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Editor's letter: Why Stephen Harper and other Canadians are the new darlings of London

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a news conference with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sept. 22, 2011.


Weekly insights from The Globe newsroom and highlights of our best work. I welcome your comments.

Greetings from London, where the mood is cool and Canada is hot.

This used to be the centre of Cool Britannia. And while Mayfair is still congested with sports cars, and booked-out West End restaurants cackle with every language imaginable, much of the country seems to be sliding into a 1970s funk. This week's economic news was grim; the pound is under pressure; the Olympic glow has faded.

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The mood is so foul that voters in a by-election Thursday in Eastleigh, 120 kms south of London, shoved the Conservatives to third place, behind the victorious Liberal Democrats and the increasingly popular far-right UK Independence Party (UKip).

A full plate of problems awaits departing Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, who takes over as head of the Bank of England on – appropriately – Canada Day. Carney joins Moya Greene, the former CEO of Canada Post who is trying to turn around the Royal Mail, among a cadre of Canadians who are seen here as crisis-busters.

They're joined in Britain's good books by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, both of whom are quietly noted by the British cognoscenti as modest, reliable, straight-shooting anglophiles.

(Mr, Harper is such a hero of British Conservatives these days that a Ukip campaign team recently visited Canada to study his political success. More proof? One of Ukip's political operatives asked me at a lunch to recommend a book on the rise of the Reform Party. They think the secrets of a "right-wing reverse takeover" can be found in Canada.)

The challenges here seem immense, and Canada won't be unaffected. As Britain's closest friend – to quote a Canadian government line – we should be ready to shoulder some of the pain.

Here's what we might expect:

  • A more complicated defence partnership, inside and outside NATO. Britain has cut its military spending so severely that Canadian Defence officials don’t know what to make of it any more. Will we share ships and planes? And will there ever again be a British-Canadian military venture?
  • Less intelligence. We share lots of secrets. Yet the “age of austerity” here means fewer spies. A friend in the private intelligence world told me he has a line-up of British intelligence officers looking for work.
  • More immigration. Some of those young spies and soldiers – and bankers and journalists – see Canada as a safe haven. The immigration line at the High Commission of Canada has seldom looked longer.
  • More opportunities for Canadian bankers. This week’s staggering loss by Royal Bank of Scotland rattled the City of London once again, as it indicated the financial crisis is far from mopped up. David Cameron’s government looks like it has little idea what to do with RBS, not even how to stanch the bleeding. Expect foreigners to play a greater role.
  • Fewer oil sands protests. The economic funk has led activists to turn down the volume on Canadian energy firms. There’s just no public interest when concern over domestic growth is what dominates.

If Mr. Carney is seen as playing any positive role in reversing the troubles, he'll be a national hero – knighted, lorded, even made an honorary coach of the national football team.

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The situation is so grim that an earlier rival for Mr. Carney's new job – the deputy governor Paul Tucker – this week suggested the "radical idea" of penalizing banks for parking money. The government also announced plans to encourage the launch of new banks, mainly to get money flowing.

The fury over banker bonuses will only further the relative decline of British banks, as even Cameron conservatives are coming around to the European Union idea of capping those bonuses at the equivalent of one year's salary.

Mr. Carney probably doesn't like the idea, as it will drive financial services elsewhere. But if he does anything that is seen to enrich the City's vilified elite, he'll be roasted in the press for his history with Goldman Sachs (not for his Canadian roots).

Team Europe

The superstar Canadian public execs in Britain are joined by our superstar Canadian reporters, keeping you abreast of the travails and hopes in the U.K. and the rest of Europe. Paul Waldie, an award-winning business reporter, moved here last fall to take on the role of European bureau chief.

He'll be joined in late summer by Mark MacKinnon, our superlative Beijing correspondent who is moving from China to London to take on the new position of senior correspondent, covering global issues from Moscow to Mumbai to the Middle East.

In addition to chasing the big stories – his fluency in French, Mandarin, Russian and Arabic helps – Mark's mandate will include a regular dispatch for digital subscribers.

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Rounding out our European team is Eric Reguly, our chief business reporter on the continent, who relocated to Rome with his family five years ago. Eric has had been following nonstop news across southern Europe and North Africa ever since, including this week's stunning Italian election and the farewell address from the Pope Benedict XVI.

Video pick

Down but not out

You may have noticed we've been having digital difficulties since our site crashed Thursday for several hours. Our vice-president of digital, Angus Frame, explains.

History and hips

The journalism machine kept humming this week to produce a remarkable array of weekend reads.

Among my suggestions is Ian Brown's fascinating journey into the debate over historical accuracy in video gaming. The piece was inspired by a controversial editorial we published last fall, excoriating Ubisoft and the Montreal writers of Assassins Creed III for the game's depiction of native Americans in the colonial wars. We, in turn, were excoriated by the gaming world for old-fashioned mores.

In the middle of the furor, a Ubisoft executive wrote me a thoughtful two-page letter explaining all the academic research and peer reviewing that went into ACIII. A video game!

When I shared the letter with Ian and his editor, Julie Traves, they agreed it was too good to let go.

Another weekend gem is Margaret Wente's sobering look at artificial hips, and the serious health risks that come with implants. She should know. She has new hips and now regrets singing their praises.

Enjoy your weekend,

Editor’s Picks

Some other great pieces of journalism can be found below.

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