Canadian elections do not generally pivot on issues of foreign affairs. Yet, the split screen image Sunday of Justin Trudeau calling a federal election juxtaposed with images of the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan was a stark one. Canada left Afghanistan in 2014, having joined an international coalition after 9/11 to attempt to bring the terrorists who found free rein in that country to heel.
The remaining American forces were slated to leave this month, with U.S. military officials candidly acknowledging that their departure would almost certainly result in a Taliban revival. They were wrong only about the timing. Estimates were that it might take the fundamentalist Islamist sect weeks to take back the country. It took mere days.
The implications for Afghan citizens are bleak. Desperate Afghans were hopelessly clinging to U.S. military aircraft taxiing on the runway at Kabul airport. Afghan women will, based on prior experience under the Taliban, become some of the most oppressed in the world. There are also expectations of violent retaliation against anyone and everyone who, in the past two decades, “collaborated” with Western forces. The possible scenarios for Afghan people are horrible to envision.
And the implications go beyond the borders of that country. Optimists, such as they may be on this subject, say that the 20-year Western engagement in Afghanistan has not been for naught. The United States captured Osama Bin Laden and has not experienced another 9/11-type terror attack in that period, though whether Americans are actually safer, with other forms of domestic extremism and violence on the rise, is another question. Regardless, in a region with so much instability and contending factions, the Afghan situation further disrupts an already deeply troubled part of the world.
We may not immediately see the consequences of what is happening halfway around the world, but already domestic politics are being affected by the developments. Canadian military planes are rescuing interpreters and others who assisted our forces when they were in Afghanistan. There are calls for Canada and other Western places of refuge to accept more refugees from what seems destined to become a theocratic dystopia. But we cannot, apparently, save the entirety of the Afghan people and their country from the grips of their oppressors. Western powers held the Taliban at bay for 20 years but understandable domestic pressures to put a halt to “endless wars” inevitably brought us to this point.
This week’s election call comes amid a conflagration much closer to home as well. British Columbia is seeing wildfires and weather events unlike anything we have witnessed before. The hypothetical impacts of the climate emergency have gotten very, very real for Canadians with any sense of cause and effect. Appropriately, opinion polls suggest that Canadians view climate and the environment as a top – if not the top – issue as they ponder for whom to cast their ballots.
One problem with democracy is that those who seek public approval are disinclined to tell voters things they do not want to hear. Canadians (and other earthlings) need to understand that this crisis demands that our leaders impose potentially painful policies that will impact our emissions-producing lifestyles. We say we need to address the climate emergency, but will we be so enthusiastic when it impacts our own pocketbooks and comfortable routines?
One might imagine that scenes of the province on fire might make voters look seriously, finally, at a political party with the climate as its No. 1 priority. But the Green Party of Canada has been in turmoil since the Israel-Hamas conflict last spring. Annamie Paul, the Jewish, Black leader of the party, has been fighting an internal battle against insurgents in her own ranks. We hope that her voice will be heard and that all parties will take this existential issue with utmost seriousness.
The continuing pandemic will play a role in this campaign as well – both as Canadians assess the achievements of our government during the crisis and, more immediately, in the way candidates and campaigns pursue votes while adhering to safety protocols. The parties should be judged on what kind of COVID recovery plan they propose, and how they intend to follow through on supporting the most vulnerable Canadians through this health, economic and social crisis.
Whatever issues are important to you, this is the time to make your voice heard. Consider reaching out to your local candidates. Discuss your concerns with them. Volunteer for or contribute to their campaign if you like what you hear – consider connecting through the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs distils information about various party platforms and policies. Our country and our world face urgent issues. An informed, active electorate is the key to ensuring that our elected officials reflect the concerns that matter most to us.