Can Harper, Merkel agree on economy?

By David Akin, Postmedia Network

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G8 Summit at the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario, June 25, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G8 Summit at the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario, June 25, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young

Wherever he’s gone in the last four years, Stephen Harper has repeatedly stressed that his Conservative government is doing what it’s doing because “the economy is fragile.”

If he’s said it once, he’s said it a hundred times as justification for everything from his domestic stimulus program to his pivot on pushing for more trade with China.

But now things are getting worse.

On Tuesday, in a speech in Halifax, Harper’s International Trade Minister Ed Fast declared that the global economy is now “much more fragile.”

No doubt, Fast’s breakfast reading Tuesday included the latest economic data coming out of Europe which showed the 17-member Eurozone on the brink of recession.

The region’s two largest economies, France and Germany, are not (yet) shrinking but are stagnant.

As the world digested those sobering numbers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was winging her way west to Ottawa for a series of meetings with Harper over two days. The top topic will be the “much more fragile” economy.

Harper and Merkel have much in common.

They are both small-c conservatives. Both were elected within months of each other. Merkel became chancellor in late 2005, Harper in early 2006. They are the two most senior leaders of the G7.

Both also found former U.S. President George W. Bush creepy, albeit for different reasons.

Merkel was creeped-out by Bush II at the 2006 G8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, after Bush, who was meeting Merkel for the first time, welcomed her to one of the meeting sessions by giving her a very public back massage.

Harper, on the other hand, found Bush creepy for his constant references to God when the two men would discuss foreign policy or the economy.

You may have read elsewhere that Harper is secretly guided by Canadian Christian evangelicals and that his faith in Christ guides his political decisions. Ask any of the dozens who have worked closely with Harper over the last decade about this idea and you will be laughed at.

Harper has never looked to Jesus for advice on the economy, politics, or defence issues. You can, however, get Harper to change his mind if you write an essay with lots of footnotes from peer-reviewed academic journals.

And that’s one more reason why he and Merkel get along. She’s a scientist who holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry.

The pair of them believe in a rational, pragmatic approach to fixing any problem, including the economy.

Still, they have issues. Harper wants the EU to sign off on a free trade deal with Canada.

The government thinks this would be a huge boost to Canada’s economy and would further dilute our dependence on America.

But that deal would let European firms have equal access to Canadian firms when it comes to bidding on public contracts and that has some nervous.

Just this week, the city of Thunder Bay, Ont., home to Bombardier’s subway and commuter train plant, passed a motion asking to be exempted from the pending deal.

Merkel, on the other hand, wants Canada to help backstop a special multi-billion dollar fund that may soon be needed to bail out the likes of Spain and possibly even Italy.

Harper thinks Europe is wealthy enough to sort out its own problems.

They’ll both meet the press on Thursday afternoon to tell us how they got along.

 


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