Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Trouble With Stephen Harper

Adbusters has published an interview with Dr. Michael Byers who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia:

His most recent book is Intent for a Nation: What is Canada for?, a title inspired by conservative philosopher George Grant’s influential 1965 work, Lament for a Nation, in which Grant grimly predicted the inevitable absorption of Canada by the United States.

On Stephen Harper:

"The first thing to understand is that Mr. Harper is an economist, so he thinks that economics are of paramount importance. And I’m pretty sure that he buys Grant’s thesis, and that there’s not really much we can do to avoid it because we are so dependent on the US economically. So the question for Mr. Harper would be how to manage dependency. I really don’t think that he’s capable of believing that Canada can chart an independent course. Add to that the fact that ideologically he is essentially an American Republican, he wouldn’t see a whole lot of downside to going along with the policy decisions of the Bush administration. For him, it’s a convenient default position.

"I’ll give you the three most obvious examples. One, Harper’s long-standing position on climate change, which he has recently altered – ostensibly – because he’s finally realized the political reality that lots of Canadians are beginning to care a great deal about climate change, and that it has become hard to deny at a scientific level, especially for an Arctic country like Canada. But Stephen Harper as a policy wonk has always doubted the reality of human-caused climate change, and has resisted any effort to deal with it, especially in a multilateral manner involving any international organizations. In that respect, he shares an awful lot with key members of the Bush administration.

"The second example concerns the use of the military abroad, and what Mr. Harper has sought to do with the Canadian forces – his absolutely gung-ho support for the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan, his public criticism of Jean Chr├ętien’s government for not sending troops to Iraq in 2003. This is a man who believes that foreign policy at a primary level involves shooting people overseas. He’s not a peacekeeper. He’s not a diplomat. He shares the tough-guy position of the Bush admin, in the belief that the way you exert influence is by exerting military power.

"I guess the final issue that stands out is Mr. Harper’s aggressive policies on the Middle East, such as his comment that Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s abduction of an Israeli soldier last summer was “measured.” And his refusal to back down from that, even after eight Canadian citizens were killed in the bombings. That was staggering for me, because the Middle East was one of the important areas in which Canada had traditionally and successfully steered a different course, all the way back to 1956 and the Suez Crisis. That was Lester Pearson and Canadian diplomacy’s greatest moment, using middle-road, pro-active diplomacy and the imaginative construction of solutions – in that instance, the pioneering of un peacekeeping. That’s what we did. That’s why we have the reputation we have. There was no need for Mr. Harper to make that comment, and to side unequivocally with the Israeli Defense Forces last summer. Even within Israel there was a lot of public discomfort with what the IDF was doing, but you would never have suspected the slightest doubt in the Canadian government. We’ve seen similar things happen with the issue of funding the Palestinian Authority or the listing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. And as a result of this, the Harper government is essentially writing Canada out of the script in the search for Mid-East peace. We don’t matter anymore.

"The Bush administration’s greatest failing, I think, is missing the importance of soft power. Mr. Harper makes the exact same mistake, but it’s magnified ten-fold by the fact that Canada relies much more on soft power than the US. It’s the one thing that has really made us matter in the past. The combination of our size, our location, our resources, with a very sophisticated use of soft power – that’s what enabled us historically to “punch above our weight.” The Harper government doesn’t get that. It’s our most treasured asset, and it takes decades to build it up and only months to waste it away."


Anonymous said...

He makes excellent observations.

Anonymous said...

Is the man not allowed to do his colonscopy :)