Difficult Problems require Real Leadership

 “Today, the world is at war. A coalition of countries under the leadership of the U.K. and the U.S. is leading a military intervention to disarm Saddam Hussein. Yet Prime Minister Jean Chretien has left Canada outside this multilateral coalition of nations.

This is a serious mistake. For the first time in history, the Canadian government has not stood beside its key British and American allies in their time of need. The Canadian Alliance — the official opposition in parliament — supports the American and British position because we share their concerns, their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to, and their fundamental vision of civilization and human values. Disarming Iraq is necessary for the long-term security of the world, and for the collective interests of our key historic allies and therefore manifestly in the national interest of Canada. Make no mistake, as our allies work to end the reign of Saddam and the brutality and aggression that are the foundations of his regime, Canada’s largest opposition party, the Canadian Alliance will not be neutral. In our hearts and minds, we will be with our allies and friends. And Canadians will be overwhelmingly with us.”

  • Canadians Stand With You, By Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day, Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2003

 

I was proud of Mulroney for signing the Kyoto Accord; and proud of Chrétien for getting Parliament to approve it. I was proud of Joe Clark when he fought for the Charlottetown Accord and I was impressed when I read his book, “A Nation Too Good to Lose”. I was proud on March 17, 2003, when Jean Chrétien, in Parliament, stood up and said “If military action proceeds without a new resolution of the [United Nations] Security Council, Canada will not participate.” (Canada’s ‘No’ To Iraq War A Defining Moment For Prime Minister, Even 10 Years Later, Updated: 03/20/2013 8:41 am EDT ) When others wished him to be silent, I was proud of Paul Martin for advocating for the principle of the “Responsibility to Protect” in the United Nations.

As one can see, my pride does not come from partisan sources. On the other hand, my pride comes from the basic notion that a Canadian Prime Minister can act nobly, intelligently and accountably. My pride comes from the basic idea that our Prime Minister, regardless of party, can debate in a public manner and seek the consent of Parliament for the actions they seek; or be accountable to Parliament for their policy initiatives. For the most part, this open debate has allowed Canadians to have some of the best policies in the world because Parliamentarians from all parties have been able to guide the Prime Minister and Cabinet to better answers. This is the strength of a Parliamentary Democracy that believes in the Supremacy of Parliament and the strength of a Parliament that can hold a Government to account.

However, this tradition of Parliamentary Consent, of Parliamentary Debate, has fallen on deaf ears with Prime Minister Harper. For, he has not recommended to the Governor General that the Canadian Parliament be recalled. One can just marvel at how this could be the case, when the British Parliament and the British Prime Minister debated the British response to the very same issue.

One can appreciate that the issue of Syria is not an easy one. President Bashar Hafez al-Assad is an authoritarian thug. His government has violated Human Rights and has used Chemical Weapons on their own people. The Rebels, on the other hand, are combination of disparate political entities including Liberals, Reformists, Nationalists and Islamists who might just as easy subjugate the religious minorities and other communities. This situation, in many ways, is worse than the on-going political strife evident in Iraq and Egypt. What makes it so is the lack of a cohesive force. In Iraq, for many years, the US military was a strong solidifying force; while in Egypt, the Egyptian military plays that political role. In Syria, no such force exists.

In fact, from what anyone can tell, Syria has a civil war funded by proxy elements. The Syrian Government seems to be getting resources from Russia, China, Hezbollah and Iran; while the West and various Arab States are assisting the rebels. Consequently, it is easy to note the problems.

And, I would argue, the solutions are even harder. For example, many New Democrats have argued that diplomacy and conversation are the answer. However, the hard facts are that diplomacy has yet to work. In 2011, Former US Senator Arlen Specter called for dialogue. He noted in an opinion piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer that as the “Syria’s situation worsens, there are some indications that President Bashar al-Assad may be serious about dialogue.” He went on to say that “a credible mediator like the United Nations could monitor promised reforms, report the facts, and apply international pressure, including sanctions, when appropriate.”

Yet all such proposals have always been rejected by both sides. I will just pick one example. In 2013, the newswire AP reported that a “proposal by a Syrian opposition leader for peace talks suffered two sharp blows Tuesday, with both a ruling party lawmaker and the largest bloc inside the anti-regime coalition rejecting the idea.”

But the article did not end there because it noted that “after 22 months and more than 60,000 dead, Syria’s crisis appears to have reached a stalemate, with neither side making significant battlefield gains likely to bring about a military victory any time soon.”(Syria Talks: Government Official Rejects Opposition’s Dialogue Proposal, By ALBERT AJI and BEN HUBBARD for AP, 02/05/13 02:52 PM ET EST) Since 2011, the U.S. and other world powers have pushed for a negotiated solution. Yet each of the participants have rejected the idea of negotiating. If no one is willing to talk, a negotiated solution is impossible. Accordingly, this is why Syria is such a hard nut to crack.

So I can understand why Mr. Harper does not want to call Parliament back. None of the policy options before the West are perfect or even desirable. For a no-fly zone would not be enough. One either commits to having boots on the ground – and the causalities that come with it – or one allows this grotesque and morally questionable civil war to continue.

With that being said, Mr. Harper should have the courage to say this in our Parliament. MPs of all Parties – the Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, the Bloc, the Greens and the Independents – should be allowed to argue for their positions. Parliament should be public and honest and accountable. But none of that is going to happen because Mr. Harper – with a majority of the MPs supporting him – apparently does not want to be open, accountable and transparent. Instead, his government has committed us to “supporting” our allies. Parliament, and not his government, speaks for Canada.

This is something the British understand. For Mr. Cameron – the British Prime Minister – called back his Parliament and a debate ensued. While he lost, he now understands the sentiment of the country.

What is more disheartening is that the Harper Government’s support is meaningless. Are we supporting the British Parliament’s rejection of military action, the American Congress’ timidness or the American President’s assertiveness? Each of those Institutions seems to have a different answer. Yet, if one is to believe Mr. Harper, we support all of them. One may question other Prime Ministers’ – Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Martin, Mr. Chrétien, Mr. Mulroney, Ms. Campbell, Mr. Clark and Mr. Turner – but they always faced Parliament. Good or bad, they took their “licks”. It is a shame that Mr. Harper cannot play nicely with others. It is a shame that Mr. Harper cannot stand before Parliament and accept its response.

 

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