Going into the G8 summit that began yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was said to be isolated among his peers. Meanwhile, back home, the question on websites all day was did he or didn't he - eat the communion wafer he was handed at the funeral of former governor-general Romeo Leblanc, that is? (Whatever the answer, there was no shortage of critics to be found to criticize him.)
Through it all, Mr. Harper kept his eye on the ball: his job is to represent Canada's national interests, not to curry popularity with his counterparts. And, in carrying out that responsibility, the Prime Minister had a very good day in Italy yesterday.
On climate change, Mr. Harper found himself very much within the international consensus of an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050, with the communiqué setting a baseline of "1990 or more later years," reflecting the fact that Canada, the United States and Japan reject the Kyoto baseline of 1990. Both he and President Barack Obama also signed up to the EU proposal of a 2-degree cap as the minimum to prevent irreversible global warming. And Mr. Harper was certainly not isolated in his view that the inclusion of China and India was key to meeting that goal, as The New York Times reports:
"Other Group of 8 leaders emphasized that any solution to climate change depended on the developing world's joining the battle. Without China and India, said Arkady Dvorkovich, the chief Russian negotiator, any further discussions would not lead anywhere….Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, the meeting's host, said it made little sense for Group of 8 countries to take on onerous commitments if "five billion people continue to behave as they have always behaved."
On stimulus, too, Mr. Harper was far from being isolated, as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown implied in an interview with The Globe and Mail yesterday. Rather, it was the beleaguered Mr. Brown who was forced to give way to hard-liners like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the communiqué asserting that each country should decide the timing of its fiscal tightening "once the recovery is assured." This had to be welcome news for Mr. Harper, coming on the same day the IMF reported that Canada will outperform nearly all industrialized countries (and Britain by a long-shot) this year and next. Mr. Harper must have been further cheered when parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page supported his view that the focus now should not be on another stimulus package, but, rather, on spending the stimulus aid that has already been approved.
On international aid, Mr. Harper also emerged with the upper hand at the summit. Like former prime minister Paul Martin before him, Mr. Harper is a sceptic when it comes to pledges made at these gatherings. With Italy and France backsliding on the commitments they made to Africa at the Gleneagles summit four years ago, Mr. Harper joined with the leaders of Japan, Canada and Britain to insist that the G8 agree henceforth to publish annual progress reports on aid, which was agreed to in the communiqué.