Thursday, April 14, 2011

Elections and democracy

    Canada is in the middle of a federal election campaign. Unfortunately, the issues that are being raised by the leaders of the major political parties are not necessarily the ones that are most crucial to many Canadians. Politicians cater to what they think voters want to hear by making promises to various interest groups. In fact, they are buying votes with the voters' own money. 
   One issue that has been largely ignored is one that may not resonate with many voters, but is important, not least to me, is Canada's foreign policy. This policy is reflected in the decline in Canada's image in the world. One example of this poor image is Canada's inability a few months ago to gain a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This is the first time this has ever happened. Canada lost because of its foreign policy, especially its unwavering support of Israel, which alienated many UN members.
     The recent developments in the Middle East also illustrate this. The last few years Canada has neglected Africa. The only exception is Canada's recent involvement in Libya on behalf of the rebels. But this decision was taken without proper political consultation at home. While one can question the nature of this involvement, as I do, I applaud the fact that Canada is siding with those in Libya who are fighting for democracy, but this involvement is ironic when it is viewed form the perspective of what is happening in Canada.
     This election was prompted by a motion of non-confidence in the Conservative government as the result of numerous charges of contempt for parliament made against the government. The other political parties are charging that democracy is under attack in Canada. Without sounding too partisan, there is some truth to these charges. The Conservative came into power five years ago on a platform of transparency and accountability. These charges, on the contrary, indicate the opposite: a government that is highly secretive and evasive. 
    What is needed in this election is an open and frank discussion of these charges. But that has not happened, in spite of attempts by the opposition parties to do so in this week's debates, especially during the French-language debate, where foreign policy was also touched on. The governing party brushes these charges off as politically motivated and thus without substance. End of story.
     Similarly, the Conservatives have refused to debate their foreign policy. They deny that Canada has a negative image abroad. Having lived abroad myself for many decades, I have seen the decline in this image, especially during the last few years. Why is foreign policy not being debated very much? The simplest answer is that foreigners don't vote in Canadian elections; also, few Canadians are very concerned about this issue. They are more motivated by bread-and-butter issues, precisely those that politicians of whatever stripe are trying to cultivate to their own advantage.
     What I am pleading for is an openness and a willingness to discuss in a serious way the issue of foreign policy. It is ironic, as I have already indicated, that some politicians are raising the issue of the erosion of democracy in Canada, precisely while the Canadian government is involved in defending those who are striving for democracy in Libya. What these politicians have not done is connect these two issues. What is needed, but will not happen during this election campaign, is an open and frank discussion of foreign policy, and to do so in conjunction with an honest debate about the state of democracy in Canada. The irony continues.

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