Harper tells U.K. Parliament trade deal 'remains our hope'

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has arrived in Paris and will meet Friday with French President Francois Hollande. Earlier, Harper told the British Parliament the debate in Europe between austerity and growth is "a false dichotomy."

PM's address says U.K. government's austerity measures a 'powerful and necessary example'

Harper speaks in London

10 years ago
Duration 2:38
The Senate scandal followed the Prime Minister to the British Parliament, but he was there to talk free trade

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has arrived in Paris, where he will meet Friday with French President François Hollande in preparation for the G8 summit in Northern Ireland next week.

Earlier Thursday, Harper became the first Canadian prime minister to address the British Parliament in nearly 70 years.

Harper told British Lords and MPs gathered in the ornate Robing Room of the Palace of Westminster that the debate in Europe between austerity and growth is "a false dichotomy."

"You need good measures of both," he said.

Harper went on to endorse, however, British Prime Minister David Cameron's very controversial austerity program.

"The responsible actions of your government have set a powerful and necessary example to other nations as they grapple with massive sovereign debts of their own," Harper said.

He also said Western countries need prosperity if they wish to promote their values.

Stephen Harper and British Prime Minister David Cameron held a photo call outside the U.K. Parliament Thursday. Inside, the Canadian prime minister used his address to U.K. MPs and Lords to thank Cameron's government for "robust advocacy" on the Canada-EU trade talks. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"In the absence of solvency, relevancy will also disappear. Nothing can lead more quickly and more completely to diminished influence in the world than the decline of economic performance and financial credibility."

On the prospect of a free trade deal with Europe, Harper was cautious, saying only that "it remains our hope." He said such an agreement would be "a historic step — a monumental one, in fact."

The Canadian prime minister expressed his "deep appreciation" to Prime Minister David Cameron's government for "robust advocacy on behalf of this agreement. It will be a great benefit to all of our citizens."

Canadian negotiators are under growing pressure to broker a deal with the Europeans before they turn their attention to free trade talks with the United States.

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Harper insisted Wednesday that an "artificial timeline" will not loom over the talks, and that a free trade deal will not be signed unless it is in Canada's best interests.

Anti-oilsands protestors greeted the Canadian prime minister as he arrived at the British Houses of Parliament Thursday. (Paul Hackett/Reuters)

The Prime Minister's Office has played down suggestions an agreement will be reached while Harper is in Europe ahead of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

The prime minister's pitch included talk of Canada's economic strength relative to much of the rest of the world. Harper argued, as he often has in the past, against protectionism and touted trade as the main driver of prosperity.

"Another value whose certainty has been repeatedly proven, though sadly sometimes more in the breach than the application, is that everyone gains in an open economy," Harper said.

"Our businesses grow when new markets are opened."

No rush to intervene in Syria

Beyond its economic focus, Harper's 30-minute speech also emphasized the shared values that guide the two allies' co-operation on matters of global security.

On the Middle East, Harper was blunt.

On Iran, he said, "Iran's leaders openly brag that they will eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. This is a profoundly malevolent regime that threatens us all and whose first victims are the Iranian people themselves."

On Syria, though, he seemed to endorse the western reluctance to get involved.

A British policewoman orders a reporter to stop taking photographs as an anti-oilsands protester (red T-shirt) is arrested following Stephen Harper's speech. (Terry Milewski/CBC)

"Decent people agree that Assad must go; that Syria's government must represent all its people, including its minorities. Yet the extremist, sectarian nature of much of the opposition cannot be ignored or wished away. And Syria cannot be allowed to become another safe haven for the hydra-heads of terrorism."

"Such monsters already lurk far too close to home, as we have seen in the murder of Drummer Rigby ... and the foiled plot in Canada to sabotage a Via Rail express," he reminded British legislators.

British soldier Lee Rigby was killed last month on a street in southeast London by a pair of attackers espousing militant Islam.

Harper's arrival at the Houses of Parliament in London was met with protests by anti-oilsands activists holding banners with slogans like "no tar sands" and "filthy oil from dirty producers for ugly consumers."

One protester who was arrested was shouting "Stephen Harper! Climate criminal!"

The Canadian government continues to lobby vigorously against a proposed European Union fuel directive it argues unfairly targets Canada's oil exports.

Canadian foreign service workers protest their stalled contract talks with the Foreign Affairs department outside the British Houses of Parliament Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Nearby, a second protest group of Canadian foreign service workers also greeted Harper. Diplomatic staff are in an ongoing dispute with the Foreign Affairs department over stalled contract talks.

A series of rotating walkouts in Ottawa and 13 Canadian missions around the world began on June 6. Union representatives warned that Harper's European trip could be affected by job actions by diplomats, who have been in a legal strike position since April.

Canada leading way on Senate reform?

Harper is the first sitting Canadian prime minister to formally address the British Parliament since the Second World War, when William Lyon Mackenzie King spoke in Westminster's Royal Gallery only weeks before D-Day.

After the speech, the Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness Frances D'Souza, brought up Senate reform.

"It is of particular significance to me that both our parliaments have appointed upper chambers," she said.

"Today, the Canadian Senate and the House of Lords face difficult questions of reform. The future of both chambers is an issue that often preoccupies commentators and politicians on either side of the Atlantic. And I know that this is a matter of particular interest to you.

"But as we have discovered here recently, during debates on the draft House of Lords reform bill, there are no easy solutions. I shall watch developments in Canada with great interest ... who knows? Where one chamber goes, the other may follow."


Terry Milewski worked in 50 countries during 38 years with the CBC. He was the CBC's first Middle East Bureau Chief, spent eight years in Washington during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations and was based in Vancouver for 14 years before returning to Ottawa as senior correspondent.

with files from The Canadian Press and CBC News