Mr. Harper’s mysterious D.C. adventure

Well, what in the name of Sneaky Pete is former prime minister Stephen Harper up to?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/06/2018 (1509 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Well, what in the name of Sneaky Pete is former prime minister Stephen Harper up to?

For the better part of two years, the erstwhile leader of Canada’s most recent Conservative government did what most national leaders do after leaving office — not much of anything in the public eye, beyond giving speeches, serving on boards of directors and collecting the associated hefty remunerations.

But more recently, Mr. Harper has decided to wade back into the political fray, penning a pointed commentary on Canada’s role in the North American Free Trade Agreement, adding his signature to those of many international leaders and diplomats on a full-page New York Times ad lauding U.S. President Donald Trump’s decison to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, and appearing on Fox News to share his views on the simmering tensions affecting NAFTA renegotiation efforts.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files Stephen Harper plans to visit the White House next week, but the former prime minister hasn’t informed Ottawa, a senior official says.

All of which, of course, is really nobody’s business but Mr. Harper’s; as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland both aptly observed, Mr. Harper is a private citizen entitled to his opinions.

But last week’s report that Mr. Harper will visit the White House on Monday to meet with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, and possibly also Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow, shifts the former PM’s political renaissance into a category other than the one occupied by private citizens with personal opinions. And the fact the visit seems to have been arranged without the knowledge of Mr. Trudeau or anyone else in the current Canadian government qualifies as cause for concern.

Mr. Harper’s proposed White House encounter was first reported by CTV News, based on emails obtained by the broadcast news outlet. According to its report, the former PM also did not inform the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., Global Affairs Canada or the Privy Council Office about the planned visit.

Left unclear by the CTV report were the reasons for Mr. Harper’s visit, or how long it has been in the works. The timing of the event, on July 2, places Mr. Harper inside the White House one day after Canada’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods — in response to Mr. Trump’s recent imposition of heavy tariffs on U.S.-bound Canadian steel and aluminum — take effect.

Whether Mr. Harper’s agenda involves addressing the tariff situation remains unknown; what is known, however, is that during his recent Fox News appearance, the former PM expressed understanding for Mr. Trump’s hard-line position on trade, but noted that Canada is an inappropriate target for a trade war.

According to various reports, Mr. Harper’s office has not responded to requests for comment about the D.C. trip.

Such a below-the-radar rendezvous with a foreign administration flies in the face of accepted international-relations protocols. Mr. Trudeau surely would have appreciated a heads-up that his prime-ministerial predecessor is meeting with high-level members of the current U.S. administration.

Mystery abounds. Motives remain obscured. What Mr. Harper hopes to gain — either for himself, or for the country he led for more than nine years — is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it has something to do with the book Mr. Harper is authoring, which will be released in October.

It’s safe to say, however, that Mr. Harper’s D.C.-bound detour from accepted protocol will probably be interpreted by the current Canadian government in the same way one of its cabinet ministers described the former PM’s participation in the Iran-deal Times ad:

“Not helpful.”

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