Sydney to Santiago: PM on the move this summer
Published Tuesday, June 26, 2007 8:06AM EDT
OTTAWA - It's no exaggeration to say that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to the ends of the earth to spruce up his image.
This summer, Harper will go to points on the map as far apart as Sydney, Australia, and Santiago, Chile, and as diverse as the Northwest Passage and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The next three months will see him on airplanes almost constantly, with pages of his schedule reserved for the company of world leaders.
Party and government insiders say placing Harper on the international stage during the parliamentary break puts him in the best possible light. Photo-ops on the tarmacs and in the palaces of exotic locales emphasize the statesman, rather than the Tory politician with his various difficulties at home.
"It's a good environment for him because it allows him to showcase his leadership and his presence on the world stage, and that reinforces his bona fides with Canadians," said party strategist Tim Powers.
Harper's first major trip begins in mid-July, when he will kick off a major government-wide push to bolster Canada's relationship with the Americas. He will meet with counterparts in Colombia, Chile, Barbados and Haiti, emphasizing Canada's trade links in the region but also setting Canada up as a more compatible political partner than the United States.
In Haiti in particular, Harper will be able to advertise the fact it has become Canada's No. 2 destination for long-term aid dollars after Afghanistan.
Said one government source: "It presents him as an activist, well-rounded PM that is doing something and accomplishing something."
Shortly thereafter, Harper is scheduled to shoot up to the other end of the hemisphere on an important trip to the Arctic.
Harper visited the area last year, but in 2007 he's expected to come with his pockets full - with possible announcements for new patrol vessels and a northern naval station. One government insider says it's part of a patriotic vein that Harper would like to tap, mining some classic elements of the Canadian identity that have been buried in recent years.
"It's harkening back to another time - of being proud of our heritage and building our nation," said the source, recalling the ascendency of Tory prime minister John Diefenbaker in the late 1950s. "You'll note his insistence in highlighting national icons, like the North, the red ensign and hockey."
Following that jaunt, is the big "three amigos" summit at western Quebec's Montebello resort in early August, where Harper will host the presidents of the United States and Mexico.
Harper will go furthest afield after Labour Day, attending a summit of pan-Pacific leaders in Sydney. He's expected to stay in that part of the world for an extended period of time, most likely lingering in Australia to spend time with his political bosom buddy Prime Minister John Howard. Harper might also venture into Asia at the same time.
Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Ujjal Dosanjh says Harper should be spending more time facing the music with Canadians.
"He should spend more time speaking to the aboriginal communities across the country. He's dealing with the land claims issue, but in the meantime he needs to be dealing with their living conditions," said Dosanjh.
"He needs to be talking to the disgruntled provinces, not only vis-a-vis the budget, but also vis-a-vis his Senate reform, which Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland don't like."
Harper will indeed be talking about Senate reform, but probably not with the premiers.
The Liberal-dominated upper chamber thwarted his efforts to introduce an eight-year term limit for appointments, shelving the legislation until the government seeks the opinion of the Supreme Court. Harper and the Conservatives regard the issue ripe for exploiting with voters, and he'll beat that drum during visits to Canadian cities.
In between all his international travel will be a steady diet of the usual campaigning across Canada, but especially in areas where the Conservative party sees possible electoral gains.
Last weekend Harper made a pit stop in Roberval, a Quebec riding where the party could theoretically have a shot at taking in a byelection. On Tuesday he's in Thunder Bay, where he's expected to welcome former Liberal MP Joe Comuzzi into the Conservative fold.
The party deliberately chose Prince Edward Island - a federal Liberal stronghold - as the location for its summer caucus retreat the first week of August.
"We've always felt there's an opportunity in PEI," said one party insider. "There's no reason that PEI has to have four Liberal seats, especially when they've had a Progressive Conservative government."