All politics are domestic, oil and copyright edition

I see that Howard Knopf is wondering if the passage of Bill C-11, Canada’s latest kick at the copyright-reform can, will be affected by the Obama administration’s decision to delay any decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline until 2013. Michael Geist, meanwhile, also indirectly links C-11 and the pipeline delay.

As I documented in my dissertation, C-11’s digital locks provisions were inserted at the request of the Prime Minister’s Office in response to U.S. political pressure. As I also note in the dissertation, Canadian officials, during the negotiations on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Internet treaties, raised concerns about the U.S. digital-lock position.

Essentially, Geist and Knopf are wondering if the two issues are linked. Which, hey, is pretty much what my dissertation is all about. My answer: I have no clue if there was some quid-pro-quo deal between Harper and Obama linking copyright reform to something that would actually be useful for Canada.* Geist and Knopf may know something that I don’t. Living in Australia has its advantages (the weather in Brisbane last week was fantastic), but I am a bit removed from Ottawa these days.

If there were some kind of linkage, however, I would have hoped that either Harper understood that North American politics are vulnerable, and usually subservient, to domestic politics. Unless you get it in writing, making the United States happy doesn’t really buy a lot of influence in Washington, a town run on interests, not the warm and fuzzies.

Given the politics around global warming and U.S. concerns about oil dependency, Harper and the Canadian oil sector may be annoyed by the U.S. decision, but I hope to high heaven they weren’t surprised. That would mean they don’t have the faintest clue about Canada-U.S. politics.

And if there were no explicit quid pro quo, I’d be reluctant to invent one now. Historically, Canada and the United States have avoided formally linking issues for a very good reason: you don’t want problems in one part of what is a very complex relationship to spill over into other areas. This has an added benefit for Canada: Canadian vulnerability to the U.S. and U.S. invulnerability to Canada are both a bit overstated, but I know who I’d put my money on in an economic war.

There are a lot of very good reasons to get rid of the digital-locks provisions in C-11. Being miffed at the United States’ (politically) completely understandable position on the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t one of them.

* It’s always seemed more likely to me that Harper’s insistence on pleasing the Americans on copyright was yet another example of his capricious, follow-the-gut, one-man-show approach to policy-making (see the cancellation of mandatory long-form Census and his forays into criminal-justice and parole reform). Dan Gardner’s remark that Harper and his minsters often make “decisions [based] on nothing more than impulse and politics” is the best description of the Conservative governing style I’ve yet come across.

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