For years, Stephen Harper has, through his words and actions, displayed what could charitably be described as a lack of confidence in anyone other than himself. This extends not only to his MPs and members of the civil service, but also the Canadian public at large. In his memoirs, Preston Manning wrote of the Harper he knew from the Reform party as someone who “had difficulty accepting that there might be a few other people (not many, perhaps, but a few) who were as smart as he was with respect to policy and strategy.” In a June 1997 speech to an American think tank Stephen Harper said, “I was asked to speak about Canadian politics. It may not be true, but it’s legendary that if you’re like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians.”
In short, he doesn’t trust us. He doesn’t think we’re smart enough or knowledgeable enough to make good decisions about the direction of our country.
One of the ways he displays this disrespect is by making completely ridiculous statements that us idiotic citizens couldn’t possibly see through. For example, right after the most recent meeting to advance the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) Harper attempted to diminish the importance of the multilateral talks, describing the SPP as an effort to “standardize the jelly bean.” As if such a thing would require a meeting of three world leaders, massive security (including US Army interference with Canadian rights and disturbing police tactics), and a top secret agenda.
Today, Conservatives turned their guns against the Green Party (again) in an equally insulting attempt at spin. This time, it had to do with our position regarding Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, and specifically our response to the Manley report. The Green Party believes (quite rightly) that the nature of our military presence in Afghanistan must change. One of the major reasons for this is that we are currently perceived by many people in the region (and not without reason) as being aligned with George Bush’s War On Terror, which in turn is seen by many as a quasi-religious war of West vs. East, or Christianity vs. Islam. As long as that perception exists, danger to our soldiers is increased while our chances for success are decreased.
The Conservative party responded with the following:
Green Party Leader and StÃ©phane Dion ally Elizabeth May criticized the presence of Canadian and other ISAF forces in Afghanistan as representing a “Christian/Crusader heritage,” that would actually “fuel” the “jihad.”
Elizabeth May’s comparison of the Afghan protection and reconstruction effort as a Christian Crusade is evidence of her shocking ignorance of foreign policy, Afghanistan and the current mission.
The Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are serving at the invitation and with the active encouragement of the Afghan Government. Every day the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces are risking their safety and security to help the people of Afghanistan live peaceful and secure lives. Considering that Canadian soldiers have lost their lives protecting the people of Afghanistan, it is outrageous that a Canadian politician would make such an insult of this sacrifice.
Ms. May’s comments also betrayed a shocking lack of knowledge about Afghanistanâ€™s people and its history. None of the Crusades ever came anywhere close to Afghanistan.
Even people who think the Green press release should have been more clear recognize that the above statement is ridiculous and lowers the level of discourse. Fortunately, Canadians are smart enough to understand the difference between saying that we need to “counter the Islamic militants’ portrayal of the war as a ‘clash of civilizations’” to prevent the Taliban from being able to continue to “frame the Afghanistan conflict as a ‘Jihad’” and saying that Canadian soldiers are actually engaged in a Christian Crusade. Canadians are also smart enough to realize that the real negative perceptions of our involvement have very little to do with the physical locations of the Crusades. (To not grasp that last fact could almost be characterized as, say, a “shocking ignorance of foreign policy, Afghanistan and the current mission.”)
And Canadians are smart enough to realize that if anything is “risking the safety and security” of the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces, it’s overly partisan rhetoric that’s designed to shut down real democratic debate. (It’s also worth noting that this government also continues to place our soldiers at risk of being accused of involvement with war crimes, and has demonstrated through their actions that “supporting the troops” is sometimes little more than a soundbite.)
Details aside, the second most discouraging thing about this is that our prime minister has such little respect for foundational democratic principals that he frequently tries to trick the public into believing partisan distortions of reality. The most discouraging thing (at least for the moment) is that this kind of nonsense moves people like Rick Mercer to write what he did today: “[Liberals and Conservatives] both say they support our troops, but what they really love is using them.”