Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Baird’s Korea rhetoric leaves us in the cold

North Korea, despite its flagrant flouting of nuclear non-proliferation conventions, shall nevertheless chair the UN’s disarmament conference for four weeks – just like every country at the convention does. Imagine, a vitriolic loudmouth making an ironic mockery of the whole diplomatic system, eh John Baird?

Once in a while, the UN system throws up a scenario that can read as farce, it’s true. Libya had its stint chairing the UN Human Rights Commission, just as the DPRK now has its chance at the nuclear non-proliferation convention. It is silly on the surface. The United Nations, though, as a universal organisation, includes everyone. It’s a greater merit of the UN that we at least have a space where mortal enemies can at least purport to sit together resolving things. There are no surprises that governments we find distasteful have a kick at the can as well as our biggest trading partners. That is how the world works.

Canada’s having none of it, though, boycotting the convention over the course of Pyongyang’s four-week presidency. To what aim? This occasion could be one of the most important, if not the only, opportunity of the year where North Korea finds itself in the nuclear spotlight. It’s a chance for a framework besides the moribund six-party talks for the international community to roll up their sleeves and compel some kind of negotiation with the world’s most erratic nuclear power. The Six-Party Framework is, after all, rather a “superpower framework,” plus the two Koreas. Where do middle powers fit? What role can countries like Canada play in strengthening non-proliferation norms on the Korean Peninsula, and how might middle powers elicit a different type of response from a Pyongyang reared on anti-super-imperalist mythology? This could be just such an opportunity for us to build an agenda there, but Ottawa’s turning its back.

Baird’s case will be that he thinks the whole of the UN system has become preposterous, and that he’s trying to embarrass the organisation into reform, beginning with its convention chair rotation policy.

You know, if the Conservatives haven’t learned it yet, I don’t know that they ever will. You cannot effectively contribute to reforming an organisation that you repeatedly ignore and abandon. We have little sway there anymore. Our participation has not been valued for years anyway.

Canada in the UN these days is just like the underperforming whinger on a hockey team – the one who refuses to come to practice, who lobs insults at the bulk of his teammates, who spends more time in the donut shop than the gym, and then threatens to walk out on game day. In the hockey world, the team would say “goodbye!” And in the UN, I assume the response will be the same.

There are plenty of countries in the world not to our liking, and the UN system includes us all. Suck it up is what I’d advise the Baird Ministry. Diplomacy requires something more subtle than feigned outrage followed by the silent treatment. Sticktoitiveness and sleeverollupitiveness is a much more important part of the job, however much Baird can’t stand the smell.

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Filed under: Canada, Korea, Politics, , , , , , , ,

What’s so wrong with the rough and tumble?

From Canada’s blushing outrage at Brigette DePape’s stop sign, to the House of Commons’ brand-new heckle-bans, it seems there’s little more important these days than the skin of respectful politesse. Any concern, though, for the health of the deeper corpus?

The British House of Commons, for example, is not a place characterised by decorum, but most would say it works well. It is indeed a raucous chamber of loud hoots and heckles, brazen browbeatings, laddish one-liners, and disparaging quips. Teasing “yeas!” and “whoas!” are bellowed from the backbenches, in support or in attack, of leaders’ proclamations. Each session of Prime Minister’s Questions truly feels like trial by drunken fraternity, and both Labour Leader Ed Miliband and PM David Cameron dish out, and receive, the kinds of bruising blows that would absolutely liquify Stephen Harper et al.

Watch yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions for a sample.

But what’s telling, and it came up in yesterday’s session, is that, in both the Canadian and British Parliaments, one thing you cannot do is accuse another member of lying. Because that’s impolite. Cameron made the mistake of accusing Miliband of “misleading the House,” which led the Speaker to demand a retraction.

Cameron said median (hospital) waiting times had gone down and claimed Miliband had misled the house about the issue two weeks ago, prompting an intervention from the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, who urged him to withdraw the remark in line with protocol.

Cameron said: “What I meant, of course … he gave an interesting use of facts in terms of waiting times, which are down in the NHS (National Health Service).”

Miliband responded: “The whole house will notice he didn’t withdraw that, and obviously he is rattled about the health service.”

“After a year, he’s proved the oldest truth in politics – you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS.”

Such protocol is one component of a broad effort to maintain a some semblance of dignified decorum in the House, and fine. But I do find it a cruel irony that, while a Parliamentarian can be admonished by the Speaker for accusing another of lying, they are not similarly admonished for doing the actual lying.

John Baird earlier this year claimed, in the House of Commons, that allowing Emirates Airlines three more landing slots at Canadian airports would cost “tens of thousands” of Canadian jobs. Remember that? Tens of thousands! Jeez Louise, John. There really aren’t more than 90,000 Canadians employed in the Canadian aviation industry all told, so far as I can figure, so any labourers counted in the plural units of 10,000 implies up to a quarter of the sector. They were all at risk of unemployment? Because of Emirates? Three landing spaces? If our aviation industry is so imperilled, then let’s get talking about that!

Decorum, deschmorum, Baird deserved a routing for peddling patently vacuous lies in the House of Commons, but even in the 40th Parliament, for all it’s “roughness,” he didn’t get one. He should have been mocked and hollered at, torn a new one, politically discredited and accused – indeed – of lying. Because that’s what he did, and that ought to be considered the greatest affront to good government.

The self-policed Parliamentary politesse that everyone seems interested in is a skin-deep solution that does not cure the rot in politics. It’s never been the roughhousing that turn citizens off politics – we’re hockey fans, remember? No, it’s the lies. Brazen dishonesty, without reprimand or consequence, is the real sin that’s ailing our politics.

Civility is nice, and there is nothing to admire in personal attacks or irrelevant insults. But the tone of Parliamentary debate is a secondary concern to the substance of it. The real game misconducts should be reserved for outright lies.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Libya exists. Is that our policy?

I’ve been very keen to see how John Baird handles his massive new brief (I did not say massive briefs) and, with the 41st Parliament’s first Question Period now behind us, I’ve already got a question. Enter this short exchange:


Hon. Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, France and Italy have recognized the Libyan National Council as that country’s legitimate government. Can the Minister of Foreign Affairs clarify Canada’s position on this?

Hon. John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC): Mr. Speaker, in Canada we recognize states, not particular governments.



Uhhhhh….. I may not have ascended to Bairdist thinking on the concept of sovereignty, but I worry that he’s talking borderline impossible here. It’s akin to saying “In Canada, we recognize marriage, not husbands or wives.” Sorry, but unless you recognise the role of husband or the wife, then where in the world is the marriage?

When Canada refused to recognise the presidency of Laurent Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast, after challenger Alassane Ouattara had won the election, we were taking a position on legitimacy. It wasn’t saying “We think the Ivory Coast exists.” It was saying “We think the responsibility for running this territory falls to Government X.” Making those decisions and determinations is at the heart of what Foreign Policy is.

It’s not easy. States are not like the Canadian Shield, or the Moon, which exist whether you like them or not, and which exist outside human institutions and imagination. States explicitly require government, and this means the entire establishment of governance. The civil service, the armed forces, the whole elaborate apparatus of collective control. When two separate sets of this apparatus vye for overall control of a recognised territory, it does not do for us to suggest that we “recognise Libya to exist.” Eh? So what?

States require governance, and legitimate statehood requires both the consent of the governed, and the assent of other, peer governments, such as our own. Sometimes the balance there isn’t fair – often it’s not realistic. But that’s the big question Dominic LeBlanc was asking, and Baird fluffed it.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , ,

Another bullet in the foot

It’s been a while since I’ve put together a political cartoon. But, as a picture’s worth a thousand words, and I think I’ve already done a thousand words on the Conservatives’ current woes and trip ups, I thought I’d draw you all a picture as a bit of a diversion.

This is sort of an end-of-summer tableau, I guess. Couldn’t fit Stockwell Day in here, but maybe next time!

Everything's under control

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Here comes the Grrr machine

I’m like so looking forward to the newly Bairdified House of Commons. I’ve always said that what Canada needs is a red-eyed, coffee-blooded, bile-frothing hippo to set the tone of parliamentary debate.

Maybe that’s unfair. But the Baird approach to public discourse does have an air of the vengeful, the angry, the destructive and the prejudiced.

He’s lately labelled champions of the gun registry “Toronto elites.” That just may alienate the last gaggle of Conservatives in the city, but it also frames 1) any proponent of gun safety as a Starbuckian hipster who’s never seen a farm, as well as 2) “elites” as a vilified class, but strangely, also as the majority class. It’s the Republican Classic – portend to defend the poor on hot-button values issues, while screwing them utterly in every arena of economic policy.

Galloping Beaver’s already posted much more effectively than I could on this, so I’m stealing a quote and giving you the link.

This term [Toronto elites] bugs me this morning. I don’t know why the opposition parties don’t retake that term from the Cons and throw against them. The way Baird et al deploy that rhetoric against the educated suggests they’d desire everyone in the country to leave school at grade 6 lest they risk becoming an ‘elite’ of some fashion. Someone ought to ask the Cons if they’re planning to encourage kids not to finish school and strive for mediocrity and ignorance. I wonder if they’re planning anti-scholarships in order to support of the most ignorant and phobic of the early leavers as the try to feed themselves on minimum wage or less?

Filed under: Canada, Politics,

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