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Canada back in middle on world stage, Harper says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper Tuesday declared Canada is back as a middle power on the world stage, citing the Conservative government's action on Afghanistan, climate change and engaging the Americas as examples.

Mr. Harper laid out his government's approach to foreign policy in extensive detail Tuesday. Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Mr. Harper said he prefers taking concrete action as opposed to unsubstantiated rhetoric.

"Success requires middle powers who can step up to the plate to do their part," Mr. Harper said, according to a written version of Tuesday's speech.

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"Success demands governments who are willing to assume responsibilities, seek practical, do-able solutions to problems and who have a voice and influence in global affairs because they lead, not by lecturing, but by example."

Mr. Harper said the United States can't go it alone in the world and needs other countries like Canada to do their part.

"Take Afghanistan as an example," Mr. Harper said. "Canada did not hesitate, a little more than six years ago, when terrorists hit this great city and Washington, D.C.

"The United Nations Security Council authorized military action to remove the Taliban regime, and Canada was there, immediately."

In his speech, he took issue with the Democratic-led Congress's approach to Colombia.

The Bush administration has negotiated a free-trade deal with Colombia, but Congress will not pass it because of concerns over that country's human rights record.

Mr. Harper recently visited Colombia and is pushing Canadian free-trade talks with Colombia.

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"In my view, Colombia needs its democratic friends to lean forward and give them the chance at partnership and trade with North America," Mr. Harper said on Tuesday.

"I am very concerned that some in the United States seem unwilling to do that. What message does that send to those who want to share in freedom and prosperity?"

On climate change, Mr. Harper also cited his government's plan to cut Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 and between 60 and 70 per cent by 2050, saying: "The message is that we need to take action."

"We owe it to future generations," he said. "We owe them a sustainable environment just as we owe them the opportunity to have the economic prosperity we enjoy today.

"In the global fight against climate change, Canada will do everything in its power to help develop an effective, all-inclusive, international environmental framework that recognizes national economic circumstances."

Later, Mr. Harper told a press gathering that the likelihood of another minority government in Ottawa "looms very high" but that won't change the country's stand on the world stage.

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Taking questions after his address, Mr. Harper seemed relaxed and conversational as he spoke on matters ranging from the seal hunt to foreign relations.

But it was his country's stand among other nations that was the main focus of the gathering, where journalists asked if domestic politics will alter Canada's world role.

"I believe when it comes to global affairs and global security, this is one area where you do what is right in the long term interests of your country, your allies and the world," Mr. Harper said.

"Canada will support a government that conducts foreign policy in that manner. Under a minority government, this government's foreign policy will not be any different as it would be under a majority government."

When quizzed over Canada's ability to avoid the vitriol directed at its southern neighbour, Mr. Harper chuckled along with reporters before saying that, in some circles, both nations were hated equally.

If there is a difference, however, he said it could possibly be found in the very make-up of Canada.

"Canada has no history of conquest, domination. It's hard to perceive of Canada as being in that position," Mr. Harper said.

While Canada could be perceived as "maybe a less pure model of values" than the U.S., he said it could also be seen as a more complex model. Living in a bilingual country helps people understand a pluralistic world, he said.

"Canada is both a positive and a non-threatening force. My government is trying to use those values to promote positive change," he said.

And Canada's role would change little if his party won a minority government in the next federal election.

"I think with the current political alignment - my election strategists won't like it - but with the current political alignment the possibility of a minority government .. .would loom very high," he said.

With a report from Alan Freeman

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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