Saturday, August 20, 2011

Narrow, selfish political ambition...not nation building: Harper's "vision" of Canada

By Jane Taber, Globe and Mail, August 19, 2011
The Liberals embraced the Charter, the flag, peacekeeping and multiculturalism. Now, the Harper Tories are pursuing symbols and areas ignored by the Grits – the Arctic, the military, national sports and especially the monarchy, according to senior Tories.

For Mr. Harper and his Conservatives, the payoffs could be great: a new pride in the country, an ability to shape the view of new Canadians and, politically, the potential to marginalize the Official Opposition NDP, who could be forced more and more to defend Quebec’s interests against all others. Quebeckers are not as supportive of national symbols and the monarchy as is the rest of Canada.
How narrow is the Harper "vision" of this country. Of course the country is more than hockey, and Tim Horton's coffee but the approach of this government is to paradoxically attempt to "create by destroying"...
Larger figures in our historic landscape that Harper will ever be, or hope to be, have seen that one of the signature features of Canada is a generative tension between the French and the English. That single fact, whether viewed as an appeasement or a confrontation (it is neither) has produced more verbiage and more creative tension than any other single theme, with the possible exception of Canada' relationship to the United States. Attempting to eradicate much of what is best about the last 100+ plus years, especially in the area of federal-provincial relations, in order to imprint a new "royal, northern sabre-rattling nation, that placates the U.S. on border security and jumps into the fighting opportunity" goes a long way to "placate the base" of the Conservative party, while also attempting in the short run to marginalize the NDP (as the new voice for Quebec) and the comtribution of the Liberal Party.
It is not a vision of the country that really merits the name. It is short-term, malignant and self-serving politics in order to produce electoral victories for the next decade and beyond rather than incorporating the country's highest, and best ideals into solutions for the country's long-term issues.
$70+ billions for fighter jets and new war ships (plus coast guard vessels) and resewing the "royal" into the insignia of the Air Force and the Navy is to move Canada from a long-held and deeply merited "advocate for peace" voice on the international stage. We can all be sure that Quebec nationalism will find inspiration in the insertion of "royal" into those insignia at the same time that veterans will sing hymns to their own nostalgia, and urge their friends and families to "vote conservative". Our military contributions in WWI and WWII, and Korea are laudable, but as Jack Granatstein points out, no one has been asking for this change, including Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street.
If even half of this budget were dedicated to the detailed study of how to address global terrorism, and threats from non-state players, there would be some merit to the initiative. We appear to be locked into a historic picture of conflict that has demonstrated is obsolence over the last decade with considered evidence. Sailing warships through the Arctic in order to establish our "territory" is about as adolescent as taking a pea-shooter to a high-school bully. These tensions in the Arctic will be resolved, if at all, at the negotiating table, and the size of our ships or their cannons will not enhance our negotiating position at that table. From a military-security perspective, Canada could and should be dedicating considerable dollars and attention to the training of both intelligence professionals and diplomatic professionals and not focussing on the "hard power" of  ships and planes, both of which need weapons to carry out their missions. If, as Harper claims, Canada is going to play a bigger role in geopolitical issues, such a role can and will only be achieved through the development of a cadre of exceptional intellects and skills that the rest of the world could only fail to notice at their own peril. Such an initiative would bring the "historic" peacekeeping voice into the 21st century, from an authentic Canadian perspective.
The Canadian government is doing virtually nothing to join in a global initiative to curb green-house gases, nor is it doing anything to make a significant dent in poverty, homelessness and access to quality affordable health care, based on national priorities.
With respect to the indoctrination of new Canadians, (my wife writes her citizenship exam next week, seeking Canadian citizenship) there is no need to cling to the "royal" moniker by the government, and to do so is mere narcissitic theatrics for the purposes of generating votes in English Canada, and, in the government's view, from new immigrants. The cost will be in inspiring the "republican" advocates, including Quebec nationalists, when there is neither a need nor a demand for these superficial moves.
Everyone knows that the Queen is the Head of State of Canada, that she appoints the Governor General and the provincial Lieutenants Governor, on the advice of the Prime Minister (and the Premiers) and there is neither a need nor a demand to throw a divisive symbol at those eagerly waiting to divide, having been given such an opportunity.
National building takes long-term, delicate and sophisticated issues into perspective, using a delicate artists brush to add to the canvas that already exists and short-term, selfish and narrow partisan politics is, or should be, at the bottom of the list of priorities that such an exercise addresses. However, with the Machiavellian prime minister we have currently, whose sole raison'd'etre is to seek power for his party and thereby justifies the dismantling of anything that smacks of laudable Canadian achievments by other parties and governments, there is no hope that Canadians can experience a more expansive and more intelligent and more imaginative stage in our national "dream" under this government.
Not only does Harper refuse to "read" in the widest use of that term, but he fails the litmus test of both imagination and historic generosity that are pillars in our national heritage and culture. He cannot create a new vision by attempting to destroy a noble heritage.

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