Empire strikes back in Harper's rhetoric

Géopolitique du Proche-Orient


When he visited London, Stephen Harper gave a very important speech.
The press focused on one line, in which the Prime Minister called Canada an "emerging energy superpower." But that wasn't the part of the speech that mattered. The important part came earlier, and some of it was truly astonishing.
Citing the British legacies of common law, parliamentary democracy and an open economy, Mr. Harper flatly declared that "much of what Canada is today we can trace to our origins as a colony of the British Empire."
It is unfashionable, Mr. Harper acknowledged, to speak of colonial legacies as anything other than oppressive. "But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant." British magnanimity, he argued, ensured the survival of French culture. British approaches to the aboriginal population, "while far from perfect, were some of the fairest and most generous of the period."
The "bond of comradeship" between Canada and Britain was cemented in two world wars, Mr. Harper went on. "When Britain has bled, Canada has bled." Britain and Canada stood with their U.S. ally in containing the Soviet menace. And the English-speaking peoples are on the front lines in the global war against terror.
"Canada's new national government is absolutely determined, once again, to stand shoulder to shoulder with our British allies," the Prime Minister affirmed, "to stay the course and to win the fight." And he ended his speech: "God bless Canada, and God save the Queen."
Not since the days of John Diefenbaker has a Canadian prime minister said such things. Liberal prime ministers have portrayed the French and English heritage as equivalent, and multiculturalism as transcendent.
Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, though his foreign policy in many ways mirrored that of the current government, was Irish, from Quebec, and was at odds with Margaret Thatcher over South Africa.
But for Stephen Harper, Canada's interests today are fundamentally no different than they were in 1960, or 1940 or 1920. We are an integral member of an alliance of English-speaking democracies that confronted militarism, fascism and communism and prevailed, and that will prevail against terrorism as well.
That is why Mr. Harper stopped in London to visit with the Queen, Tony Blair and Lady Thatcher, before venturing on to the G8 summit. It is why he unequivocally supports Israel in its campaign against Hezbollah and Hamas, why he places less value on the counsels of European powers than on those of George W. Bush, Mr. Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, why he eschews nuance and the Canadian legacy of serving as honest broker, in favour of another legacy: the legacy of Vimy Ridge and Billy Bishop, of Juno Beach and the Italian campaign, of NATO and NORAD.
Critics of Mr. Harper's foreign policy will find complete vindication of their fears in the London speech. They will point to the multiracial reality of modern Canadian society, to the complexities of contemporary statecraft, to decades of patient Canadian effort to build bridges, especially in the Middle East, that the Conservatives are now burning.
But Mr. Harper is right to remind Canadians that the British legacy of freedom, democracy and rule of law is precisely what draws millions of people around the world to our shores.
He is right to anchor Canadian foreign policy in solidarity with our traditional allies.
And he is right to ignore those superior souls who wearily sigh that statecraft is too complex for amateurs and politicians to grasp, much less tamper with.
The Prime Minister's foreign policy may cost him votes in ridings he will need, if the Conservatives are to win a majority government. To that extent, Mr. Harper is pursuing principle at the expense of politics. You might not like those principles, but you at least have to admire him for having some.
jibbitson@globeandmail.com


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