Monday, January 30, 2006

Sooner or later we'll need to talk...

Foreign policy is, in the context of political discourse, a strange animal indeed. On one hand, it conjures up rather sexy and intriguing images of black limousines, exotic locations, and the great issues of war and peace. On the other hand, it really doesn't get play in the general public unless you can tie it neatly to a "bread and butter" issue at home.

Globalization, from the growth of the global economy to the myriad of international agreements and treaties we sign, is becoming very important to our lives - often in ways that we do not yet appreciate. Nevertheless, foreign policy always gets dovetailed into a couple of neat paragraphs in policy platforms.

Foreign aid? Yes. International trade? Sure. Human rights? You bet. But does any of this truly amount to a foreign policy? After all, no one would call a bunch of ad hoc cuts here and there constitutes a fiscal policy.

The last time we had a foreign policy in this country was when Lester B. Pearson lived in 24 Sussex. That is not a fact that gives me much pleasure. The fact is that Pearson was the last Prime Minister of Canada who articulated a theme to Canadian foreign policy to which you could connect every individual initiative. The 0.7% foreign aid target, the emphasis on multilateralism, and the groundbreaking work on peacekeeping - love it or hate it, they fit like pieces of a puzzle to make a more compelling picture of Canada in the world.

Trudeau never walked the talk. He was committed to NATO, but allowed the Canadian Forces to atrophy. He was keen on North-South issues, but never did Canada's financial pledges rise to the level of P.E.T's rhetoric.

Mulroney came closer, simply because he was prepared to put some money where his mouth was. Unfortunately, military spending was still below par, and despite the obvious benefits of the relationship with the US, closer cooperation with one country does not a global policy make.

The problem is that we just don't think big anymore. Canada has nothing akin to a Pearsonian strategy, and God only knows that this is the time when we could really use one.

Pearson, Trudeau and Mulroney all had the advantage of living in a bipolar world - either you were with the Yanks, or you were with the Soviets. Today, you can be with the US, or you can be with the Europeans, or you can try to hook up with the Chinese, or India, or the Russians, or Brazil, and let's not forget Japan is still a player.

Most international commentators suggest that the world of 2050 will be radically different than today's. The changes we see today are a harbinger of this new regime.

The purpose of foreign policy, when you strip off all of the diplomatic verbosity and "brotherhood of man" talk, is simply this - to preserve one's status, or improve it, regardless of what way the world unfolds. That is, to make sure Canada is a player regardless of what nations rise or fall in the pecking order.

Big challenge, to be sure. So big that a couple of treaties and foreign aid gifts simply won't do the trick.

The new Prime Minister, luckily enough, is a policy wonk and a logical thinker by reputation. One would expect that if there would be an opportunity to make a statement of great import, it may be now.

While the temptation of a minority parliament is to play it safe, I suspect that Canadians are eager for a vision that extends beyond the vagaries of the latest opinion polls. A new foreign policy philosophy for Canada may very well be just what gives the Harper government a chance to establish a legacy that sets the tone for the next 4 decades, just as the man for whom the department's headquarters is named.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lost innocence

"Losing one's innocence" is a phrase meant to describe a whole host of events in the life of an individual, a community, a nation, or a world. Regardless of the application, it means, essentially, the same thing. Some watershed event has occurred that causes us to never look at the world the same way again.

One such event happened today in London, and while the import of it may be lost on a great number of Canadians, it serves no less important a demarcation.

Today, Foreign Affairs officer Glyn Barry was laid to rest, and his death, along with those brave Canadian soldiers that were injured in the attack outside Kandahar, represent the public's first notice of what political scientists call the "paradigm shift."

We have been raised on the Pearsonian ideal of "peacekeeping," of the site of the legendary UN Blue Berets. We even built a statue in tribute, and print a remembrance of it on our money. But we now know, especially in light of these tragic events, that "peacekeeping" has been supplanted by "peacemaking."

The truth is, we knew a long time ago. In the early 1990's, Canada shifted its commitments in the former Yugoslavia from UN missions to NATO and US led operations - sometimes referred to as a switch from blue berets to green berets.

The desperate actions of the various factions and their partisans, combined with a lack of the niceties that traditionally marked these missions, drove Ottawa to make the change. While blue berets were constrained by the Security Council's need to seek consensus, green berets were free to carry out the mission with more latitude.

To put it bluntly, green berets did not need to call New York to ask whether they could retaliate if shot at - they were free to fire at will.

Afghanistan, we should remember, is a NATO mission, and as such, carries a different set of rules of conduct than a UN effort.

But while Canadian policymakers were astute enough to realize that people often do not play nice or keep their word, and you need to respond in kind where necessary, they did not appreciate it enough to put their money where their policy was.

A more aggressive stance needs the necessary equipment and resources to back it up.

At the same time Ottawa was prepared to take a more assertive stance in peacemaking, it underfunded and undersourced the military - fewer soldiers, older equipment, and no strategic airlift to get them to where they needed to go.

To the credit of the outgoing Martin government, they did do three important things to move in the right direction: First, they increased the budget; second, through Defence Minister Bill Graham, they set the context of this new reality by preparing Canadians for the real possibility of casualties; and third, they appointed a Chief of Staff like Gen. Rick Hillier who appreciates the challenge and is keen to reshape the Canadian Forces accordingly.

The 'Canada First' defence policy put forth by Prime Minister Harper should bring us full circle in this evolution of stance.

Lester Pearson's legacy is not dead - peacekeeping is still an honourable policy and duty for international stability. But we must appreciate that keeping the peace presumes that it was there to begin with. That requires a stubborn recognition that conflicts are not always tidy affairs conducted by rational actors with a sense of honour found in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.

Certainly, Glyn Berry's death is the death of an outmoded ideal as well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Some observations on the 2006 vote

Despite the disappointment of some that Monday's Conservative win was not great enough to garner a majority, most of us would agree that a minority government is a mandate nonetheless. It gets us out of the cheap seats and, after more than a decade, it's nice to be out of the cold.

Election day, for me, was a non-stop relay race between scruitineering, doing some domestic duties on my "day off" from work, and trying to find any off-shore blog that spilled the beans before 9:30 p.m.

The last 48 have been a time of rest, relaxation, and reflection. So here's what I've come up with.

First, this government has legs. Until the Grits resolve their ascendancy issues, their legal problems, and win the Super 7 draw, they will sit tight. Ditto for the Bloc, as the writing is on the wall for them. Quebec voters are the most savvy in the country, and Duceppe's worst nightmare is that they clue in that beyond providing some cushy jobs for Pequiste hacks, they serve no purpose whatsoever. In fact, they have been a greater waste of federal tax dollars than the Sponsorship program. As for the Dippers, Jack "the 'stache" Layton also has to know that it doesn't get any better than this for him and the missus.

Second, Toronto mayor David Miller, and others who bet their paycheques on the Liberal horse are now trying to cover their losses by talking tough. Build a bridge, Prime Minister Harper, or you'll never see a seat in the GTA, or a majority mandate, which to these geniuses, is interchangable.

All I can say to Miller, McGuinty, and the Liberal cabal is to keep their hair on. Harper will build you a bridge, not because of your false bravado, but because, SURPRISE, he takes his job seriously. He wants seats there, and will earn earn them honestly.

Harper's no fool - he knows turning Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver into economic black holes might satisfy short-term penchants for vendictiveness among some Tories, but it is suicidal public policy.

The Liberal doyens of the GTA, of course, know that Harper knows. That's why they got up on their hind legs and began to bark. When Harper does what he was intending to do all along, they can claim that it was their pressure and empty threats that did it. It's about as lame as commanding your Cocker Spaniel to lay down when he is already doing so, then follow up with a "Good boy."

Finally, we have learned that politically, there is no such thing as Ontario - there are three, in fact. There is the north, where the three or four odd ridings bounce from Liberal to NDP and back again; there is the GTA, bastion of Canadian Liberalism. Most important to Mr. Harper, there is the remainder of the province, stretching from Windsor to the Quebec border. This area is painted Blue, with at least a half dozen ridings where Conservatives won with 45 to 55 percent of the popular vote.

Some call it rural and suburban Ontario, they used to call it the "Loyalist Belt", Sir John A. Macdonald used to call it home, and so do I.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Ontoryo.