impertinence. “I am not listening to Mr. Dion,” Bouchard said. “As far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t exist.”

Two other leaders might have a personal relationship to fall back on, but Harper and Obama have this much in common: Neither is big on personal relationships. Neither is wired to think, in any consistent fashion, about foreign affairs. Their relationship had been characterized by growing mutual indifference and incomprehension. But even that was too good to last. Fox News tells Harper Obama is a clown, or worse. Obama hardly ever hears about Keystone except in the context of the polarized battle for control that has defined his relationship with Congress, and the messages he gets from Harper are indistinguishable from the messages he gets from his Republican tormentors. No wonder each has come to wish the other wasn’t there.


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