Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Compare and Contrast Harper vs Arbour

"The news is spreading throughout the world: Canada's back," Harper told the crowd of about 35,000 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday. "Canada's back as a vital player on the global stage ... Canadians are citizens of the world and we're making a positive contribution in every field of human endeavour."

The opening paragraphs focus on Harper's refusal to meet with a highly respected Canadian UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. Further down we are reminded of the embarrassing spectacle of Victor Toews calling her a disgrace.

But the real broadsides in an article in Embassy magazine on Louise Arbour, are later on (My highlights in bold. My comments in italics.):

A Less Popular Canada

In 2004, when Ms. Arbour left the Supreme Court bench to take up her work as UN high commissioner on human rights, Canada occupied a much different space on the international stage than it does today.

For Ms. Arbour the most telling, and shocking, turn of Canadian foreign policy was the sudden reversal last year on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. This switch, she says, took the international community very much by surprise. (Denial of rights to indigenous people has long been a pet project of Tom Flanagan, Harper's eminence grease).

"It's a very real issue for Canada, that is not a theoretical issue, but Canada had engaged very positively on issues that were very hard," Ms. Arbour says. "Then at the last minute, when the text had been fully agreed more or less by all participants, only Canada and Russia voted against it in the Human Rights Council. This was seen as a signal, to a large extent, as a disengagement from the promotion of human rights issues."

The changing direction of Canadian foreign policy under the Conservative government, and in part also under the former Liberal Paul Martin government, has been worrisome, she says. (Very interesting comment. In fairness, Liberals should consider this carefully. Was this a sign of a general trend towards alignment with the US after 9/11 or a tendency of Martin himself? Was Martin reacting to pressure from Bush or is this foreign policy part of Martin's legacy? Is this an proclivity of senior bureaucrats at Foreign Affairs? Definitely something to keep an eye on given Ignatieff's past comments. Regardless of MI's admirable contrition in retracting that stand)

"I think there was a time where a lot of diplomats wanted to know what Canadians thought," Ms. Arbour explains. "More recently I haven't heard a lot of that because the general sense is that it's very predictable, they think whatever the Americans in that sense, it has totally diluted this."

Where Canada was once seen as a consensus-maker and generator of ideas, it has become now a country focused on "an alignment."

"Canada's taken sides and it plays that hand. I think that's very much the perception that I think I have, but that [also] was reflected in how I saw others react to Canadian foreign policy." (This is a repudiation of Harper's boast quoted at the top of the post. (Brings back memories of "Canada's New Government" doesn't it?). I suppose in a sense we have embarked on a new path in foreign policy. But rather then coming back to a historic past, it is more like Czechoslovakia during the Soviet era. Canada as a client state to a regional hegemon that also produces some pretty good hockey players. It isn't a vision I ever held for Canada but then I'm not a brilliant strategist. All I know is that the only puppets Canadians were ever proud of were Casey and Finnegan and Jerome the giraffe and Rusty the Rooster.)

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sassy said...

Very timely that you posted this as I was thinking about Madame Arbour just the other day, and wondering if she is at all interested in making a further contribution here at home under the next Government. (That would be the LIBERAL one when the real Canada comes back)

BTY - Happy New Year and welcome back to blogland.

Constant Vigilance said...

Thanks and a HNY to you as well. I hope the season was kinder than the weather we have endured. Amazing thing vacations. Once it started snowing, I never checked the blog at all. Luckily I remembered the password.

There was some talk about trying to get M. Arbour to enter the leadership race which she quashed. The amazing point is that Canada has someone of her stature at loose ends. Who knows, maybe Harprorogue has earned enough of her enmity that she will be willing to do it. She would make an amazing contribution.