a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Monday, December 7, 2009

Harper has been framed as international bad guy

There is an interesting irony as Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads to the Copenhagen climate summit this week.

Harper has enjoyed the political success he has had by being able to define the public identity of his opponents and shape public debate of all issues that can affect his government. This is known as framing in the spin doctoring business.

Now someone has done it to him. The international climatology community has made Harper the world's bad guy of global warning.

UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon has taken a very undiplomatic swipe at Canada -- and therefore Harper -- for dragging our feet on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

British environmentalist George Monbiot used a column in the Guardian to accuse Harper's government of using its influence among the G8 countries to block every effort to reach an international agreement at this week's Copenhagen conference.

He concluded that under Harper Canada is descending from "beautiful and cultured" state into a "corrupt petrostate" dependent on the continuing use of fossil fuels.

Even British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has entered the fray, although not as harshly. He implied to the international media that Canada won't make any decision on climate change without checking with Washington.

Our Prime Minister appears to have replaced George W. Bush as the international anti-Christ of climatology.

In fairness, it is human nature for anyone driven by a cause to seek out a bad guy to blame for delay and obstruction. As Harper well knows, you can build public support by personifying an issue into designated villains.

Harper got elected in 2006 by demonizing the lobbying industry in his promise to clean up Canadian politics even the overwhelming majority of Ottawa lobbyists are about as controversial as pension actuaries.

Now to a certain degree, the same thing is being done to him.

But there is still an international bewilderment on how Canada has abandoned its honest broker role in world affairs. Who would have imagined that anyone would call for Canada to be expelled from the Commonwealth? Yet several advocacy groups are pushing for just that.

Last week in Ottawa at a function attended by the diplomatic community, several ambassadors privately criticized Harper for leaving the UN assembly to do a photo op at Tim Horton's. As a senior ambassador put it, how can Canada expect to win a seat on the UN Security Council when donuts seem to be more important than world affairs?

Canada'a international fall from grace may not resonate immediately with Canadian voters. But it will eventually as Canadians wonder about future economic growth. This is why Harper is now pushing hard to develop trade with China, India and other countries that were barely on his radar couple of years ago.

Harper badly needs an international makeover just as Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff needs one domestically.

As always, I welcome your views.

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