Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, November 23, 2015

Europe Faces Difficult Decisions

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

In “Je Suis Muslim,” posted Nov. 14 on the Aljazeera English-language website, Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York, criticized U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron for calling the carnage in Paris a day earlier an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

Asked Dabashi, “What exactly are these French and British values? Can, may, a Muslim share them too -- while a Muslim? Or must she or he first denounce being a Muslim and become French or British before sharing those values?”

In Dabashi’s view Muslims have become the civilizational “other” in Europe, and Obama and Cameron “perpetuate that demonization” by casting Muslims “outside the purview of humanity.” You’d have thought it was westerners killing Muslims rather than the reverse. 

Dabashi was basically reiterating the theories of his ideological mentor, the late Edward Said, who also taught at Columbia.

Said’s seminal book Orientalism, published in 1978, virtually created the academic field of “post-colonial studies.” Said defined orientalism as a “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arab-Islamic peoples and their culture,” a prejudice derived from Western representations that reduces non-western peoples to irrational so-called “others.” 

Such cultural depictions, he asserted, dominate the discourse of peoples in Europe and North America towards the rest of non-white the world.

Thanks to theorists such as Said, not only are we to wallow in guilt regarding the many deficiencies of western culture, which are said to include bigotry, racism, imperialism, and xenophobia, but we even have to acclaim the civilizations of others as in many ways far superior to those of the west.

But this is fueling a growing backlash, especially among Europeans now facing the reality of millions of refugees fleeing the Middle East and arriving on the continent. They don’t want to see their countries, in effect, altered by waves of migrants who refuse to integrate into the bedrock customs and traditions – in a word, civilizations – of the west. 

It is also going to give additional support to all the far-right parties in western Europe, where the mainstream parties are so disconnected from what so many “ordinary” people think and feel. 

This crisis may also unravel the European Union and its mostly open borders. Known as the Schengen Area, 22 of the EU countries have abolished passport and any other type of border controls at their common borders. But because of the massive flow of refugees, and terrorist attacks, some are re-instituting these, and even building fences to keep out migrants. 

East European nations such as Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, only recently free of Communist oppression and not guilt-ridden about the past imperial role of the west in Africa and Asia, might leave the EU altogether rather than be forced to take in masses of refugees to whom they feel no obligation.

They were themselves for centuries subjugated by imperial powers, including the Russians, Austrians and Ottoman Turks.

Be prepared to see massive zeitgeist shifts in Europe, especially if acts of terrorism become more common.

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Attack by an Anti-Zionist Bully

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press
Readers of the Charlottetown Guardian on Prince Edward Island, the largest newspaper in the province, are aware that I was the victim of unremitting attacks for some six weeks from September to November by one Richard L. Deaton, who recently retired to Stanley Bridge, PEI after a career as a trade union official in Ottawa with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Apart from my teaching and scholarship, I write (unpaid) opeds for the paper, on a variety of issues and countries. In a Guardian article entitled “Hear No Evil, see no Evil,” published Sept. 21, Deaton publically attacked me, out of the blue, for NOT writing critical articles about Israel. 

“When it comes to Israel, Professor Srebrnik’s silences are deafening,” he wrote. He listed, among others, my so-called “silences” regarding the nuclear deal with Iran; the death of a Palestinian boy; Israel doing nothing to help Syrian refugees; and not mentioning Jimmy Carter’s book accusing Israel of “apartheid.”

“Given these examples, we are entitled to ask whether Professor Srebrnik is a pitchman for Israel. Has he ever written an article critical of Israel?,” Deaton concluded. 

Actually, I have written articles criticizing Israel, but not, of course, to the point of recommending that the state be destroyed.

Deaton, on the other hand, would prefer this. He mentioned that he belongs to Independent Jewish Voices, a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which seeks to weaken Israel economically and politically, as a means to eventually replace it with a non-Jewish state. He has been involved with many other anti-Israeli and radical pro-Palestinian groups.

He launched the attack on me because I am Jewish, and it appears essential to him to insist that any Jew who writes for publication must prove he is a “good” Jew by attacking Israel:  otherwise, why did he single me out in his initial attack?  What differentiates me from any other regular contributor to the Guardian

Deaton makes things up out of thin air – in one screed, “Smoke and Mirrors Sticks and Stones,” published Oct. 1, he smeared me by seeming to imply that I was similar to “learned rabbis” (his words) who allegedly said it was fine to kill Palestinian babies because their lives were worth less than those of Israelis. These are tactics worthy of Joe McCarthy. 

In that same piece, he also castigated me for my choice of topics. “Are the politics of Upper Volta or Outer Mongolia really more important? If Srebrnik really thinks so, then he takes the readers of this newspaper for fools.”

He targeted me personally – he wrote in “The Big Lie and Sounds of Silence,” Oct. 15, that “Henry’s C.V. is available on line, including the fact that he studied at a well-known U.S. Jewish university” (I got one of my four degrees at Brandeis University near Boston) – as if this were obviously something shameful. 

In a letter to the editor in the Guardian, “Dyer Speaks Out in Critical Article,” Nov. 2, referring to an article by journalist Gwynne Dyer regarding Israel published by the paper a few days earlier, Deaton sneered that “certain academics will begin their usual chorus of yelling ‘Wolf’, or ‘anti-Semite.’” 

The “certain academics” refers, of course, to me (despite it being plural). But how does Deaton know what I think of Dyer’s article? So he was again attacking me for what I have NOT written.

He congratulated the newspaper for being brave enough to publish the article – though Dyer is a syndicated columnist who appears in the Guardian regularly – because in Deaton’s fevered imagination, an all-powerful Zionist cabal tries to prevent anyone from speaking out against Israeli policies.

Deaton called me a “right-wing Zionist,” for him a term of opprobrium, of course. It simply refers to anyone not as anti-Israeli as he is.

Deaton has also made light of the Holocaust, stating that the fact that my parents were survivors of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, and their entire families killed, to be nothing special, since millions of other people also died during the war (“The Big Lie and Sounds of Silence,” Oct. 15). 

Like others of that ilk, he always claims that the “Zionist lobby” tries to silence people like him – though he seems to have carte blanche at the Guardian and elsewhere and has no trouble publishing his tirades.

The past president of the PEI Jewish community, Leo Mednick, complained in a letter to the editor protesting Deaton’s callous remarks concerning the Holocaust, but he, on the other hand, was not published. 

Mednick also alerted the community about Deaton: “He has a history of writing very hostile articles about Israel and lately he has turned his nastiness against a member of our community Henry Srebrnik because Henry does not choose to write against Israeli policies. It is important that we support Henry as well as not sit by and let Richard Deaton become the voice for our community.”

While Deaton is clearly obsessed with Israel, to the exclusion of almost anyplace else, the newspaper served as an enabler in his campaign of calumny and character assassination.

Deaton is Jewish by birth, and is one of those people who claim Zionism is a perversion of “true” Judaism. In reality, he has minimal Jewish education and does not participate in any of the very small PEI Jewish community’s activities. He only parades his Jewishness to demonstrate that he therefore “can’t be an anti-Semite.”

Deaton describes his background in the foreword to the book Confronting Gouldner: Sociology and Political Activism, by James J. Chriss, published earlier this year. He had no Jewish education as a child, that the family did not observe Jewish holidays, and that he had not had a bar mitzvah. In fact, they used to have a Christmas tree. 

Indeed, Deaton himself comes from anti-Zionist “royalty.” His father, Alvin W. Gouldner, was a prominent American sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis. He earlier taught at the University of Illinois and at Antioch College in Ohio.

Deaton called his father an “angry outsider and intellectual street fighter” who was both “feared and respected.” The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, published in 1970, was his major work.

Native New Yorkers, both Gouldner and his first wife were members of the American Communist Party until the 1950s. I mention this because the CP throughout almost all of its history was a staunch opponent of a Jewish state in what became Israel.

While Deaton, who himself has a PhD in sociology and a law degree, had a famous academic father, my parents were in Nazi concentration camps in Poland, and later poor immigrants in Montreal, not on university campuses, during the same period.

Monday, November 16, 2015

No One is Above Honest Criticism

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
Although I would consider the destruction of Israel an unparalleled tragedy, I don’t believe that its mistakes, intentional or otherwise, should go unreported. 

That’s bad, both for the writer and for the country. I have myself at times landed in hot water for criticizing what I considered to be bad decisions on Israel’s part.

Few people today remember the Iran-Contra affair, in which Israel played a part. I was a journalist in Washington, DC, at the time, the op-ed and book review editor of the Washington Jewish Week.

It started in 1985, when the Reagan administration secretly began supplying weapons, including missiles, to Iran, in hopes of securing the release of hostages held by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. 

While Iran and Iraq were at war, Iran had made a secret request to buy weapons from the United States. National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane sought President Ronald Reagan’s approval, in spite of the embargo against selling arms to Iran. 

McFarlane explained that the sale of arms would not only improve U.S. relations with Iran, but might in turn lead to improved relations with Lebanon, increasing U.S. influence in the troubled Middle East.

Israel was used as a go-between for the illegal sales. The millions of dollars received were then sent to the right-wing Contra guerrillas fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Battling the Cuban-backed Sandinistas, the Contras were, according to Reagan, “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.”

On Jan. 16, 1986, in an article entitled “Meir Rosenne: Cool Diplomat on a Hot Seat,” our newspaper broke the story of how then Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Meir Rosenne was being bypassed by the Israeli government in its dealings with the Reagan administration. (A colleague and I interviewed Rosenne at the Israeli embassy.)

The Israeli government had deliberately kept Rosenne out of the loop because they didn’t want to compromise the ambassador.

But it made Rosenne look bad; he protested and was “livid.” The paper received numerous complaints from various organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

I came close to being fired – my co-author was, as was our managing editor, while our editor, a Harvard law school graduate, quit a few months later -- but I knew that a career in journalism was not for me and went on to academia.

By the time the missile sales were discovered, more than 1,500 missiles had been shipped to Iran, and most of the funds diverted to the Contras by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council.

Fourteen people were eventually charged with either operational or “cover-up” crimes. In the end, North’s conviction was overturned on a technicality, and President George H.W. Bush later issued six pardons, including one to McFarlane, who had already been convicted.

There were many at the time who believed Ronald Reagan should have been impeached for his role in the scandal, but he was allowed to serve out the rest of his term after maintaining that all of this happened without his knowledge – a dubious claim. 

Polls showed that only 14 per cent of Americans believed the president when he said he had not traded arms for hostages.

Today Republicans consider Reagan an icon, while the Iran-Contra affair has been pushed down the memory hole.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Three Problematic African Elections

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
After a number of years where it seemed that multiparty democracy was taking root in Africa, more recently there have been a number of disappointments.

Three countries held presidential elections in October that seemed less than free and fair.

Guinea’s President Alpha Condé, head of the Rassemblement du Peuple Guinéen, has won re-election and will serve a second five-year term in the Oct. 11 presidential election.

First elected in 2010, he gained 57.8 per cent of the vote, compared to opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo of the Union des Forces Démocratiques de Guinée, who won 31.4 per cent.

Condé’s supporters credit him with improving the electricity supply in the capital, Conakry, and with keeping the country relatively stable despite an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 2,500 people.

However, the election has been dogged with claims of fraud and mismanagement by the opposition. Diallo and six other candidates refused to recognise the results and called for protests over the election, which they claimed was marred by fraud and mismanagement. They dismissed the election as a charade.

The opposition criticised the very high turnout in known pro-Condé strongholds, complaining of an unfair geographical spread of voter cards.

At least 13 people were killed in a week of violence in Guinea before and after its contested presidential election. Rights groups called on all parties to show restraint.

The Oct. 25 presidential election in the Ivory Coast saw Alassane Ouattara, president since 2010, re-elected under the banner of the Rassemblement des Républicains.

A prominent economist and former deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, he faced six opposition candidates, including Pascal Affi N’Guessan, who headed the former ruling Front Populaire Ivoirien.

After a decade of violence and political turmoil, the country appears to be in the midst of an economic comeback, with a growth rate of eight per cent for each of the past three years.

New highways have been built and there has been renewed investment from abroad. Cocoa and cashew harvests reached record highs.

In 2010, Ouattara won a disputed election over Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to give up power. Gbagbo is facing trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity for setting off five months of postelection violence that left at least 3,000 dead.

Yet Gbagbo maintains a huge following of loyalists in Ivory Coast, many of whom feel he was the true winner of the 2010 elections and was unjustly ousted by international forces who wanted to hand power to Ouattara.

Three opposition candidates pulled out before the vote and alleged irregularities, such as concerns about a voter list they said had many people registered twice.

Many voters also said they would boycott the balloting and do everything possible to delegitimize the process.

In the end, Ouattara won with 83.7 per cent. N’Guessan came in second, with 9.3 per cent.

The same day, elections in Tanzania saw the most heavily contested and unpredictable presidential election in the nation’s history.

Tanganyika, as it was then known, became independent in 1961, with Julius Nyerere as prime minister. His Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or Party of the Revolution was the only legal political formation in the country until 1992.

Even afterwards, it kept winning. No other party in Africa has reigned that long, without a single interruption.

The CCM’s presidential candidate, John Magufuli, a former minister of public works, was considered relatively honest and a hard worker.

But Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, has seen millions of dollars in public money vanish in recent corruption scandals.

Magufuli’s main challenger, Edward Lowassa, was a former CCM prime minister. He was contesting the poll under the banner of the Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (UKAWA) Coalition for the People’s Constitution, formed by four opposition parties, including his own Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) Party for Democracy and Progress.

Outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete of the CCM, who was stepping down after serving two terms, had warned against violence.

The opposition had said it wouldn’t concede defeat if there was evidence of vote-rigging, and was concerned about stuffed ballot boxes and arrests of its supporters.

Magufuli won the election with 58.4 per cent of the vote. But Lowassa, who came second with 39.9 per cent, declined to sign the consent forms.

The refusal followed the earlier claims of fraud and demands for a recount of the tightly contested election. His UKAWA coalition claimed Lowassa had won with 62 per cent of the vote.

In all too many African states, elections exacerbate rather than defuse political turmoil.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Two Historic Kingdoms in Southern Africa

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Two historic native kingdoms, Lesotho and Swaziland, are virtually embedded within South Africa. Along with Botswana, they were known as High Commission territories when under British protection.

Lesotho, formerly known as Basutoland, was a landlocked country, oval in shape and an enclave within South Africa. Swaziland was one of the smallest countries in Africa and apart from sharing a short border with the Portuguese colony of Mozambique it too was completely surrounded by South Africa.

Moshoeshoe I of Lesotho in 1868 petitioned Britain to protect his people from the encroaching Afrikaaners after losing a large part of his territory to the Orange Free State.

After the Union of South Africa was created in 1910, the British government appointed the Governor-General of South Africa as High Commissioner under a separate commission. After apartheid South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961, the office was abolished.

The two protectorates were relatively isolated, and only limited funds were made available for the provision of social services, education, soil conservation, and infrastructure development. This assistance did little to reduce the territories’ dependence on migrant labour to South Africa.

An important reason for this neglect was the assumption made by successive British governments that their future status was uncertain, particularly in view of South Africa’s repeated claim that the territories were geographically part of the country, largely dependent on the latter’s economy, and therefore should be transferred to South Africa’s jurisdiction.

However South Africa’s segregation policies and the opposition of local chiefs halted the possibility of annexation. Lesotho gained its independence in 1966 (as did Botswana) and Swaziland two years later.

The Kingdom of Lesotho is just over 30,000 square kilometres in size. A constitutional monarchy under King Letsie III, virtually its entire population of more than two million is Sotho.

The economy of Lesotho is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing and mining, and depends heavily on inflows of workers’ remittances.

Lesotho has had a somewhat turbulent history since 1968. The Basotho National Party (BNP) was founded in 1959 and led by Leabua Jonathan, who was prime minister from 1965 until a coup in 1986.

Led by Justin Lekhanya, who was commander of the army, the new regime sought to improve relations with South Africa, which were strained due to Jonathan’s support of the African National Congress.

Lekhanya was ousted in 1991 and in the 1993 legislative elections the Basutoland Congress Party won a landslide victory; its leader, Ntsu Mokhehle, became prime minister.

The party was rent by internal quarrels, though, and Mokhehle left in 1997 to form the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).

The new party won the election of 1998 under Pakalitha Mosisili, but opposition political groups rejected the results and rioting left much of Maseru in ruins.

The LCD remained in power but prior to the 2012 vote it split apart, with Mosisili forming the Democratic Congress. He lost to his former colleague, Thomas Motsoahae Thabane, who had formed the All Basotho Convention.

Last year an abortive military coup took place, forcing Thabane to briefly flee to South Africa. This resulted in an early election, which Thabane lost to Mosisili this past February.

The Kingdom of Swaziland’s 1.25 million people are ruled by a absolute monarch. King Mswati III ascended to the throne in 1986. He rules with the assistance of a council of ministers and a national legislature and appoints the country’s prime ministers. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections.

The country and its people take their names from Mswati II, the 19th-century king under whose rule Swazi territory was unified.

In 1881 the British government recognised Swazi independence. However, in 1903, following the Boer war, Swaziland became a British protectorate.

The 1990s saw a rise in student and labour protests pressuring the king to introduce reforms, culminating in the introduction of a constitution in 2005. The first election under the new constitution took place in 2008, and Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini was appointed prime minister by the king.

Mswati has been criticized for his lavish lifestyle, in a country where 80 per cent of the people live on less than two dollars per day.

As well, human-rights problems in Swaziland include extrajudicial killings by security forces; police use of torture on detainees; and restrictions on freedoms of assembly, speech and the press. 

Russia Has a Longstanding Interest in Middle East

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

In the past few weeks, Russia has expanded its military presence in Syria, sending weapons, tanks, air missile systems and planes to support the Bashar Al-Assad regime.

It is now engaging in bombing runs itself and Russian warships in the Caspian Sea have also fired cruise missiles at Islamic State (ISIS) strongholds.

The old Soviet Union had a long-time relationship with Syria. Their alliance was strengthened during the Suez crisis of 1956, which brought the two countries together in backing Egypt.

The alliance was upgraded and formalized in the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s father) in Moscow in 1980.

Russia has been Syria’s major arms supplier for decades, accounting now for over three quarters of Syria’s arms purchases.

But Russia has intervened in the complex ethnic and religious brew that is Syria for centuries. They’ve “been there, done that,” before.

Tsarist Russia had a vision of its traditional mission in the Middle East, and so did its Russian Orthodox Church, which considered itself the defender of Orthodox Christianity. It claimed to inherit this role from the Byzantine Empire after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.

Moscow would now be the Third Rome (after Rome and Constantinople).

In 1768, Catherine the Great went to war with the Ottoman Turks, and the Russian fleet annihilated the Ottoman fleet at Chesma in 1770, after which Russians temporarily dominated the eastern Mediterranean, as they do today. Russian ships bombarded Syrian cities, and also eventually temporarily occupied Beirut.

This battle inspired great confidence in the Russian fleet. The defeat of the Ottomans also sped up rebellions by minority groups in the Ottoman Empire, especially the Orthodox Christian nations in the Balkan peninsula.

Catherine’s successors saw themselves as crusaders, with Russia destined to rule Constantinople and Jerusalem. Fearing Russian expansionism, Britain and France came to the defence of the Ottomans, leading to the Crimean War in the mid-19th century. Russia was defeated but didn’t give up its dream of eventually conquering much of Turkey and the Levant.

During World War I, the Russians, now allied with Britain and France against Germany and the Ottomans, were promised control of Istanbul (the former Constantinople). But the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 put an end to these machinations.

However, President Vladimir Putin is in many ways a throwback to pre-Communist Russian political culture and again sees Moscow as a “world-historical” imperial power. And so he is acting the role the tsars once played in the Middle East.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Turkey and Kurds at War Again

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside PEI] Journal Pioneer
In parliamentary elections held in Turkey last June 7, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) received nearly 13 per cent of the popular vote, giving it 80 seats in the 550-member National Assembly. 

It marked the first time that a primarily Kurdish party had cleared the 10 per cent electoral threshold to enter parliament. 

Indeed, the HDP’s electoral success is the main reason that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was unable to retain its parliamentary majority. Not since 2002, when it first came to power, has the AKP failed to win an outright majority. 

This enraged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and provoked angry post-election rhetoric against Kurdish nationalists, because Erdogan wants to transform Turkey’s parliamentary system of government into a presidential regime, which would boost his power enormously. 

As a result, another parliamentary election is scheduled for Nov. 1, giving Erdogan a second shot at becoming the dominant figure in Turkey. He wants the AKP to regain its previous majority, to enable parliament to amend the constitution and make his position more dominant.

As well, although the HDP has supported a peace process by the government with Kurdish rebels that began in 2013, it has been accused of maintaining links with militant organizations, most notably the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The HDP was involved in negotiations with both the government and imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Ergogan is unlikely to accept HDP demands for a devolution of powers to regional governments or any other decentralization program that strengthens the territorial autonomy of Kurdish areas. Nor will he agree to Ocalan’s proposal for “democratic confederalism,” a form of local government to be exercised by citizens alongside state institutions. 

Meanwhile, a cycle of violence has gripped Turkey since mid-July, signaling the end of the fragile ceasefire observed by the PKK and the Turkish military since 2012. Over a hundred soldiers and police, and hundreds of PKK fighters, have been killed, along with dozens of civilians.

Erdogan has launched military assaults on the militants’ hideouts in southeastern Turkey and in Iraqi Kurdistan.

On Oct. 10, two explosions hit a peace rally in Ankara calling for an end to the renewed conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government. Almost 100 people were killed, and more than 240 were injured.

Among those taking part in the rally were members of the HDP. The party has accused the government of escalating violence to try to push the party below the 10 per cent electoral threshold in the forthcoming election.

“Ankara is the capital of Turkey. If a bird flies here, the state knows about it,” remarked Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the HDP. “There was a rally of 100,000 people but no security precautions were taken.” 

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher, has noted the escalation of violence, along with a general deterioration of the human rights situation. “We have seen waves of arrests of political activists under vague antiterror laws and further attacks on freedom of expression, with a spike in the number of cases of ill treatment of detainees,” he stated.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, on the other hand, blamed the attack on both the Islamic State (ISIS) and the PKK. But some analysts are skeptical about claims of Kurdish rebel involvement. 

As well, ISIS and Kurdish fighters are battling each other across the border in Syria. Yet in response, Turkish jets did not bomb ISIS; they bombed the PKK.

In any case, the Turkish government will eventually have to address the demands of its large Kurdish minority, including assigning greater powers to the Kurdish-majority regions in the southeast.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Welcome to Another Prime Minister Trudeau

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won a resounding victory in the Canadian federal election, winning 184 seats in the 338-seat House of Commons.

The ruling Conservatives were reduced to 99 seats, the New Democrats to 44, with the Bloc Québécois at 10 and the Greens with one.

This was a very long campaign, and each of the three major parties were in the lead at one time or another during its 78-days duration.

The Liberal Party had won just 34 seats in the last federal election in 2011, far behind both the New Democrats, who came second with 103, and the Conservatives, who won the election with 166. Many thought they were on the road to extinction.

At first few people gave Justin Trudeau, Liberal leader since 2013, much of a chance. He is, after all, a man with a thin resumé -- although he’s 43 years old, he hadn’t done much in his life prior to entering politics in 2008. He seemed like a dilettante coming from a rich background.

But he capitalized on the Trudeau name -- his father Pierre was prime minister from 1968 to 1984, with one brief interruption -- plus the fact that after nine years in office, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had outlived his welcome. The Conservatives seemed tired and dispirited as the campaign wore on.

Trudeau benefited from being underestimated by both Harper and Thomas Mulcair, the New Democratic Party (NDP) leader. The Conservatives ran television ads saying Trudeau was simply not ready to lead the country.

I always thought the Conservative ad wasn't working. Former Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff -- both of them academics and intellectuals with PhDs -- were the ones, it seems, who weren’t ready! Both lost elections to Harper.

A seasoned politician like Thomas Mulcair has also been swept aside, a victim of the “anyone but Harper” feeling. The NDP has been reduced to its traditional third place in the next parliament.

The party will take a very long time to recover from this. It was one thing to always run third, but another to be reduced to it again (and badly) after seeing power within their grasp for the last four years. No one likes to go backwards. They are in a sense even bigger losers than Harper.

The combination of his famous last name, plus dissatisfaction by large numbers of the public with Harper, catapulted Trudeau into winning a majority government.

Trudeau’s upbeat message of hope and change clearly resonated with the electorate; he came across as a “happy warrior.”

Despite being prime minister for nine years, Harper was an outsider who, as an Albertan and religious person, was always disliked by our “Laurentian elites”, that governing class living in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle, who believe that only they have the right to govern Canada.

The intense dislike of Harper mystified me because, frankly, I don’t see today’s Canada as all that different from the one he inherited nine years ago.

All the politically correct groups remain active; special interests continue to dominate the culture, in the arts, academia and journalism; the Supreme Court has stopped the government in its tracks a number of times, and so on.

In terms of foreign affairs, I expect Trudeau to take less of a hard line against Russia in relation to the situation in Ukraine. He will also probably be less involved than Harper was in fighting the Islamic State in the Middle East, not as supportive of Israel, and more favourable towards admitting Syrian refugees to Canada.