OPTIONS POLITIQUES : Monsieur le Premier ministre, merci d’avoir accepté de nous rencontrer. Quand vous faites le bilan de votre première année au pouvoir, comment évaluez-vous vos réussites et vos déceptions?

LE PREMIER MINISTRE STEPHEN HARPER : Je dis toujours que je parle de nos réussites. J’ai toute la tribune de la presse pour discuter des déceptions. Pour les réussites, je pense premièrement à la Loi sur l’imputabilité et la responsabilité. C’est une réforme majeure, notre premier projet de loi que nous avons promis à la population.

Le budget où nous avons mis en application la grande majorité de nos promesses financières. Il y a des choses à faire encore. L’entente sur le bois d’œuvre avec les États-Unis, ça a mis fin à un problème difficile avec l’appui de presque toutes les provinces et de toute l’industrie. Je pense que ça va aider nos échanges avec les États-Unis et c’est important pour cette industrie aussi.

Ce sont des résultats majeurs. En ce qui concerne ma satisfaction personnelle, je peux penser à deux choses. Premièrement, ce ne sont pas des grandes choses mais des choses où nous avons été capables de réconcilier une partie de la population avec leurs problèmes historiques. Par exemple nos actions sur la taxe imposée sur la communauté chinoise et cette communauté; l’enqué‚te sur le vol d’Air India; l’entente sur l’hépatite C; l’entente sur les écoles résidentielles des autochtones.

Ces questions ne sont pas des grands problèmes du pays, mais elles sont très importantes pour ces groupes, pour leur rôle, pour leur per- spective dans ce pays et ça me fait très plaisir de régler des tas de problèmes. Deuxièmement, l’autre sujet de satisfaction, la résolution sur la nation québécoise. Nous avons réussi à créer un compromis adopté par le Parlement et, après un mouvement souverainiste de quatre décennies, on a vu à la fin le Bloc québécois é‚tre forcé de voter pour une nation québécoise au sein du Canada, d’un Canada uni, à cause de la pression de la population du Québec.

Et je pense que ça indique des bonnes choses pour l’avenir.

POLICY OPTIONS: It’s been said that Ronald Reagan understood the distinction very well between the role of the president and the job of the president. I wonder how you see after a year in this job, in this position, the distinction between the prime minis- ter’s role and the job.

PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER:  Yes, I know there’s a distinction. I’m not sure, at least for a first-year prime minister, if they are that easy to sepa- rate. I mean, I have had an enormous amount of work to do and things to learn to do the job. I don’t think in our system of government a prime minister cannot not know a significant amount about a lot of the decisions that gov- ernment, in one form or another, has to take. So there has been a lot of work on the job. In terms of the role of leadership, I think I’m still learning on that. But as you know, in any large organization, especially in public life, leadership is about more than doing a job. It’s about inspiring action on the part of others, about representing val- ues. Those are things that I continue to learn about.

PO: What about leading a govern- ment in a minority House? Can you keep this place going through 2007? With Mr. Khan crossing the floor, the balance of power has shifted from the Bloc to the NDP. So the question is, Can you do business with Jack Layton? It seems that you already are on the Clean Air Act in the committee.

How do you see that?

STEPHEN HARPER: Well, I guess time will tell. You know, part of what has guided us, or a big part of what has guided us to this point, has been to govern according to the platform we ran on. That has done two things. It has kept the govern- ment focused and anchored on some priorities and also, you know, in a sense given us that moral high ground that we are doing what we said we would do, and we were elected on that, and on most of these things, our platform was considerably clear- er than any of our opponents’.

As time wears on, I think a greater part of the things we do go beyond the platform, because the platform has been accomplished or because we are working with new problems and new issues.

I keep telling our cabinet and cau- cus, ”œDon’t worry so much about an election, or don’t worry so much about the politics. Just try and govern well, try and figure out the challenges that are ahead of you is the best thing to do. If we stick to that and are ultimately pre- pared to run on that or be defeated on those things at any point in time, that will serve us well in terms of real action. So don’t worry about being re-elected. Just worry about governing.”

And you know, you have to think that we only need one of three opposition parties on anything to pass some- thing. If we are reasonable and have a good plan, presumably we’ll always find one of them to work with us. You know, as you pointed out, in the past year, it’s often been the Bloc.

Ironically, I think if you look at several instances because in many ways, public opinion probably forced the Bloc " the best example being the softwood lumber deal where their instincts were to oppose it, but public opinion and industry opinion told them otherwise.

But let’s face it. If it hadn’t been the Bloc, one of the other two parties would have been forced to come around to our way of seeing it for the same reason.

PO: We went through an entire eight-week campaign, including eight hours of leadership debates that you probably remember all too well, with- out a single question being asked on foreign policy. Yet, when you look back on the last year, foreign policy has been a dominant frame on every- thing from Afghanistan and the Middle East to the environment. What’s your sense of that?

STEPHEN HARPER: Well, I’ve said one of the big surprises I have had on the job has been the degree to which international affairs occupies my time, my workload and my actual responsibilities, the amount of travel. I try and minimize my travel. I still travel a lot, and I think it’s just reflective of the fact that we are in a global world and a global economy and for many, many problems, there really are not national boundaries any longer. I mean, we say it tritely, but it’s in fact true, and whether it’s the economy, the environ- ment, you name it, all of these things have an international dimension, and of course, the politics of the interna- tional arena themselves impact upon all of these problems as well.

So that’s certainly been, as I say, the most surprising thing. How do I summarize the experience? I’m not sure how I summarize it, other than trying to say that what we have tried to do in these things is bring the same kind of clarity and focus that we have to our domestic agenda.

And I know that’s contro- versial in some circles, but my sense is, from professionals in the field and also from other countries that we have to deal with, they appreciate that from our administration.

PO: On Canada-US relations, you’ve got a deal, as you men- tioned, on softwood lumber. You have been able to disagree without being disagreeable, as you would say, with the US on files like the Arar case. You’ve mentioned climate change with President Bush in your two meetings with him. And yet, the opposition parties portray you as being too close to Mr. Bush.

STEPHEN HARPER: Right.

PO: And Mr. Dion accuses you of having a hard right agenda, which he doesn’t define.

STEPHEN HARPER: Right.

PO: Mr. Chrétien came out of retirement at the Liberal convention to call you Steve. So what is your sense of managing the relationship and per- haps the question of being too close to the US administration?

STEPHEN HARPER: Well, I thought Mr. Chrétien’s comment was interesting, and I think it was actually more of an indictment of his administration than mine, because what was really implied there was the suggestion that the prime minister of Canada would not be on a first-name basis with the president of the United States. And of course I suspect that during some of the latter Liberal years, that was exactly the case and that’s not in Canada’s interests. It doesn’t matter what the partisan stripe is of the prime minister or the partisan stripe of the president.

It’s in the interests of Canadians that the prime minister of Canada have a direct line to the president of the United States. That’s important. It’s important for all kinds of reasons. It doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree. We’d better be able to get our phone calls returned, and cer- tainly that has changed.

I know that this is a theme of the opposition. I mean, look, from a political standpoint, I take satisfaction from the fact that the opposition accusa- tions against our government are not about scandal, they’re not about competence. They’re not about fundamentals in terms of policy or the economy. I think Canadians understand the difference between defending and promoting the values and interests of Canada and being anti-American. I think they understand the difference. This government understands the difference. The opposition does not understand the difference.

PO: On Afghanistan and the mission, can you foresee the possibility that after we fulfill our commitment in the south in 2009, we might say to the Afghans and NATO that while we would stay in the country, we might want to rotate out of Kandahar; that in terms of burden sharing, it would be time for someone else to kind of step up and take a role there?

STEPHEN HARPER: Well, I don’t want to prejudice any decision on that. I said at the time of the renewal of the missions, the time we had the debates in the spring, that we would give Parliament our assessment each year of how we’re making progress on our objectives there and we would measure that progress against some benchmarks, benchmarks not just in terms of achievement but benchmarks in terms of fundamental questions like, Do the Afghan people want us there? Does the interna- tional community want us there and is the international community prepared to make the efforts and investment nec- essary to be successful?

We should ask about the Canadian military. Do they remain committed? Do they feel confident of success? These are questions that we will keep asking. My own broad sense is this, that this is an absolutely noble mis- sion. We’re there for absolutely the right reason. This is not Iraq. There is an international consensus that we should be there, an almost universal consensus. They have a democratic government that represents the people in that country that wants us there.

My own sense from those who are working there is that we’re making progress under very difficult circum- stances. So you know, I don’t think we want to prejudice the specifics of the operations of the mission. We have known all along, President Karzai has said when he was here that to turn Afghanistan around and really build the kind of society we want, there is going to be a long-term commitment, but obviously, in terms of the specifics of our role in that commitment, we are going to leave that open for debate in the next couple of years.

OP : Mais vous le savez, Monsieur le Premier ministre, c’est un régiment fameux du Québec, le 22e, qui va prendre la relève en Afghanistan.

STEPHEN HARPER : Oui.

OP : Dans l’éventualité malheureuse de morts et blessés, est-ce que la mission pourrait é‚tre encore plus controversée et contestée au Québec?

STEPHEN HARPER : Peut-é‚tre, mais en mé‚me temps, il est possible que les Québécois, comme les autres Canadiens, vont de plus en plus comprendre que les hommes et les femmes qui font partie de cette mission le font parce qu’ils y croient, parce qu’ils sont près des intéré‚ts de leur pays, et pour le bénéfice d’une des populations les plus démunies du monde. Ils sont pré‚ts à se sacrifier, mé‚me leur vie, pour leur pays et pour le bénéfice de l’humanité.

Évidemment, la mort d’un homme ou d’une femme est une tragédie pour notre pays et le pays va réagir. Mais cette réaction peut comprendre, peut inclure la compréhension de la grandeur et de l’importance de cette mission.

OP : Sur le déséquilibre fiscal, pensez-vous que cette question ou ce dossier pourrait é‚tre réglé avec les provinces, surtout le Québec, avant les élections provinciales au printemps? Et de quelle manière?

STEPHEN HARPER : Premièrement, ce gouvernement a reconnu l’existence du déséquilibre fiscal. à‡a veut dire qu’on ne peut pas continuer avec cette situation. Le fédéral a de grands surplus et des provinces ont des difficultés à donner des services fondamentaux à moins d’accepter un déficit.

Et on doit changer cette relation. Ce gouvernement a déjà augmenté des transferts aux provinces et je dois souligner que presque toutes les provinces sont maintenant en surplus " c’est un changement; que le fédéral ne s’attend pas à des surplus aussi grands à l’avenir que par le passé. Nous avons déjà dit que, dans ce budget, nous allons prendre des mesures pour établir des transferts justes et prévisibles aux provinces, à long terme.

Je pense que nous aurons de bonnes politiques pour régler ce prob- lème. Est-ce que ça va vouloir dire que des provinces vont dire voilà, c’est assez, nous n’avons jamais l’intention de demander d’autres transferts du fédéral? Je ne crois pas. Mais je pense qu’on peut vraiment régler le problème.

La rhétorique des provinces, je ne peux pas régler cela mais je pense que nous pouvons vraiment régler ce problème et nous pouvons faire de grands progrès dans notre prochain budget.

OP : Votre relation avec M. Charest, elle est la plus solide évidemment entre un premier ministre canadien et un premier ministre québécois depuis le temps de M. Mulroney et M. Bourassa.

Est-ce que d’après vous la réélection de M. Charest est dans l’intéré‚t du pays?

STEPHEN HARPER : C’est une question difficile pour moi. Évidemment, je travaille, je pense que nous travaillons d’une façon importante et efficace avec le gouvernement du Québec. On peut citer des exemples comme l’entente sur l’UNESCO, la reconnaissance de la nation québécoise, l’autoroute 30. Il y a beaucoup de dossiers importants.

Et en mé‚me temps, je respecte M. Charest. M. Charest est un ancien chef du Parti conservateur au niveau fédéral. On n’a pas oublié ce fait. En mé‚me temps, je dirige un parti qui est une coalition au niveau provincial. Je note seulement que M. Charest est un grand fédéraliste, un grand défenseur du Canada.

Il y a un autre chef de l’opposition, un autre chef de parti, M. Dumont, qui ne veut pas d’un autre référendum. Je peux dire seulement qu’évidemment, la position du Parti québécois, je peux le dire et je dois le dire comme premier ministre, que la position du Parti québécois, un autre référendum et l’incertitude, la possibilité de la séparation, que ces choses ne sont pas dans les intéré‚ts du Canada et à mon avis ne sont pas dans les intéré‚ts supérieurs des Québécois et des Québécoises.

PO: On the environment, you have managed to change the channel from Kyoto to climate change. So then the question becomes, What’s the product going to be?

STEPHEN HARPER: Right.

PO: And this is obviously a work in progress. What’s your sense of this issue? At the beginning of 2007, you were able to do a cabinet shuffle standing outside the front door of 24 Sussex without a coat on in the first week of January.

STEPHEN HARPER: Right. Well, we have a lot of work to do. You know, it’s a tough issue. It’s interesting. You talked about the last election, how there was no mention of foreign poli- cy; well, there was little mention of the environment in the last election. There was some, but not very much, and now it’s the big issue.

Part of it I attribute to the fact we have got such a strong economy, a united country, a government that isn’t mired in scandal, a government that is, whether people agree with us or not, widely perceived as competent and getting things done.

So the focus is now on longer-term challenges. These are not things that can be fixed overnight. I have talked, for instance, about some of the demo- cratic reform measures we want to do, the Advantage Canada agenda, ensur- ing that Canada retains a prosperous and competitive economy in the global world, and the big environmental chal- lenges of climate change and, when it comes to air quality, also air pollution.

You know, the difference between this long-term priority and the other two is we don’t start this one from a position. We start democratic reform from a position of being an established, still a leading democracy. We address the challenges the economy faces as still one of the leading, the most pros- perous economies in the world.

We start the environmental chal- lenge from the position of being probably the worst performer environmental- ly of any developed country on the planet. Our emissions on greenhouse gases are more above the Kyoto targets than any country on earth. Our emis- sions of pollutants, or air pollutants at least, are among the worst in the world, and that’s not the end of our environ- mental challenges.

So we have big challenges. What we are doing through the Clean Air Act is without precedent. We are the first government in Canadian history to say we will regulate the economy to reduce greenhouse gases, regulated across industrial sectors at the nation- al level, and do the same thing for pol- lution. It’s not been done before. And in terms of greenhouse gases, we will. In terms of greenhouse gases, we will have a plan that aims to reduce green- house gas emissions in government.

Everybody else’s plan, including that of most of the environmental NGOs, is simply to pay money overseas as a penalty for not having achieved tar- gets. That’s not acceptable. That’s a bad use of Canadian dollars. It doesn’t actu- ally contribute anything to the reduc- tion of emissions. So our target is to actually reduce emissions, do it in a reg- ulated manner, do it nationally, do it here, in Canada, and do it for air pollu- tion. It’s going to take a while to imple- ment, but I think we’re going to make real progress. This plan will start to be implemented in earnest.

PO: And finally, your reflections on Arctic sover- eignty in the context of cli- mate change: the possibility that the Northwest Passage will be open waters by 2015. We have claimed these as our waters and the Americans claim it’s the open sea. What’s your sense of that?

STEPHEN HARPER: Well, as you know, Mr. Mulroney was able to somewhat modi- fy the American position on that, but it’s "

PO: In this office, in fact.

STEPHEN HARPER: Yes, yes. It’s still worrisome and it’s not by any means restricted to the Americans. We already know that there has been foreign activ- ity in the Arctic for some time. This government said in the election cam- paign that Arctic sovereignty is a prior- ity. I have been up to the Arctic. I was up to the Arctic last summer, and we are clear that we have plans for our mil- itary and other environmental and law enforcement agencies to ensure that we can create a Canadian presence across this country.

PO: Mr. Mulroney benefited from low expectations on the environment as prime minister, and they gave a dinner in his honour that you attended last year as the greenest prime minister in history.

Do you think they’ll be having one for you in 20 years?

STEPHEN HARPER: Well, let me correct you. You should know better than the preamble of that question. Let me correct the record. As you know, Mr. Mulroney was savagely pilloried in his term in office by every environ- mental NGO in the country relentless- ly, without any credit for the things he accomplished, and then 20 years later, the very same people said that he was the greenest prime minister in history.

I think the nature of environmental problems " I mean so many of the things we have tackled in the first year, whether it was accountability or a child benefit or some of the tax reduc- tions, you can show " the criminal justice changes " you can show instantly what you are doing and what the results are.

Environmental policy only becomes evident over a period of years, even decades. The neglect of the previous government of the environ- ment has really only become apparent in the last two or three years. I will hope that, yes, 20 years from now, I’ll get a dinner in my honour. More importantly, I hope that my children and grandchildren will enjoy the long- term benefits of some of the environ- mental initiatives we are undertaking.