Sept. 8, 2006
Steve's mixed results
A recent SES Research poll suggests that 57 per cent of Canadians
believe the new Conservative government of Stephen Harper has either
met or exceeded their expectations.
There is the temptation for a joke here. Harper, unlike his predecessor
Paul Martin, benefited from one of politics' most invaluable assets:
low expectations. Martin, whose own PR promised the moon and did
nothing to diminish Canadians' expectations, could not possibly
have lived up to his billing. Harper, who won in part because he
was not Martin, bore little burden of expectation when he came to
office and he has surpassed expectations brilliantly.
The poll, which reinforces other recent opinion studies, suggests
Harper is in range of a majority government if he plays his cards
The areas of concern for Harper, raised by this latest poll, are
the environment and foreign policy.
The environmental policies of the new government are a discredit
to our country. It has opted out of Kyoto, choosing to ignore the
imminent disaster posed by global warming and environmental degradation.
The Conservatives have also gutted most of the small programs that
encourage Canadians to exercise environmental sensitivity in their
But the foreign policy matter is a more curious condemnation. The
ambivalence Canadians are expressing for Harper's foreign policy,
judging by letters to editors and anecdotal indicators, is probably
founded more on a distaste for what is seen as "Steve"
Harper's palling around with George W. Bush than they are based
on sound reasoning.
Canadians want independence and, since we cannot reasonably expect
economic independence from the United States, we seek it in our
foreign policy. In a way, the Conservatives' lockstep with Washington
is a touchstone for national sovereignty. We may not be so opposed
to military actions in Afghanistan or Iraq as we are opposed to
appearing too close to the United States.
The issue of Canada's support for Israel in the recent war against
Hezbollah is a slightly different affair. Canadians are fairly evenly
split on the matter: a portion of otherwise unaffiliated Canadians
were forced from the fence by the reality that Israel has a right
and an obligation to defend itself. It bears noting that vocal support
among ordinary Canadians for Israel's right to exist was probably
more explicit during this war than during six years of almost constant
assault in the current intifada. At the same time, the usual suspects
purveyed their anti-Israel diatribes, counting the dead and, just
as the jihadists knew they would, declaring the imbalance proof
of Israel's culpability.
Jewish Canadians and others who understand the nuance of
Middle East affairs have been stunned and elated by the principled,
unapologetic stand of Canada's government in defending the right
of a democracy to defend its citizens against religious zealots
bent on genocide. Those who subscribe to a simplistic David-versus-Goliath
interpretation of events are less impressed.
Still, the fact that roughly half of Canadians disagree with the
Conservatives' foreign policy is a glass-half-empty interpretation
of events. The war against Hezbollah has forced a large proportion
of erstwhile quiet Canadians to stand up for what we know is correct.
In a four-party Parliament, even a 60 per cent negative rating is
no indication of imminent political disaster.
At the same time, the Conservatives should be commended not only
for doing the right thing, but for doing as good a job as could
be expected, in the current political environment, to sell their
position to the public. In the last several weeks, Canadians have
seen their government offer the most eloquent, non-dithering statement
of morality on international relations we have heard in years.
Canadian Jews, other Zionists and reasonable people need to ramp
up our own public statements of support for Israel in order to do
justice to our government's courage on foreign affairs. We should,
at the same time, remind our leaders that all good things will be
for nought if we do not have a planet capable of sustaining life.