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I rarely wade into partisan politics, but we’re on the heels of yet another election. And this time around, I’d rather not that we end up with up Conservative minority government. So OLO (Opposition Leader’s Office), listen up.

Iggy, you’re terrible at making ads. We don’t want to hear your life story. The voter wants to know why the status quo isn’t sustainable, and why you’re better. In a span of ten minutes, my friend Eric and I came up with ad ideas that are objectively better than anything your team has come up with. Here they are:

Ad # 1: Enough is Enough

We’re a country of laws. [Image of Parliament] We work hard [Image of factory]. We play by the rules. [Intense, dramatic music with image of kids playing hockey]

And we expect our elected representatives to play by them too.

The Harper government has lied to and deceived Canadians. [show quotes from the Globe and National Post]

Enough is enough, Mr. Harper.

It’s time to quit playing games with taxpayer money. It’s time to quit playing games with our democracy.

Ad #2: A Necessary Election

$6 billion in unnecessary tax cuts for big corporations while our national debt grows unsustainably by the day.

$30 billion on unnecessary fighter jets that are “the most expensive defense program in the history of the world“.

$13 billion on unnecessary large, American-style prisons.

An unnecessary election? No, Mr. Harper, with our future on the line, this election is very necessary.

Ad #3: I’m home [appropriate musc in the background]

“I’d rather see 30 billion dollars invested in educating Canada’s future leaders than fighting enemies of the past.

I’d rather live in a Canada where our Prime Minister and his government are open, honest and accountable; where they don’t outright lie or conceal the truth.

I’d rather live in a Canada where the needs of the average Canadian, not the average multinational corporation, come first. (this one might be a bit risky)

I’m Michael Ignatieff, and THAT’S why I came home.”

Washington, D.C. – In a major reversal of administration policy, the Pentagon announced today its intention to extend the Afghan mission to 3014, citing the date as a more realistic date for withdrawal. The announcement follows the conclusion of an extensive internal review ordered by President Obama earlier this year. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell explained that the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces in 2014 would “be way too soon” and would jeopardize any hopes of stability in Afghanistan and the region.

The authors of the Pentagon report argued that a thousand year postponement would allow the Afghan National Army to build up sufficient capacity to defend itself and would be–perhaps–enough time for the Afghans to develop a stable political system. Andrew Exum, chairman of the review committee, said the committee considered the situation in Afghanistan analogous to that of 11th century England. The Norman Conquest of England, Exum said, offers an excellent example of how occupation can result in a prosperous democracy. “Look, it took approximately a thousand years–from the Battle of Hastings in 1066, to the Magna Carta in 1215, to the industrial revolution–for the parliamentary system to entrench itself in English political life,” said Exum. “It’s only fair we allow our Afghan allies that much time too,” he elaborated.

In this morning’s Toronto Star, Liberal Party foreign policy critic Bob Rae has an op-ed calling for Canada’s continued engagement in Afghanistan–albeit at a political, not military, level. “Our political effort, with the needed appointment of a peace envoy to the region, should increase, and our aid should continue,” writes Rae.

Today, Dutch troops announced their formal departure after four years of combat in Afghanistan. And Canadian troops are scheduled to leave the country next year. After committing many of their young and billions in aid, NATO members are withdrawing, one country at a time. The largest troop contributor, the United States, is leaning towards the exit as well. According to the New York Times, President Obama seems committed to his “self-imposed” withdrawal deadline for July 2011.

So, it must be naturally asked, what does Canada do next in Afghanistan–the country’s largest foreign combat mission since the Korean War, and its largest recipient of bilateral foreign aid?

I admire Bob Rae greatly, both as a thinker and as a politician. And I respect him even more for broaching the morally contentious, politically divisive subject of a post-American/NATO Afghanistan. But his recommendations–that Canada appoint a peace envoy and increase aid–strike me as facile. Frankly, a post-American Afghanistan will be one of Pakistan’s making, with the Taliban back at the helm. The West’s ability to influence Afghan policies, which dwindles by the day, will be nil as soon as American troops part, leaving the free Taliban to impose their draconian laws once again.

Sending a peace envoy to a government that roundly despises you–and that will for years exploit NATO’s occupation for the purposes of propaganda–is rather naive. More naive is the suggestion that Canada not only continue giving aid to Afghanistan, but increase its aid. While humanitarian aid will always prove important in ill-governed Afghanistan, Rae imagines that our aid would “build schools to counter the madrassas, to allow women to take their place as equals.” It’s an admirable notion, but history tells us that the Taliban won’t allow these schools to stand and they won’t allow women to take their place as equals. Without a continued Western military presence–something I’m opposed to–we won’t be able to assure that any of our aid will reach the Afghan people, and we won’t be able to assure minority and women’s rights.

That sounds awfully tragic, but as Rae himself puts it, “real statecraft is understanding the limits of power and the real difficulties of exporting democracy.” Afghanistan is a crude lesson in learning that our power to control the destinies of those continents away from us, no matter how noble our intentions, are limited.

When Barack Obama was inaugurated, many Canadians sighed with relief. After watching our southern neighbor stumble for eight long years on the world stage, we were glad to take a break from all our Bush jokes and our self-righteous denunciations of U.S. foreign policy. “What a crazy crusading ideologue that Bush, eh?” we’d say. But now the joke’s on us. George W. Bush is alive and well, and he lives at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.

His new name is The Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper, the prime minister of Canada. While Canadians were too busy poking fun at Americans, Canadian foreign policy underwent a change so drastic that we hardly resemble our former progressive selves. Prime Minister Harper’s positions on a range of issues—from aid policy to the Middle East—read like the Bush Doctrine. (Note to Sarah Palin: By that I mean the toxic mix of social conservatism, military adventurism, and ideological blindness that characterized the former president’s foreign policy.)

Take, for instance, Harper’s recent decision to stop funding NGOs abroad that provide abortions. Even though a woman’s right to choose is firmly entrenched in Canadian law, and even though experts consider access to safe abortions vital to maternal health, Canada—which will preside over a G8 meeting on maternal health—will radically adopt a “gag rule” on abortions. It was Ronald Reagan who first infamously put in place the eerily similar Mexico City Policy, which required NGOs receiving U.S. aid to not perform or promote abortions. Bush Jr. restored the policy, but thankfully Obama rescinded it and his administration has challenged Harper’s move. Secretary Clinton had harsh words for the decision: “you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions.”

The comparisons of Bush to Harper don’t end there. On Israel, Harper’s Conservative government has surrendered Canada’s role as an honest broker for Middle East peace, and has instead chosen to side with Israel at all costs. When Israel violated international law by expanding settlements in East Jerusalem, Vice President Biden “unequivocally” condemned the move. Canada’s Foreign Minister, on the other hand, blandly commented that the expansion of settlements “does not advance the cause of peace in the region.”

In line with American neoconservatives, Harper has described any criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic. His government has revoked funding for KAIROS, a Christian aid group, because the NGO dared to criticize the policies of the Israeli government. And controversy engulfed his government recently when it was learned that he stacked the board of Rights & Democracy, a Canadian human rights agency, with pro-Israel advocates.

His government’s support for Israel is not in itself problematic—in fact, support for Israel ought to be a cornerstone of Canadian and American foreign policies. Harper’s decision to boycott Durban II, the second round of a U.N. conference that degenerated into anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic commentary, was a wise and laudable one. In all fairness, the shift towards a pro-Israel policy occurred under the previous Liberal government. However, the Liberals followed a balanced policy that didn’t shun criticism of Israel and expressed support for Israel’s legitimate security concerns. But like Washington’s neocons, Ottawa’s mini-neocons live in a Manichean world where any criticism of Israel’s government is deemed anti-Semitic. This translates into a suffocating and ideological foreign policy that deprives legitimate peace groups in Palestine and Israel of the funding they need. And now his decision to stop funding safe abortions abroad imperils maternal health and family planning measures in developing countries.

We could easily brush aside these changes to Canada’s foreign aid policy as merely cosmetic. But aid policy is to Canada what military power is to the United States—the way Canada most effectively exercises its influence around the world. Imagine Bush using American military power to invade countries to fulfill an ideological fantasy (i.e the Iraq War.) That’s exactly what Harper’s doing, albeit on a Canadian scale.

Pakistan is about to pass a set of constitutional amendments that attempt to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions. No one said it could be done–but there you have it folks, the so-called incompetent politicians achieved something for the greater good.

The most interesting part of the proposal is that it will make Pakistan’s prorogation procedures–the procedures that determine when and how a Parliament can be dismissed–more democratic than Canada’s. Only the National Assembly will have the power to dismiss itself (before its five-term limit is over) or to prorogue, whereas in arcane Canada, the Governor-General possesses that power de jure. In practice, it’s even more autocratic because the prime minister ultimately decides when to prorogue because the Governor-General defers to the judgment of the elected head of government.

J’ai dit “ouch” en lisant la chronique critique de Patrick Lagacé ce matin. Il attaque un éditorial publié dans le Globe and Mail, qui accussait les québécois de l’intolérance envers les immigrants mussulmans. En particulier, l’éditorial visait la décision de la Ministre Yolande James d’expulser Mme. Naeema Ahmed du cours de francisation parce qu’elle refusait d’enlever son niqab. L’article original, écrit dans La Presse, a “apporté les nuances et les détails nécessaires, y compris les multiples tentatives du cégep pour trouver un arrangement avec la jeune femme.” Ce n’était pas ni un cas de l’intolérance de la presse québécoise ni de l’intolérance du gouvernment. Après plusieurs tentatives d’accommodation, la femme elle-même s’obstinait de coopérer. Au Canada anglais, on a l’habitude de déclarer chaque exemple d’affrontement entre le Québec et ses immigrants comme étant preuve de l’intolérance innée de la belle province. Mais, dans ce cas, je partage l’opinion de la majorité. Or, Je ne crois pas que les québécois sont intolérants. Je les juge peut-être ignorant, mais pas rempli de haîne.

As stories decrying America’s dysfunctional politics mount (see Spitzer, Weisberg, and Fallows), I take solace in the boring, if irrelevant, politics in Ottawa. The current maelstrom afflicting Canadian politics is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s proroguing–shutting down–of Parliament. The prime minister’s unilateral decision has provoked condemnation in many corners, but nobody’s writing off the viability of the Canadian political system. The government is functioning, the opposition is wrangling, and the public is content.

What’s most impressive about policymaking in this country is its focus on the long run. Think tanks, bureaucrats, and politicians have taken the lead in thinking about challenges confronting Canada in the next few decades. Watching CPAC–the Canadian Public Affairs Channel–is an eyeopener. The countless conferences and summits going on in Ottawa concerning Canada’s economic policy and national security are reassuring. Canada@150, for instance, is an initiative of the Policy Research Initiative of the Government of Canada, and it’s intended to encourage the input of public servants. The Liberal Party of Canada, the current opposition, is hosting a conference in Montreal (Canada at 150: Rising to the challenge) to develop a platform and to push for a national debate about public policy in the country. And then there’s Canada2020, a project that brings political and community leaders to speak about “social and economic prosperity” for Canadians.

While the majority of the Canadian public is disinterested in the kind of nuts-and-bolts policy thinking that goes on at these conferences, there is a minority–a public policy elite, if you will–that’s concerned about the country’s future. It speaks to the historically elitist nature of Canadian politics, which has been driven by a coterie of serious but entrenched interests (the Toronto/Montreal Liberal Anglo clan, and now a new Western clan). Our politics have never been populist or truly democratic. The reason for Canada’s sensible, consistent public policy is that the public isn’t involved in policy. The political system in the United States, on the other hand, is beholden to what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics.” Witness: the Tea Party movement, a collection of confused and vile morons pretending to uphold what they imagine to be the American constitution. Canada doesn’t have that kind of mass participation, and that’s a good thing.

I’m currently reading a report produced by the Capstone seminar on Identity Politics, Intelligence and Security in Canada at the University of Ottawa in 2008-2009. The report, written by graduate students, was the culmination of a graduate seminar that included participants from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s spooks. The entirety of the report, titled “Canada in 2020: Identity Politics and Security
Future Scenarios”, is available on CSIS’s website.

It examines four future scenarios that could confront Canada. It’s the product of interesting, and sometimes outlandish, imaginings. Here’s a gem:

When Pakistan collapses in 2016 and the United States, plunged into an economic crisis, cannot intervene, India drafts an economic rescue plan for Pakistan aimed at imposing its authority over the country and the entire region. The plan advocates a greater integration of the Indian and Pakistani economies and the appointment of pro-Indian politicians to senior positions within the Pakistani government administration. In Canada, a number of Pakistani citizens opposed to the rescue plan have been aggressive towards Indians. Fundamentalist feelings have flared up, opening the door to terrorist organizations and the recruitment of new members.

Oh boy. I definitely think the collapse of Pakistan is plausible but it would take a serious development to precipitate such an outcome.

Sana Saeed wrote a piece in today’s McGill Daily critiquing Canada’s multiculturalism. “Multiculturalism is a sham” can be read here.

Here’s what I wrote back to her:

Sana, what took you so long to say it? Multiculturalism–understood as a means to preserve and protect cultural diversity through state intervention–has always been a sham. Even the patron saint of multiculturalism, Pierre Trudeau, did not actually argue for a culturally relativistic policy. Rather, he saw multiculturalism as a means to integrate Canada’s cultural groups. Upon introducing the policy to the House of Commons on October 8th, 1971, he said: “It is vital, therefore, that every Canadian, whatever his ethnic origin, be given a chance to learn at least one of the two languages in which his country conducts its official business and its politics.” Although he remarked that “there is no official culture,” by insisting on English (and French for Quebec) as an official language he made it clear that he too believed in the liberal, Anglo-Saxon cultural project. Cultural freedom could exist but it was to be strictly delineated within an English, liberal context. Identity, in Trudeau’s eyes, was marked by the “collective will to exist,” and not one’s origin–and that collective was surely the Anglo collective.

I don’t believe that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with a host society requiring a degree of cultural conformity. All societies do it. There is, however, something disingenuous about worshiping at the altar of diversity and at the same time refusing communion. We should continue to value the various minorities in our midst but must remember that we, as Canadians, have a common cultural project and our own set of values that are worth preserving.

Also, as a student of Canadian history, I have to clarify that the words “mosaic” and “multiculturalism” as ideologies of culture should not be conflated. The metaphor of the mosaic arose from the Prairies during the early 20th century while multicutlrualism became official cultural policy in the 1970s. Theoretically, the mosaic does not argue that all cultures are equal but that diversity should be managed within a sanitized Anglo-Saxon context. Multiculturalism, in theory, wants to make all cultures feel at home. In practice, however, it’s virtually the same as the mosaic.

Another reason why we should consider increasing CSIS’ budget and get serious about foreign policy and national security: Canada is swarming with foreign spies, according to a revealing book by a former CSIS agent.