As I fumed over the recent budget and its very real potential (I think certainty) to do real harm to Canada’s strategic position in the world by depriving us of the fiscal “room” to respond, even moderately, to a crisis that threatens our vital interests before the crisis requires a major response ~ the sort of response that requires us to spend something like 8% of GDP on the military, as we did during the small, very limited Korean War …
… I asked myself about those vital interests again. I defined them, several weeks ago as:
- Our personal and political liberty;
- A peaceful world into which we can trade; and
- Prosperity for our people.
I have also said, several times, that all three are linked. I think the link between peace and prosperity is fairly obvious: if you have peace then you are not spending inordinate amounts on the military and you can trade more and more freely and everyone gains and if/when everyone is gaining from trade they are less likely to want to go to war. Peace brings prosperity and prosperity promotes peace. I think that democracies are more likely to be peaceful and to want to stay at peace than are tyrannical states … if only because large groups are usually less likely to get excited over any one thing than is an individual.
I have also said that our democracy is based on something more than just elections. It rests on a firm foundation of institutions ~ free and fair elections being just one of them. The core notion, government with the consent of the governed, which I like to trace back to Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, in 13th century England, is the key one, but it is not enough, it needs to be buttressed by a respect for the rule of law and for the rights, including privacy and property, of others. When all these institutions are both healthy and well integrated then strong democracies are the norm; when they are weak or when some don’t exist at all or when they are not integrated into the daily lives of the people then democracy is unlikely to develop. What I am sure of is that we cannot go about spreading “democracy” about as though it was fairy dust … not even by force of arms.
Democracy needs “fertile soil” in which to take root. The “soil” is a people who believe in themselves and in their own right to choose how they are governed. The fertilizer is all those institutions …
… large and small, in big cities and rural villages that bind us all together with a common sense of “community” and of shared values.
The key point about all these institutions is that while some, like the courts and the legislatures are public, most are, or can be, private. Conservatives ought to have a suspicion of too many, too large public institutions, but we must, equally, recognize that some things are, properly, part of the public domain and, in a few cases, there are common sense cases for public services. But, equally, we, Conservatives, ought to challenge the general perception that many services need to be public; take public transit as just one example: possibly the most successful public transit system in the world is the Hong Kong MTR, and it is a public-private partnership (P3). Government, per se, is not, always, or even often the only, much less the best, answer. I have warned about the influence of Big Business and Big Labour and, indeed of Big government, and I believe they are, or can be threats to the institutions that are the bedrock of democracy. The Big elements always threaten to overwhelm the essential, small, even individual components of our institutions.
There is, in my opinion, a “virtuous circle” of democracy > peace > prosperity: democratic societies are more likely to be (and to wish to remain) peaceful; peaceful societies are more likely to be prosperous and prosperous societies are more likely to practice democracy and, thus, become even more peaceful, and, and, and … in other words out vital interests are both interconnected and self reinforcing.
Canada has, very recently (see e.g. historians John Holmes and Walter Dorn and journalist Peter C Newman) awarded itself a reputation as being the “peaceable kingdom.” That, of course, is arrant nonsense; it is arrant Laurentian Elite/Liberal nonsense that distorted the historical record and fabricated evidence to paint a false picture of Canadian strategic intentions and military actions. In fact when Lester B Pearson was awarded the Nobel Prize it was for strategic decision taken by the St Laurent cabinet to step in to try to preserve the strategic unity of the US led West because British Prime Minister Eden and French Prime Minister Guy Mollet colluded with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to attack Egypt and return the Suez Canal to Anglo-French ownership and help secure Israel’s Western border. The plot, which was a bit silly, in retrospect failed, mostly because US president Dwight Eisenhower was furious that the Brits and the French had upset the applecart of (sometimes) peaceful engagement that he had put in place in the Middle east to counter growing Soviet influence there. Anyway, the West (not Egypt or “peace”) needed rescuing from itself or else the Soviet Union, still hell bent on global domination ~ this was 1956, remember, would gain a HUGE advantage throughout the developing world. Prime Minister St Laurent, who had “declined” an invitation to join the Anglo-French fiasco and who had, in fact, joined President Eisenhower in warning his friend Eden off the disastrous course. When all sensible entreaties failed and when a nuclear war looked possible Prime Minister St Laurent empowered his External Affairs Minister “Mike” Pearson to use Canada’s position in the UN ~ Canada was still a “power” in its own right and a “leader” amongst the middle powers ~ to broker some kind of a “back-down” for the invaders and to prevent further Soviet interference in the Middle East. That ~ fighting the Cold War, using our soft power ~ not building a “peaceable kingdom” was why St Laurent and Pearson “invented” UN peacekeeping.
But, Liberal myths aside, Canada is a peaceful and “peace loving” nation that wants (needs) to help maintain peace in the world so that we can enhance our own prosperity and that of our trading partners. That’s why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is:
- Right to want to do more to help keep the peace in the world; but
- Wrong in the vehicle, the United Nations, he wants to use.
It seems pretty clear to me that, despite the briefings that I am 99.9% sure the prime minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Dion are hearing from senior officials, they are bent on staying the course to keep a promise they made to their supporters in the civil service and campaign, hard, for a seat at the UN Security Council, even if it is worthless.
The right way for Canada to help keep the peace in the 21st century starts with being a free trader: sign the Trans Pacific partnership deal and engage with the world, peacefully.
The right way for Canada to help keep the peace in the 21st century includes rebuilding our military so that our soft power is back up by credible hard power.
The right way for Canada to help keep the peace in the 21st century involves helping to spread strong “institutions” to countries that don’t have enough of them.
Canada has strong democratic and societal values; Canada has strong democratic institutions; Canada is a peaceable nation; Canada has vital interests in the world; Canada needs to act responsibly in the world and that means in concert with other, like-minded nations, not with the tin-pot dictatorships that will decide who does or does not get a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
Canada is better than that; it has better values and better vital interests and it deserves better from its government, too.