Interview with Canadian PM Stephen Harper, 8/10/09

Aug 10, 2009 4:28pm

Tapper:  President Obama said that every time he talks to you, you bring up the buy-American provision in the stimulus bill.  What do you tell him?

Harper:  Well, I think obviously we have a general concern, as you know.  One of the things that we absolutely must do in this recession is to make sure that we don’t start cutting trade and we don’t see a rise in protectionism across the world.

That is the single biggest risk, in my view, to the global economy long-term.  That is what made the Great Depression so great.  And, you know, of what’s made the world economy expand in the past generation.  That has been the great expansion of world trade.

I think that wherever they’re done, these procurement preferences in the stimulus legislation are risky.  They risk, you know, growing retaliation and protectionist measures across the board.

Now, obviously, what’s in the buy-American provision is not for national governments, sub national governments – we are very anxious to find a way that we – Canada – and the United States can maybe make some progress on this as the President indicated.

We are the two closest trading nations in the world.  So if we were to find some way of – some way of dealing with this [particular problem, I think that would send a very good signal and, quite frankly, build our own reputations as fighters of protectionism.

Tapper:  You talked about not wanting to have a trade war.  As an observer as the third party in NAFTA, what are your thoughts and opinions in what’s going on right now between the United States and Mexico over Mexican trucking?  Do you think those Mexican trucks are safe?

Harper:  I am not in a position, in all fairness, to judge that issue.  That is a bi-lateral issue between the United States and Mexico.

But, obviously our general position of the government is we try to encourage – we try and encourage countries to break down barriers to trade wherever they exist.

Tapper:  It is part of NAFTA, which you did sign.  And I recognize the individual issue as the third party.  Are you not concerned by the steps taken by either the U.S. or Mexico –

Harper:  Well, Canadian and American trucking is extremely integrated.  It has been for a very long time.  That’s not the case with Mexican and American trucking.  So I think it is a unique bi-lateral situation. 

Tapper:  Ok.  H1N1, I was told, was one of the biggest topics at this summit.  What is your biggest concern, your biggest fear, in terms of what the U.S., Canadian, Mexican governments could do and aren’t going to do enough?

Harper:  Well, I should think we have had a great response in North America.  You know, it begins with Mexicans and, in all fairness, being quite open about the problems they have been facing.  They have cooperated very highly with our disease control centers in both Canada and the United States.  We have had great coordination and cooperation.

What we are doing in Canada is we’re purchasing, as we approach the upcoming flu season, we are purchasing an enormous amount of vaccine to make sure that the Canadian population is well covered. I think the American government is doing the same.  The Mexican government is trying to do it, obviously, with more limited resources.

I think, once again, the great risk in H1N1 beyond, obviously, the health risks that we all know about – the great risk is not in North America but elsewhere where some countries are taking this as a trade issue, not looking at this as a health and science issue.  But, you know, beginning to slap restrictions on importation of pork and these kind of things which absolutely have nothing to do with the health challenges that face our continent but also face the world.

And, as I said, I think that continues to be the big risk in everything.  The big risk in everything these days – the global recession is that those who want to use anything – whether it’s..whether it’s political pressure or whether it’s a pandemic.  They use these as excuses to erect trade barriers.

Tapper:  There was a lot of talk in the statements just now about the humanitarian groups’ concerns about some of the abuses conducted by Mexican forces in fighting the  cartels.  The Canadian government is helping as well the Mexican government in terms of training, in terms of money.  What are your concerns about those human rights abuses?

Harper:  Well, first and foremost, we’ve been very supportive of President Calderon’s efforts.  And I think both our populations in Canada and the United States have to recognize the dedication and the courage of President Calderon and his government in taking on these drug cartels.

These are very dangerous people.  And, quite frankly, President Calderon and his people are undertaking great personal risks to themselves in going after these cartels and traffickers so vigorously.  President Calderon, in our experience of the government of Canada, has an absolute commitment to human rights.  And quite frankly, as part of the drug war, he is trying to put bad guys in prison.  Part of what he is trying to do is build up the institutions of law enforcement in Mexico to deal with historic problems of corruption and lack of professionalism to make sure that the Mexican law enforcement authorities have the same kind of standards we are used to in the United States and Canada. 

So, you know, whenever you have this viscous of conflict, obviously, you know you worry about the potential for abuses.  But, quite frankly, our big worries are obviously the nature and the activities and the extreme violence and (inaudible) of these drug cartels.  I think that has to be our number one focus.

Tapper:  I know you don’t want to get involved in the domestic U.S. health care reform –

Harper:  You bet.

Tapper:  But, there is a Canadian woman who is appearing in a TV ad.  She is from Ottawa and she had a brain tumor and she said that if she relied on Canadian health care, she would have died.  But she came to the United States to have it treated.  And as you know, this is a criticism even within Canada of Canadian health care that the waits are too long.  Are you concerned about this problem in the Canadian health care system and how do you respond to those criticisms?

Harper:  Well, first of all, I am not going to get involved in the health care debate in the United States.  I know that this is a – I know from our own health care debates historically in Canada that this is a very difficult, very tricky issue.

All across the world, health care systems of all kinds of different shapes and sizes have significant – have significant challenges.  And, obviously, I can’t comment specifically on a Canadian woman who may have had one type of experience with our health care system, with the American health care system.

In Canada, health care is principally the responsibility of our provincial government.  The federal government provides some transfers.  We do some of the drug regulation, a number of other activities.

But it is principally a system run by our provincial government.  So first of all, I don’t feel qualified to intervene in the debate.  And it is a very complex debate.  And as President Obama said, “there is a unique American health care system that’s evolved in a different way.”  And I think that the American public themselves has to arrive at its own solutions for reform.

Tapper:  But are waits in your country too long?

Harper:  I say, once again, that-

Tapper:  That’s not about your health care system-

Harper:  Yes, but the responsibility for the health care waits, in our country, are the responsibilities of provincial governments. 

I have taken the view, as the federal prime minister very different than some of my predecessors as I don’t lecture the provinces publically on how they should be running their health care systems. 

What we try to do is work with them in a cooperative manner so we can be helpful in addressing the challenges.  

All around the world, what we are seeing all around the world is important to understand is that there have been tremendous breakthroughs in medicine.  We can treat more things, more ways through new technology, drugs than ever before.

At the same time, all of this costs money.  If you are prepared to spend an unlimited amount of money, you can do an almost unlimited number of things in people’s health care.  But you don’t have an unlimited amount of money no matter what your system is.  And these are challenges that every system has to address.

But I’m not – I’m not going, quite frankly, criticize how our provinces are running their health care systems because I know the challenges that face them are very big. 

Tapper:  One last question.  There has been some criticism about the United States for not doing enough in Honduras to return President Zelaya.  Do you have thoughts on that?

Harper:  well, as I said in our press conference here, I find this quite hypocritical.  I would be quite – if I were an American I would be quite annoyed by that kind of question because the United States has been accused of – so regularly in my lifetime, particularly in our hemisphere – of meddling and interfering in the affairs of others.

Now we have a problem in Honduras and we have some people jumping up and demanding the United States intervene and meddle.  

I think the approach taken by the American administration is the correct one.  First of all, they’ve articulated the same values that Canada, Mexico and others have articulated and that is we need to see democracy and the rule of law restored in Honduras. 

As you know, there’s two sides to that issue.  The democratically elected government should be restored and that government should be committed to respecting the constitutional rules of that country.  

I think we all agree with that.  President Arias of Costa Rica with the Organization of the American States is leading mediated efforts.  Canada and Mexico are directly involved in that mediation effort.  We have been highly supported by the Untied States in the mediation effort.

The United States views are not secret.  It has been pushing to see the same outcomes we’re trying to see and I think this is the appropriate approach for the United States is to be very forceful and very helpful and to work with others to make sure democratic norms are upheld in our hemisphere. 

Tapper:  Now, you said something during the summit that I thought was interesting.  The question was about homeland security and border crossings and you said, “anything that’s a national security threat to the United States is also a national security threat to Canada.”  President Obama and before him President Bush say that the war in Afghanistan must be fought.  That’s where the people who attack the United States on 9/11 are.  And yet, there’s a lot of talk about Canada not having any forces in the short term in Afghanistan.  If our national security interests are the same, should Canada, even though its given up a lot of treasure, should Canada not continue its obligation to fight in Afghanistan?

Harper:  Well, first of all, Canada has been a security partner of the United States and the United Nations.  Ultimately, the United Nations-sanctioned mission in Afghanistan being carried out by NATO – not just by the United States- we have been a full participant in that mission from the beginning – from 2001.

We have now been there – let see that makes eight years.  We have resolution for our parliament.  We require that military deployments in Canada be supported by the parliament of Canada.  Our government in – just in the last parliament – had that mission extended to 2011.  That will mean we will have been there a decade.

This is a very important mission.  We are operating under a parliamentary mandate.  It’s a very important mission.  I have been repeatedly clear that success in Afghanistan on a reasonable level, reasonable defined success is critical for not just for us in North America but for the world – for the global community in terms of preventing the return of terrorism or the return of the failed state to that country.

We are operating within a parliamentary framework, within a parliamentary mandate.  We will continue to be supportive in any way that we can within the scope of what parliament has allowed.

Since 2005, Canada has had a command – has had to leave (inaudible) in Kandahar which is the most dangerous province in the entire country.  We have suffered, as you know, enormous causalities in relative to the size of our forces – I think just quite a bit larger than anybody else.  So Canada is not afraid to contribute but, obviously, we have to – we have to have the support of parliament and the Canadian people and that support has been given until 2011.

After that, we will be supportive in ways that we can be supportive.  I am committed to operating within our parliamentary resolution. 

Tapper: Should Canadian troops be there?

Harper: I think, frankly, it’s too early, in my judgment, to talk about the longer term.  I have said that we are not committing Canadian troops beyond 2011.  That’s the resolution.  We passed through parliament – I think what we have to ask ourselves, what is the long-term strategy in Afghanistan?  I don’t  think that Canada, or the United Sates for that matter, can become permanently responsible for the government and security of Afghanistan. I think our objective has to be – and our objective in Kandahar is – to train the Afghan forces so they can become increasingly responsible for their own security.  I believe ultimately that’s what the United States government is working on as well.



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