Everybody’s wrong in Canadian politics

The Conservatives got C-51 wrong. In fact, they got it wrong twice. They had a chance to climb down after the committee stage, when it had become clear that a general mobilization of opposition was under way, including not just among the typical partisan voices but a much more apolitical set of experts on the issue. The bill’s opponents constitute a diverse group. It includes active lawyers and senior public servants whose professional incentives actually push against participation in partisan politics in favour of more neutral policy advice. It also features an array of strong voices within the country’s conservative movement, who obviously must have strong reasons to criticize a government with which they normally identify. That groups see fit to oppose the bill so openly and rigorously speaks to the alarm with which they view it. The latest opinion polls bear this out, with support for the bill slipping even among Conservative voters, and the party may yet rue the day they doubled down on it.

They’re wrong on Iraq and Syria as well, though not totally so. ISIS is not a significant threat to Canada, and it is unsavoury politics, to say the least, to present it as such in what for all the world seems to be an effort to make Canadians fearful in order to gain electoral advantage. That said, human suffering and massive instability in the Middle East is not in Canada’s interests either; had the Conservatives made stabilization of that region its priority, rather than the neutralization of what is (for Canadians) a trumped up security threat, they would arguably be credibly serving the nation’s interests. As it is, a degraded ISIS will either re-emerge the moment Canada and its allies withdraw from the region, or be replaced by something else just as unpleasant. War without the prospect for a political solution is war without end.

The Liberals, meanwhile, managed to get their stances on C-51 and military action in Iraq and Syria exactly backwards. They should be opposing the former to the hilt, and actually calling for a more muscular, but differently constructed intervention in the case of the latter. The “Syraq” mission in fact represented an opportunity to retake the high ground in Canadian foreign policy, to rediscover the liberal principles embodied in the Responsibility to Protect to which the Minister of Defence recently (and in my view incorrectly) invoked. Canada’s current mission is effectively a kind of preventive conflict, designed to degrade what the government views as a serious threat to Canadian security, namely ISIS. Any protection of civilians is at best temporary without a commitment to stay and work with Canada’s allies to return stability to that most unstable of global regions. Given the ongoing commitment to work in an even-handed manner to return stability to that region would constitute a genuine contribution to the security of Canada and the world.

To its credit, the NDP is on the mark in its strong stance against C-51. It errs, however, in focusing solely on humanitarian measures such as refugees support in Syria and Iraq, however, failing to provide a coherent (and easily communicated) view on how it would keep Canadians safe at home, and work to enhance stability abroad. Providing care and comfort for those lucky enough to escape is not enough. Canada can do better, and do so in a manner consistent with international law, rebuilding respect for rule-based international order in the process. The world has become more dangerous in the last decade. Canada can and should be a strong actor working to re-establish rule-governed relations among nations through support of initiatives such as the US-Iran nuclear negotiations, and putting forward some idea of how Canada can contribute to stability in the most unstable regions of the world, helping vulnerable populations in the process. Those are values and goals consistent with an NDP worldview as well.

The Green Party is wrong too. Oh, they’re right about climate change, for sure. It’s the single most pressing issue facing the world to be, and almost certainly remain so throughout my lifetime and beyond. It’s the mother of all collective action problems.  No, they’re wrong about the Westminster system under first past the post. I’ve written previously at some length about how the presence of an environmental option on the ballot may actually have impeded the progress of the environmental movement in Canada. Our system rewards “identity” or “answer” parties, not “issue” or “question” parties. Unless and until Canada shifts to a proportional representation model, we should be pushing all parties all to take climate change seriously, and offering them the chance to win environmental voters as a result. As it stands, parties that actually stand a chance at winning know that they’ll never capture the most green-conscious voters, so they spend no capital trying. (All that said, I hope Elizabeth May stays on as an MP. She’s a hugely important voice in contemporary Canadian politics.)

The media, meanwhile, gets the Duffy trial wrong. While corruption within the governing party is certainly newsworthy, there is little to learn from the trial that we don’t already know. It’s a sideshow, one whose effects on public opinion and our view of government have largely played out already. The ongoing exhaustive focus on it tends to take attention away from less exciting but more significant issues such as the ones discussed above, to say nothing of the significant economic changes under way, both internationally with the continuing rise of Asia, and domestically with the at least temporary stalling of the petroleum industry.

Have I alienated everyone? If so, then my work here is done.

photo credit: Wrong Way via photopin (license)

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