The Prime Minister held a press conference today in the National Press Theatre to the surprise of Ottawa observers and certainly the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Roger Smith alluded to the PM’s presence there but joked that he didn’t want to use up his one question to address the PM’s choice of venue.
The presser served as a general Q&A going into the next parliamentary session. The Prime Minister addressed questions primarily on the Throne Speech and on the topic of the Afghan mission. Other issues addressed had primarily to do with the mandate that the PM is seeking including crime, the environment, and the economy.
On Afghanistan, Harper emphasized that it is his belief that anyone who wants to hold the office of PM has to look to the long term security of the country and cannot govern by uniformed political sentiment. Another important development has been the Prime Minister’s admission that “consensus” was perhaps the wrong word to use to describe what would be needed to continue past February 2009. Consensus implied unanimity on the issue, whereas the PM states that a he’d seek a majority in the House on the future of the Afghan mission. The PM says that the opposition parties need to consider all options on Afghanistan responsibly. Harper stated that it would be irresponsible for Canada to “pull up stakes” and leave Kandahar, but that they must leave responsibly. Leaving Kandahar in February 2009 would be “hard to imagine”. On a question about why Canada is shouldering a heavy burden in Afghanistan compared to other countries, the PM said that other countries do need to do more and that we’re shouldering a heavy burden because of the decision of the previous Liberal government to engage in Kandahar province, perhaps the most dangerous in that country. Finally, the Prime Minister stated that Canada has a moral responsibility to finish the job and to hand the country over to an Afghan security force that is ready to stand up on its own.
Concerning the Throne Speech, the PM was asked about the Bloc and Liberals’ non-negotiable demands for the speech. Harper mused that while he’s not a pundit, the losses of the BQ and the Liberals during the Quebec by-elections may suggest that they cannot make non-negotiable demands. The PM said that while the Throne speech may not meet the demands of the Opposition, it will try and address its concerns. Among other concerns stated above, the Throne Speech will also address Canada’s place in the world, and our sovereignty. The Prime Minister expressed that he desires to strengthen the state of Canada’s federation and therefore he will not be able to meet all of the ‘non-negotiable’ demands of the Bloc. The passing of the Throne Speech will be perceived as a mandate to govern and Harper emphasized that the Opposition cannot support the Throne Speech and then perturb his efforts to achieve that mandate. Predictably, Harper stated that an election precipitated by a defeat of the Throne Speech is not the preferred outcome. Regarding the Opposition, the Prime Minister stated that those parties must “fish or cut bait”. Asked why he wouldn’t take advantage of the disarray on the left and engineer his own defeat, Harper replied that he wants to govern, present defensible policies to Canadians and stated that the longer his party is in government, the better record they build to eventually run upon.
Peripheral questions included one about the Prime Minister’s opinion on Rick Hillier and whether or not the Chief of Defense staff faces a foreseeable termination date. The Prime Minister provided a spirited defense of the General. Another question came up regarding the Canadian Wheat Board. The Prime Minister stated that it is the policy of his government to push the policy of allowing farmers to sell wheat on an open market system.
On the economy, the Prime Minister noted that because of the high dollar, Canadian companies are now buying American companies and remarked sarcastically that we’ll soon be hearing alarm bells concerning the “hollowing out of the American economy” by Canadians.