When Barry met Steve

Five things that stood out

Thoughts on the two leaders’ press conference:

1) They’ll get along fine. They’re similar in some ways: roughly the same age, both policy wonks, both pretty no-nonsense. I got the sense they respected each other. But they’re also different, especially … culturally. Obama’s a member, not so much of the upper class, as the inner: he’s comfortable with the Harvard/New York Times set, people who consider themselves the elite, never mind what anyone else calls them. That’s especially the case in Canada, given the Liberals’ long dominance here — hence the obvious sympatico between Obama and Ignatieff. Harper’s emphatically not of that crowd: as a Conservative, he’s one of the “outs,” at least in his own mind and certainly in his rhetoric.

2) But good relations can’t paper over policy differences, particularly on

a) Afghanistan. As evidence, Obama’s intervention to the effect that he did not “press” Harper to extend Canada’s troop commitment. If he truly didn’t want something from us, he wouldn’t make such a show of saying that he didn’t. Harper, for his part, ducked the question when it was put to him.

b) NAFTA and Buy America. They really weren’t on the same page here. And Obama has constituencies to deliver for.

3) Thought Harper was very strong on Canada being just as vigilant against terrorist attacks as the US. It’s true that at one point we were appallingly lax (no pun intended) on this, but that hasn’t been true for some years, and Americans, especially the American right, needed to hear it from him.

4) Not sure what this Clean Energy Dialogue means, but it’s wholly in keeping with everything we’ve heard from Harper to date: emphasis on technological solutions, carbon sequestration etc. I actually think the two leaders are quite close on this one. Obama is not going to impose a carbon tax, and US public opinion will not stand for any international agreement on global warming that does not include China and India. Which has been Harper’s position: a “Son of Kyoto” that was less stringent, but broader in application, than Kyoto. Remember that it wasn’t Bush who vetoed Kyoto. It was the US Senate. 95-0.

5) That said, Harper certainly didn’t take long to throw Bush under the bus. To listen to him today, you’d think that his government had been champing at the bit to tackle global warming, but was held back by those laggards to the south: “Canada has had great difficulty developing an effective regulatory regime alone … It’s very hard to have a tough regulatory system here when we are competing with an unregulated economy south of the border…. I’m quite optimistic that we now have a partner on the North American continent that will provide leadership to the world on the climate change issue and I think that’s an important development…”

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