Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Thursday, April 20, 2006

April 20, 2006

The federal Liberals should choose Ignatieff as leader.

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The race for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party has begun in earnest. And there are some strong and highly intelligent candidates already in the field or contemplating a run for the job, especially former Ontario premier Bob Rae and former federal environment minister Stéphane Dion.

But it is Michael Ignatieff, who, though elected to Parliament from a Toronto riding only last January, would make the most formidable Liberal Party leader.

There are those who think it is the height of chutzpah for Ignatieff to think he can return to Canada after three decades outside the country and become its prime minister. I disagree.

That Ignatieff has lived abroad and taught at universities such as Cambridge, Harvard and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales is, in my opinion, a plus, rather than a minus.

He comes from the cosmopolitan world of arts, education, and culture, and his world-view is far less parochial than many of his small-minded “Canadian nationalist” political opponents, who after years in the political trenches are unable to think “outside the box.”

And of course he is not tainted by the corruption that was endemic in the Chrètien and Martin years.

Ignatieff would be the Liberal most able to defeat the Harper Conservatives in a federal election. Why? Because this distinguished author and professor is the very thing most Canadians think they don’t like: a “neo-con.”

The word “neo-con” has become a term of abuse, almost an insult, in Canada, in particular among Liberals and New Democrats, thanks to the antipathy that has been generated to it in this country by the Bush administration.

Yet most Canadians have no idea of neo-conservatism’s historical roots. It originated within the Democratic Party in the United States during the Cold War 1970s, in opposition to both the “loony left,” who were prepared to appease the Soviets and co-exist with Communism following the Vietnam defeat, and the isolationist and reactionary Republican right, nowadays referred to as “paleo-cons,” as in paleolithic or ancient.

Most neo-conservative thinkers were former liberals and leftists, even socialists, people like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Senator Henry Jackson, Jean Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Norman Podhoretz.

Canada’s more liberal political culture and lower international profile has made neo-conservatism a less significant factor in our political life and this is why so many of us confuse it with other political doctrines.

The founders of the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance were mainly social conservatives and evangelical Christians — often called theological conservatives or “theo-cons” — rather than neo-conservatives. As for the old Progressive Conservatives, many were simply ideological liberals.

In order to avoid being “tainted” by the term “neo-con,” at least in this country, Ignatieff prefers to define himself as being on the “centre-left” of the political spectrum, and a proponent of “liberal internationalism.”

But, perhaps because he has lived outside Canada for so many years, he fits the neo-conservative profile almost to a T.

Basically, neo-conservatives can be defined as follows:

They are fiscal conservatives, and oppose big government, but allow a role for the state in mitigating those extremes of poverty and wealth inevitable in a free market economy. They do not advocate a laissez-faire "free-for-all" economic system nor are they social Darwinists.

They are social liberals, but without going to the extremes found among some of the politically correct. They tend to be “a-religious”and secular and are agnostic about, or even supportive of, abortion and same-sex marriage. More pragmatic in matters of morality than are social conservatives, they are far less likely to be swayed by religious arguments.

In international affairs, they believe Canada has a national interest and should be prepared to back it up.

They champion a robust, fairly pro-American policy, and are not afraid to assert that sometimes armed force is needed to extend democracy and defeat the enemies of freedom around the world.

So they look askance at the naivete of those who place their faith in “soft power” and who would have our foreign agenda be dictated by the do-gooders at the United Nations or among various “civil society” non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“I believe in a progressive and compassionate approach to social policy; a moderate, creative and responsible approach to economic policy in order to fuel the growth required to enhance social justice; and a confident and realistic foreign policy that focuses on making a real and positive difference in our troubled world,” Ignatieff recently stated in the Globe and Mail.

This is neo-conservatism in a nutshell — and a far cry from the image painted by those who choose to slander it.

A true “public intellectual,” and fluently bilingual, Ignatieff arguably would be the most articulate and knowledgeable Liberal leader since Confederation (and yes, that includes Pierre Trudeau). He would attract voters from both the left and right.

Conservatives and New Democrats should pray to the political gods that the party chooses someone else.
April 2006

UPEI Faculty Opposes Gag Laws

Henry Srebrnik, Newsletter of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS)

The threat of censorship lately has hung over the campus of the University of Prince Edward Island. Last month, the president of the school, Wade MacLauchlan, had the February 8 issue of The Cadre, the student newspaper, confiscated after it published the notorious Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

MacLauchlan stated that he ordered the papers removed from "the property" to prevent "the possibility of a reckless invitation to public disorder and humiliation." He cited the deaths that had already occurred elsewhere in the world – though PEI is one of the most peaceful corners of the globe.

MacLauchlan met with the president of the Student Union four times in the days that followed, and the Student Union finally agreed to destroy the offending issue of the paper, although at first they had rejected the idea. MacLauchlan afterwards praised the Student Union for its wisdom in seizing and destroying the papers, insisting this had been their decision, not his.

"I was especially proud of the leadership shown by the Student Union in addressing a situation that was obviously not of its choosing," he remarked.

A few days after the controversy began, MacLauchlan staged a meeting with a Muslim woman on PEI, someone entirely unconnected with the university, who had written a letter congratulating him. He had the local paper, the Charlottetown Guardian, cover their conversation. She appeared in a photo with him, reading her letter as he looked on benignly.

"It was very honourable on your part to stand up to do what is right," she wrote. "Your action has set a great example of integrity, courage, justice, and wisdom, as befits a strong chief administrator of an educational institution." MacLauchlan then posted her lengthy letter on the official university website for a week.

An "open letter" from SAFS published in the National Post on February 16 criticized his action, and his behaviour also met with negative comments locally. But he continues to justify his actions.

"Is UPEI a more positive, dynamic and animated learning environment today than we would be if the cartoons had been left in circulation for the intervening three weeks, and their publication defended by the University as free speech?" asked MacLauchlan in a letter to faculty on February 28. Of course! "I am absolutely convinced that our learning environment is better for having limited the publication of the caricatures."

Things looked like they might get worse. The university administration is currently in negotiations with the Faculty Association over a new collective agreement. They were particularly insistent that the new contract include a "Code of Conduct" which would obligate the faculty to be respectful, punctual and reliable – do some professors arrive hours late to class? – and to "act in a manner that will contribute positively to the overall vision, mission, and reputation" of UPEI.

But who, pray tell, would determine whether the "reputation" of UPEI has been harmed? Note that the administration was not proposing that they also be bound by this code, though one could argue that the president has done more damage to UPEI than anyone on faculty or staff. Yet it would be the professors who would be, to say the least, discouraged from criticizing university policies.

One doesn't need a PhD in political science to be troubled by such developments. This was an obvious attempt to infringe on the basic right of freedom of speech, something every Canadian should hold dear. No other faculty collective agreement in Canada contains such language.

The president of the Faculty Association, Wayne Peters, told the membership that this clause alone was sufficient reason to go on strike – after all, if it were now in effect, I presume even a tenured full professor like myself would be liable to dismissal for writing this very article.

Due to the publicity generated by those opposing this code, which included letters of support from, among others, the Harry Crowe Foundation, the ad-ministration dropped its demand for the code. It was clear the faculty would never accept such a draconian clause.

A university is the very last place where one should try to stifle debate with gag laws. Where there is no check on power, those in control can act in arbitrary and
capricious ways. This is an old tale.

I've been teaching a course on African politics at UPEI this semester, and we've been dealing with the many sad stories of the so-called "big men" who ruled their countries in totally arbitrary and capricious ways, and brought them to the brink of ruin. I guess that's why all this sounds so drearily familiar.