Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Analysis: Harper's European Trip Has Domestic Political Overtones

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Analysis: Harper's European Trip Has Domestic Political Overtones

Article excerpt

Domestic politics at play for PM in Europe

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VATICAN, Vatican City - As Prime Minister Stephen Harper was being shepherded around the Vatican's inner corridors for his meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday, a mild kerfuffle broke out over the giving of gifts.

A Vatican reporter noted that Harper did not come bearing one. His staff went to pains to email journalists travelling with him -- repeatedly -- that Canadian protocol officials had in fact given their Vatican counterparts a rare hand-carved Maple Leaf sculpture.

Then there was the matter of the unusually short audience that Harper received -- just 10 minutes, including translation, compared to the 50 minutes Russian President Vladimir Putin received the previous day.

But Harper will wake up in Ottawa this morning, after completing his latest international trip after nine years as prime minister, having largely satisfied a clear domestic political purpose: shoring up support among some large Canadian diaspora voting blocs.

The prime minister's every move was recorded by his 24/7 camera crew collecting images that will no doubt be used on the coming election campaign.

The footage was mainly of Harper, but also included a coterie of caucus members who were in tow over the course of his week-long travels to Ukraine, Poland, the G7 in Germany, and -- albeit briefly -- his truncated audience with Pope Francis.

The travelling media, which paid thousands of dollars per person to accompany Harper, was able to ask him six questions over the six days.

There are 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent and the one million of Polish descent still remain a key domestic political consideration.

Harper's entourage also included representatives from Ukrainian community youth, the president of the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the president of the Ukraine Canadian Chamber of Commerce and a representative of the Bloor West Village Toronto Ukrainian festival.

On Harper's plane, they joined three MPs and one senator with strong east European linkages with potential electoral consequences in urban ridings this coming October -- Ted Opitz, James Bezan, and Wladyslaw Lizon, and Sen. Raynell Andreychuk.

New Democrat foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the stops Harper made in Europe this past week are important for Canada's international relations, but he questioned whether it was all with an eye toward domestic politics. …

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