Saturday, May 16, 2009

Where's Canada?

Jim Travers wrote an interesting article today, pointing out the ways in which Stephen Harper is changing this country. It's not the first such article that he has written, though he does seem to be a bit of a lone voice out there. Why others don't write about this is a mystery. Perhaps they don't realise what is happening? Perhaps they don't understand it? Or maybe it's just not sexy enough? Indeed, maybe some are happy to see the changes and would prefer not to have them highlighted.

Travers refers to the ads that the Conservatives have launched, but notes that while they infer that Ignatieff doesn't know the country because he's lived outside it, even if he hadn't, things have changed.

There's accidental comedy in new Conservative ads attacking the Liberal leader as a globetrotter who doesn't know the country and was only drawn home by opportunism. The dark laugh is that the Canada Stephen Harper is creating would be hard for Michael Ignatieff to recognize even if he had never wandered away.

If Ignatieff is just visiting the country, as this week's new TV spots claim, Harper is more than simply tinkering with the way it works.


This Prime Minister's Canada is as unfamiliar to those who stick close to the neighbourhood as it is to expatriates.

Indeed it is. Travers goes on to say that Harper is taking incremental steps to change the country to the model I suppose he has always envisioned. What he aspires to is not Canada though. It's all well and good to have views on what you'd like to change in the country, but that does not give you the right to manipulate a system, and a population, to fashion a nation in an image that suits you and one that does not relate to it's origin.

Harper's method:

It grafts presidential powers and situational expediency to the Westminster democracy that has served well, if imperfectly, for 141 years and then wraps it in the rhetoric of Reform Party populism.

By incremental steps and leaps of logic, the Prime Minister is taking advantage of public confusion to advance a political hybrid. Worse, it's being finessed with little public debate and no national consensus.

That's the real tragedy isn't it? No debate, no consensus, just his view. There are names for such leaders.

And it's not just here at home where things are changing. Of course that too would be tough to tell given all the rhetoric that comes from government. They have pranced around and shouted from the rooftops just how influential Canada is in the world. After all, didn't Harper tell the world that only Canada had a banking system that could withstand the current crisis, or at least remain the most unscathed? Didn't he boast that everyone should follow our lead? Day talks about our influence in the US and Prentice is now suggesting that the Canadian model on the environment is the one to follow. In fact, for all the crowing, you'd think that Canada would be the lead story in just about every newspaper around the world.

Here''s some truth though.

For three years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had his diplomats and ministers sell the idea of a “new, muscular Canada” to Europe – a forward-leaning image of a wealthy, militarily strong, export-oriented country that is more than just another middle power.

It hasn't worked though. To the contrary.

“I don't think Canada is sending any message at all. It has become invisible in Europe,” says Jeremy Kinsman, who was Canada's ambassador to the European Union until 2006 and served as prime minister Brian Mulroney's ambassador to Moscow.

“I think you can see that. This government has failed to reciprocate initiatives from the Europeans, it has not listened or offered anything that matters to them – we have just faded from the European picture.”
That view is echoed, in less-public language, by Canadian officials across Europe, who say it has become difficult to get any significant hearing from European leaders.


“Canada's mistake,” says a senior EU official involved with the trade talks, “was that they didn't play the diplomatic game – they didn't do the Henry Kissinger stuff and make a big, visible sacrifice so they could get something in exchange. They just wanted to win everything.”

And that's because of who Harper is:

His immovable principles collided head-on with Europe's needs and desires, sending exactly the wrong messages on several fronts.

Sound familiar? If nothing else the man is consistent as he is doing abroad what he does at home. He is an ideologue with no tolerance for any other view. He plows forward and the rest be damned.

As with most unsuccessful campaigns, this one seems to have failed because we did nothing to win the locals' hearts and minds.

Lest you think this is only being noticed in Europe, you might want to read Glen Pearson's blog and if you are so inclined, here is the committee meeting that he refers to. (Go to 1:03 to hear the witnesses he mentions)

We don't really have a clear articulation of Harper's image for Canada do we? That should be troubling to all, given what little we do know.

Harper's MPs and talking heads are busy claiming that Ignatieff hasn't put forward any policy. Don't you think it's about time we heard what the government's agenda really is?

The life of states cannot, any more than the life of individuals, be conditioned by the force and the will of a unit, however powerful, but by the consensus of a group, which must one day include all states.
~Lester B. Pearson~

7 comments:

ottlib said...

Nothing Stephen Harper has done so far cannot be undone.

When he and his government is finally replaced he will be without any kind of legacy.

That is what happens when you campaign instead of govern.

WesternGrit said...

GREAT post KNB!

It would be good for Canadians to see what changes are slowly being made. It's just that most Canadians would not even understand what most of these changes mean when considered piecemeal. When viewed individually they often appear as minor policy "adjustments". Put together, it is the slow and gradual push towards the views of one very right wing philosophy, and a state without the constitutional fairness of Canada...

Still, while most Canadians may not know what Canada IS (as apparent from the Harper lies about the Coalition in Parliament), they certainly DO know what Canada IS NOT. That will be our key in the next election. That and Harper's own failures.

KNB said...

Technically that may be true ottlib, but there is major rebuilding to do, imo. It's not going to be simple and it is going to take time.

When you burn bridges as a country, it's often not as simple as changing governance to regain trust.

I completely agree that he'll have no legacy, save the one no PM wants to have.

KNB said...

That's a really interesting take WG and one, that in the real world, plays well.

Speaking to the traditional aspirations of this country is easy to understand and pointing out our drift from those values is not difficult.

RuralSandi said...

Wheres' Canada? Temporarily landed in the Alberta Texas wannabe republican in basket.

Let's empty the basket and get our Canada BACK!

Toronto Real Estate said...

Agreed, Sandi, lets hope the next election will bring us a change (not wanting to sound like Mr. Obama..haha). I feel like this government is making Canada invisible to the world. I hope we can bring our good old Canada back some day.

Take care, Julie

Cherniak_WTF said...

Michaëlle Jean, the otherwise effective Governor General, missed an opportunity to explain the nuts-and-bolts details of an elegantly simple, wonderfully flexible system. With Conservative ministers muttering about "coups" and threatening to somehow go over the head of the de facto head of state, Jean could have turned a roiling crisis into a unique teaching moment. A calming, non-partisan address to the nation had potential to strip away much of the hyperpartisan, unity-stressing bluster. It could have usefully explored valid solutions while educating the country at a time of extraordinary political engagement. Instead she quietly agreed to the Prime Minister's exceptional request for a parliamentary timeout and the rest, as some constitutional scholars now say, is precedent.I suspect that Iggy and Harper both agree with the moves that Michaëlle Jean took.

I second Rural that the policies put in place have rendered us "Alberta Texas wannabe republican in basket." What I don't see is a change if Iggy becomes PM...