Let’s cast back a few years, to a long-forgotten episode in the life of the last Stephen Harper government.
Tom Mulcair, then the country’s Opposition leader, landed in Washington for meetings, and in the course of his visit he outlined the NDP view of the Keystone XL pipeline.
He told an American audience that his priority for Canadian energy was an east-west pipeline, that Keystone would export Canadian jobs and the NDP would do a better job than Harper in building support for pipelines.
The Conservative government of the day reacted as if Mulcair should be shipped back north of the border in leg irons and shackles.
A senior minister of the day, John Baird, accused Mulcair of “trash talking” and “badmouthing” Canada. Another former minister, Joe Oliver, marched to the microphones in the Commons foyer to denounce Mulcair for not leaving politics at the border. He also took to the keyboard for the Globe and Mail to tell the country “a responsible politician would not travel to a foreign capital to score cheap political points.”
Baird and Oliver are gone, but Michelle Rempel and Peter Kent were part of that government. It appears they missed Oliver’s op-ed.
The Conservatives under Andrew Scheer are certainly entitled to oppose the Justin Trudeau government’s $10.5 million payout to Omar Khadr.
The party believes it has a wedge issue here, something that will bring lasting damage to the Trudeau government. Much of their outrage is probably real.
So they will milk it for everything it is worth. That’s how politics is played.
But Rempel didn’t need to fly to the U.S. to tell Tucker Carlson on Fox that Canadians were outraged. Kent didn’t need to write an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to be, as he said, “honest” with our allies and inform them.
Yes, this is the same Kent who, as Harper’s environment minister, attacked two NDP MPs, Megan Leslie and Claude Gravelle, for speaking about Keystone in Washington — yes, that issue again.
According to Kent, they were taking “the treacherous course of leaving the domestic debate and heading abroad to attack a legitimate Canadian resource which is being responsibly developed and regulated.”
Maybe the duo was just trying to be “honest” with our allies and trying to inform them.
Both Kent and Rempel have ignored an old, time-honoured dictum which has now been repeatedly discredited — you stash your partisan politics on this side of the border.
For years, Canadian prime ministers did not take partisan shots at opponents back home while travelling abroad because they were representing Canada, not the Liberals or the Conservatives.
This is even more cherished in the U.S., where presidents do not travel abroad as Republicans or Democrats, but as representatives of the United States of America.
It was Harper who most aggressively moved away from this tradition.
As leader of the Canadian Alliance, he and Stockwell Day took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal in 2003 to assure Americans Jean Chrétien had made a mistake in staying out of George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” invading Iraq, and to tell them Canadians stood with them. (They didn’t.)
When he represented Canada at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, Harper couldn’t wait until his plane landed in Canada to take a poke at Trudeau over the then squeaky new Liberal leader’s comments about “root causes” of terrorism in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
No one in the press pack asked him about Trudeau’s comments. Harper raised them unsolicited.
In 2009, Harper had to apologize to then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff after he went after him at a G8 wrap-up press conference in Italy. He misquoted his adversary.
The fact of the matter is the Trudeau government gave a heads-up on the Khadr payout to the relevant departments in the Donald Trump government, and Trump never raised the matter with Trudeau at the G20.
Rempel and Kent got a temporary spike in U.S. attention, particularly in the conservative media, after their interventions. But they sure got a lot of publicity at home over the past week, and that may have been a large part of their calculation.
One can disagree with the Conservative message on Khadr, but they certainly have the right to express it. At home.
Much more troubling than the message is the hypocrisy of a party which, while in government, all but accused opponents of high treason for doing just what they did last week.
Tim Harper writes on national affairs. firstname.lastname@example.org , Twitter: @nutgraf1