Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Is stronger Canada Chretien’s legacy?

Henry Srebrnik, The Calgary Herald

It's been more than a year since Jean Chretien retired from politics. His old friends and political allies are looking about to cement into place his political legacy.

One of his top former political advisers, Warren Kinsella, recently stated that Chretien's greatest policy achievements were in the field of national unity.

Kinsella called the Clarity Act, passed in June 2000, a "political masterstroke" and noted that when Chretien left office last December, the federal Liberals led in the polls in Quebec.

But the Clarity Act, which sets out a clear legal mechanism for the secession of a province, was really the brainchild of the old Reform party.

Following the October 1995 Quebec referendum, almost won by the sovereignists, Reform released Twenty Realities of Secession, a working document which laid down terms for bargaining with Quebec in the event of that province's departure.

It was written by Stephen Harper, today the leader of the Conservative Party, and then a Reform MP. It was published, along with 20 Proposals for a New Confederation, in January 1996, in a pamphlet entitled 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Canada.

The Liberals throughout the referendum campaign had attacked Reform, accusing the party of obstructionism and, by breaking solidarity within the federalist camp, of undermining the campaign against Quebec separatism.

But unlike the Liberals, who had refused to discuss such issues, Reform faced the tough questions head on. Harper pressed the government for its response to Reform's Twenty Realities, but, he complained, received no satisfactory answers.

Yet most of what appeared in Twenty Realities was later incorporated into the Liberal party's own Clarity Act. It was political scientist Stephane Dion, who in January 1996 had become the federal minister of intergovernmental affairs, who picked up the Reform ball and ran with it.

On Sept. 30, 1996, the federal government referred the matter of Quebec secession to the Supreme Court of Canada. It asked whether the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec could effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally.

On Aug. 20, 1998, the Supreme Court concluded that Quebec does not have, either under Canadian law or international law, the right to leave Canada unilaterally.

However, the court also emphasized that the rest of Canada would have a political obligation to negotiate Quebec's separation if a clear majority of that province's population voted, in a clear question put before them in a referendum, in favour of it.

Following the court's ruling, the Chretien government on Dec. 13, 1999, tabled the Clarity Bill in the House of Commons. It became law on June 29, 2000.

The act set out the principles and procedures that would guide the House of Commons in the event of an attempt by a separatist government to leave confederation.

If, after a referendum on a clear question, the government of Quebec sought negotiations on secession, the House of Commons would need to determine if there had been a clear majority with a clear will to secede. There would be no negotiations without such clarity.

This was indeed what Harper had been asking for a few years earlier. But needless to say, he got no credit for it. Our natural governing party is very adept at plagiarizing the programs of other parties when it suits them. Just ask any member of the NDP as well.

As for Chretien increasing Liberal support in Quebec, after Adscam hit the fan shortly after Paul Martin became prime minister, the Bloc Quebecois won 54 of the province's 75 seats in the federal election last June. It still remains the dominant party in Quebec. And Martin has been far more accommodating to Quebec nationalists than his predecessor was.

History will no doubt demonstrate that whatever Chretien's achievements were, strengthening national unity was not among them.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

What Does the Bush Victory Mean for Israel and the Mideast?

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

Let's get right down to it: When Israelis heard that George W. Bush was re-elected president of the United States, there was dancing in the streets.

On the other hand, there were plenty of long faces in France, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, where public opinion overwhelmingly lined up behind John Kerry. I suspect not too many people were smiling in Damascus, Ramallah or Tehran, either.

From Prime Minister Ariel Sharon down to the person on the Egged bus, American foreign policy, especially as it will impact the Middle East, was naturally first and foremost on their minds.

Whether it be the continuing chaos and savagery in Iraq, the nuclear ambitions of a very threatening Iran, the support given to terrorist groups like Hezbollah by Syria, or the situation of the Palestinians in a post-Yasser Arafat world, the attitude of the American administration will be paramount.

Washington has in recent months directed a series of warnings toward Syria, which is facing the prospect of U.S. trade sanctions, and to Iran, which has been heavily criticized for pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Bush will certainly pay less attention than Kerry would have to European criticism of Israel and will also increase the pressure on Arab states to rein in Islamist terrorists.

Obviously, most Europeans are in no mood to help the U.S. effort in Iraq. But would France and Germany (not to mention Canada) have really been all that willing to heed Kerry's plea to commit forces to that war? It's unlikely, to say the least!

While the leaders in most Arab capitals looked at another four years of Republican rule with resignation, at best, interim Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, not surprisingly, had a different take, praising Bush, again, for liberating his country from Saddam Hussein's grip.

But he is being a bit too polite. If Iraq is indeed to be set on the road to democracy, or even stability, in advance of that country's scheduled elections in January, the U.S. must set its mind to forcefully crush the terrorists and Ba'athists who control so much of the Sunni heartland. Otherwise the war will indeed have been in vain. And once that's done, it should hand power over to an Iraqi government, and leave quickly, lest that new regime loses legitimacy.

The Palestinians too were less than pleased with Bush's victory. "We hope there will be a change in the policy which gave support for Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and refused cooperation with President Arafat," remarked the Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath.

The PLO head had been treated as a serious partner for peace by Bill Clinton, rather than as the corrupt impediment to progress he has shown himself to be. But unlike his predecessor, Bush did not meet with the late Palestinian leader even once during his first term.

Bush also opposes a Palestinian "right of return" to areas they fled in 1948, which would effectively mean the end of Israel, nor has he criticized the building of the security fence. But he did reiterate, following his re-election, that he will "continue to work for a free Palestinian state," as part of the "road map" to peace first unveiled in 2003.

With Arafat's departure, the Palestinian leadership will now be preoccupied with an inevitable power struggle, which might even descend into armed conflict, to replace him. In Gaza, especially, the extremists in Hamas might attempt to take power.

Arafat's place has been taken by the current and former prime ministers of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Qureia and Mahmoud Abbas, who have divided Arafat's responsibilities between them. The Bush administration regards both as suitable partners in any peace talks. Abbas supports a two-state solution and signed the Oslo Accords on behalf of the PLO in 1993.

Obviously, these remain perilous times for Israel. The day following Bush's victory in the U.S., Sharon also faced an important vote, this one in the Israeli Knesset. With the backing of opposition parties, he won a 64 to 44 vote to fund the evacuation, resettlement and redeployment of Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from Gaza and parts of the West Bank beginning next summer, as part of his unilateral disengagement plan unveiled last February.

Sharon told Israelis that "painful compromises" were required. He said that he feared for the demographic future of Israel if millions of Arabs remained under its rule. But the Gaza settlers feel betrayed by their former champion.

Sharon's own Likud Party remains deeply divided on the withdrawal, and 17 of its 40 members cast their votes against the funding bill. Nationalist and religious parties, usually allied with the prime minister, also refused to support it. Since June, he has led a wobbly minority government which could fall at any time. So he definitely needs Washington's support.

But what else is new? "The sentiment against Israel is powerful throughout the Arab world and on that score the United States is always dragged in as a champion of Israel." So noted a New York Times editorial--of September 3, 1951!

But it was a sad commentary on the American Jewish community's diminished sense of solidarity that while Israelis were hoping that Bush would be re-elected, most American Jews voted against him.

Preliminary data indicates that Bush achieved roughly a five point increase over the 19 per cent he won in 2000 but Republicans had hoped for bigger gains. So three quarters of American Jewish voters supported Senator Kerry.

Whatever one may think of the current war in Iraq, it should be recalled that Kerry in 1991 voted against liberating Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's occupying armies. Did American Jews not remember that Saddam lobbed 41 missiles at Israel during that conflict?

How has it come to this? Have we once again entered a period in North America where most Jews are, despite their "official" line that "we are one" with Israel, really "non-Zionists?" After all, only since World War II and the terrible lessons of the Holocaust did Jews unite completely behind the Jewish state. Sometimes I wonder whether this is still the case.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Lament from the Ivory Tower

Henry Srebrnik, The Calgary Herald

It's egg-on-face time. The week before the U.S.presidential election, I predicted on the Herald's editorial page that John Kerry would make George W. Bush a one-term president. Indeed, I thought Kerry would win quite handily.

I was of course very wrong. So why did I misread it so badly?

I guess I've been living in an academic bubble for so long that its very atmosphere has, as it were, seeped into my thinking. Even though I considered George Bush worthy of a second term, I nonetheless fell victim to the ideological "hegemony" of the liberal intelligentsia, who by and large control the major American newspapers and universities, and, in that sense, frame the very political debate.

Like them, I came up with all the reasons that made it seem that Kerry would (or in their case, should) win in 2004. Since the ability to articulate and explain policies and analyze data and facts is our stock in trade, I was particularly impressed by Kerry's clear superiority in the presidential debates.

It's clear I overestimated the Democratic tilt among newly registered voters, who either split more evenly between Bush and Kerry or in many cases didn't bother to vote, while underestimating the Christian evangelical vote for Bush. That last, for someone like myself, who does recognize the power of religious values, was unpardonable.

The economy was clearly less of an issue than I thought it would be. People do not always vote their pocketbooks. I've been saying that to Marxists and socialists for decades--but I forgot to take my own advice.

Finally, the American people is more steadfast in supporting the war on terrorism and the ongoing battle in Iraq than I gave them credit for.

Well, I did get one thing right: Ralph Nader was not a factor this time around.

There is indeed, as Richard Nixon famously remarked, a "silent majority" that doesn't care about Michael Moore's propaganda movies, Robert Redford's threat to leave the U.S. if Bush won, or Bruce Springsteen's political advice.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Why John Kerry will win the American Presidency

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

With just one day to go before election day in the United States, most polls show President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry running neck and neck, both in the popular vote and in the Electoral College totals.

The Electoral College works this way: each of the 50 states is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators--they all have two-- plus the number of members in its congressional delegation in the House of Representatives, which varies by population.

So California, the largest state, has 55 electoral votes, while small ones like Alaska and Wyoming have only three. As well, the District of Columbia, the federal capital of Washington, gets three electoral votes.

In 48 of the states, whoever wins the popular vote gets all of the electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska both use an alternative method. These states divide themselves into a number of districts, and the winner of each district is awarded that district's electoral vote. (Maine has four electoral votes, Nebraska five.)

So the election really consists of 51 separate contests. As there are 538 electoral college votes, whoever wins 270 or more becomes president.

I have been following the contest state by state, and I predict a Kerry victory. In fact, I am surprised at how big the electoral college margin for Kerry looks to be, if the states all go the way I think they will.

The popular vote, nationwide, will be as follows: John Kerry 52.5%; George Bush 47%; Ralph Nader, 0.5%. This will translate into more or less the following electoral college numbers: John Kerry 317; George Bush 221.

Why will Kerry win so handily?

The major elite disseminators of public opinion--the university professoriat and important newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post-- all in the main support Kerry. The perception of Bush as an intellectual lightweight by these groups was reinforced during the three presidential debates, in which Bush was clearly no match for the more articulate Massachusetts senator.

On the level of popular culture, Hollywood personalities, film makers and rock stars are doing their utmost to sway people on his behalf. They will influence many wavering or undecided voters. Michael Moore alone has been worth thousands of votes.

Voter registration is way up in many states, and most of these new voters, in particular African-Americans and Hispanics, will favor Kerry.

The Kerry campaign's ads, in particular those produced by so-called "527" independent advocacy groups, have been much more effective than those put out by pro-Republican groups.

The Democrats are still fired up over having had the 2000 election "stolen" (in their eyes) from them in Florida. The Supreme Court intervened and stopped the recount thus giving the election to Bush. Al Gore, remember, won the overall popular vote that year. There is for many Democrats an almost visceral hatred of Bush.

Both the Iraq war and the domestic economy also work against Bush. Unemployment and job losses due to outsourcing are a major factor in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, and a declining stock market has reflected this despondency. The ballooning deficit, due to massive military spending and tax cuts, and record-breaking oil and gas prices, have also been sources of concern.

More than 1,100 Americans have been killed in Iraq, in a war that shows no signs of ending. Kerry, like Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 during the Korean War, and Richard Nixon in 1968, when Vietnam was the major issue, claims he will somehow get America out of this quagmire. Bush, on the other hand, appears adrift.

And the Democrats are also responsible for spreading a "whispering campaign" about the possible re-institution of the draft. This scares middle class voters, who don't want their kids blown up or beheaded in Iraq.

Bush's pro-life stance and opposition to gay marriage and stem cell research will indeed win him votes among his evangelical Christian base, but may cost him more among moderately liberal Republicans.

And when things aren't going well, the incumbent gets blamed even for matters beyond his control, such as the shortage of flu vaccine in the U.S. this fall.

Finally, left-wing candidate Ralph Nader, who captured almost 3% of the popular vote in 2000 and cost Gore some states, including Florida, will not be a spoiler in this polarized election climate. Almost all of his supporters will move into the Kerry column.

In 2000, Bush won 271 electoral votes to Gore's 266. But in 2004, Bush is facing a "perfect storm" and it is hard to see him surviving it. The political stars are aligned against him.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The State of Politics and the New Parliamentary Session

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Canada's 38th parliament got down to business this week, with Paul Martin's minority Liberal government facing a host of issues that won't go away. Fending off attacks from the opposition parties may be the least of his worries. There are far bigger concerns.

When it comes to the division of powers between the federal and provincial levels of government, especially as it involves funding for major social programs, we have a major constitutional problem in this country, as illustrated by the recently negotiated health care accord.

In effect, provincial and territorial leaders were forced to beg before being granted $41.2 billion from the prime minister, in order to fund rising medicare costs for the next decade.

Canada's large cities, too, are clamoring for federal money to improve roads, transportation systems, and other infrastructure. They want some of the federal gas tax to be allocated to them. But, again, municipalities are creatures of the provinces and any funds promised by Ottawa will have to pass through provincial hands.

This could pose a problem: while most big cities have become Liberal enclaves, provincial governments are often run by regimes more rurally-based (and more conservative), as has been the case in Alberta, British Columbia, and, until recently, Ontario. Their premiers may be reluctant to bankroll big-ticket pet projects.

Ottawa has too much "spending power," thanks to the taxes they collect, while the provinces, who bear the brunt of activity in areas such as education, health care, day care, and all manner of other services, clearly don't have the capacity necessary to fulfill their tasks. This "fiscal imbalance" is something Quebec, in particular, has been complaining about.

Shouldn't those who spend have the power to tax? Either the constitution should be amended to have Ottawa take over many of these functions, as it did with unemployment insurance in 1940, or the provinces will have to be given more room to tax. Otherwise, Ottawa will just become a tax collector for the provinces, an unnecessary "middleman."

The country also needs institutional reforms, when it comes to our unelected Senate and our first-past-the-post electoral system, in which seats are won (or lost) totally out of line with the popular vote of the parties running candidates.

We need a Senate that is elected, has effective powers, but is not necessarily equal in terms of the number of senators from each province. Perhaps small ones, like Prince Edward Island, might have two senators each, medium size ones such as Nova Scotia four, and large ones such as Ontario six.

Our electoral system definitely needs fixing. I've been researching and writing in Alberta for the past year, where "western alienation" is a religion. A "mixed" electoral system, with perhaps half the members of the House of Commons elected by some form of proportional representation, the others in single-member constituencies, would go some way towards reducing the "us" against "them" feeling.

In our present winner- take- all system, ostensibly national parties have become regional entities. In a modified proportional representation system, more Liberals would be elected in the west, more Conservatives in central and eastern Canada, and more New Democrats across the country.

No votes would be "wasted," as the popular vote totals would help elect candidates in places where parties were unable to come out on top in specific constituency races. Even the Green Party might win seats.

At present, Alberta in particular feels permanently removed from the centers of power, yet it has become per capita the richest province in Canada..You can't demonize a province and then expect it to finance the rest of the country! As political scientist Albert Hirshman wrote about other places with such problems, people demand either "voice" or "exit."

His concept was designed to show how countries become dysfunctional in situations where some citizens have neither "exit," the option to leave the system, nor "voice," a way of giving feedback to the larger system. You either have a say in running a country--especially if you bankroll it!--or you get out. The present system is a formula for disaster.

And there will be further acrimony later this month when the federal and provincial governments renegotiate the national equalization program, which transfers money to poorer provinces so that they can deliver a level of public services comparable to that of the two "have" provinces, Alberta and Ontario.

Ottawa announced at the September health summit that it would like to increase equalization payments to "have not" provinces from a projected $9.2 billion this year to $10.9 billion in 2005-2006. The new framework would establish fixed payment levels, which will provide predictable and growing funding for provinces. These amounts would grow at a rate of 3.5 per cent per year.

But every time the "have not" provinces negotiate more money from Ottawa, it comes from Alberta and Ontario. (There is also a squabble looming between Quebec and the Atlantic provinces as to how to divide up the equalization pie.)

The gap between what Albertans pay in federal taxes and what returns to the province in federal cash transfers already amounts to $2.3 billion annually. For much larger Ontario, the sum is $6.3 billion. But at least Ontario doesn't feel "alienated," either geographically or politically, from Ottawa!

Finally, Canada needs more robust visibility on the international stage. At present, Ottawa so shirks its responsibilities that it sometimes seems that we have simply subcontracted our foreign policy to the United Nations--and, apparently, also to Quebec!

The Quebec government wants to play a greater role in international forums as part of a special arrangement the province is seeking from Ottawa and Federal Heritage Minister Liza Frulla has said that Quebec Culture Minister Line Beauchamp might sometimes represent Canada at UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meetings.

As for defence, we have left that up to the United States. Sooner or later, isn't someone bound to ask just what the federal government does?
We Need to Think Clearly about Islamism

Henry Srebrnik, Canadian Jewish News

Award-winning novelist and journalist Mark Helprin, a past recipient of the National Jewish Book Award in the United States, published a powerful article, “Three Years On,” in the Wall Street Journal of Sept. 10, marking the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.

“We proceed as if we are fighting disparate criminals united by coincidence,” Helprin wrote, “rather than the vanguard of militant Islam, united by ideology, sentiment, doctrine and practice, its partisans drawn from Morocco to the Philippines, Chechnya to the Sudan, a vast swath of the earth that, in regard to the elemental beliefs that fuel jihad, is as homogeneous as Denmark.”

In his lengthy and thought-provoking piece in the September 2004 issue of Commentary, titled “World War IV,” Norman Podhoretz, Commentary’s former and longtime editor, expresses a related message well: “We are up against a truly malignant force in radical Islamism and the states breeding, sheltering or financing its terrorist armory.” Podhoretz provides a detailed account of terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, that in fact goes back to the 1970s.

Hardly a day now passes without a suicide bombing, a hostage beheading or the destruction of an airliner, somewhere in the world. I haven’t kept count, but the sum total of people who have been killed by terrorists around the world, on and since Sept. 11, 2001, must by now number in the many thousands.

Prior to 9/11, there were, on average, 250 terrorist incidents annually around the globe, which killed a total of 500 people. Since then, that number of dead has been exceeded in just a handful of attacks, and each year these attacks have become more frequent and larger in scale. October will see the second anniversary of the Bali bombing in Indonesia that claimed 202 victims. Next March, it will be a year since 191 died in Madrid. And those are just two of the many incidents of mass murder. The hundreds recently slain in Beslan, Russia, have now been added to the list.

And I have not even mentioned the numerous suicide bombers that have targeted Israel and killed more than 1,000 Israelis since the current intifadah began in September 2000. The number of Israeli fatalities in the current conflict with the Palestinians has now exceeded all but those in the 1948-49 War of Independence and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

But as we know, there are none so blind as those who would not see, though the evidence literally surrounds them. Such wilful disregard of what stares them in the face, day after day, is an intellectual malady, usually contracted in university courses taught by the politically correct, and it particularly affects those on the left.

They will come up with any convoluted line of reasoning to explain away the worldwide outbreak of Islamist-orchestrated terrorism: American imperialism, Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands (or sometimes even the Jewish state’s very existence), globalization, Third World poverty, the greed of oil companies, failed states, western “Orientalism” and racism, reaction to Christian fundamentalism and a host of other “root causes.” Everything but the militant religio-fascist creed we have come to call Islamism.

The main purpose of a liberal arts education, it sometimes seems, is to ignore the principle we term Occam’s Razor. William of Occam (1284-1347) was an English philosopher whose work on logic and scientific inquiry played a major role in the transition from medieval to modern thought. He based scientific knowledge on experience and self-evident truths, and on logical propositions resulting from those two sources.

Occam stressed that entities must not be multiplied beyond what is necessary. A problem should be stated in its basic and simplest terms and the simplest theory that fits the facts is the one that should be selected.

But for our learned intellectuals, trained in obfuscation and even mendacity, this would constitute being “simplistic,” perhaps even “prejudiced,” and therefore deemed unacceptable. Many professors pride themselves in the use of obscure language and technical terms that appear to enhance their prestige as “deep thinkers.” Much of this is nothing but mystification.

It is of course true that some of the other issues they raise do play a role in fostering terrorism. Those who place the main blame on Islamism are not reductionists who fail to acknowledge other problems, but they at least know who the main culprits are.

Is it a wonder that politicians and writers from George Orwell to Preston Manning have lauded “the common sense of the common people” as opposed to the theoretical pretensions of left-wing academics?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Taking a Closer Look at the Selection of Judges

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian, p. A7

The fall session of Canada's Supreme Court opens on October 4, and the justices will have plenty of controversial issues to deal with, including the landmark same-sex marriage hearings scheduled for October 6-8.

Our Supreme Court now deals with some of society's most emotional matters and so has arguably become the lightening rod of our political system. Indeed, the whole judicial branch of government, traditionally relegated to "third place," after the legislative and executive branches, by students of politics, is now equally important.

Judges themselves acknowledge this. In a recent submission to the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission, a body that deals with judicial salaries for 1,100 federally-appointed judges, they noted that "judges are repeatedly called upon to adjudicate on sensitive and contentious matters."

So you can't blame the two Conservative MPs on the parliamentary committee that quizzed Justice Minister Irwin Cotler at the end of August about the two new Supreme Court nominees, for refusing to rubber-stamp the government's choice.

The all-party advisory panel of two legal experts and seven MPs—three Liberals, two Tories, and one member each from the Bloc Quebecois and NDP--was given almost no time to prepare, nor were they provided with much in the way of information about Rosalie Abella and Louise Charron in advance of the meeting.

They also could not directly question the two Ontario Court of Appeal justices, but could only interrogate Cotler, during the single day they met. The justice minister told them that questioning the two judges' qualifications might politicize the process--as if filling seats on the Supreme Court was not already as political an issue as one gets.

Conservative Justice critic Vic Toews called the hearings "an afterthought rather that a genuine consultation," while the party's deputy leader, Peter MacKay, said they were a "sham" that breaks Prime Minister Paul Martin's promise to open the high court selection system. Even MPs who endorsed the two nominees complained about the process. At

best this was a first step towards real scrutiny of the credentials of nominees.

Still, just three days later, the prime minister appointed the two judges to the Supreme Court, saying that the new review process, that altogether lasted less than a week, was "transparent."

This is no reflection on the competence or personal history of these two particular nominees. Indeed, Justice Abella, the daughter of Holocaust survivors who was born in a refugee camp in postwar Germany, is someone whose biography should be a source of pride to all Canadians.

But would a closer examination of the records of the two judges really have mattered, given that the final decision rests with the prime minister? Unlike the American system, where the Senate must ratify judicial nominations, and has occasionally vetoed residential choices, we have no other bodies to exercise oversight or refuse approval of the government's recommendations. We have no real separation of the executive from the legislative branches, no system of effective constitutional checks and balances.

The Supreme Court, which now dictates social and increasingly even economic policy, is today in terms of its outlook little more than a judicial arm of the Liberal Party, and its rulings can be depended upon to forward the Liberal political agenda. It's "Bible," the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is itself the child of Pierre Trudeau's Liberal

philosophy of how society should be organized.

But why should we be surprised? Canada for more than a decade has in effect been a one-party state, with little significant political opposition, and naturally those in power pick judges who see things their way. And even though the Liberals now only form a minority

government, they still do 100% of the selecting.

Right wingers who are outraged by the power exercised by the justices and who claim that Canada has become a "judicial autocracy," where judges rule rather than adjudicate, are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Judges don't control the executive branch, politicians do. Nazi judges and Stalinist judges didn't run Germany and the Soviet

Union; they were picked to legitimize, in the eyes of the populace, the political goals of those in power. The same holds true even in democratic states such as Canada.

This also helps us understand why the Liberals have convinced Canadians that it is somehow illegitimate to use the constitution's "notwithstanding" clause. Why would anyone want to override decisions made by the Supreme Court, if not for nefarious purposes? Of course, unstated in this line of argument is that the court's judgements usually reflect Liberal thinking in the first place.

Think of the convenience: our Liberal government can refer "hot button" issues to the Supreme Court and thus spare itself negative consequences such as voter dissatisfaction and potential loss of seats in an election. Much safer to let the judges, who are beyond the reach of the electorate, do the political heavy lifting.

Americans know that arguably the most important power a U.S. president wields is the selection of judges, and this is one of the main determinants in their choice of a candidate.

Jean Chretien and Paul Martin between them have now selected eight of the current nine Supreme Court justices. If Canadians want their highest court to have a different philosophy of jurisprudence, they must elect a party other than the one in power, so that when future vacancies occur, we will not be offered clones of those already on the bench.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Taking a Look at the Winners and Losers in the Global Propaganda Wars

Henry Srebrnik, Charlottetown Guardian

It was during the Kosovo War in 1999 that I realized that it was no
great feat, nor did it take much skill, to be a successful propagandist.
You merely needed access to the major levers of information and power
and people would just fall in line, like sheep, and say, "yes, you're

In 1999 we were fed ridiculous hyperbole about Slobodan Milosevic's war
in Kosovo as being a replay of the Holocaust, a massive genocide in the
making, rather than a tribal struggle between two less-than-savory
opponents laying claim to the same piece of territory.

Few people now want to recall how they were gulled, at a time when it is
the Albanians doing the "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, under NATO and UN

Mind you, that's all water under the bridge now. At this point the best
solution would be to usher in a Kosovar Albanian state. But the same
people who got us into that mess don't approve of this either!

Two more recent examples of successful manipulation: During the
Democratic primaries earlier this year, the powers-that-be in the party,
clearly sensing that Howard Dean would prove too left-wing to be a
viable challenger to President George W. Bush, came down on him like a
ton of bricks--and the media dutifully went along--for his now notorious
"rant" on Jan. 20 before a cheering crowd at his Iowa campaign

Dean had ripped off his jacket and pumped his fist in the air as he
exhorted his supporters. The crowd roared in response. Anyone who has
seen the videotape of that evening, and thinks for themselves, will
conclude that this was nothing more than the exuberance of a candidate
firing up his troops in a very noisy hall.

Yet for some reason Dean's very mental stability was called into
question. This became the conventional wisdom and he soon faded away as
a contender.

Once John Kerry had wrapped up the nomination, the Democrats decided to
make partisan use of the National Commission on Terrorist Attack Upon
the United States, which is looking into the 9/11 tragedy, to convince
people that George Bush wasn't on the ball when it came to terrorism.

They made political hay out of the testimony given to the commission in
March by Richard A. Clarke, who had been Bush's chief counter-terrorism
adviser on the National Security Council. He charged that the Bush
administration was not focused on terrorism before the Sept. 11, 2001
attacks and did not consider it "an urgent issue."

But Bush had only been in office some eight months. Clarke spent eight
previous years in charge of counter-terrorism for a Democratic
administration that did virtually nothing to prevent al-Qaida from
gathering strength.

The White House was also pressured into releasing a classified briefing
to Bush written in Aug. 6, 2001, which had warned that terrorists might
be preparing for a hijacking in the U.S. and might be targeting
Manhattan. And as early as July 2001, information was apparently
available suggesting that potential terrorists were taking lessons at
flight schools, but the FBI did not act on this information.

Hindsight makes for easy potshots. How would people have reacted had the
Bush administration rounded up all Arabs or Muslims in the U.S. who had
ever taken flying lessons in the summer of 2001? Even after Sept. 11,
the White House was accused of racial profiling for daring to question
Middle Easterners more aggressively than other non-citizens in the country.

Bush's opponents also blame him for not having launched a pre-emptive
strike at Afghanistan, though most of these same people, in the fall of
2001, were wary of invading that country even after 9/11, citing the
fierce resistence that Pashtun warriors and Islamic mujehadeen had put
up against the Soviets a decade earlier, the treacherous "Afghan
winter," and so forth. Yet for some reason George Bush is now castigated
for this, as well.

Many of the relatives of those who perished in the Twin Towers and at
the Pentagon seem to be angrier with Bush than with Osama bin Laden. Is
this a new version of the "Stockholm Syndrome," the term coined by
social scientists in the 1970s for the psychological state in which
hostages captured by terrorists came to identify with their very captors?

Of course we know that the real reason that Democrats want to remove
Bush from office is his prosecution of the war in Iraq. Truth is indeed
the first casualty in war.

Monday, May 31, 2004

'Party of state' pegs its future on felling Harper.

Henry Srebrnik, The Calgary Herald

Is it possible that the Liberals may actually lose the election? Prime Minister Paul Martin has tried to distance himself from a decade of Liberal rule and make people forget that he was a senior minister in the government.

But might he go the way of other leaders who, upon taking office, tried to reform corrupt political machines, only to be swept away by the tides of change? Voters often punish the available messenger, not his departed predecessors. Two recent examples come to mind.

After ruling Mexico continuously for seven decades, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), seeing the writing on the wall, belatedly began instituting political changes, but were swept away by Vicente Fox, who became president in 2000.

And the last Soviet ruler, Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985 and tried to radically alter the Communist Party, was forced to step down in 1991. People responded with enthusiasm to his policy of "glasnost" (openness), but it did not save his regime.

It's hard to envision such an outcome in this country, though. After all, even former Tory leader Joe Clark has stated that he would prefer a Martin Liberal government to a Conservative one headed by Stephen Harper. In turn, and not surprisingly, many members of the new Conservative Party of Canada have denounced Clark as a "traitor."

But Clark can be defined in such terms only if we think of the old Progressive Conservative Party as an "opposition" party. In fact, the now defunct PCs, along with the Liberals and the New Democratic Party, all adhered to a broad policy consensus about what defines Canada. Indeed, the so-called red Tory wing was often to the left of the Liberals in its social views. All three were, to use a European term, "parties of state," that is, the ones that supported the status quo hegemony of the left-liberal, secular, redistributionist, bilingual, multicultural non-ethnic state that is Trudeauvian Canada.

They upheld the "pays legale" (legal country), referring to the state's constitutional order. The Reform (later Canadian Alliance) and Bloc Quebecois parties were the true opposition.

There has been a subtle party realignment in Canada over the past few months. Most of the old red Tories have been absorbed into the Liberal Party -- Clark's endorsement of Martin has made that clear. Some might even move all the way to the communitarian NDP.

The new Conservatives are, whether they like the label or not, an enlarged version of the Alliance, because that's how the "parties of state" will define them ideologically. Martin and NDP Leader Jack Layton have already begun doing so.

And this is also the reason Layton's attempt to paint Harper and Martin as political twins won't ring true with the electorate. In reality, Layton and Martin are on the same side of the ideological divide.

The sponsorship scandal has benefited the NDP as well as the new Conservatives and the Bloc. The Conservatives in English Canada, and the Bloc even more so in Quebec, have had the better of the anti-Liberal backlash. Since the NDP also upholds the left-liberal consensus that favours big government, it has found it harder to fight abuses of power in a public sector, rather than corporate, scandal.

In English-speaking Canada, two "parties of state," the Liberals (strengthened with the stealth-like entry of old PCs), and the NDP will face as their opponents the new Conservative Party. In francophone Quebec, one "party of state," the Liberals, will confront the other true opposition party, the Bloc.

Clearly, it is Harper the Liberals will be going after outside Quebec, in attack ads designed to define him as a danger to the country. Martin told his caucus in the last days before the House of Commons adjourned that Harper's are "not Canadian values." The Liberals have launched a website ( full of Harper quotes that portray him as a right-winger with extreme views.

Is it possible Joe McCarthy didn't die in 1957 but moved up to Canada and is now working for a Liberal-friendly ad agency? With all of these difficulties, it is unlikely Harper can win. And should the Liberals retain office following the spate of scandals that have been uncovered, and given the negative campaign they have unleashed, no one could blame them for assuming that they govern Canada by divine right.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

What do the political contours of the federal election look like?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The writ has been dropped and we're trooping to the polls June 28. Let the electoral games begin!

Is it possible that the Liberals may actually lose the election? Paul Martin has tried to distance himself from the last decade of Liberal rule and make people forget that he was a senior minister in that government.

But might he go the way of other leaders who, upon taking office, tried to reform corrupt political machines, only to be swept away by the tides of change? Voters often punish the available messenger, not his departed predecessors. Two recent historical examples come to mind.

After ruling Mexico continuously for seven decades, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), seeing the writing on the wall, belatedly began instituting political changes, but were swept away by current president Vicente Fox in 2000.

And the last Soviet ruler, Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985 and tried to radically alter the Communist Party, was forced to step down in 1991. People responded with enthusiasm to his policy of "glasnost" (openness), but it did not save his regime, and one- party rule came to an end.

It's hard to envision such an outcome in this country, though. After all, even former Tory leader Joe Clark has stated that he would prefer a Paul Martin Liberal government to a Conservative one headed by Stephen Harper. In turn, and not surprisingly, many members of the new Conservative Party of Canada, whether old Tories or Alliance partisans, have denounced Clark as a "traitor."

But Clark can be defined in such terms only if we think of the old Progressive Conservative Party as an 'opposition' party. In actual fact the now defunct PCs, along with the Liberals and the New Democratic Party, all adhered to a broad policy consensus about what defines Canada. Indeed, the so-called 'red Tory' wing was often to the left of the Liberals in its social views.

All three were, to use a European term, "parties of state," that is, the ones that supported the status quo hegemony of the left- liberal, secular, redistributionist, bilingual, multicultural non- ethnic state that is Trudeauvian Canada.

They upheld the "pays legal," a French term meaning the "legal country," referring to the state's constitutional order. The Reform (later Canadian Alliance) and Bloc Quebecois parties were the true opposition.

They might be considered representatives of the "pays reel," the "real" or "true" country that lies buried beneath the official state.

To make this distinction more clear, think of the CBC as representing the "pays legal" and hockey commentator Don Cherry as the expression of the "pays reel." If the CBC does indeed fire Don Cherry from his popular Coach's Corner perch on Hockey Night in Canada, it will be an apt example of the increasing divergence in this country between the two.

The "politically correct" and elite-driven CBC represents post- 1960s Canada, while Cherry might be termed the voice of "antediluvian" popular culture in the English-Canadian pays reel. To use another French term, Cherry represents "le Canada profonde."

So there has been a subtle party realignment in Canada over the past few months. Now, in effect, most of the old 'red Tories' have been absorbed into the Liberal Party -- Clark's endorsement of Paul Martin has made that clear. Some might even move all the way to the communitarian NDP. Clark also said he supports former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, who is contesting an Ottawa riding.

The new Conservatives are, whether they like it or not, an enlarged version of the Alliance -- because that's how the "parties of state" will define them ideologically. Clark, Martin, and NDP leader Jack Layton have already begun doing so.

And this is also the reason Layton's attempt to paint Stephen Harper and Martin as political twins won't ring true with the electorate. Because in reality, Layton and Martin are, in the final analysis, on the same side of the ideological divide.

The sponsorship scandal has benefitted the NDP as well as the new Conservatives and the Bloc, but the Conservatives in English Canada, and the Bloc even more so in Quebec, have had the better of the anti- Liberal backlash. Since the NDP also upholds the left-liberal consensus that favours big government, it has found it harder to fight abuses of power in a public-sector, rather than corporate, scandal.

In English-speaking Canada two "parties of state," the Liberals, now informally strengthened with the stealth-like entry of old Tories, and the NDP, will face as their opponents the new Conservative Party. In francophone Quebec one "party of state," the Liberals, will confront the other true opposition party, the Bloc.

Clearly, it is Harper the Liberals will be going after outside Quebec, in a campaign of 'attack ads' designed to define him as a danger to the country. The prime minister himself told his caucus in the last days before the House of Commons adjourned that Harper's values are "not Canadian values." The Liberals have launched a website ( full of Harper quotes that portray him as a right-winger with extreme views.

Is it possible Joe McCarthy didn't die in 1957 but moved up to Canada and is now working for a Liberal-friendly ad agency?

With all of these difficulties, can Harper actually win? It's very unlikely. And should the Liberals retain office following the spate of scandals that have now been uncovered, and given the negative campaign they have unleashed, no one could blame them for assuming that they govern Canada by divine right.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Winning, and then Losing, in Iraq

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared victory in Iraq. But he forgot one thing: Beating Saddam Hussein's conventional army was only the first step. In a country full of guns and weaponry, it would be only a matter of time until the occupiers faced ever-increasing harassment in the form of guerrilla warfare.

It is clear that Bush, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and their Pentagon advisers exhibited too much hubris in March 2003 when they confidently assumed that they could fight a war quickly using high-tech "shock and awe" to break the back of Iraq's military.

They were both right and wrong. True, the Iraqi army melted away in just weeks, putting up token resistence. But, as we now realize, that was just the beginning, not the end, of America's troubles. The state apparatus in Iraq was an artificial superstructure, easily shoved aside.

But the real opposition to the U.S. occupation would come from less brittle social and religious groupings: In the case of the Sunni Arabs, it was centred within highly organized extended families and tribes, while amongst the Shi'a, legitimacy lay with the clerical establishment in the mosques.

Although Sunnis and Shi'a normally have little time for one another, a solidarity based on Iraqi nationalism and pan-Islam has surfaced as both confronted coalition forces, and also because of the powerful role of religious parties now.

The so-called "neocons," the conservative hawks who have been in the forefront of determining U.S. policy in the Middle East, had assured the White House that Iraqis would greet American troops as liberators. They were as blinded by their theoretical assumptions as were the doctrinaire Marxists who ran Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War.

Though they consider themselves conservatives, the neocons are in many ways the heirs of the Wilsonian strain of optimism that has periodically shaped American foreign policy: the idea that any country can be molded into becoming a pluralistic democracy.

Too bad they appear not to have read Samuel Huntington's seminal work on The Clash of Civilizations. It provides an essential dose of political realism for those wearing ideological blinkers.

Niall Ferguson, a professor of history at New York University, in his new book Colossus: The Price of America's Empire, has written that America's weakness is not its need to conquer but its desire to be appreciated by the citizens whose country it invades. But invading armies and occupiers are rarely beloved, no matter how awful the suffering has been.

When the war began, Bush said to the Iraqis, "We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave." Yet Iraqis responded with widespread rebellion. Can the president still honestly believe that Iraq, as he stated on May 4, will become "a model for freedom and democracy?"

American armies are great at fighting wars, but no army is good at reconstructing a country that is composed of people who aren't terribly excited by western style constitutional democracy and tolerance. Too many Iraqis seem more interested in indigenous political forms such as Ba'athist nationalism and Shi'a theocracy than in imported norms of personal freedom and equality. Even the capture of Saddam last December made no appreciable difference.

Clearly, too few troops were assigned to Iraq after the initial victory to properly contend with further resistence. So, unable to control the Sunni triangle, especially a hotbed of resistence like Fallujah, the U.S. has assembled a Sunni Muslim militia to pacify the city. Some of the leaders of the new Fallujah Brigade had been officers in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, which was dominated by Sunni Muslims and accused of human rights abuses against Shi'a Muslims and Kurds. They even still wear their old uniforms.

The American forces have also failed to wrest Najaf away from the Mahdi Army loyal to the radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, refraining from mounting a full-scale invasion because its shrine is one of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites.

A country unwilling to use the kind of force that would have been necessary for victory in places like Fallujah and Najaf cannot win a war against the kind of insurgency it has encountered there and had better face up to what that means.

Even a Canadian human rights advocate such as Michael Ignatieff, in his new book, The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, maintains that to combat terrorism, "we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war."

Iraq is not Vietnam, and the world of 2004 is a very different place than it was 40 years ago. Still, there are similarities between these two wars.

The U.S. lost in Vietnam because it was hampered by its inability to bring its superior firepower to bear on the Communist guerrillas. They could retreat across the border into safe areas in North Vietnam, off limits to American forces, and they received aid from their Chinese and Soviet allies throughout the conflict.

In Iraq, too, fighters, arms and money have been flowing into the country from neighbouring Iran, Syria, perhaps even Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Iran and Syria are certainly sympathetic to the aims of the nationalist insurgents. Bush has now imposed economic sanctions on Syria, banning all U.S. exports except for food and medicine, after long-standing complaints that Damascus was undermining U.S. efforts in Iraq.

As well, in both cases the U.S. tried to win the "hearts and minds" of the population and thus distinguished between the mass of the citizenry and the enemy--in one case the Communists, in the other the Ba'athists. No such distinctions were made in World War II: in that total war, all the inhabitants of the enemy state suffered the consequences of the decisions made by their political leaders.

Also, with the revelations that Iraqi detainees have been beaten, tortured and even killed by the American military, this war already has its own, though comparatively mild, version of the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when Marines killed some 300 civilians. That crime came to light later and helped turn public opinion against that war.

Atrocities such as these tend to occur when conventional armies find themselves confronting guerrilla forces, enemies who don't wear uniforms and don't adhere to Geneva Convention rules of engagement and treatment of soldiers. There are no definable front lines and troops can be attacked without warning by suicide bombers or by snipers who then fade into a crowd of civilians. Even if they consider themselves "freedom fighters," their methods are those of terrorists The frustration inherent in such situations may boil over and often leads to the type of abuse that was inflicted upon Iraqi prisoners by their American jailers.

Though a contrite Bush apologized on Arab television networks, and Rumsfeld testified before both houses of Congress and took full responsibility for the mess, this, predictably, did them little good among their detractors, both at home and in the Middle East. The torture and humiliation at the Abu Ghraib prison will prove to be the "tipping point" which has made the continuing American mission in Iraq untenable.

The impending defeat and eventual withdrawal of America troops from Iraq--and there is no use pretending that it isn't "really" a defeat--bodes ill for the whole project of bringing any semblance of democracy and modernity to the Arab world.

In order not to prolong the agony, the U.S. military should waste no time leaving Iraq. The exit strategy is simple: Exit!

Some will no doubt respond that a U.S. exodus will "look bad" and that "there will be a vacuum leading to civil war." But who cares if it looks bad? It will look much worse if U.S. soldiers keep getting killed for no identifiable gain and are clearly not in charge of the country.

Nor will they be able to hand over sovereignty after June 30 to any pro-American Iraqi government that will last very long. It will lack legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis. Why not let the United Nations handle the whole mess--they have earned it!

As for civil war--yes, this may follow, given that Iraq is in some sense now a political vacuum. The Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds may fight it out for control of the country or even split it apart. Even if the first two groups are Arab nationalists, the Kurds want no part of a reunited Iraq. You can't nation-build where there is no nation to be built. But that may be the "least bad" outcome.

A worse fate for most Iraqis would be the eventual assumption of power by someone who would be a political clone of Saddam Hussein. That would make this war an even greater farce than Vietnam was.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Just how far would the Liberals have gone to 'save' Canada?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The whole sponsorship scandal, as we know, revolved around defeating Quebec separatism and, if possible, buying off people in the province.

This was first and foremost in the mind of francophones such as Jean Chretien, who would have been left high and dry without a country to call their own, had the secessionists won the day in 1995.

After all, Chuck Guite, the retired civil servant who was in charge of the sponsorship program, himself contended in closed-door testimony to the public accounts committee of the House of Commons in July 2002, now released, that "we were basically at war trying to save the country."

Given the 'war room' mentality of 'victory at all costs' that this engendered, corruption was inevitable under such circumstances. We've all at some point read Samuel Johnson's remark that often "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

At the end of March, we suddenly found out about a secret National Unity Reserve Fund that the federal Liberals had been running, located, apparently, in the Prime Minister's Office itself. Even Auditor General Sheila Fraser said she knew nothing about it.

It seems to have operated almost like a Canadian version of a 'Comintern', funding ideological 'anti-separatism' at home and abroad the way the Soviets pushed Communism in their heyday. The reserve fund may have paid out as much as $550 million over the years, and the sponsorship program itself, now mired in scandal, may have been hatched here.

The Forum of Federations, an organization that was formed to propagate support for federalism all over the world, was apparently one beneficiary -- and many of us have been getting their (quite excellent) literature for years (See

As well, this fund, according to some reports, financed the big 'pro-federalism' conference in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, in October 1999, at which U.S. President Bill Clinton came out in opposition to the idea of a sovereign Quebec.

Check out the website, which states, in a story entitled 'Federalism Conference 2002 a Huge Success,' that "Many Canadians feel a special relationship with federalism, as if it was a Made in Canada concept."

Canada has made a fetish of federalism because it suffers from the problem of 'stateness'. A word coined by political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan in their 1996 book, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, this refers to the potential destabilizing situations that may arise when there is no congruence between the identity of the nation and the borders of the state -- in other words, when there is uncertainty over who and what actually constitutes the country.

"If a significant group of people does not accept claims on its obedience as legitimate," maintain Linz and Stepan, then this presents a serious problem for a democracy.

As we know, for many decades now, a very significant percentage of francophone Quebecers have not considered themselves Canadians. For them, Canada is simply not 'legitimate', regardless of its social, political or economic virtues. They want 'self- determination' for what they consider to be the nation of Quebec, and that's that.

Even among the majority who do not wish to leave Canada, their Canadian identity is for many not a matter of deep emotion, but contingent upon "what's best for Quebec." Their feelings for Canada are trumped by their primary identity as Quebecois. This always makes for a fragile polity. To keep people in line who are uncertain about their national identity, something which, after all, should be the very bedrock of a country, there have been only two courses of action to take by those who wish to keep a state united: 'carrots' or 'sticks'.

The sponsorship deals, and the many other goodies and so-called 'favours' that Quebec has received from the rest of the country since the 1960s, have been carrots. But in the background there is always the possibility, should things get out of hand, of the stick.

Even in democracies such as today's Spain or the pre-1922 United Kingdom, which included all of Ireland, violence has often been the norm, usually launched by those who want their own country, but also sometimes by their opponents.

Would the feds have gone so far as to use force had the referendum gone the other way in 1995? We'll never know.

But rarely has there ever been a partition of a country without armed struggle -- because not only was Canada in danger of being divided, so was Quebec itself. This is what many nervous non- francophones in Montreal and in the Ottawa Valley were already demanding in the days preceding the referendum, were Quebec to secede. Would the Canadian military have stood idly by had the streets of Montreal begun to resemble those of Belfast or Sarajevo? No people, not even Canadians, is immune to violence when push comes to shove.

The hard-core nationalists in Quebec will now feel vindicated: they have always claimed that their federalist Liberal enemies have treated the province like an unruly colony and its people with contempt.

The disclosures of the past two months, and other revelations which no doubt will emerge in the days to come, will provide a shot in the arm for the separatists. The Bloc Quebecois has always demanded information on funding for the massive pre-referendum rally in Montreal that helped the federalists win.

They will declare themselves to have been on the receiving end of a 'dirty tricks' campaign that would have done Richard Nixon proud. In such a manner do carrots sometimes turn into boomerangs.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Stephen Harper's experience makes him the right person for the job: The new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has served for many years in the political trenches.

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

I'm glad that Stephen Harper has won the new Conservative Party's leadership race. He has served for many years in the political trenches: a former Progressive Conservative, he was a founding member of the Reform party and was first elected to Parliament in 1993.

After one term in the House of Commons, Harper headed the National Citizens' Coalition, the taxpayers' lobby group, from 1998 to 2001. He returned to active politics and assumed the leadership of the Canadian Alliance in 2002, when the party was divided, wracked by dissension and in big trouble.

And, finally, against much opposition in both camps, he's the one who finally brought the two conservative parties, the Alliance and the Tories, together last year.

Maybe Tony Clement is more 'electable', and carries less political baggage, in central and eastern Canada. Had he been chosen, that would have been fine, too. (A Belinda Stronach win, on the other hand, would have been simply a function of delegate buying and little short of a travesty.) But Harper has really earned this victory.

In the mid-1990s, when I was doing academic research on the Reform party, I interviewed Harper a few times and also attended the annual Christmas/Chanukah party in Calgary that he co-sponsored with Ezra Levant, another Reform/Alliance activist and now publisher of the new right-of-centre Western Standard magazine. Some of Harper's advisers and confidantes teach political science at the University of Calgary and I know them very well.

I came away in those days with the impression that Harper was an intelligent and decent person, very earnest and policy-oriented. He's basically a social libertarian and fiscal conservative who doesn't want money squandered all over the place by bureaucrats and politicians whose cures are worse than the disease.

This doesn't mean he'll get an easy ride in the next election, though. On the contrary. He is not at all the social conservative ogre or religious nut that the Liberals will paint him as. (I met plenty of those when writing about the Reform Party). Nor is he an "Alberta nationalist" who wants to shove Atlantic Canada into the ocean. But that won't stop Liberal spinmeisters from trying to define him as such.

Ironically, he will also be taken to task for being "soft on separatism," even though he was the Reform party's chief spokesperson on the issue during the 1995 Quebec referendum and saw his hard-line suggestions become the basis for the Liberals' own Clarity Act, passed in 2000.

How will the Liberals manage to accomplish this political sleight- of-hand? Some analysts now paint a scenario whereby a minority Liberal government might be forced from power after the next federal election by a combined Conservative-Bloc Quebecois coalition bringing it down in a vote of non-confidence.

Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe has stated that the Bloc and the Conservatives have the same enemy in the Liberals, and could conceivably support each other in the Commons.

The Liberals have wasted no time trying to portray the Conservatives as nation-wreckers. "The raison d'etre for the BQ is to tear apart the country," declared Nova Scotia Liberal MP Scott Brison, a former Tory, recently, implying that Harper would help them achieve this goal.

But isn't Paul Martin the one who has made Bloc co-founder Jean Lapierre his senior Quebec lieutenant and who accepted former Bloc MP Robert Lanctot into his party? Isn't Martin the one who supported distinct society status for Quebec during the Meech Lake accord debates in the 1980s and is now cosying up to "soft nationalists" in the province? So, we might reasonably ask the Liberals, who's afraid of the big bad Bloc?

Many voters' perceptions seem completely subjective. I know people who detest Harper and yet had no trouble condoning the bullying, chicanery, lies, and just plain arrogance that Canadians have been on the receiving end of for the past decade, from Jean Chretien and former cabinet ministers like Elinor Caplan, Sheila Copps, Art Eggleton, Hedy Fry, Alfonso Gagliano and Allan Rock.

When pressed to the wall, and forced to rationalize the scandals revolving around 'Shawinigate', the sponsorship program, the boondoggles at Human Resources Development Canada, the gun registry, and much more, many such people will tell you that "everybody steals," "buys votes" and "wastes money."

Yet they will then go on to insist that "things will be different" now that Paul Martin -- scion of a prominent Liberal family and finance minister in the Chretien government for nine years -- is prime minister.

Do people like this live on a different psychological planet from me? Sometimes it seems that we don't inhabit the same cognitive universe.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Are Iranian Rulers Ready for Democracy and Rapprochement with the U.S.?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Late in December, the Iranian city of Bam suffered a terrible earthquake, and some 30,000 lives were lost. Aid poured in from everywhere in the world, including Canada, and even from what the Iranian Shi’ite theocracy refers to as the “Great Satan,” the United States.

This was a tragedy of immense proportions, and no person could fail but be touched by the anguish and suffering, as thousands more mourned their dead and slept in the cold beside their demolished homes.

Yet, despite this disaster, the Iranian government accepted American aide grudgingly, finally conceding that the U.S. can have a humanitarian sensibility in “certain cases.” It seemed that for a while they were considering trading the lives of their own people for an ideology.

The Achilles heel of the West, on the other hand, is clearly its sense of decency, which means it can be taken advantage of. The U.S. sent in experts and huge amounts of relief supplies, making the country one of the largest international donors.

Yet, unfortunately, by pouring aid into Iran, was not the U.S. helping--since money is fungible--Tehran free up funds with which to finance ongoing terrorist operations in neighboring Iraq, where American soldiers are being killed, as some have alleged?

I suppose Washington thinks it is winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Iranians this way. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked that he sees a “new attitude” in Iran and hoped that relations between the two countries might improve.

But Iranian President Mohammad Khatami downplayed speculation that Washington’s contribution might result in a resumption of diplomatic relations, severed in 1979 following the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Also, the 12 members of the Guardian Council, who are conservative clerics chosen by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, soon afterwards disqualified more than 80 legislators, all reformists, from seeking another term in upcoming parliamentary elections in February. They were deemed to oppose Ayatollah Khamenei’s absolute rule.

In response, parliament passed a bill to overturn the disqualifications, but the Guardian Council vetoed the legislation on the grounds that it contradicted the constitution and Sharia (Islamic) law. Unless Iran’s constitution is amended, the clerics retain the ultimate power.

Given this reality, and also the evidence of the past 25 years, when it comes to predicting the chances of reformers loosening the grip of the religious hierarchy in Iran, it is wise to remain skeptical rather than hopeful.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Living a life of Western guilt: Some professors, journalists seem embarrassed by their privileged status

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian, January 3, 2004, p. A7

As a new year begins, one of the priorities of the Paul Martin government will be to mend fences with the United States and to muffle the knee-jerk opposition to American foreign and domestic policies that has become so much a feature of contemporary Canadian discourse.

This will be easier said than done, because the anti-Americanism currently evident in Canadian cultural and educational institutions such as national CBC radio and television and many universities demonstrates the irrelevance of those technically presiding over these largely autonomous bodies.

After all, the head of the CBC, and the presidents, deans and other administrators of most universities, are not political extremists. Yet this seems to make little difference. It’s the people doing the actual work--the journalists, the professors--who control these and exercise ideological hegemony.

Obviously, formal ownership only goes so far. It is the dominant ideology which is the most important factor in determining the output of these intellectual workers. Top management does not usually have much influence over that.

For example, the fact that most media outlets are owned by corporations does not change the fact that the journalists who work for the media are usually left liberals or social democrats, and these journalists often reflect that outlook in their work.

But perhaps it is necessary to fit all this into the context of the whole “cultural relativism” syndrome. A considerable number of professors and journalists seem acutely embarrassed by what they perceive as their own privileged status and that of the West, especially the United States, in general.

They bend over backwards to elevate “the other” in the non-western world, whether it be Saddam Hussein, Saudi Wahabbists, in some cases even Al-Qaeda. They see these opponents of the West as oppressed and noble, morally more worthy than their own privileged selves. These intellectuals have sat at the ideological knees of the left-wing theorists Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said.

Their fundamental premise, though often unarticulated, is simply that all military actions by western countries, especially those mounted by the U.S., are bad and all “Third World” people are good--even Ba’athists and the Taliban.

Many of these people, after all, opposed the war in Afghanistan to rid that country of medievalist torturers.

Other arguments they put forward to cast western actions in a bad light are merely after-the-fact rationalizations, which need not be consistent. I wonder, for example, how many of the people who today denounce the Israeli security fence as an “apartheid wall” are the ideological descendants of the left-wingers who in 1961 rationalized the building of the Berlin Wall as a way to “save socialism” in East Germany?

They will, true to form, ignore the fact that it was not moral suasion or “soft power,” but the defeat of Saddam, that convinced the leader of another rogue state, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, to abandon his own program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Nor will they acknowledge that it was the “demonstration effect” of the Iraq war that has brutal regimes in Iran, North Korea and Syria now looking over their shoulders and beginning to take America’s message to heart.

But why are such intellectuals so uncomfortable with their “privileges?” Is this the remnants of 1960s radicalism? Why has this indoctrination not “evaporated” over the years, as it were?

Most of these people presumably have children. Even if they feel undeserving, do they really want to bring down the world their kids will live in? Don’t they realize their very institutions would be shut down by some fanatic or fuhrer, their books burnt? It seems not.

And so we are confronted with the anomaly of much of the left deploring the defeat of the most glaring example of fascism in our time in Iraq, of feminists opposing the collapse of a regime that routinely used rape as a way of keeping a population in submission, and of the heirs to the civil rights movement upset that systematically terrorized ethnic groups such as the Kurds no longer face the threat of wholesale repression.

It will be interesting to see how historians regard people who opposed the war against Saddam with few good arguments beyond their antipathy to the people who were fighting it, whose most strenuous objections were often cynical and beside the point, and who were reluctant to see its outcome as positive.

If we are really living in the era of the “clash of civilizations,” these ideologues seem to have hoisted a white flag and crossed over to the other side.