POLITICS: Why we must stand up to the Bully


Canada and the U.S. Empire

By Linda McQuaig

Doubleday Canada,

Print Edition – Section Front

Section D Front Enlarge Image

Linda McQuaig poses provocative and very important questions for Canadians in her new book, Holding the Bully’s Coat. Why do so many of our prominent citizens in the fields of business, government, the academy, the military and the media — one might say an elite of Canada — endorse with enthusiasm the pushy, aggressive, imperial agenda espoused by the current Bush-Cheney administration in the United States? Why does this class of influential Canadians go out of its way to trash and demean the accomplishments and achievements of Canada, while extolling the misguided and failed military adventures of our southern neighbour? And why is this group so out of touch with the basic instincts of Canadians, who are at best skeptical of and most often opposed to U.S adventurism?

McQuaig pulls no punches in describing who these Yankee cheerleaders are and how their calumny (to use a favourite word of a charter member of the club, presently facing criminal charges in Chicago) is pernicious in its impact. She decries how our media gives them disproportionate platform time — just check out the panel lineups on our nightly news shows. To quote McQuaig, “It is the views of the elite — as expressed by Andrew Coyne, Margaret Wente, Rex Murphy, Robert Fulford, Jack Granatstein, David Bercuson, to mention a few of the more prominent voices that tend to dominate the national debate. Their views are given an extraordinary amount of media time and space, which gives them considerable influence in shaping the debate and making palatable a neo-conservative political agenda that has little resonance with the broad Canadian public.”

What clearly irks McQuaig about these naysayers is that for her, and in her view most Canadians, our country works pretty well. We have a domestic public domain that serves most citizens equitably (you would get an argument on this from our aboriginal people) and we have exercised a positive influence internationally not by flexing muscles but by taking leadership on initiatives that promote international co-operation and eschew ideological grandstanding. This balanced approach has become passé, at least in the eyes of many who now carry the torch for closer ties with U.S.-style policies. McQuaig sees this as a problem not of anti-Americanism, but of anti-Canadianism.

Particularly pungent is the description McQuaig applies to the owners of these views as a “comprador class.” The term, which dates back to 19th-century colonial times, was used to describe a local elite that served the interests of a foreign business class. Members of the class acted “as intermediaries, presenting the goals of the foreign interests to the local population in a positive light.” This is tough language, indeed.

But it is not the members of the chattering class who are the worst offenders; they are simply the messengers. McQuaig reserves her most scathing comment for those political and military leaders who buy into this pandering point of view and have set about redirecting Canadian public policy. There is General Rick Hillier, who internalized the U.S. military’s war-fighting ethos and disdain for peacekeeping during his sojourn at Fort Hood, Tex. McQuaig devotes considerable ink to the instalment of Hillier as Canada’s top solder in February, 2005, signalling “the transformation of the Canadian military into a combat force, and one that would mesh neatly with the U.S. military … brazenly thumbing his nose at the Pearsonian peacekeeping tradition.” In her eyes, Hillier is clearly the one who has dictated our shift in Afghanistan from protection of civilians toward an offensive search and hunt for the Taliban.

There is Paul Martin, who acquiesced to the Hillier plan but was saved from a potentially disastrous decision on the U.S. missile defence strategy only by a revolt within the Liberal caucus.

Then, of course, there is Stephen Harper. McQuaig argues that the Prime Minister is systematically cloning Canadian policies on the Bush model. To make her case, she cites the abandonment of the Kyoto accord, the faithful following of Washington’s counterterrorism policy and the pursuit of a continental energy policy designed to meet the U.S. energy thirst. This is being discussed, maybe even negotiated, by a blue-ribbon panel of CEOs under the umbrella of a tripartite agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States, called the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

For McQuaig, these developments add up to a real threat to Canadian values and a loss of sovereignty. Fair enough. But this is where I find the book comes up short. McQuaig’s own notion of sovereignty seems based on a traditional and increasingly antiquated paradigm. It is no longer possible to use sovereignty as defining the right to make decisions solely on the basis of your own interests; we have become too interconnected and intertwined with the fate and fortune of others, either as global citizens or as North Americans. Like it or not, we have to conceive of finding co-operative answers to common problems that affect our mutual security, whether in energy supply, water scarcity, climate change, migration or border crossings. Answers must be found, but should not be sought only behind closed doors in triple-A resorts by small circles of elites.

We need to think creatively about how to rewire the institutional, treaty and political circuitry into a North American context if we are to maintain the ability to exercise the right of decision-making. The time has come for a clearer articulation of a blueprint on how to construct architecture for managing our U.S. relations. This blueprint has to emerge in the context of an evolving North American interdependence in which we share responsibility for making decisions on common continental problems, and not leave it solely to the market or Uncle Sam to decide.

One example of such new arrangements is the growing network of relationships among regional premiers and governors, cross-border business groups, civil-society organizations and universities that are synchronizing their responses to environmental, trade and resource issues. Transborder paradiplomacy is where the intensity of activities has been the highest, where the initiatives are the most innovative, and where alliances are being formed, generally ignoring the national capitals.

The same innovative spirit is needed when it comes to finding answers to today’s serious security issues. McQuaig is critical in her book of the made-in-Canada idea of “responsibility to protect,” a way of setting out rules to determine when there should be international intervention to stop crimes against humanity and genocide, because she resents its use by Michael Ignatieff as a way of justifying the invasion of Iraq. What she doesn’t recognize is that his was a mistaken use of what is emerging as an important way to set limits on unilateral intrusions by powerful states, while at the same time setting out standards to protect civilians from violence.

Furthermore, it becomes a very useful talking point in persuading the United States that it can use its immense power to prevent abuses of rights without being a bully. In the post-Iraq era and the post-Bush period, we have a chance to influence U.S. policy toward positive international collaborative action. But that means being fully engaged with the United States, a prospect that McQuaig doesn’t appear to relish.

Managing how we share this continent with the most powerful country on Earth is not easy, and certainly should not be the preserve of a small elite. In that respect, McQuaig is perfectly right. She is also right in asserting that we should not be a bystander or a helpmate when our neighbour takes to bullying. Barbara Coloroso, a well-respected expert on bullying, says it is important that action be taken to offset the bullies and get them to change their actions. The bystander must speak out, stand up and support the victim.

McQuaig’s book alerts us to the need to apply these lessons in our relations with the United States, and now we need to have an open debate among all Canadians on how best this can be done. After all, as Coloroso points out, “bullying is a life-and-death issue.”

Lloyd Axworthy, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, served as Canada’s foreign affairs minister from 1996 to 2000.


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