Tag: canada (page 1 of 2)

WPTPN: Outlier or Laggard? Canada’s missing Neo-Nationalists

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Stewart Prest is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. His research focuses on civil conflict and non-violent resistance, and the role of local institutions in shaping patterns of contentious politics. He can be reached on Twitter @StewartPrest.

I. The Global Rise of Neo-Nationalism

Though its expression varies markedly from country to country, two aspects recur with remarkable regularity in the new populist nationalisms now sweeping much of the developed world: 1) a newfound, or perhaps rediscovered, suspicion of outsiders that often veers well into the territory of xenophobia and outright racism, and 2) a powerful new distrust of certain aspects of globalization and those who seem to benefit from it. Two different themes, but they co-occur to a remarkable degree. When they do, the result is often coloured by xenophobia and explicit racism. For ease of use, for the purposes of this essay I’ll refer to the occurrence of the two of them together as “neo-nationalism,” as some others have done.

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Why Would Legislators Want to Know Less Rather than More About Military Stuff?

The joy of blogging is that one can come up with whatever title one wants.  An agony of academic publishing is that one cannot do the same for articles published in academic journals.  However, getting published is the thing, so I am mighty pleased that the first piece of the Phil/Dave/Steve project on legislatures and oversight over the armed forces of the world’s democracies is now published: “Public critic or secretive monitor: party objectives and legislative oversight of the military in Canada.”*  The big question, of course, is how did a paper on Canada get into West European Politics?  The answer: tis part of a special issue on executive-legislative relations and foreign/defence policy.

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What Does it Mean to Promote Human Rights?

Migrants on the Hungarian border

A few months ago, I began my Duck postings with an introspective on what it’s like to have grown up in the USA and moved to Canada to start my professional career. The current context in Canada is both daunting and exciting – yes people, “We the North” have an election. In two weeks. We have three (possibly four or five) parties to choose from, only one has amazing hair, and unlike US elections with the circus of personality assassinations and general chaos that surrounds the process, the Canadian one has gone on quite civilly and remained mostly focused on real issues. There are real issues at stake here in the Canadian election – and I had a chaotic but very thought-provoking week to reflect on some human rights concerns, both in Canada’s foreign and domestic policy. I had two sets of thoughts that popped into my mind as a result of being part of two human rights-related events this past week: global leadership on human rights is exceedingly difficult; and maybe we need some leadership on human rights domestically.

First, I had the honor of moderating the annual Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and Victoria University, at the University of Toronto. This year, I got to lead a discussion between The Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, who as Former Minister of Foreign Affairs led the way to ban landmines, is a celebrated name among human rights junkies in particular (like me … if you don’t know who he is, see this), and Professor Charli Carpenter, who is a colleague whose work I’ve referenced extensively in my own research. They were responding to the topic of “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights Around the World?” which was the topic that U of T’s political science students came up with for the evening. Continue reading

A Semi-Canadian Perspective on the Academic-Policy Divide Debate

The semi-annual policy/academic divide debate is back thanks to discussions about PhDs for the policy world (Drezner v. Foust) and Galluci’s piece on the debate, with Drezner’s response.  I would guess that this event is tied to a lunar calendar as it seems to occur often but not always just after Thanksgiving.

Anyhow, I posted my views on this at Canadian International Council–the folks seeking to be the Great White North version of Foreign Policy.com.  My argument parallels Dan’s response: that academics are increasingly engaging the policy world especially through web 2.o (so the tweets about which academic books have mattered ironically miss the point), that the usual criticism that IR focuses on grand debates misses the reality that much work today is focused on problems and “middle range theory,” and that grants often require greater engagement with the policy world and the public.  I raise a big question that I will try to answer next week (it is a weekly column, more or less)–whether the problem is on our side of the divide?  Perhaps no one wants to listen to us IR scholars?

And if this is all too serious for you, I posted on my own blog why I think a Red Dawn with Canadian invaders would be more credible than North Koreans and what strategic and tactics the invaders might use.

Ranking US Allies: A Response to Stephen Walt, Andrew Sullivan & all those Canadians…

Last week, I tried to rank US allies, drawing response from both Walt and Sullivan (oh, and these guys, whose website name’ll creep you out). So here are a few responses:

1. I accept the arguments from many commenters that Turkey should be on the list. So here is a final list, a ‘top 12’ of US allies in order: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, EU/NATO, Egypt, and Turkey.

2. Walt’s expansion of my argument toward “zero-based alliance formation” formalizes my initial intuitions for US alignment-picks. He asks if the US had no allies right now, which ones would it choose, because many US allies are left-over from previous commitments that may no longer be valuable. It’s an interesting, semi-counterfactual exercise. Its logic may be a clearer way to think about US allies than my use of retrenchment to force a ranking on US allies. I think this is a pretty good paper topic actually…

Instead of my 3 proposed alliance criteria (direct security benefits to the US; how desperately a potential ally needs the US; and the values symbolism of an alignment), Walt lists 6 benchmarks: power, position, political stability, popularity, pliability, and potential impact. These are richer than mine but also make it much harder to build a ranked order. I wonder what Walt’s top 10 would be then? I think he would be harder than I am on small states. That follows insofar as realism would suggest that larger states are usually more consequential. By including values/symbolism as a criterion, I allow places like Taiwan and SK to hang on.

From my top 12, I think Walt would probably kick out Israel, Taiwan, maybe Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and SK. Japan and NATO would probably be higher, and I think Brazil would be in there, and perhaps Australia. (I didn’t include those last because I think the US has few interests in Latin America and Australia benefits from the massive Indonesian glacis.)


What’s interesting though is that neither my nor Walt’s criteria would dramatically change the US alliance structure as far as I can tell. Walt would probably wind the US down in the ME more rapidly, while retaining NATO more, and I would do the opposite. We both probably agree that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan should not make the cut. Finally, I think my benchmarks would ‘pivot’ the US toward Asia faster than Walt’s, although I am not sure. Anyone want to comment on what top 10 Walt’s benchmarks would create?

3. I was please to see that Sullivan flagged – not necessarily approved, but just noted – my argument for Indonesia as America’s most important bridge to the Muslim world. I realize this is kinda off-beat, given that the ME is what dominates our perceptions of Islam and where Islamist pathologies are worst. (Here is a critic, a neocon perhaps, calling me ‘delusional’ for ranking Indonesia this way.) So here is a quick defense, more or less along the lines of what Secretary Clinton said a few years ago.

Indonesia is a syncretic model of pluralist Islam and politics; I think this is pretty widely accepted. No, it’s not as modern and liberal as we might like, but by the standards of the region, other developing countries, and especially the OIC, it is a paragon. Let’s be honest about that. It could easily be far, far worse (think Pakistan), which is why I find it unfortunate that we don’t pay attention much. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and a friendship with Indonesia doesn’t mean avoiding tough issues, just like engaging China doesn’t mean we should ignore human rights and other similar issues.

So in its own imperfect, struggling way, Indonesia represents the future of political Islam (speaking very broadly to be sure), not the past, which is a lot of what the ME represents and what Arab Spring is trying to break. If the flat-earth religious elites of places like Iran, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia are allowed to dominate the global conversation on Islam, more conflict is likely. By contrast, Indonesia offers a possible model for Islam to live with both democratic politics and religious pluralism. That we should vigorously support such an effort, through some kind of alignment, strikes me as so self-evident, that I am amazed that we never talk about this.

Indonesia is a multiparty democracy. Its military is “conditionally subordinate” to civilian control. Its human rights record has improved since the dictatorship. Its troubles with salafism and religious tolerance are there, yes, but again, by the standards of reasonably comparable states like Egypt or Pakistan, its record is good. There has no been no major jihadist terrorism since the 2003 Marriot bombing. Jemaah Islamiah is out there and nasty, but this stuff is far less threatening, with far less hold over popular imagination, than similar movements in so many other OIC states, especially given Indonesia’s huge size. Indeed, it’s Saudi oil money funding wahhabist preaching in Indonesia that is the big salafist threat, not homegrown Indonesian clerics.

So instead of lining up with badly governed Arab autocracies as we did in the ME – alignments that create islamist blowback – doesn’t it seem far more beneficial for US to align with a (reasonably) moderate, very large country (4th biggest in the world) that also worries about China, with improving democratic credentials? Like Turkey (also on the list now), Indonesia suggests that Islam can coexist reasonably well with modernity and liberalism. Similarly, Muslims have demonstrated that they can leave in reasonable peace with non-adherents in religiously diverse states like the US, India, and Indonesia. This is great news – somebody should tell the Tea Party and remind the Christian Right that it too should be a little more tolerant. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Islam in more monocultural places like the ME would be harsher and less tolerant. So we should be grooming South and SE Asian states where tolerance is more entrenched, if only out of the sheer necessity of preventing endless internal conflict. And Indonesia is easily the leader here. Hence I ranked it at number 7.

Even ‘long war’ neocons should see the value at this point in defusing the tiresome, now fairly stalemated debate of whether Islam can find a modus vivendi in the modern world or not. Regarding this debate, places like Indonesia and Turkey are not-perfect-but-good-enough-given-current-circumstances models for Islamic democratization and the cutting edge of Islamic politics. This is why we should be attached. We want US alliances to actually get us some real value-added, not just encourage free-riding from countries that already like us. This is why Indonesia is more important than Germany or Japan. We should have learned from the Arab Spring uprisings and Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt that supporting nasty dictators in the ME breeds a politicized Islamic backlash. Huntington notoriously argued that Islam had ‘bloody borders,’ but places Indonesia blunt that disturbing logic. That is very, very good – and far more valuable to the US than aging, tired alliances like NATO.

4. Canadians got pretty passionate over this. I didn’t know that was possible. Like most Americans, I tend to assume that Canadians are Americans who simply refuse to admit that fact (sorry – couldn’t resist that one), but commenters came out swinging against the idea that Mexico might be more important to the US or that Canada might ever be a ‘threat’ to the US (which I never meant to imply btw). One even argued that Canada is more politically stable than the US. Hah! … oh, wait, that’s probably true… Sad smile. Generally, I think Canada kinda gets screwed by being our neighbor – they get stuck with every bad idea we come up with and chain-ganged into it whether they like it or not. So, thanks, Canada, sticking with us even after we elected W. Yes, we’re kind of embarrassed about that now. Enjoy that vid above.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

The Civil-Military Relations of Footwear

I have never really paid attention to shoes, my own or those of the opposite sex.  But the past year has taught me that one form of footwear seems to be most important: boots.  Boots on the ground vs no boots on the ground.  Politicians making promises about no boots on the ground were all the rage last year at this time–that the US, Canada, and the rest of NATO would meet the language of non-occupation in the UN resolution governing the Libyan intervention by not putting any boots on the ground.

What is lovely about this is that we now have essentially termed all ground-pounders (soldiers, marines) as a form of footwear.  The irony is that these boots are made for, well, not walking in peace-keeping missions and actually draw a line in the sand (sorry, cannot help myself) between the less risky forms of intervention–naval embargoes, no fly zones, air strikes–and ground combat.

Of course, the idea of no boots on the ground would then set a clear distinction, right?  Oh, but the Brits and the French (and perhaps the uncharacteristically quieter Americans) taught us a lesson in Libya: Special Operations Forces do not wear boots.  Or at least, our image of them as bare-footed ninjas (thanks @cdacdai for that) or perhaps their use of secret sauce makes them an acceptable exception.  Boots we cannot see or hear do not count against the “no boots on the ground” promise.  Of course, that is one of the key reasons to use SOF–to cut corners in existing promises, regulations and even legislation.  In Afghanistan, more than a few countries had SOF doing what their caveated conventional forces could not do.

Why the focus on the bare-footed folks tonight?  Because the US has asked the Aussies and Canadians to stick around in Afghanistan past 2014 in a military capacity, something that the Canadians have foresworn.  But the US request is chock full of guile–asking these two allies to deploy SOF.  In the Canadian case, as my twitter-conversation partner Phil Lagassé is tweeting now, there are different norms for parliamentary involvement in deployments.  With large conventional forces, there is a contested norm about submitting to parliament such decisions.  With small SOF, there is not–they can come and go as they please.  With the parliamentarians on the defence committee lacking security clearnances, the SOF and their management by the Minister of National Defence are even more invisible than the latest cloak of invisibility.

It will be interesting to see what Stephen Harper decides.  Given the minimal risks (especially if these boots are only for training Afghans), that his current majority continues, and that Canadian customs and parliamentary limitations means that he can control news about the SOF pretty damned tightly, my guess is that Harper goes ahead with the US request.

Six Years of Gay Marriage in Canada and the World Did Not End

Fact: 6 years after gay marriage
Happy Cat is still happy.

It’s the 6th anniversary of gay marriage in Canada and – financial meltdowns in Europe and America aside – the world hasn’t ended. Society has remained intact. Babies are being born, flowers are blooming, a Canadian hockey team still can’t win the Stanley Cup and otters are still cute.

Actually, Canada is more than fine. In an article in the Calgary Herald, Naomi Lakritz argues:

While divorce rates have increased greatly since the introduction of Divorce Laws in 1968, actual divorce rates have been decreasing in Canada since the 1990s. The 50 per cent (failure rate) fallacy is false . . . In Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia, the Yukon and Nunavut, the total number of new divorce cases has declined six per cent over the four-year period ending in 2008/2009,” says an IMF news release.
Indeed, while divorces per 100,000 population reached 362.3 in 1987, they were down to 220.7 per 100,000 in 2005, the year same-sex marriage became law. So much for the myth that same-sex marriage would aid the dissolution of straight marriages. They dissolve quite nicely on their own, thanks to their internal dynamics, such as domestic violence, alcoholism, gambling and infidelity. These figures, by the way, come from such eminent sources as the Vanier Institute of the Family and Statistics Canada.
And, according to Statistics Canada, “the number of marriages in the country was 149,236 in 2006, down nearly 2,000 from the previous year, but up from 148,585 in 2004.” Looks like some sort of minor demographic blip occurred there in 2006, but that figure is still up from 2004, when much of the silly fearmongering was taking place prior to Bill C-38 being passed.
Indeed, a November 2009 report entitled Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences, by Anne-Marie Ambert of York University in Toronto, found that “divorce rates have gone down substantially during the 1990s and have remained at a lower level since 1997, with minor yearly fluctuations.”

So clearly ALL of the predictions of the religious right have come true…. in that they haven’t. At all.

Considering that less than 30 years ago that many people were arrested, committed or persecuted for homosexuality in many Western countries, the progress has been impressive, (no matter what might be coming out of the mouths of Tea-Partiers.) A list of countries/regions/areas/cities with same-sex marriage or civil unions is impressive and growing. Even if it is a little patchy in America, there is clear momentum in support for equal marriage rights. Obama supporting the Respect for Marriage Act is a positive (if slightly delayed) step forward.

Obviously, it’s not a totally rosy picture. It’s still a crime punishable by death in 7 countries and homosexual acts are outlawed by 113. The Uganda situation is particularly odious. But even the UN Human Rights Council has taken the step of passing its first resolution on LGBT persons in June. Even if there is still a lot of work to do, there seems to be a decent amount of momentum (and opposition).

And best wishes to New Yorkers getting ready to take the plunge!

Cross-posted at The Cana-Blog

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission: an outlier in the international transitional justice industry

Did you know Canada has a truth and reconciliation commission operating right now? It seems neither do most Canadians. The Canadian TRC was initiated to address the history and legacies of the former residential school system for Canada’s indigenous population, or First Nations. First Nations children were taken from their homes- siblings often separated- and placed into residential schools, which operated from 1870 until 1993. These children were forbidden from, and punished for, using their native languages or practicing customs or religious ceremonies. Within many of the schools children were sexually, verbally, and physically abused. Shame, silence, cultural degradation, separated families, and inter-student and intergenerational abuse include some of the many detrimental legacies of the residential schools.

The Canadian case, and its position as an outlier provokes provocative questions about so called international transitional justice mechanisms, tensions between local and international justice norms, and accountability for the legacies of colonization.

Determinants of Outlier Status
No “Complimentarity”
with other international justice mechanisms: After the South African TRC, most truth commissions were established to compliment punitive judicial institutions. Unlike other recent commissions such as the ones in Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia, in which the TRC operated alongside an international court, the Canadian TRC was the result of a court order and “The purpose of the commission is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to create a historical account of the residential schools, help people to heal, and encourage reconciliation between aboriginals and non-aboriginal Canadians.”

Timing and Funding: The Canadian TRC has an initial operating budget of $60 million and a mandate to operate over the course of 5 years. In addition, the Canadians set aside almost 2 billion dollars for Common Experience Payments- restitution payments for survivors of residential schools. In contrast the Liberian TRC had a meager budget of only a couple of million dollars. After only 3 years of operation (from 2006-2009) the TRC in Liberia had its funding slashed, leaving thousands of testimonies were out of the archive and pages of the report unedited. Sierra Leone’s TRC only operated for two years from 2002-2004. Initially it had a paltry budget of $1 million but the final costs of the commission were closer to $9 million.

Local versus international: The truth is that most ‘international’ TRCs- including those in the former Yugoslavia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, and Uganda- are largely initiated and directed by western institutions. In particular, the United Nations and the International Center for Transitional Justice has been the driving force behind global TRCs. With funding coming from external donors (George Soros was a major funder of the Liberian TRC, for example) and international experts steering the process, questions remain as to the local relevance of truth commissions. In initial research done by myself and my co-authors- Mohamed Sesay and Michal Ben Joseph-Hirsh- we found that the majority of Sierra Leoneans did not understand the mandate of the TRC in their country. The majority never had access to the final report and few link the TRC to lasting peace in their country. Conversely, the Canadian TRC has been funded and guided by Canadians. National events, including an upcoming event in Northern Canada are being held across the country to allow different populations to participate and the commission mandate includes the establishment of healing practices relevant to Canadian First Nations populations, including healing circles.

While most Canadians would be hard pressed to tell you anything about the commission, the motivation behind the commission and the way in which its mandate is being implemented has important implications for those interested in international truth commissions and transitional justice. The Canadian TRC is one of dozens of truth commissions operating internationally today. After the South African TRC, truth commissions became normalized as a necessary element of recovery after atrocities or conflict. By 2006 over 40 truth commissions were operating globally, vigorously supported by both the United Nations and the International Center for Transitional Justice.

Certainly the Canadian TRC is not perfect and without its challenges- several of the commissioners resigned in the early stages and national events had to be delayed. However, the commitment and locally relevant approach to the commission should inspire the international transitional justice industry to rethink their own mandates. Perhaps more importantly, the commission will shed some light on race relations more broadly, the potential for colonizing governments and formerly colonized peoples to learn from their shared history, and the significance of colonizer governments acknowledging their role in past atrocities as well as the legacies of those actions. Canadians and the rest of the world should also be watching to see how former colonizing forces are able to acknowledge past atrocities and possibly repair a historically antagonistic relationship.

Cana-dammerung: A belated final post on the Canadian Election

Cry the beloved country.

Well it’s been just over two weeks since the Canadian Election – and I am much overdue for the long promised third installment of the snoozefest series that I started. In some ways I’m glad I waited to write my reply: first, because I was contemplating throwing myself off of Tower Bridge. In a moment of panic on the morning after the election I formed the Government of Canada in Exile (please join!) but I think I have calmed down now and have a new appreciation for the UK visa renewal process. Second, because I wanted to actually spend some time thinking about the implication of Canada’s first majority government since 2006.


So, what did I think?

Basically nothing. I actively ignored it. I’ve been bogged down with exams, international affairs (that OBL thing) and not quite willing to face up to the fact that Canada just handed this guy a majority mandate.

So, what am I making up off of the top of my head?

Lots!

Canada before/after 2011 election

(For the too long/didn’t read crowd, this graphic should sum up everything up nicely.)

As a re-cap (just in case you were, for some reason, more interested in the bin Laden shooting) The centre-right Conservatives (Tories) got a solid majority government. The Liberal Party of Canada, lead by academic/public intellectual/did-not-come-back-for-you carpet bagging Michael Ignatieff, had its worst showing in its party history with only 40 seats. By comparison, in 1993, the Liberal Party had 177 seats (177!). Canada was one big red party. Instead, the New Democratic Party, lead by Mustachio-in-Chief Jack Layton, is now the leader of the Opposition which has never happened before and giving unfortunate choices in facial hair a new lease on life.

Finally, and perhaps the best news for Canadian nationalists since “money and the ethnic vote” helped keep the nation together, the Bloc Qubecois were completely decimated – going from 54 to 4 (FOUR!) seats. My extremely superficial comment on this would be that you can only be a one trick pony for so long, BQ; People want other things too.

Oh, and Elizabeth May, (a Yankee!!!)  the leader of Canada’s Green Party, won a seat , but the party did not do well overall as progressives apparently lined up to vote for the NDP instead.

A couple of interesting things here

Our new Official Opposition

  1. Harper won his majority government with 40% of the vote. The split ‘left’ vote (now into three parties: Liberal – though there are centre-right Liberals as well – NDP , Green) may mean that Conservatives will have an advantage to come…
  2. …so long as Harper can keep his party together. While he did not have a majority, he had an excuse not to move on socially conservative legislation. We’ll see if he does now. Certainly, I think we can expect foreign funding for issues that social conservatives do not like (birth control, abortions, etc) to be cut further as a pacifying measure. However, last week there was a large demonstration against abortion rights on Parliament Hill (admittedly an annual event). To what extent will Harper listen to these individuals (many from the west) in his caucus? An article in the Globe and Mail pointed out that Harper now has more MPs from Ontario than Alberta – will he have to take (more libertarian) Ontario more seriously now?
  3. Many of the new NDP candidates are just as surprised to be elected as many Canadians are to see them. It seems quite clear that many figured they did not really stand a chance in the election – particularly in Quebec. Yet, with the “Layton surge”, they have found themselves wisked into the House of Commons with some interesting results:
    a) Several of the candidates are university students (some who have been taught by co-Duck blogger Steven Saideman at McGill). Canada just elected its youngest MPs – it will be the first time that those under 25 will be so well represented… although all in the Opposition benches.
    b) To show you how bizarre the situation has become, we have the story of Ruth Ellen Brosseau. Don’t let the French name fool you! Despite the fact that she represents what seems to be an entirely francophone district, she doesn’t actually speak French. She may actually have never been to the ridding (electoral district for you who keep asking me what a ridding is and saying “that’s so cute”. >:-( ) and she spent much of the election in Las Vegas. While she’s already been a focal-point of criticism, I think this story implies much that might happen in the next Parliament…
  4. It’s Amateur Hour. And that might be a good and bad thing. The bad is obviously that the NDP has never had to be ‘responsible’ before in a national government. They’re not going to know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of the system in the same way that, say, the Liberals do. They have many new people and Layton is going to have to organize a shadow cabinet for the first time that represents Canada. There are going to be a lot of mistakes made. That being said, the good is that these new individuals are going to be full of enthusiasm. They are not career politicians, but fresh faces of people who were hopefully motivated for the right reasons. Perhaps this means that they are going to do a good job of holding the government to account. While experience is valuable, things can also get stale.
  5. The long and painful Liberal demise. I don’t have enough time, space, hair-to-pull-out to go into a lengthy discussion here. (Check out Taylor Owen and Dave Eaves on this, he’s had some earlier op-eds too.) Needless to say, the party needs to find a balance between starting from ground zero and drawing on past traditions that have brought the party success. Good luck with that.
For those of us who are (admittedly) anti-Harper (I’m guessing you’ve already figured that out), it may not be as bad as it seems. There was a lot of speculation that Harper might calm down once he got the majority government he craved. (This was the opinion of the Economist, and Globe and Mail.) He might. Apparently we’re back to calling the government the “Government of Canada” rather than “the Harper Government”. That’s nice. I hear Mubarak-style branding ain’t going very well anyways.

Additionally, beside the NDP, the Tories elected some new and interesting MPs – in particular Chris Alexander, the former UN-Representative and foreign affairs wunderkind. I only briefly met him once when he gave a talk in London, but those who know him better than I say very good things about him.

Yet after yesterday’s cabinet was unveiled, it’s clear that Harper has just kept pretty much everyone in the same place. Including – shockingly – Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda in place. (Not much space here to go into the story – suffice to say she was found guilty of lying to Parliament, political interference into an evaluation process and really just being terrible.) Given that he has elected talent like Alexander, I find this HUGELY disappointing. My only hope is that he wants to get Alexander warmed up in his job as MP before he receives a government position in the next shuffle, probably in 12-18 months.  

As for the one of the only big changes: John Baird, the Tory rabid-seal-insta-shout-hack-attack-machine-on-two-legs, you can read my hysterical reaction here. Poor DFAIT. Pity the workers there, my internet friends. The only hope here is that Baird’s good relationship with Harper means that we might actually get something of a coherent foreign policy – a much neglected portfolio

In effect, all of this means that he’s opted for continuity (and I would say incompetence) rather than change.

More griping to come, I’m sure. In the meantime, I will probably keep most of my Cana-blogging over at the Cana-blog while the drinking struggle continues. 

Canadian Spring

If Stephanie can blog about Canadian politics as an ex-pat who cannot vote because residing in the UK, why cannot I comment on the election as an American ex-pat who cannot vote despite residing in Quebec?  I am not an expert on Canadian politics, but, as my blog testifies, a lack of expertise has never stopped me before.  So, here are my thoughts on the second night of surprises this week.  I will explain the title later, but first consider the parties in turn and the historic outcome.

  1. The Tories failed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  This was most out of character.  I guess Harper was right to limit the number of questions he would answer per day to five.  This is a horrible precedent to set, but really shows what a crappy job the other parties did of putting Harper on the defensive.  If they had pushed harder and been more creative/clever, then Harper would have had to speak more.   Instead, he didn’t have to worry.  He didn’t necessarily control the agenda during the campaign, but none of the other parties really did either.  
  2. The NDP came in second, which came to be expected towards the end of the campaign, but did far better than anyone had a right to expect.  What were the keys to success?
    1. Not being the Liberals or the Bloc.
    2. Jack Layton.  The most dynamic, interesting, and Prime Ministerial of the candidates (Harper included).
    3. Having Orange as their color finally paid off.  Sure, they could not build rhyming slogans around their color, but their opponents could not come up with nasty songs and rhymes either.  Good defensive color scheme.
    4. Building on a young group of McGill current and former students in Quebec.  Yes, four students (three current, one former) won seats in Parliament.  I had three of them in my classes (which is not hard since I teach a 600 student intro to IR class every fall).  I just hope one of them lands on foreign or defence committees.
    5. They effectively pandered.  They promised Quebeckers to open up the constitution, to respect a referendum without concern for its clarity (contrary to exiting law and Supreme Court rulings), and only posted signs in Quebec en francais. 
  3. The Liberals are so very toasted.  When your leader is described as Kerry-esque, that cannot be a good thing.  In so short of a time frame, the party went from dominating the political system election after election to a minority government to leading opposition to afterthought.  Why?  Well, the last two PM candidates have had zero charisma, the party is still paying the price for past scandals, and their party platform this time around focused almost solely on their not being the Tories.  Not a very positive program.  And the series of elections over the past several years apparently bankrupted them. 
  4. The Bloc?  Oh my.  From starting the campaign with dreams of having even more seats in the province and “proving” that the public favors sovereigntist parties down to two seats.  Hard to believe that the Bloc could do worse than the Liberals, but they did.  Why?  The argument has been that Quebeckers want strong representation in Ottawa to protect the province’s interests.  It was not surprising, too much, to see Liberal voters abandon their party and go to the NDP, apparently Quebeckers did not find the Bloc protection either effective or necessary (don’t really know which yet).  More on Quebec later today at my blog.

I think there are two big keys to this election:

  • First Past the Post can combine with four parties to produce funky outcomes.  That is, we are in part surprised because individuals had three to four real choices across the country.  So, they could walk in the ballot box and either hate the Tories and vote NDP or hate the Liberals and vote Tory (or NDP).  The electoral system is well known to exaggerate pluralities into majorities and worked to perfection here with the Conservatives getting 167 seats or so despite only getting 40% of the vote.  The other parties divided the rest of the vote and ended up getting 47% of the seats.
    • Electoral reform?  Um, ha!  Not going to happen when it benefits the big parties.  Funny that the Liberals now may favor it since they are a lesser party.
    • As one McGill grad student put it on his facebook page (not an NDP candidate), there is a certain inexorability about Duverger’s Law.  That is, First Past the Post tends to produce a two party system unless there is an ethnic group that is regionally concentrated (if I remember my Comparative Political Institutions class right).  With the Bloc being crushed, Canada is as close to a two party system as it has been in a long time. 
  • My reference to Canadian Spring.  A key dynamic in the Arab world as been the sudden realization of hidden preferences (a la Timur Kuran).  In each country, people did not protest or dissent that much until they saw others doing so, reducing the risks to themselves as they saw their preferred outcome now possible and perhaps even probably.  Well, in Canada, people had been voting strategically for years–for the Liberals to deny the Tories a majority, for the Bloc Quebecois to deny the Tories a majority and to give Quebec some influence in government.  But apparently not just Liberal voters were holding their collective noses.  The Bloc ones were as well.  So, the key turning point in this election was when the polls indicated that a NDP vote was not a wasted one.  Indeed, who do we have to blame for this election outcome?  Perhaps the pollsters for making it appear that the NDP had a chance.  Otherwise, people might have kept voting the old way, more or less.
    • To be clear, I certainly do not want to compare Harper to the democrats who have arisen to lead Egypt.  Oops, maybe that does work with the military still in charge there, as Harper shows very few democratic impulses.  He has over-centralized decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office, limited transparency (would it be better to say “increased opacity”?), and evaded what little parliamentary oversight there has been (not much to begin with, really).  
    • Funny that I saw lots of effort by my Progressive friends to encourage strategic voting–figure out which person in your riding had the best chance to defeat the Tory candidate–to prevent a Conservative Majority.  It failed miserably. Maybe one should let people strategically vote by themselves?

We are in for some interesting times (well, interesting to and for Canadians).  Phil Lagasse has kicked off his new blog with his thoughts on what it means for defence policy.  I will have to think more about it since I blogged mostly about what would happen if the NDP/Liberals formed a coalition.

Like the experts, this amateur (that is, me) expected a Conservative Minority government with little significant changes.  Nice to know I can be dramatically wrong.  Oh, I get evidence of that every day?  Never mind.

The 2011 Canadian Election: Lessons Learned and Mindless Amateur Speculation

Canadian democracy rests in this man’s hands.

Yesterday I provided a fully superficial background and survey of developments regarding the 2011 Canadian Election. The short version is 1) We’ve had a series of minority governments. 2) Stephen Harper probably thought he could get a majority, and now that does not seem likely though it is still possible. 3) The NDP has ‘surged’, probably at the Liberal’s expense, but also very much at the expense of the Quebec nationalist/separatist Bloc Party and possibly even that of the Tories (who may have expected disappointed Liberals to flock right rather than left.)

In other words – no one has any idea what is going to happen. ThreeHundredandEight has a post on what would happen if the parties achieved their ‘vote ceiling’ ie) how many seats they would get if everyone who says they are going to vote for them actually does. So a majority government for the Tories is still possible (they have a pretty dedicated party followers. One might say rabid, but that is unkind. Just don’t date any…)

So, based on the fact that we are in electoral terra incognita if the polls are right, what can we possibly say we have learned from the election?

This is a horrible lie.
  1. As I have been periodically moaning about, (and is most important for Duck readers) foreign policy does not matter in elections in Western democracies unless something has gone, really, really wrong. I posted a list of 12 questions I would like to see answered by the parties – and that still stands outside of an election. Let’s see what’s in the new Speech from the Throne (which is the government agenda which sets the tone for all policies). My fellow blogger Steve Saideman has some speculation here as to what might happen in the future. Also, James Joyner at Outside the Beltway wrote a good response to my post. 
  2. The Liberals have not been able to present themselves as a good alternative to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. This is rather obvious considering the position they are in. But the point is that they have not really presented themselves as anything other than a less-right-wing version of the Tories. And Ignatieff has simply not been able to convince individuals that he would make a good leader. I think suspect that Iggy will be exiting stage-right (left? centre?) from Canadian politics in a few days.
    I wonder why this didn’t work out? I have a few ideas – the damage of a decade of political in-fighting to be sure. Additionally the Liberal Party is broke and does not have a lot of money to draw on to fight – and it has had to fight three times in the past five years. It just doesn’t have the resources to launch a massive against the Conservative electoral machine (affectionately known as the ‘war room’). A lot of it may have been Iggy’s inability to fight a characterization of him as a carpet-bagger or (*shock*) intellectual.
  3. Do Canadians like intellectuals? This is more of a question than a lesson learned. I had always thought that Canadians were more open to “smartypants” than their neighbours to the south, but this may be a mischaracterization on both fronts. For instance, a few years ago I had a (very partisan) Tory friend tell me that unlike that over-educated professor (I forget if it was Dion or Ignatieff – both have PhDs), Stephen Harper was a ‘real’ Canadian who could identify with him and his problems. I did have to point out to said friend that Stephen Harper has two university degrees and is writing a book on the history of hockey in his spare time. It ain’t exactly clearing brush in Texas. Yet it’s only recently that Harper has been portrayed by the Tories as a ‘trained economist’ that can help Canada grow. Harper is a smart, smart man. He may not openly pontificate like Ignatieff, but he’s clever and well educated. Why hide that fact?
    Perhaps I’m reflecting wrongly on the nature of Canadian Prime Ministers, or the legacy of Pierre Trudeau, our “philosopher king” who was a very long serving Prime Minister. I always thought his persona as an intellectual added to his mystique, which seemed very good at getting him elected over and over and over. Maybe Canada is tired of Trudeaus? Maybe not? It will be interesting to see how this pans out. As a final note here, I would just argue that I do not detect much presentation of Layton as an ‘intellectual’ in the NDP campaign. He’s running on experience, and as a career politician, he has lots of it – though not much in actual power…
  4. Canadians do not seem to care about the mis-management of government. I made this point yesterday. But the point stands. There have been so many government scandals in the past five years that I have lost track. The Tories were elected back in 2006 on the idea that they would bring transparency and ethical behaviour back to government after the sponsorship scandal affected the Liberal Party. So much for that! Yet it does not seem to bother many Canadians. How else can you explain Harper’s leadership ratings? Or the fact that despite the fact that he has literally been held in contempt of Parliament, his ministers have been caught in bare-faced lies (yet not forced to resign) and he continuously shuts down any independent monitoring of his government actions (not to mention it would appear that the G20 summit funding went insanely out of control) that his party will still likely be the government next week.
  5. Finally, there are Maclean’s writer Paul Wells’ Rules of Canadian Politics
    1. For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome.
    2. If everyone in Ottawa knows something, it’s not true.
    3. The candidate in the best mood wins.
    4. The guy who auditions for the role of opposition leader will get the job

Of these four rules, I would say number one is definitely out – I haven’t been this interested in AGES. Number two is probably true but doesn’t apply. Number three seems to be where it’s at. Is Harper in the best mood? No. Smiling would break the man’s face. Layton is in the best mood (and why wouldn’t he be? His party is doing better than it EVER has. He may not win, but he is winning.

As for number four – I’m not even sure that Michael Ignatieff is going to get that job.

Michael Ignatieff after Monday.



Finally – What We May Speculate Uselessly and Far Removed From the Situation

First, of our four national parties, three will have new leaders by the end of the year – IF:

  1. The Tories get a minority government with less seats than they presently have (possible)
  2. The Bloc fair horribly in Quebec (seems likely)
  3. The Liberals fall to third place (very possible. Likely even.)

Second, some controversial thinking: Will the NDP be like the LibDems in the UK? Possibly. I speculated a bit about this on Twitter – and got a mixed response. But I think there are a lot of similarities:

a. Popular leaders of national parties that can attract a lot of soft-left votes
b. Ability to present the party as an alternative to the mainstream
c. Will likely be responsible for a Conservative government shy of a majority.

What’s the difference here? The LibDems made the fateful decision to actually enter into power with the Conservatives. I’m pretty sure this will not be possible in a Canadian scenario – the Conservatives and NDP are very far apart on a number of issues. They are on opposite sides of the admittedly (narrow) political spectrum. And I think most NDP supporters would just rather stab their eyes out with a rusty spoon.

This leaves two options: the Liberals could form a coalition with the Tories – which would be hilarious, awful and INSANELY hypocritical concerning all of the campaigning Harper did against (perfectly legitimate) coalitions. Or the Liberals and the NDP, if they have enough seats, may try to form a coalition (or understanding) without the Bloc (who seem destined to do badly, unless they get their supporters out in a BIG way). This is what the Tories have warned though – and considering that the Liberals would (humiliatingly) be the junior partner, I think they would sit this dance out. But it’s not certain….

There have been some stories in the press that Harper will not comment on what he will do if his party does not have a majority, or if the NDP and the Liberals do decide to form a coalition. There has even been some speculation that he will not re-establish the government back to Ottawa. Given the fact that he is willing to prorogue parliament – twice – to stay in power, I think this is a possible outcome. But ultimately, I’d like to think it is an unlikely one. We don’t need Canada turning into Belgium. And I would hope that the man who puts so much emphasis on his ability to lead a ‘stable’ Canada would not do anything so foolish.

Next post on Tuesday: The fall out. Things be changing? Maybe? Possibly?!

The 2011 Canadian Election: I don’t even know

Last year I was much better at blogging about the UK General Election. I thought it was going to be incredibly boring, but then there was the rise of a third party in an unexpected way which changed the balance of power.

This year with Canada’s turn to re-stack the deck, I thought the election was going to be incredibly boring, but then there was the rise of a third party in an unexpected way which very well may change the balance of power.

It’s always a bit hard for me to gage the interest/reaction of Duck readers about the election. Apparently about 4.6% of the hits to the Duck are from Canada. So I don’t know if people know or care. Even the venerable Dan Drezner managed to tweet out “FT headline “Crowds Cheer Royal Newlyweds” rivals “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” in its sheer banality” to which all I can say is, take off, eh?!

Over three posts I am going to reflect on the Canadian election: 1) the set up 2) what we have learned 3) the result (after the result on 2 May). Let the mindless speculation begin!

If you are familiar with Canadian politics, please skip the next two paragraphs.

The ground rules are this: Canada has a parliamentary system like that of the UK. We have a number of different political parties (also like the UK). The major parties are: the Conservative Party (the right-ish party) who has most recently formed minority governments for five years; the Liberal Party (the centrist party) who had governed the country 13 years before that but has sputtered under a series of leaders since 2005; the New Democratic Party (the left party – we’re talking VERY PALE PINK compared to Europe) who has never been in power; the Bloc Quebecois (the Quebec Separtist party) that has dominated Quebec-national politics since the 1990s. There is also a Green Party (environmentalists, more left-ish) which does not currently hold any seats.

Results of 2008 Election.
We be divided, yo.

Increasingly, Canadians have voted regionally. Major urban cities (Vancouver, Toronto) vote Liberal, the country and Alberta tend to vote conservative (our ‘Red States’) and Quebecers tend to vote for the Bloc (not necessarily because they are separatist, but because they believe that a party that is dedicated to Quebec interests will do the best job of representing them.) The end result is that since 2006 we have had a series of minority governments.

You can read now Canada-philes.

So what have we learned from this election?

Well, it’s all gone a wee bit crazy. Actually, a lot crazy. I leave the country and look what happens?! Black is white. Day is night. People are putting motor oil on their pancakes and then using maple syrup to lubricate their engines. People are contemplating electing a third party (which has not really ever gone beyond 15-20% in national popularity) to the Official Opposition, if not government. For the first time ever, the lefti-ish NDP looks like it will play a major role in government.

This rise has come at the expense of the Liberals – who have not been able to find their voice now for nearly a decade. I admit that I had hopes for Michael Ignatieff – but Canadians (like my parents, for example) never took to him; they don’t know who he is and never bothered to get to know him. The Liberals were simply unable to introduce him and unsuccessful in countering the pretty nasty paintbrush the Conservatives painted him with. (“He didn’t come back for you!!!) As such the Liberals are preparing for their worst showing in Canadian history (since 1867 as were sorting this ‘responsible government’ thing out.)

But if this has come at the expense of the Liberals, it has also come at the surprise of the Conservatives – if not also their expense. This was supposed to be the election where Stephen Harper got his majority and you can understand why he felt this way.

  1. The vote on the centre-left is split in such a way that has allowed the Conservatives to dominate the political scene. (It was quite the opposite in the 1990s when two centre-right parties split the right vote between them, allowing the Liberals to govern. This eventually allowed for a ‘unite the right’ movement which brought us the current Conservative Party.)
  2. Canadians are apathetic. Harper quite literally shut down the government when he didn’t like what was going on. He shut down a democracy because he thought he was going to lose power not once – but twice. And Canadians simply didn’t care. His government has shut down watchdogs, silenced critics (internal and external). I could give you a list of scandals but it would take up a LOT of room. But Canadians, really, really, really don’t care. Why? Things are kinda good. Our economy is relatively okay and Harper has yet to really go for the social issues that would really anger a lot of people. (Abortion – apparently off the table, gay marriage, etc.) So why should Canadian’s care if Harper ‘prorogues’ parliament – when they probably don’t even know what that means. The bills are paid, their gay son will have a fabulous wedding and there’s an all night marathon of 87 Kids and Counting on TLC.
  3. Harper has managed to successfully convince Canadians that a coalition of parties forming the government is an undemocratic and bad thing. This is a horrible indictment of the knowledge of Canadians about their own system of government – but it’s something that the Conservatives have taken advantage of. He has painted such a move (perfectly legitimate in a parliamentary democracy as we see in Europe) as reckless and dangerous. As such, every campaign speech has not been about what the Conservatives are going to do, but rather about STOPPING THE COALITION – which so far doesn’t actually exist.

So, painting himself as the safe and stable choice – “CHAOS IS LAPPING AT OUR SHORES”. (LAPPING!) Harper was in a reasonable position to believe that a majority government was in his grasp. When his government fell at the end of March (we do that – governments can be voted down in the House of Commons if they don’t have support, but elections must be held every 5 years at a minimum) I’m sure he wasn’t feeling so bad. His party was doing well in the polls and his party’s main rivals, the Liberals, were weak. The stage was set for the Conservatives to make a large break-through in traditional Liberal strongholds (Toronto, but especially its surrounding suburbs). As such, Conservative fire was aimed squarely at the Liberals.

May be it was too effective?

Don’t trash the ‘stache?

Sure, Canadians have been dumping the Ignatieff Liberals, but so far it seems they have turned not to Harper, but to Jack Layton – the very likeable and moustachioed leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) – which has SURGED in the polls. This leads me to believe that Canada is the only country in the world where someone with a moustache can be elected as a viable candidate. (Pre-1920s American leaders do not count.)

The polls (as of 29 April) have Layton’s party somewhere between 33-36% compared to Harper’s 35-38%. And the strange thing is that this ‘surge’ has come from Quebec of all places – as apparently they are sick of the other three parties which have dominated their province for decades and they are looking for something new. There has been some controversy over the way Jack Layton has courted the vote there (it gets way too complicated to explain at the end of an already long blog post – read this if you care) but regardless of strategy, the NDP have become the new alternative to the Tories. And apparently the Liberals and Bloc.

This is what I think Michael Ignatieff is
probably feeling like right now.

The Conservatives, for their part, have struggled to turn the ship around and aim fire at Layton. We started to see that this week with talk about how NDP carbon policies would increase gas prices by 10 cents per litre (Although gas prices have pretty much doubled already under Harper?) And now the scummiest story of the election. But it’s late in the day – many Canadians have changed their minds and with only two days left to campaign, Canada could be in for a real electoral shake up. If it pans out the way ThreeHundredAndEight (don’t laugh Nate Silver) says it will, Harper will not get his majority government, the NDP will form the official opposition and the Liberals are going to be very sad pandas indeed.

I honestly can’t wait to see what happens. Has Canada found its white moustachioed Obama? Apparently, “We Can Do This”.

Standing Up for Multiculturalism? or “Where I find myself agreeing with the Prime Minister of Canada and that the dirt won’t come off.”

I am very, very ethnic.

For those of you who weren’t following Canadian politics this week (I’m assuming that’s 98% of the Duck audience) the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC or “Tories”) took a lot of flack this week for calling up supporters and asking them to wear “ethnic” costumes. This is, of course, to make the Tories look more diverse and possibly have another colour of hair in their audience than white. The flack, in my opinion, is well deserved – minorities are not well staged photo-ops. They are, however, a group that all political parties have tried to reach out to.

Liberals have traditionally had much success in the Greater Toronto Area, and other major urban zones by promoting immigration (or at least seeming to) such as policies which reuniting families when one member has come over. But, at the same time this has caused a certain amount of concern and resentment among Canadians (I’m referring especially to Anglo-Canadians, Franco-Quebeckers in a moment) who see “ethnic” communities being established that do not integrate, want to change Canada or, at worst, support illiberal policies and groups.


In particular, there is a certain Tory electoral base who resent multiculturalism and feel that immigrants should become “Canadian” (whatever that might be.) In Quebec, this is even more so – and the government has put a lot of resources into not only trying to attract highly-skilled immigrants, but then also offer them French lessons, courses on liberal values, etc. The dark sides of this, at least in my opinion, were the farce that was the Bouchard-Taylor Commission (on the accommodation of minorities) in 2007-8 and the bill to ban the niqab. (One can tolerate a niqab without approving of it. It’s not that hard!)

I would not consider myself an expert on multiculturalism – although I have blogged about it before. The UK (where I live) is in the throes of a debate over the concept, with the Prime Minister coming out strongly against it – but not actually articulating an alternative policy, other than an undefined “muscular liberalism”. (Hey look – someone made a blog about it! Although it seems to be a pretty white crowd? ) The concept seems to be unpopular in the UK because many seem to see multiculturalism as the reason why the UK has Islamic extremism, ghettos, violence, etc. Multiculturalism is that which has, in British eyes, allowed communities to insulate themselves as opposed to integrate themselves.

As such, British governments under Blair, Brown and now Cameron seem to want to assert “British values” but they have never been able to agree as to what those are – at least since I’ve been in the country, and that’s going on ten years.

My concern is that I think many misunderstand the potential of the concept and I think the UK denigrates the concept at its own risk. For me, multiculturalism is not about “living and let living” without question. That’s a ridiculous kind of pluralism. Rather, I’ve always seen it as an exchange of tradition and culture – with emphasis on the exchange. Insulation is not multiculturalism.

So colour me very surprised when I read a column by Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star who, reflecting on the recent leader’s debate in Canada, praises the Prime Minister’s take on multiculturalism in the debate and, dare I say it, his defence of the concept. (It’s worth quoting Siddiqi’s take on the debate at length).[Quick Canadian politics primer – Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister and Gilles Duceppe is the leader of the nationalist/separatist Bloq Quebecois who have taken a pro bi-lingual/bi-cultural and anti—multicultural stance in the party platforms]

Harper, speaking last in that exchange, eschewed personal sentimentality and got straight to the heart of the matter:

“We favour multiculturalism.

“What Canadians need to understand about multiculturalism is that people who make the hard decision to … come here, they first and foremost want to belong to this country … They also at the same time will change our country.

“And we show through multiculturalism our willingness to accommodate their differences, so they are more comfortable.

“That’s why we’re so successful integrating people as a country. I think we’re probably the most successful country in the world in that regard.”

He went to defend the record levels of immigration under his watch.

“We are the first government to maintain a vigorous and strong and open-door immigration policy during a recession, because we’re focused on the long-term interest of Canada and the Canadian economy.”

Other exchanges followed. In his third turn at the topic, Harper challenged Duceppe more directly:

“Let me just also question what you keep saying, that somehow multiculturalism is incompatible with being a Quebecer.

“You know, there’s lots of people in this country who speak English who don’t come from an English or a British background.

“One can retain their culture and their cultural identity and still integrate into the mainstream language of the community, which is French in Quebec, and English in most of the rest of the country. That’s what we do and that’s why we support these policies.”

Duceppe said: “But we don’t want to create ghettoes …”

Harper shot back that “Canada is not creating ghettoes. It is the most successful integration policy in the world. It has helped Canadians retain their culture while being part of the broader community. That’s what we are so proud of. I know the Bloc Québécois wants to break up the country, and you don’t think new Canadians are going to support that objective.”

Harper may not have been very poetic in all this but he got the gist of it just right, thusly:

High immigration is essential to our economy. The assumption that multiculturalism undermines integration is false. Keeping one’s culture and identity is not an impediment to integration. Immigrants want to integrate and do. Yet they also change Canada. This is the most successful model of integration in the world.

And now I find myself actually supporting something the Prime Minster said. Just when I thought the Canadian election debates could not have gotten any more annoying.

I don’t think the Tories have it right on immigration. I also think they have been pandering to the ethnic vote, and it’s clear that they somehow believe that people in “ethnic” dress are going to help them win elections. Additionally, as Siddiqui points out, Harper is a politician who is “forever courting his right-of-centre constituency, a base that routinely maligns multiculturalism and grumbles about high levels of immigration.”

But I do find this at least somewhat encouraging. And maybe I will be stupid enough to take him at his word on this issue. Let’s see if the Tories stick to it – a dubious proposition.

Why we need to debate foreign policy in elections: Lessons from the UK 2010 General Election

FYI: I am blogging on Canada-related issues at the Cana-blog. It basically satiates my desire to engage with Canadian issues without boring Duck readers to death about our various neuroses from North of the 49th Parallel. Do check it out though, eh?

Last year I blogged about the UK General Election as a “Johnny Foreigner”. I thought it would be a very dull affair, but it ended up being pretty interesting with the first televised election debates, “Cleggmania” and the subsequent coalition discussions. What didn’t the election have? Foreign policy.

In fact the only foreign policy-related items that really featured at all were brief disagreements over relations with Europe (more about the transfer of Westminster powers), climate change and a really, really dispiriting debate on immigration (especially if you are said Johnny Foreigner).

Depressing immigration debates aside, this makes sense. The UK was hit hard by the recession and the debate was largely about the economy. Foreign policy, seldom a popular topic in elections anyway, was even less important. It’s the kind of thing that won’t help you win an election – only lose one.

Lo and behold, it’s 2011 and Canada finds itself in a national election. And what’s not on the agenda? Foreign policy. Why? The economy. And healthcare (which always ranks as important in Canadian elections).

Foreign policy has not and will not play a large role – even if Canada is in Afghanistan and helping to lead the NATO mission in Libya. (Although, to be fair, Carl Meyer at Embassy Magazine has a good article on the ways that foreign policy may feature in the election.) In this sense, there is a certain amount in common with the UK 2010 General Election – at least in terms of the downplaying of foreign policy issues to domestic ones.

But is this something that us IR-wonks should learn to live with? Is there anything we can learn from the UK experience?

In short: yes. After the UK foreign-policy-free election, the coalition has made major and significant policy decisions which affect foreign relations. Some of the significant ones include:

There was no debate on any of these issues. For Afghanistan, all that the leaders spoke of was their trips there and meeting the troops. It could not be said that there was a major debate about the scale, scope and vision of the mission. So should there have been a debate on the UK’s foreign policy priorities and its role in the world? And why wasn’t there one?

There are a number of factors which may have prevented a foreign policy debate.

First, quite frankly, it may have been something that the political parties just didn’t want to confront. It’s not an easy question and, as argued above, it was simply not a priority for them or the voters. Additionally politicians may want to avoid saying anything inflammatory about allies or policies during the election which may come back to haunt them later.

Second, in the parliamentary system, where cabinet ministers sit in the legislature (and owe their position more to patronage and party balancing than expertise), there were not necessarily any obvious foreign policy spokespersons. Certainly there were politicians with interest (such as Rory Stewart). But while positions are fluid and unclear, it’s not obvious that there were any obvious persons to debate the issue.

Third, foreign policy events are unpredictable. While some things are constant – NATO, the EU, relations with the United States – no one could have possibly predicted the uprisings in the Middle East or the fact that NATO would be bombing Libya as some kind of R2P operation. So, for example, while Bush and Condoleezza Rice wrote about not using the 82nd Airborne for nation building in 2000, he ended up spending most of his presidency doing just that. Events may distort or even dictate policies – and this is why they are not carefully outlined (other than broad, vague ideas at best) in elections.

Finally, foreign policy is just something that politicians feel that international affairs are best debated in Parliament rather than on the campaign trail. (Although the debates may sometimes be lacking as well.)

But there is a lesson here for Canada (and other democracies) that tend to not debate foreign policy in elections: governments are going to have to deal with foreign events, and without some kind of guidance, or debate or understanding of what our interests are and what our priorities should be, then there can be major surprises later on.

Even if it must take place in terms of vague generalities, a foreign policy debate is worth having. It is worth knowing where political parties stand on R2P, development, the United Nations (and UN Security Council) international organizations, etc. Broader ideas and goals should be outlined even if, inevitably, events cause change and reversal later on. While I do not anticipate huge cuts to Canadian defence spending nor a major change on our alliance policies, it would be nice to know what the Conservative (UK and Canadian) line on “the Responsibility to Protect” is – since we seem to be doing a lot of it lately.

EDIT: James Joyner has a great post on the US take on this at Outside the Beltway.

Since there is nothing else going on in the world, let’s talk about Canada!

International politics is such a bore these days, right? Good thing we have Canada to spice things up for us!

There were two interesting developments yesterday for those living in the northern end of North America. First, it was announced that a Canadian, Maj. Gen. Charles Bouchard, will be heading up the NATO mission in Libya. My first thoughts about this were that the choice represents an interesting compromise. Canada, the (French?) vanilla ice-cream of the Western alliance (normally boring, but safe and reliable) represents a non-American and non-European choice. Yet, since the Americans clearly did not want a high-profile position on the mission, this seems to have settled a rivalry between the UK and France. I suppose Bouchard, who represents a country of both English and French sensibilities (and an ability to speak both languages) was an even better compromise then.


As Olivia Ward at the Toronto Star describes it:

A government source told The Canadian Press that a British general was touted for the job at one point, but added that the United States wanted to see a face that nervous allies — particularly the Turks — trusted. The tipping point came when the French got behind the appointment, senior Canadian officials told CP.
In spite of Washington’s reluctance to front the operation, close ties with the American military may have helped to decide Bouchard’s appointment. Already stationed at NATO’s main command centre in Naples, he has played leading roles at the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

So a chance to lead AND help solve internal NATO power struggles – what could better make for a Canadian’s day? Seriously. This is the kind of stuff that our diplomats dream of when they snuggle under their flannel sheets at night.

There is the larger question as to what Canada will get out of this, of course. Some have argued that the commitment of six F-18s (apparently being referred to in some circles as the Canadian ‘six-pack’) and one warship to the mission is more symbolic than significant contribution. We have been running some air strikes, but clearly this is still an American show (no matter how much the Americans want to deny it.) However, since we’re in Afghanistan, I’m pretty sure we’re a bit stretched right now.

But there is some clear appeal for the government. The first rule of thumb of Canadian military action is that we generally feel safe and happy in a coalition. So check that multilateral box off. This will also give us some international recognition – so that’s also a huge plus. But there are other benefits.

First, I wonder to what extent the government, currently (and controversially) arguing that it needs to spend BILLIONS of dollars on new F35 planes, will use this mission to justify the expenditure? I have not seen a lot in the media arguing this point so I’m not sure. The debate over the F35s may still be tied to a larger discussion over Canada’s role in the world (with this serving as an example).

Second, Canada and the UAE have not exactly been getting along lately. (I’m sure that air base Canada just lost in that country would have been pretty useful right about now.) In this mission over Libya, they will be flying (literally) under the same banner. Apparently everyone is letting bygones be bygones for now:

But this unpleasantness has apparently now been put aside, at least temporarily. Fighter pilots from the two countries may fly combat missions in the same theatre of operations as part of a UN-sanctioned coalition that has ostensibly been designed to protect Libyan civilians from Moammar Gadhafi’s military.

Third, as noted in this editorial, Canada is going to be playing a large role in the mission, despite the UN Security Council snub it received last year. In other words,

The quick decision to provide military support lends credibility to not only the mission, but to Canada itself. In facing down the cruel dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Canada is putting words into action in defence of Libyans fighting for their freedom. Along with other nations, Canada is living up to its responsibility to protect innocents from a brutal regime.

I think this may be making Canada out to be slightly too magnanimous – but there is a point here. We’re engaged in nation building on the ground in Afghanistan and now leading the Libya mission while Portugal, who beat us in the race to the UN final 15, is being pulled into a small dark corner by the European Union and being forced to take a bailout package, in the middle of a government crisis. Right.

As for the second interesting development – while Canada is busy trying to help promote democracy in the Middle East, our own government fell. Election time! This has lead to James Joyner at Outside the Beltway noting that “Canada is leading the operation in Libya but no one is leading Canada.” Precisely. And more on that to come, no doubt.

Edit: See Saideman’s good take on this here.

Denied-ada. Canada fails to get a UN Security Council Seat. (But how many EU Nations do we need on there anyway?)

It was Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend but Canukistan has one less thing to be grateful for today – it failed to get a UN Security Council seat for the first time in 50 years of trying.

Alas, (eh?), Canada lost out to Germany and Portugal in the Western group (with India, South Africa and Colombia running uncontested for the other three seats.)

The Harper government, ridiculously, is blaming Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff for the humiliating loss. This makes somewhere between zero and negative sense.

Instead, there are several factors to blame for this – the EU is a united front whereas Canada needs to lobby hard in the UN. Additionally, the electoral process seems to be pretty sketchy – and heavily dependent on gifts by suitor countries. (Apparently we went with vials of maple syrup. Way to go, guys.)And, as the Globe and Mail points out, the government hadn’t exactly had run a gung-ho campaign in order to secure it.

But it’s also a fact that Canada has been engaging the world in a very different fashion over the last few years. Where as it was once associated peacekeeping and Lester B. Pearson, it has been actively building up its airforce, accusing the Russians of invading our airspace, actively worked against climate change (and now on my way to work I have to pass around 20 billboards beside London City Hall that basically accuse Canada of systematically raping the earth with its tar sands.) I’m not saying that I necessarily disagree with all of the above, (no one likes hippies) but our national response/PR could have been much better.

Additionally, as former UN Ambassador Robert Fowler pointed out in a damning critique at the beginning of this year, our African policy is basically non-existent. The days when it could be said that the UN was embedded in Canadian DNA are clearly over. (I wonder if we’ll be taking the peacekeepers off of our $10 bills now?)

So, let’s be clear. I do understand the UN vote, but I find myself unsatisfied for another reason: There are going to be four EU countries represented on the Council. Is this at all fair? Or a good thing for the UN? I have my doubts.

But UN Security Council reform is a topic for another day…year… decade….

Happy Canada Day!

For Canada Day I wanted to post my favourite Canadian short film ever – The Sweater by Sheldon Cohen. It’s based on the story by Roch Carrier (who narrates with the most awesome Quebecois accent ever). It’s so popular among both Anglo and Franco-Canadians that they printed an excerpt on our $5 Bill.

I just feel that it really helps to understand what Canada “is” because we’re so often defined by what we’re not.

Quite frankly, we make Constitutional Monarchy look pretty sexy.

And here is some Stan Rogers. Because he’s awesome.

PS: Go Leafs Go!

Debates in Canadian Foreign Pol… Wait! Don’t leave!

I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland this week for the Political Studies Association Conference so my attention to all things blogging and internet is a bit short. However, as the Duck’s official Canadian ex-pat guest-poster, I did want to post this video (transcript here) of Robert Fowler, a former senior Canadian diplomat who gave a rather scathing critique of Canadian foreign policy at a conference this past weekend in Montreal.

No wait – don’t leave! Trust me on this one.

In it, he basically blasts both major political parties for their failure to enact any worthwhile international policies beyond that of short-sighted, narrowly defined and selfish national interest. It’s kind of like the equivalent of zombie Adlai Stevenson standing up at the Democratic National Convention and telling all of the politicos that they are full of it. (Although I don’t think that Fowler has ever run for office.)

Okay, I realize that controversies in Canadian foreign policy ain’t exactly an easy sell (or at all interesting) for non-Canadian (or even Canadian) audiences. But there are some really interesting points here for the politics of middle powers and IR theory/policy generally.


  1. Fowler is making a clear case for an idealist-driven foreign policy. He’s an experienced diplomat who helped to bring about the Kimberly Process to help curb trade in blood diamonds. He also spent a good chunk of the last two years being held hostage by radical Islamic groups in Western Africa. He’s not naive. Yet, to his credit, I think he asserts his case in a powerful and pragmatic way.
  2. His argument rests on the idea that Canada does have an international role to play and a duty to the international community. Certainly, Fowler is not the first to put this argument forward, but he’s the first Canadian leader I’ve heard really articulate it in a long time. (Whether or not it’s true, however, is another story.) While the US often speaks of its leadership role, I can’t think of an American politician speaking of duties in this way. Is this just a Canadian thing? (Like when Dean Acheson called us “the stern daughter of the voice of God”?)
  3. Fowler says that Canada and its western allies simply do not have the ability to stomach the losses and resources required to win in Afghanistan and therefore the war is lost. He suggests that basically that we should cut our losses and leave – but turn our attention to Africa and international development, suggesting it is the only way to really stop al-Qaida from spreading. I find this interesting, because in some ways development in Africa is surely as difficult (if not more so) than nation building in Afghanistan. Certainly we’ve been trying to develop states there for years without much to show for it. I’m not sure he made the case that this is any more realistic or a viable alternative.
  4. Fowler is staking his own version of the “Israel Lobby” in the speech – suggesting that the Tories (the current political party in power) are supporting Israeli policies over the traditional “balanced” view that has been taken by Canada in the Middle East. He suggests that this is because the Tories are trying appeal to Jewish voters (and that the Liberals are also guilty to some extent here as well.) To Fowler, this means that Canada cannot play a useful role in the Middle East. I’ve heard this complaint from Canadian diplomatic-types before (that we were undermining our position), but this is the first major statement I’ve heard spoken so prominently. However, I do have to wonder if Canada (other than the Suez crisis) has ever really played a useful role in the Middle East? I must profess some level of ignorance on the subject here.

There is plenty more in the speech, but I’ll leave it on those four points. He has, so far, received praise from both the left and the right in the press. But also some really harsh criticism.

I have a lot of respect for Fowler, even if I feel inclined to disagree with him on Afghanistan (and possibly his arguments on the Middle East). I had the opportunity to meet him once when he was Canada’s representative on the UN Security Council in 1999. One very much had the impression that he was very interested in African issues then as much as now and that he was proud of his work in trying to stop blood diamonds.

But the fact that this speech, coming from someone who was also a senior UN diplomat, is so critical about Canada, Canadian foreign policy – at a time when Canada is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council may actually put a serious damper on any attempt to actually get it. He openly says that Canada does not deserve the seat – and I would think that all Portugal would have to do would be to show this speech around in order to bolster its attempt to get on the Council.

It’s probably the best case I’ve heard put forward for an idealist-driven foreign policy – even if it is in scathing terms (the line about “Own the Podium” – OUCH!). If nothing else, it was a speech that was honest and informed – something that always seems to be lacking nowadays.

So if you’re just dying to know how a middle power debates its foreign policy – you’re welcome.

As for me, I’ll probably be returning to my regularly scheduled program of blowy-uppy-things next week.

But first I am going to have to try and survive the crazy weather up here.

The Oatmeal Olympics


Following on Charli’s excellent post about the Olympics, I thought I’d add my two cents.
If you live outside of North America, (okay, and Scandinavia) you probably didn’t know. The fact is the international coverage seems to be lacking, at least if my experience in London is to be judged by. Here, the Six Nations Rugby Tournament is getting far more coverage. Not to mention the Football/Soccer.

I have been trying to figure out why this might be the case. It may be, as has been suggested before, that the Winter Olympics are quite simply the “rich people’s games”. Virtually all of the sports, skating, skiing, skeleton, etc – all of these require vast amounts of money, years of training and expensive equipment. Compare this to the summer games: track and field (with pretty much any high school in the developed world possessing the equipment to at least get you started), baseball (needed: one bat, one ball, one glove), volleyball (needed: one ball), etc. Even “expensive” summer sports (like tennis) can be entered into relatively cheaply. Growing up on the (not so mean streets) of my home town suburbia, I used to play tennis with the neighbours in the street. And we lived on a hill.


Skiing, however, was out my family’s financial reach when I was growing up. To this day I still can’t ski and I really couldn’t care less about the sport.*


So bizzaro sports (seriously – can anyone actually explain skeleton? Why are there always cow bells?) for rich white people may be one cause of a lack of interest.

But geography has to play a key role here. There is a very limited number of countries which could host a Winter Olympics. You need adequate ski slopes, cold weather and snow (something of a problem this year, from what I understand). Plus, I’m guessing that if you’re from Africa or, say, the subcontinent, this isn’t the Olympics for you – expensive sports in climates that don’t exist within miles of your national borders.

Finally, I can’t help but wondering if it is just that Canada is boring. I mean, the lead up to Beijing was HUGE. The BBC ran daily leading stories on it for months. The games were seen as symbolic in all kinds of ways. China taking another step as a major global power. The crackdown on dissidents. The fact that a major earthquake happened just a few weeks before. I could go on.

In other words, the Beijing Olympics were interesting because China was interesting. And the Canadian Olympics? They’re boring because Canada is boring. Other than native protestors, there really hasn’t been much hoopla (and those protests haven’t received much coverage internationally). It may be the story behind the games which really captures our imagination.

So that’s why I dub these the “Oatmeal Games” – might be good for you and wholesome, but not exactly interesting. The breakfast food of the middle classes – when, let’s face it, we’d all rather be digging into some Lucky Charms.

*I did try to learn once in French. Let’s just say I got a lot of practice screaming “au secours!”

Donuts and Diplomacy

For my first blog post here at Duck of Minerva, I thought I should stick to one of my areas of experience (if not expertise): Alcohol.

The Canadian Press has picked up on the fact that although there are many Canadian wines available at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, there are only three Canadian beers (– and hardly the finest that the landmass north of the 49th has to offer: Molson Canadian, Alexander Keith’s Ale or Blue Light.) Considering that Canada is the nation of Bob and Doug, this hardly seems fitting.

I’ve been at two soirees at the Washington Embassy this year – and many at the Canadian High Commission in London over the course of doing a PhD. At either, the Canadian beer choice selection never really seemed to be lacking.But beer is as important to the Canadian identity as hockey, maple syrup and national embarrassment over Celine Dion, and clearly the Canadian Press believe the situation is important enough to make the national news.

So, this got me to thinking as to the subtle ways nations represent themselves abroad: food, drink, background music, etc. This is different, I think, from deliberate cultural representation where embassies and governments sit, choose and plan what events they will put on display – such as exhibitions of native arts, traveling national symphonies, ballets and operas, etc. Rather, it’s almost the unintended representation which may speak volumes about a country.

During the Bush years, the American Embassy in London held a series of film screenings of “great” American films, (including Flags of Our Fathers – hardly a pro-war film.) The screenings, organized by the cultural diplomacy section, were to presumably remind Londoners of the contributions of Hollywood to the world. This clearly represented an attempt at winning hearts and minds through free popcorn. However, the fact that viewers had to climb through security worthy of the Green Zone in Iraq, may have sent a more powerful message than what was on the screen.

But let’s bring it back to more pleasant things – like coffee and donuts. Perhaps even more important than flack-jackets to Canadian troops is the Tim Hortons, the beloved Canadian chain of coffee stands (even mentioned on How I Met Your Mother) put in Kandahar to boost troop morale. (It might be the one thing that unites all Canadians.) The coffee stand has, apparently, also been attracting troops from different countries, eager to try a “double-double”.

But this seemingly works for other nations as well. In his book, The Interrogators, Chris Macky, frequently spoke of his desire to go to the UK compound because it gave him a chance to leave the “dry” US military base and have a gin and tonic. And having friends who had access to the American PX in London was always important for those who wanted access to “real-fake” peanut butter and chocolate.

Is this form of cultural diplomacy, discussions over donuts in Afghanistan, more important than screenings, parties, evenings, and concerts? Is it important for embassys to consider the unintended ways they can fly the flag – whether negatively or positively? Or should we all just relax and enjoy our Keiths in peace?


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