Canada is at the brink of a radical shift in energy and foreign policy. But there has been no debate of any consequence about it — not in the House of Commons, not in the Senate, not in the proceedings of a Royal Commission. Certainly not in the news media.
Yes, Stephen Harper is undertaking a radical reorientation of Canadian foreign and trade policy in a number of areas. Israel, Iran, Afghanistan are all well and good for his racist, militarist, and radical religious base, but his affection for China reveals something a little different. Why China?
There are, I think, several things at work.
First is China itself. It is one thing to say China is a rising hyperpower, set to supersede the US as the dominant global power in the 21st century, but another to look at how it is going about doing it. Much has been written lately about Chinese investments in ports and natural resources in Africa and South America. And, well, Canada. It isn't discussed much China, but is also making strategic investments in education. The world's top (read: Western) universities harbour large numbers of Chinese students on education visas able to pay astronomical international tuition fees, at a time when domestic students are saddled with loans and ever increasing fees by shortsighted governments which see education as just another place to cut inefficiencies, and student loan interest as a long-term revenue investment.
China, as frustrated international negotiators will tell you, thinks on 10, 20, or 100 year time horizons. Everything it does now is strategic and geared at positioning itself in timeframes beyond the lifetimes of today's policymakers. Its decision-makers aren't shackled by juvenile ideological debates about free markets or [neo]liberal military adventurism. Internal dissent is mercilessly crushed, towns are uprooted and flooded in the name progress, media and information is strictly controlled.
Which of course brings us to Stephen Harper.
He must be in absolute awe of how the Chinese government does things. The economist in him sees a vast and endless market for Canada Inc. products and services (read: raw forest, raw bitumen, water next?). The authoritarian in him sees a government able to act with impunity against dissenters, controlling everyone and everything. Patrick Brown is subtly brilliant in his evisceration.
Such an entrancing display of Machiavellian realism would be difficult to resist for a man of such leanings, who is trying to create a version of the same in his own sparsely populated, overly courteous and polite (read: weak) dominion. It used to be that Stephen Harper looked up to the United States, but even he must see the absurdity of the US election campaign currently underway, and the lack of any real strategy or intelligence on the part of his ideological bed-mates south of the border. He's canny enough to see the reality of a failing economy and declining power, the perils of fractured but unmanaged electorate. This, and the superficial liberalism of the Obama administration and its divestment from the worst of the neocon policies must grate him as weakness.
China on the other hand is new, and rising, and showing no signs of losing itself to the dissenters clambering and dying for freedom and democracy. It holds the potential to dwarf the US neighbour by several orders of magnitude.
It is therefore with little surprise that Stephen Harper is in all but name realigning Canada as a colonial client state with the new global hegemon, signing deals and turning the Western ports into giant funnels for the Canadian raw materials.
However, the United States is a long way from dead, and it does its own strategic planning. Chinese interest in Canada and Harper policies around resource access won't go unnoticed. The US sees Canadian resources as within its sphere of access and influence. The Tar Sands are part of that country's energy security picture. Harper seems to see Canada as the US's military ally, and is inking deals for shared security infrastructure, which ultimately benefit his government in its control of dissent.
It will be interesting to see if the “great, glorious, and always correct” Mr. Harper's actions appear on southern radar, and if he can maintain the balance of playing off both strategic adversaries.