Prime Minister Stephen Harper is correct that it's intuitively strange for the International Monetary Fund to be considering financial assistance to traditionally wealthy European countries, and right to be wary of putting Canadian money into a contingency fund for that purpose. But the idea nevertheless deserves serious discussion, rather than outright dismissal amid snide remarks by some Conservative MPs about “sumptuous” welfare states.
As much as it has been relatively isolated from global economic turmoil thus far, Canada will not be immune from the contagion if entire governments or banking sectors collapse. That's especially the case now that the threat has expanded beyond Greece and other small economies to much larger ones, most notably Spain.
Mr. Harper has a constructive role to play in advocating stronger austerity measures, particularly amidst uneven responses from European leaders unnerved by pushback from their electorates, as he did during his overseas travels this week. But his advice won't find much traction if he is seen to be indifferent to the very real risks those countries face, and to the argument that in some cases tough budgetary measures will be easier to undertake if governments know there will be backup financial support if needed.
With most other G20 countries (save for the United States) pledging specific dollar amounts as the IMF tries to build up an emergency lending reserve, Mr. Harper should also consider how his disinclination to engage could affect his international policy aims. As Canada seeks to establish a free-trade agreement with the European Union, it need not bend over backward to curry favour. But neither is it helpful to express borderline contempt for the plight of EU member countries, while alienating even the likes of Germany, as appears to be happening.
With the credibility derived from its strong fiscal position, Canada has an opportunity to help ensure that any relief plans are suitably cautious and well-considered – that good money is not thrown after bad. Better that than simply treating Europe's situation as someone else's problem, when it could soon be our own as well.