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Stephen Harper: Trump, technology, and the state of world affairs

  • Communications
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  • Mar 29, 2017
Stephen Harper: Trump, technology, and the state of world affairs

Known for his forward thinking outlook on Canada’s foreign policy, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper is now helping to shape the business perspective on global trends.

Canada's 22nd Prime Minister spoke to Ivey MBA students, faculty, and staff on March 20 on the forces behind political currents and how they are affecting the world. The event was hosted by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership and is part of the MBA course, GLOBE, which looks at contemporary issues in the global business environment.

Harper, who now has a Calgary-based consulting business, Harper & Associates Consulting Inc., discussed how differing views on globalization are dividing people and creating political discord. While globalization has spurred economic growth in developing countries, middle and working classes in Western countries have stagnated. Harper said this is sparking conflict between the so-called elites with global interests and the more traditional and national populists.

“It isn’t really surprising that there is a political revolt in many Western countries,” he said. “I believe this revolt is not a passing fad. It is not a series of unrelated occurrences. What is happening in many Western countries is a new political cleavage is emerging.”

The populist movement

Harper said the revolt has given rise to controversial new leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump, who rode a populist movement to victory. In contrast, he said Canada hasn’t had such political upheaval mainly because of its strong and healthy middle class, but warned that could eventually change.

“Obviously these forces have had a real impact on the world, in particular in the U.S., which will have an impact on us,” he said.

Harper covered a wide range of topics in his remarks and Q&A with students.

Local matters

Harper called for businesses and governments to consider local needs in their communities.

“It is vital that leaders, both political and economic, keep a close eye on how ordinary people are faring in this world and make the policy adjustments necessary to ensure the global economy serves local interests and needs,” he said.

The power of technology

Harper also discussed how technology is increasingly enabling people to get their own information, develop their own views, connect with like-minded individuals, and make political decisions that go against the consensus from traditional media outlets.

“For the first time in human history, you have a situation where almost everyone can be politicized –politicized on their own terms,” he said. “It is increasingly eroding centres of power and influence around the world.”

What the U.S. administration means for Canada?

While Trump may be ushering in a radical break from decades of U.S. policy with his promise to focus above all on “America first,” Harper said he’s confident the U.S. will continue to work with other countries, such as Canada, that share its interests.

“I would argue that, if we play our cards right, this shift in U.S. policy should not hurt us in any significant way. In fact, it could be very advantageous to us,” he said.  “We, generally, and you as young Canadians are very lucky and you have every reason to be optimistic about the future of our country.”