Matt Gurney, writing in the National Post, calls out Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion for what he calls “Online “slacktivism” — that exercise in virtue-signalling that requires no more commitment to a cause than a retweet or a Facebook like.” It is, he says, the new face of Canada’s foreign policy and, he says, “what a sorry sight it is.“
He gets quite specific: “Friday afternoon,” he says, “Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s government Twitter account put out a short statement on the situation in Syria. (The account in question, @MinCanadaFA, is the one Dion uses in his capacity as Canadian foreign minister — he also operates a personal account, separate from his ministry.) As dictated by the medium, the tweet was terse: “Canada calls on #UN and the intl (international) community to uphold its responsibility to help to protect Syrians from mass atrocities” … [and] … It’s a nice sentiment, of course. The UN and the international community certainly should be doing more — much more — to stop the slaughter of Syria’s Russian-backed and -enabled assault on the city of Aleppo, where hospitals and aid convoys are destroyed in flagrant contravention of international law and accepted norms of warfare with utter impunity. But it raises a question: other than calling on someone, anyone, to do something, what is Canada itself doing?“
Mr Gurney explains what, in his view, we, Canadians, are not doing and then concludes that “This government is not the first to talk tough while carrying an alarmingly small stick. The sad truth is that Canada has gone generations without a government that was willing to make the investments in the kinds of hard power — military might, intelligence capability, diplomatic offices and foreign aid commitments — that enable the soft power Liberals and Tories like to pretend Canada operates effectively on the global stage. Hard power is not beyond our means — we are a rich country, safe and secure behind oceans and our American allies. We could do more in the world and be a more effective leader in the quiet diplomatic corridors of power by taking on that burden … But we don’t. Our politicians pose for photos with the troops while starving them of funds for equipment and training. We tweet while bombs rain down on medical wards. We call on the world to do more while doing little.“
This is old news, at least it is if you’ve been following this blog for the past year.
What is Canada doing?
Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “parvi enim sunt foris arma, nisi est consilium domi,” which means, roughly, “arms (and armies) are of little value in the field if there is not wise counsel (leadership) at home.” It seems to me that our government is still involved in some sort of apprenticeship programme: learning on the job, so to speak. They’ve pretty much mastered the art if throwing borrowed money at climate change, but everything else, things that matter like free(er) trade and supporting NATO and finding out how to do peacekeeping in the 21st century, are all in trouble or postponed or undecided due, in some large measure, to a decided lack of “wise counsel” at the cabinet table. It’s not that the government, itself, lacks wise counsel … there is plenty of it. The problem, it seems to me, is that the experts are not telling Justin Trudeau and Stéphane Dion what they want to hear. The prime minister and Team Trudeau in the PMO appear to be discovering that making promises was a lot easier then keeping them is going to be.
Money doesn’t grow on trees; there are not anywhere near enough ships and troops and aircraft; not everyone loves us just because we say that “Canada is back,” and there are precious few places in Africa where a few French speaking female police officers can protect women’s rights while unarmed soldiers pass out food and medicine to children. “The world,” William Wordsworth said, “is too much with us.” There is, pretty clearly, too much “world” for the Trudeau regime … sunny ways and selfies are not, it seems, sufficient to protect and promote Canada’s vital interests in a big, dark, dangerous world.
Matt Gurney is quite right: because “we are a rich country, safe and secure … We could do more in the world and be a more effective leader in the quiet diplomatic corridors of power by taking on that burden … But we don’t.“
My guess is that a very large minority, perhaps even a majority of Canadians are OK with us being ineffective freeloaders unless and until we get “called out” on it, as we did when (1995) when the Wall Street Journal described us as “an honorary member of the Third World” in an editorial and referred to the Canadian dollar as the “northern peso,” or (2001) when Liberal heavyweight John Manley described us as the person who “when the bill comes [they] go to the washroom.” Then Canadians want “something” to be done and governments usually respond: sometimes effectively, sometimes with window dressing. It is my belief that the next time we are “called out” it may well be for failing to do enough of the global security burden sharing.
There is “wise counsel” in parliament, in the bureaucracy, in the media, including from the likes of matt Gurney, in think tanks, and in the Liberal Party, too … it just seems to be missing in the Prime Minister’s Office and at the cabinet table. It appears that Thomas Mulcair was right, back in 2014, when he said that “I’m sorry, prime minister just isn’t an entry-level job.”