Thursday, January 21, 2010

Canada Can Stand to Change a Little

New thinking on foreign policy was badly needed

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006, there have predictably been some people he hasn't been able to please.

Unsurprisingly, Frances Russell has been one of them. For good reason, Harper -- and many other Canadians -- don't seem particularly distressed by this.

Many Canadians have recognized this for a positive development -- particularly as it pertains to foreign policy.

As Roy Rempel would note, Canada has long lacked any kind of coherent foreign policy, and has instead relied on a network of finely-crafted platitudes wrapped around obselete Pearsonian peacekeeping missions that have often proven ill-suited to the current state of the world -- as in Rwanda and Somalia.

Russell, for one, longs for the dreamland of yesteryear.

"The federal Conservatives are proving every day they don't need a majority to transform Canada," Russell laments.

"Aside from their swift and generous response to the Haitian earthquake -- what better way to douse the rogue prorogue furor? -- the Conservatives are backing away from internationalism, expunging most if not all of Canada's powerful human rights and humanitarian language from the lexicon of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade," she continues.

(Sure. The response to the Haiti catastrophe had nothing at all to do with humanitarianism, and everything to do with the proroguement. Sheesh, it seems like Harper just can't win.)

The flipside of this claim is that it simply isn't true. The Conservative government has shown a robust -- although not unlimited -- commitment to Canada's mission in Afghanistan, a UN-mandated mission of combination state building and fighting extremism.

Moreover, Canada also signed onto the treaty banning cluster munitions -- although after securing assurances that Canadian commanders wouldn't be held responsible if allied forces used the (quite rightly) controversial weapons.

That is internationalism, even if it isn't the kind of internationalism that Russell prefers -- one built more on the platitudes of soft power without backing it with the capabilities of hard power. Even Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff recognized the danger of this a long time ago.

"According to Embassy, Canada's Foreign Affairs Newspaper, Conservative staffers directed DFAIT bureaucrats to stop using policy language created by the former Liberal government immediately upon taking office in 2006," Russell complains.

"Chief among the forbidden phrases are 'human security,' 'public diplomacy,' 'good governance,' 'gender equality,' 'child soldiers,' and 'international humanitarian law,'" she continues. "Instead, the Conservatives' lexicon features 'human rights,' 'the rule of law,' 'democracy,' 'democratic development,' 'equality of men and women,' 'children in armed conflict' and 'international law.'"

What Russell objects to is many of the same foreign policy concepts, albeit stripped of left-wing ideological qualifiers.

"Children in armed conflict" clearly denotes the sense that all children in the midst of an armed conflict pose a dilemma to the global community -- armed and unarmed children alike. "Equality of men and women" recognizes that equality means equality, as opposed to some of the thinly-veiled ideological causes sponsored under the guise of "gender equality" (a phrase that says nothing about men or women, but somehow has always been tailored toward women).

"International law" strips the ideological impetus from "international humanitarian law", and instead recognizes something that doesn't necessarily define international law, but rather must operate within its confines.

"Democratic development" clearly indicates that good governance tends to happen within democratic states, where citizens are empowered to decide the direction of their country. It's something that tends not to happen under communist states or dictatorships.

Even the Human Security narrative has returned with the Will to Intervene doctrine, a recent upgrade on the Responsibility to Protect Russell alludes to.

The same rejection Canada's former embedded state ideology applies to domestic developments that Russell predictably decries.

"Since 2006, the Conservatives have either axed or slashed funding for the Canadian Council on Learning, the Status of Women, the Canadian Council of Social Development, the Court Challenges Program, the Canadian Policy Research Networks, the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, Volunteer Canada, the Canadian Health Network, the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, Family Service Canada and Centres of Excellence, among many others," Russell writes.

But it doesn't take Barry Cooper to recognize that the organizations and bodies that Russell alludes to represented the embedding of a left-wing ideology within the embedded state.

These are things that many Canadians would agree could have stood to change a little -- although many more Canadians (like Cooper) would insist that Canada could stand to change a lot.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has surely learned that you can't please everyone. Clearly, he isn't about to start with the defenders of a tired and discredited old leftism.


  1. Great post. Many unemployed activists from those groups are very upset.

    The CPC will NEVER be judged or accepted on what they do with a balanced view by some in the left.

    The failure of consensus was evident in COP15 when five countries refused to sign the negotiated deal.

    The opposition are in the majority and could introduce, amend a motion requiring funding for those groups as part of their continued support. The sad fact is the opposition will NOT risk an election over funding any of those groups.

    Just protest and publicity stunts from the opposition.

  2. John Rawls wrote -- and I agree -- that the state has no business taking sides in matters deciding what is good.

    I don't see why that shouldn't apply to foreign policy as much as it applies to domestic policy.


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