Inside Politics

Dealing with Dilma

In hockey and economics -- two subjects on which Stephen Harper knows his stuff -- it's not always obvious when a deft play has occurred. Was it the goal, or was it the clever pass that set it in motion? Was it the tax cut, or was it blind luck?

Latin America is a place where, well, Harper's no expert. His trip so far is not exactly blasting open the doors of the heavily-protected Brazilian market. But when called upon to handle the former Marxist guerrilla who now runs Brazil, Harper managed a deft play that was unmistakable.

What did he think of Dilma Rousseff's smackdown of Standard & Poor's?

President Rousseff, now managing a capitalist success story in the world's seventh-largest economy, didn't mince words about the downgrade decision that has made life harder for her country. As Harper looked on, she bluntly said she disagreed with it. It was "rushed." In fact, she added, "I would even say incorrect."

Brazilians are struggling with a sky-high currency, which makes their exports costly and is caused by a flight from the floundering U.S. greenback. S & P just made a bad situation worse.

When the leader of a two-trillion-dollar economy turns her guns on a credit rating agency, it matters. So, was Harper's new friend in Latin America correct about S & P being incorrect?

It's not a softball. If you say, no, you're saying S & P was right to downgrade our greatest friend and ally. If you say, yes, you're saying S & P got it wrong and Washington's handling of its debt is fine.

Of course, it's not fine, and Harper knows it. So, how to answer?

Well, Harper saw this one coming despite the blazing winter sun shining directly in his eyes as he fielded the first questions he's taken since the historic downgrade. And he ducked -- but with a twist. His solution: say you really can't comment on a credit agency decision except to say that they were right ... about Canada!

Nice move. S & P did, indeed, as Harper noted, give Canada a glowing review. And heaven forbid that a mere Prime Minister would comment on their assessment -- except to say that they were on the money with that one. And "others" -- let's not be gauche and say who -- should follow Canada's path of responsible fiscal management.

Presto! In place of Dilma Rousseff's blunt instrument, Harper thus struck a mere glancing blow on the U.S. handling of its debt. He managed to toot his own horn without disagreeing with his hostess, or with his U.S. allies, or with poor old Standard & Poor's.

How worried he really is about the unfolding crisis, we don't know yet.

Maybe it's better that way.

Comments are closed.