If Conservatives in Britain want Stephen Harper, they can have him. But for the sake of their people, they should never let him come ashore to help negotiate Brexit.
The fact is, Harper has been a disaster when it comes to negotiating trade deals. His own track record in Canada is evidence of that.
Take the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership. Desperate to join talks already in progress, Harper was willing to pay any price just to be included. Before even taking his seat, Harper hastily agreed to go along with everything that had already been negotiated before he got there, including hugely controversial terms on auto trade.
Having put himself in a position of weakness from the start, Harper was unable to get a good deal for Canada, and ended up agreeing to provisions that put our manufacturing sector risk by making it easier for auto companies to import parts from such low-cost jurisdictions as Malaysia and Vietnam.
He also happily signed on to an Investor-State Dispute Settlement system that gave corporations the right to sue governments for passing laws that hurt their ability to earn a profit - even if those laws are in the public interest. Harper’s TPP weakened Canada’s supply management system, extended patent laws to drive up drug costs through corporate-friendly patent laws and threatened our cultural industries – major concessions that came back to haunt Canada during NAFTA renegotiations.
It wasn’t the first time Harper showed his willingness to sacrifice critical industries for a trade deal. In 2014, Harper signed a trade deal with South Korea that put our auto sector under greater threat and failed to achieve protections the United States had managed to get in its own deal with South Korea.
What did Harper get? Very little. Tariffs were removed by both countries, but there was nothing tying tariff reductions to measurable targets in reducing trade imbalances in key industries, such as auto. Nearly 5 years in and Canada’s manufacturing deficit has ballooned by 30 per cent, while auto trade remains a one-way street for Korea.
There was nothing that required Korean firms to invest and create jobs here as a condition of tariff-free access, and there was nothing that ensured our government could intervene directly to remedy trade imbalances.
These were all provisions suggested to Harper by civil society and organized labour during the talks, but we were essentially shut out of the process. Instead of building a strong coalition dedicated to building a trade regime that put people first, Harper allowed himself to continue bargaining from a position of weakness, and ended up with trade deals that hurt working people.
He couldn’t see that Canada’s market, our resources and our skilled workers in award-winning manufacturing facilities should put us in a strong negotiating position.
This is the guy who said in the midst of the NAFTA renegotiations that “it does not matter whether current American proposals are worse than what we have now.”
Doesn’t matter? Was he serious? This who Conservatives in Britain negotiate Brexit?
Let’s hope not. Working people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will suffer under Brexit. Britain already seems to be slipping into recession, according to figures released last week, in anticipation of Brexit.
This is exactly the kind of situation that makes Harper panic and look for a deal, any deal, at any cost. Working people in Britain cannot afford that.
The question here is whether Harper can help with the Brexit negotiations. In the end, I suppose, the answer comes down to what kind of help they are looking for.
If they want someone who will stand up for UK sovereignty and defend the rights of its working class, the Harper is not the man for the job.
If, however, they want someone willing to give everything away to benefit the country’s wealthy, show unabashed loyalty to the needs of corporate donors and leave working class families with the bill, then Harper is their man.
In that vein, you can see why the UK Conservatives might want Harper. They should be ashamed, and the British people need to be warned.