He may be the leader of a G8 country, but Stephen Harper is apparently not a big fan of travelling abroad.
According to a leaked diplomatic cable from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa, Mr. Harper was vexed by the need to make two trips to Asia within the space of a month.
U.S. officials described this late 2009 travel schedule as an “inconvenience” for Mr. Harper in the cable, telling their bosses in Washington that the Canadian leader “generally dislikes foreign travel.”
The December, 2009, U.S. memo, recently released by Wikileaks, cites Canadian officials as sources in a 1,800-word analysis of Mr. Harper’s first trip to China.
David Jacobson, the current U.S. ambassador to Canada, put his name at the bottom of the cable.
Mr. Harper, who’s heading to China again this fall, first journeyed to Beijing in December, 2009.
That was an important visit aimed at thawing once-frosty relations between the Chinese and the Conservative government.
But, according to the U.S. embassy cable, Mr. Harper would have preferred to make that first voyage to China weeks earlier while he was in Asia for a November, 2009, APEC summit in Singapore.
He was forced to make a second trip to Asia, the cable suggests, because Beijing held off inviting him until it saw how the Canadian government treated the Dalai Lama in October, 2009. China regards the spiritual leader as a troublemaker who threatens its control of Tibet.
“Policy advisers in the Prime Minister’s Office had earlier expressed disappointment that Beijing had been unwilling to schedule a visit by PM Harper immediately before or after the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Singapore,” the cable read.
“They attributed [this]to Beijing’s wariness over how Ottawa might receive the Dalai Lama – to whom Canada granted honorary Canadian citizenship in 2006 – during his October visit to Canada.”
Mr. Harper avoided meeting the spiritual Tibetan leader during his 2009 tour of Canada.
The invitation from Beijing followed, but not soon enough for the Canadian leader’s liking.
“The PM’s decision not to meet [the Dalai Lama]on that trip did result in the eventual invitation, rather to the inconvenience of the PM, who . . . did not welcome having to make two trips to Asia in less than [a]month,” the U.S. embassy cable said.
At the time, Mr. Harper lacked control of the Commons, which required him to pay extra attention to domestic politics in case his minority government was threatened with defeat.
But even after his majority government win, Mr. Harper is still evincing a dislike of lengthy excursions outside Canada today.
During a six-day visit to Latin America in August, he was overheard by Canadian media telling a Brazilian official in Sao Paulo that “three days is a long trip for me.”
The Prime Minister’s Office declined comment on the U.S. diplomatic memo. “These are not Canadian documents and we do not comment on leaked documents,” Andrew MacDougall, associate PMO director of communications, told The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Harper’s foreign trips are generally very tightly scheduled. During his Latin America trip, for instance, he visited four countries in six days.
The Canadian leader’s Conservative Party has in recent years turned living abroad into a political liability. It relentlessly attacked former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as a carpetbagger for spending three decades outside Canada as a pundit and academic.
“Why is Michael Ignatieff back in Canada after being away for 34 years?” the Tories asked in May 2009 TV ads suggesting the Liberal Leader only returned to win power.