It turns out that Stephen Harper needs his Tim Hortons run just like every other Canadian. Harper was absent from Barack Obama's opening speech at the United Nations climate change summit last week, choosing to appear at the Tim Hortons Innovation Centre instead. Is it his fault that the UN scheduled Obama's speech to coincide with Harper's allotted Timmy's time?
In all seriousness, however, Harper isn't just any Canadian citizen. As the Prime Minister, it falls to him to not only run the country, but represent the Canadian public to the rest of the world. The Canadian public wanted to hear Obama deliver another inspirational monologue about world peace, a healthy economy and the end of global climate change. Plus, it was Obama's first experience addressing the UN, and all the other important world leaders were there. They all want to follow Obama and save the world. Canada's failure to send its highest ranking politician to join the rest of the audience is a clear sign that neither Canada nor Harper himself are interested in international relations -- only in coffee, right?
It seems odd that Harper would be considered politically inactive for missing Obama at the UN, when he was instead busy making a speech at a hugely popular Canadian business heralding tax changes to bring corporate offices like Tim Hortons' back to Canada. Though his stop at Tim's is being called just a photo op, one wonders what sitting and listening to a predictable speech would be, if not a photo op.
To call Harper's absence a snub would be clearly misinformed. It's not as if there were no Canadian representatives in the house, and Canadian prime ministers have a history of not being intimately involved with UN proceedings. It's doubtful anybody in the General Assembly was craning his or her neck, wondering where on earth Harper was.
There are only two things that make this instance stand out from the other times Canadian prime ministers haven't been at the UN. One, it was Obama speaking, and two, Harper was making a donut run, albeit one with a governance purpose. At least he had a reason (if any such thing can exist) to miss Obama's speech. That is, at least Harper wasn't sitting around picking his teeth and calling that his excuse for not being there. As for Obama, well, he and Harper met on Sept. 16 face to face, to actually discuss issues. Perhaps everything that needed to be discussed between Obama and Harper was covered already and attending the UN speech would have been superfluous.
There is always some possibility that good could have come from Harper's presence at the UN. It certainly wouldn't have been a bad thing, at any rate. It's a shifting world scene, and it might be nice to have the prime minister hear first-hand from other big, important political figures. But it's more than likely his absence won't result in Canada's dismissal from the world stage. Most of the criticism he's getting is just the sound of Obama fans indignant that anyone with half a brain could possibly find Canadian politics more important than trailing America's pop-star president.