UN a moral authority? Surely not

It's going to be a strange by-election in Outremont.

L'affaire Coulon

The federal electoral district has been vacant since Jean Lapierre resigned, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper must announce a by-election date by Saturday. The Conservatives and Liberals have each put forward sophisticated cabinet-level professionals, a professor-pundit for the Liberals and a diplomat for the Conservatives. The New Democrats are running Tom Mulcair, a former Quebec Liberal trying to re-invent himself. The Bloc Qu?b?cois is running a psychoanalyst.
Outremont is a prestige riding whose MP is often in the cabinet - Lapierre, Martin Cauchon, Marc Lalonde - and it is also in some ways Mont-real in microcosm. There's a small francophone majority, with allophones slightly outnumbering anglophones, according to the 2001 census, which also said that one quarter of people in the riding belong to visible minorities, that the average income is a little above the Quebec average (despite some neighbourhoods of considerable wealth) and that about 10 per cent of the riding's people are Jewish.

To judge by media coverage so far, however, the Middle East will be the defining issue here. We're not so sure, but the campaign has certainly started that way, because the Liberals nominated Jocelyn Coulon, a Universit? de Montr?al prof well known as a TV talking head and as a columnist in La Presse. He was chosen directly by Liberal leader St?phane Dion, but now the Quebec chapter of B'Nai Brith has demanded that Dion unchoose him, citing selected morsels of Coulon's writing as evidence that he is insufficiently sympathetic to Israel. Coulon has been vigorously defended on this score not only by fellow Liberals but also by his [former colleague Andr? Pratte, editorial page editor of La Presse->7872].
Certainly, Coulon has defended Israel's right to exist and defend itself. If his views are in any measure "out of step with current Liberal policy," as B'nai Brith claims, then the realities of party solidarity will sort that out fast enough.
Every group of voters hopes to have the parties competing for their support, and the Conservatives have won a few backers in Canada's Jewish community. But pundits agree that the Conservatives, who finished a poor fourth in Outremont in 2006, have little chance in this election. Coulon is surely the heavy favourite to win.
The fuss over his views on Israel has obscured a broader area of concern with this newly minted Liberal Solon, whose expertise in world affairs would probably make him a front-bencher.
Beyond any ambiguity about the Mideast, we find that prospect alarming because of Coulon's whole notion of the international order. In his speech accepting the nomination, specifically, Coulon referred to "the highest political and moral authority in humanity - the United Nations."
What a horrifying concept. For us, the highest political and moral authority in public affairs resides in the democratic expression of the popular will, which is certainly not the UN's strong suit.
As a forum for all the globe's governments, the UN has some usefulness. But the UN is no paragon of moral authority. Ask Rom?o Dallaire. Its Human Rights Council, like so much else at the UN, is a mere collusion of tyrannies. The UN's administration is scandal-ridden and sclerotic. UN-sanctioned military forces are regularly accused, on good evidence, of numerous offences.
Do Coulon and Dion really intend to measure Canadian foreign policy against the standard of UN approval? Surely not.
2006 federal election Outremont results
Jean-C. Lapierre Lib. 35.18%

Jacques L?onard BQ 29.01%
L?o-Paul Lauzon NDP 17.2%
Daniel Fournier Con. 12.73%
Fran?ois Pilon Green 4.82%

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