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Harper buries Canada's credibility

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Today's Canadian Conservatives, reflecting their birth in the Alberta-based Reform Party/Canadian Alliance, have always been ambivalent towards the United Nations.

As leader of the newly formed Conservative Party in 2003, Stephen Harper called multilateralism "a weak nation strategy."

Supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq on CTV in 2003, he said: "This government's only explanation for not standing behind our allies is that they couldn't get the approval of the Security Council at the United Nations -- a body (on) which Canada doesn't even have a seat."

And just a year ago, Prime Minister Harper passed up attending the opening of the UN General Assembly to celebrate the return of Tim Horton's headquarters to Canada. It was, he said, more important to highlight the success of his tax-cutting policies than to be at the world body.

Last week, Canada failed to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council for the first time in its history. And now, the media is salted with articles, editorials and letters hostile to the UN.

In his book, Of Passionate Intensity, University of Lethbridge political sociologist Trevor Harrison writes that Anglo-Saxon nativism was at the core of the Alberta-based Reform Party. Recent polling data confirms today's Conservative support is still predominantly male, Anglo-Saxon, western Canadian, high-school or college-educated, rural, and middle aged or older.

Harper's attitudes and actions were a likely cause of Canada's UN loss, Harrison continued in an interview. "He likely never thought about the UN before he entered politics and then was seen internationally as too cosy with (former U.S. president George W.) Bush and insufficiently sensitive to the wider world.

"The whole party is riddled with people who have no international experience. There is an anti-intellectualism, an attitude very much 'a British subject I was born, a British subject I will die.'

"As for the Anglo-Saxon issue, it is a larger part of the way international politics has played out in recent decades. Take (former British prime minister Tony) Blair's support for Bush and Iraq, the notion of a special relationship between those two countries. In many ways, the Anglo-elite (to which a lot of non-Anglos subscribe) in Britain and Canada like to see themselves reflected -- a kind of vicarious ego-trip -- in the success of the American empire."

Peter Brimelow, a British-born journalist, articulated the Anglo-Saxon nativism undergirding Reform. "At the end of the nineteenth century, belief in the superiority of 'Anglo-Saxon values'... (was) the social norm in every English-speaking country... For WASP supremacists everywhere, however, the 20th century has been a distressing experience."

Even more explicit was William Gairdner, a featured speaker at Reform's 1991 Saskatoon convention. A former Olympic athlete and member of the Northern Foundation, Gairdner used his time at the podium to denounce bilingualism, multiculturalism, immigration, welfare, feminism and lax criminal justice.

Speaking to the U.S. Council on National Policy in 1997, Harper said: "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term and proud of it."

In a December, 2000 article, he returned to the same theme, writing "Canada appears to be content to be a second-tier socialistic country." He has described bilingualism as the "god that failed."

In an article in Report Magazine in 2001, he stated: "You have to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada; people who live in ghettos and are not integrated into Western Canadian society."

The government's nativist reflexes are at odds with a modern, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-dimensional democracy. Its instinctive suspicion of all that's new and foreign is in keeping with its undisguised loathing of opponents, its below-the-belt political tactics, its relentless partisanship, its refusal to admit mistakes and its determination to refashion Canada and Canadians in its own angry image.

The way things played out for Canada last week was humiliating -- and instructive. If the government didn't want the seat on the Security Council, why did it pursue it? Once it decided to pursue it, why didn't it realize it might have to adjust some of its ideologically driven policies, such as its obstreperous assault on women's reproductive rights?

The Conservatives' diplomatic amateurism has left Canada with the worst of both worlds. Their "principled" anti-UN stance is gone, as is their -- and Canada's -- credibility. They and their vociferous supporters in the media and the blogosphere need to ask themselves this question:

Technology has created one world. Like-minded military alliances alone are no longer sufficient. If not the UN -- what?

Frances Russell is a Winnipeg author and political commentator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2010 A13

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