Last week's revelation that Stephen Harper delivered a plagiarized speech before the House of Commons in 2003, authored by former Australian prime minister John Howard, provides an opportune moment to analyze the historical connections between these two states.

In truth, this is not the first time Canada and Australia have borrowed from each other. In fact, there exists a long tradition of closeness amongst these two states that now borders on pure emulation.

Traditionally, Australia and Canada share a general like-mindedness. Each shares a common history as settler-societies and their institutional and constitutional frameworks are based on the Westminster model of government.

Leaders of both countries have maintained a long relationship of cordiality. Former Australian prime minister Robert Menzies was the first elected leader to address a joint session of the Canadian Parliament in 1941, invited by Sir William Lyon MacKenzie King. Brian Mulroney invited Labour Party prime minister Bob Hawke to be the keynote speaker at his 1985 National Economic Summit.

Domestic policies such as taxation are also strikingly similar. Both Canada and Australia have had to deal with the introduction and fall-out from establishing a Goods and Services Tax. Introduced by Mulroney in 1991 and by Howard in 2000, the GST has had a controversial record within both states.

Australia and Canada both share similar issues when approaching indigenous populations, as both have faced aboriginal claims for greater autonomy since the late 1960s. Canada's recent dismissal of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples came after a meeting between Harper and Howard, and neglected the recommendations of the Canadian civil service. Even the recent apology from the Canadian government towards the country's native population, regarding the issue of residential schools, followed a similar apology on behalf of the Australian government, made by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (Howard's successor).

Together the two states have mastered the art of sharing knowledge and personnel, exchanging civil servants and policy experts, including staff from sensitive central agencies. The two states have shared diplomatic offices and responsibilities, and have made joint attempts at securing fair trading practices at the World Trade Organization while commonly uniting as a shared voice within the UN.

Yet in recent years, the relationship has become increasingly politicized and divided along partisan lines.

On one side of the political spectrum there was a much closer form of association between Australian Labour and Canadian Liberal notables. Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Lloyd Axworthy, to give just the most publicized illustration, formed a close association on a variety of foreign policy initiatives. Indeed, this connection prospered even after their political careers ended, animated by their joint promotion of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

On the other side, the Conservatives, under the leadership of Stephen Harper, have closely tied themselves to former Australian prime minister John Howard and his Liberal Party. A 2006 Globe and Mail story reported that the Harper team was consulting with advisors to prime minister Howard while at least one Conservative strategist went to Australia to study the Howard model of government more closely.

In foreign policy, Harper followed a Howard-like trajectory, making it clear in opposition that he wanted to differentiate key areas of his own approach to global affairs from the new form of multilateralism favoured by the Liberal government.

However, if Harper and Howard saw eye-to-eye on international coalition, strongly accented towards the U.S. and the UK, they differed on other issues. For instance, while Howard's government, as a regional power in the Pacific, was far more supportive of a strong relationship with the Chinese government, prioritizing a need to increase regional ties and integration, Harper has been much more distant and critical in his dealings with the Chinese.

Yet where the model of commonality between Harper and Howard was strongest was not on policy convergence, but the political means to achieve and remain in office. Akin to Howard, Harper has targeted not just rural, but also suburban voters. Akin to Howard, Harper's appeal has been premised on a "back to basics" orientation of politics. And akin to Howard, a high degree of emphasis this election has been devoted to the Conservatives' own record in battling and overcoming obstacles as political leaders.

The plagiarism case can be seen, then, as an exaggerated form of a like-minded connection that became far more deeply embedded in recent years. The Australian model developed by Howard offered considerable attractions in that it achieved more than 10 years of majority government.

But it also offered temptations. At a time of high stress, in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Harper literally used the words and language of the Howard government. In this case, at least, the intimacy of an ever-closer relationship turned into explicit imitation.

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