01.08.2015 11:55 PM

In Friday’s Sun: values, foreign affairs and elections

The morning of the Paris massacre, this surfaced on the Internet:

“Stephen Harper’s willingness to be tough with terrorists and dictators – in effect, punching above Canada’s foreign policy weight class – is something to be admired, whether you agree with him or not. But will it pay electoral dividends? Can Harper actually win an election against the surging Trudeau Liberals with foreign policy?

Not a chance.”

“Not a chance.” The author of that pithy observation was me. I wrote it in July, and – as the world this week contemplates the enormous implications of the atrocity in Paris – I am increasingly of the view that I was mistaken.

The events of recent months – the assassinations of two members of our Armed Forces by self-styled Muslim avengers, most notably – have me (and likely others) reassessing positions. In dangerous times like these, people make important political choices. In Canada, the choice is presently between, on the one hand, two Opposition leaders who seemingly oppose confronting and defeating terror in every possible circumstance – and, on the other hand, a Prime Minister who believes humanitarian aid alone is insufficient.

Some might argue that characterization is too simplistic. Perhaps. But as I argue in my book Fight The Right, the political brain is an emotional organ, not a rational one. On voting day, passion generally defeats reason. Values, as simplistic as they may seem to progressives, rule.

Values – that is, hopes, dreams, fears, the ineffable stuff of life – are deeply-held, deeply-emotional notions. Mountains of data make clear that conservatives are very good at values-based debates, and progressives usually are not.

Conservatives have achieved supremacy in the European Union, Canada and the United States – jurisdictions where the majority of voters identify themselves as progressive – by expertly dominating the values debate, whether the subject-matter is class resentments or fighting terror. Progressives, meanwhile, too often become tongue-tied when talking about values. They’re not good at it.

As a result, voters (even progressive ones) drift towards conservative politicians and parties – because they equate a progressives’ (a) reluctance to talk about values with (b) having no values at all.

Foreign affairs, however nuanced diplomats consider it to be, is mainly an unending debate about values. Who is right, and who is wrong; who is wearing a black hat, and who is wearing a white one.

There are exceptions, some might say. And, to be sure, the 1988 Free Trade election showcased some thoughtful debates about policy. But when we distil that rather important Canadian campaign down to its base elements, it’s evident that 1988 was simply a values debate about Canadian sovereignty: keeping it, or losing it. And, as historians will note, the Conservatives won that one pretty convincingly, too.

Presently, Conservatives are winning the values debate in Canada because of foreign affairs. The Tories’ position is clear and comprehensible to the electorate. The shifting positions of the Liberals/New Democrats are not. Juvenile jokes about our military, and our military capacity, haven’t helped.

Timing is critical, of course. Our current preoccupation with foreign affairs may well fade by the Spring. But as a very senior Liberal said to me the morning of the Paris slaughter: “These attacks are happening all the time, now. And they’re happening in the West, not just in Afghanistan.”

That, mainly, is why the Conservative Party is competitive again. Canadians understand that the world has become a much more dangerous place, and they don’t consider handing out box lunches to the many victims of ISIS/ISIL – and nothing else – to be thoughtful foreign policy. They consider it to be mistaken.

I was mistaken, too, it seems. Improbably, foreign affairs has become top-of-mind for voters in this election year. And, because debates about foreign affairs are really just debates about values in disguise, the Conservative Party is getting undeniably closer to what was once considered completely impossible:

Re-election.

35 Comments


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    Cranston Snord says:

    Cogent, well-written and, I think, bang on the money. You certainly have been at the top of your game these last couple of days, Warren. Impressive….


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    Pat F. says:

    We concur 100%.

    The Fanatic Within

    Amidst headlines that France is still on edge, other headlines reveal fanaticism is going strong in this country.

    Jodie Emery, “green-lighted” by Justin Trudeau and flying on high on BC Bud, will run for the Liberals. Recall it was Mark Emery who blasted Liberal MP and Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler: “NEOCON-KAPO irwin cotler is signing depotation orders for CANNABIS CULTURE people wanted in the united states because he is secretly trying to get israeli spy Jonathan Pollard out of jail in the united states…. I thought the term Jewish-Nazi, or Nazi-Jew, was an oxymoron until Cotler became the Injustice Minister” (BC Marijuana Party jail blog). A paranoid rant worthy of the Islamic State blog to be sure.

    Emery has a long history of targeting dissent e.g. “Mosca”, volunteer president of the Grandview-Woodlands Community Policing Centre was harassed unmercifully for complaining to a Vancouver TV reporter that the city was allowing the Da Kine cafe to sell pot a block away from a local elementary school: “I noted that there is a person of the Grandview/Woodlands community policing centre, and she must be picketed at that policing centre. Two people should be there with signs every day, saying that she is a Nazi, or having a swastika by her name, or some kind of strong, anti-prohibitionist sentiment, as she is clearly trying to shut down one of our temples for the cannabis culture . . .”

    Jodie Emery posed in a micro-bikini, topless, surrounded by marijuana plants in support of libertarian Republican Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. Ron Paul is an interesting chap. In his own words: “When one gets in bed with government, one must expect the disease it spreads.” “Let the revolution begin!” “Interviewer: …abolish the CIA, the FBI, and the IRS? Do you hold those same positions? Ron Paul: Yes, I do — because you know, most of our history, we didn’t have those institutions” (Imagine France today without like institutions.) “…Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began.” Etc.

    Jian Ghomeshi is facing three new sex-assault charges. If one drills down on Ghomeshi’s narrative/propaganda over the years, one notes it is heavily peppered with anti-Western sentiments. Anything critical of theocratic Iran is attacked by Ghomeshi e.g.: “a particularly racist film about the U.S.-Iran experience, Not Without My Daughter, hit theatres and had some success at the box office. It, too, was ‘based on a true story’ and provided an uncompromisingly demonizing portrait of Iranians.” Ironically, IMDb describes this film as, “An American woman, trapped in Islamic Iran by her brutish husband, must find a way to escape…” Note the attack upon the “true story” – gaslighting.

    Ghomeshi prodded and poked dissident Ayann Hirsi Ali (she tried in vain to explain the basic concept of individual rights to him) and tried to position her as outlier of the far right: “I think the collective, you know, certainly in the Marxist tradition would be considered a left-wing idea.”

    His baiting of Billy Bob Thornton resulted in Canadian audiences chanting anti-American slogans. His outrage over the film Argo was published in the Globe Mail. Studied closely and objectively, the entire Ghomeshi narrative is one of subtle active measures and slow-drip subversion. Ghomeshi complains of “demonization” but is in fact a highly skilled demonizer. Interestingly, the CBC also featured the documentary, “The New Great Game” – a simmering diatribe against the West-Britain-America-Israel – produced in association with Press-TV, the propaganda organ of the Islamic state.

    The Mark Emerys (Jody Emery has as much psychological autonomy as the Charlie Manson girls) and Jian Ghomeshis of Canada are as against freedom of speech and freedom of the press as the terrorist fanatics who blasted Charlie Hebdo. Anyone who won’t toe the Party line is subjected to intense and vicious campaigns to silence them. Considering both of these individuals have spent time behind bars, it suggests criminal cadres now have the potential to enter the very heart of the Canadian State – the destruction of which is the dream of these fanatics. They imagine a world where hourly bong and BDSM sessions will usher in Paradise under the charismatic Dear Leader. Argo would never have been made because terrible Americans should be thrown to the wolves. Troublesome dissidents like Ms Ali would be quieted, put back under the veil, the only sound the endless, nasal drone of Ghomeshi, Emery et al. enjoying the sound of their own voice, les enfants terrible luxuriating in their ideological diapers as they throw temper tantrum after temper tantrum.


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      Jon Adams says:

      So there, WK. Hardline foreign policy and non sequitur conspiracy theories about ersatz Canadian celebrities will win another mandate for Stephen Harper.

      Why in the hell does every post here come free with a rambling off-topic 1500 word dissertation? You’d almost swear the comments section attracts loons with nothing better to do– er, on that note I’ll show myself out…


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    davie says:

    Caught the PM on tv today with his going on about a global threat and they declared war and so on. You’re right, this foreign affairs stuff is going to help the Conservatives a lot. Tough talk, grand fight for freedom, and so on!


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    Tim Sullivan says:

    Canada always was able to punch above its weight. It lost that when the Cons came to power. We became All Israel All the Time, Attack Someone Today, and Up Yours Other Country Like China And Others … to the point we did not get the seat on the Security Council we used to get for the asking.


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    Lance says:

    Improbably, foreign affairs has become top-of-mind for voters in this election year.

    We have Canadians going abroad to fight for terrorist groups. Terrorist attacks are starting to impact us here directly. For foreign affairs to become one of the top priorities is not all that improbable.

    You’re right, foreign affairs in a microcosm with a lot of nuance. But boiling it down this issue, the Tories encompass values that are black and white, at least to people voting back home. Mulcair was careful to be unequivocal in his response this time. Trudeau just can’t ever seem to manage to be. But if it is one thing that the Tories do well, for better or worse, it is black and white responses to these events. It might be polarizing, but it makes people’s choices at the ballot box more clear, and seeing how Trudeau can’t be really pinned down, he’ll be made to look like he has to catch up or risk looking lost, and thus framed. Being framed is something the Liberals are fighting to make sure doesn’t happen to their current leader, like it did to their last two leaders. Are they succeeding?


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    Kev says:

    Values… like ghoulishly fundraising off the memories of terrorism victims in France, less than 36 hours after they were gunned down?


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    Russ says:

    Harper lost advantage the moment his minions used this latest terrorist massacre as a fund raising opportunity. Absolutely disgusting Using the dead for financial gain.


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    Terence Quinn says:

    In most of the blogs I read people are more concerned with Harper’s sleaze than his International profile. Even columns/articles that dal with foreign terror and mention Harper the conversation turns to the crap that has spilled out of the Tory government. While I could agree he is doing well on that front his reputation for being dishonest and unethical is something major to overcome and his opponents have not addressed any of that yet.

    harper himself has stopped attacking Trudeau and the ads now focus on him which tells you he needs his reputaion refreshed a lot. Can that happen?


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    sezme says:

    Unlike in the US, I don’t believe belligerent foreign policy wins votes in Canada. This is because Canadians recognize that we just can’t throw our weight around like a big power and that talk is cheap. Slavishly aligning ourselves with the US and Israel doesn’t win here either, because we value our independence.

    On the other hand, actually supporting our military and providing them with meaningful missions (such as peacekeeping) sometimes does win votes. I don’t think many Canadians would argue that the Conservatives have been terribly effective at either of those things lately.


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    JH says:

    Well said WK. It’s obvious the Liberals need a course correction and fast. Simple is, as simple does, may be a negative aphorism to some, but it’s unbeatable when it comes to 30 second sound bites. Liberal true believers on here may dispute you ad nauseum and at length, but I’m betting Liberal strategists of Trudeau’s are debating plans to change the narrative in 30 second clips as I type this. True believers don’t win elections, intelligent strategists do. That’s why it’s called a war room.


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    Alex says:

    This is one of the best columns you have written in some time. To my shock, I find myself agreeing with Prime Minister Harper’s approach on terrorism, while shaking my head at what Trudeau and Mulcair have had to say. I say this as someone who is a progressive and who has voted Liberal, Green or NDP in various elections, but who has never once cast a ballot for a Conservative at either the provincial or federal level.


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    MgS says:

    I have yet to be impressed by anything PMSH has done on the foreign affairs file. He started off in 2006 as a pithy, soundbite-addled twit who wanted to throw his weight around on the world stage. To this point, he hasn’t changed one iota.

    Yes, diplomacy is about values, but it is also about communication, collaboration and other aspects of relating to people. It is not exemplified by pithy soundbites, nor is it done justice by 2 bit thugs running around spewing absolutes as Harper, Baird and crew do with Israel.

    When you speak of Conservatives “dominating” the discussion around values, what you are really talking about is how the sociopaths have taken over politics for their own gain. This isn’t a failing of progressive politics, it’s a palace coup being played out by people who are masters of manipulation because they don’t give a flying f*** about anyone or anything except themselves.

    Call this BS for what it is.


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      Scotian says:

      Sadly, yup. *sigh*


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    Ted H says:

    The real threats to our democracy come from Harper and his government, not from murderous fanatics.


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      Wayne says:

      Take that, run with it, and see how far it gets you (electorally speaking).


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    Brine says:

    “Sociopaths”? “Masters of Manipulation”? “Murderous fanatics”?

    Wow, time to change the tinfoil in the hats of more than a few people on this site. Do you really hear yourselves? Do you wonder why it’s so difficult to take some of you seriously??


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      Brine says:

      Now cue the smartass comments from the insult squad headed by Kaspar and rat in 3…2…1…


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        JH says:

        Typically those who can only yell, scream and hurl insults are intellectually incapable of forming a cogent reply, so foaming at the mouth is the only option they have left.


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          Peter says:

          Yes, many of the comments here show just what an uphill battle guys like Warren are facing with a lot of “progressive” opinion. It doesn’t seem to matter how many atrocities are committed or how many threats of more are made, they are attached to a time-honoured narrative about root causes, humanitarian aid, nothing to do with Islam, the real issue is climate change, etc., and they aren’t going to give it up no matter what. Plus Harper provides endless lustre to their demonology. “Hey, don’t worry about being blown up in a shopping centre, that’s just Harper’s way of deflecting attention from his muzzling of parliamentary committees.”

          These people should be paying more attention to Europe, where progressive establishments repeatedly dismissed popular concerns about terrorism and immigration as “racist” or whatever with the result that some very nasty, xenophobic movements that make the Cons look like Oxfam have captured the issue and are on the rise.


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            doconnor says:

            I’m sorry if we are not terrorized enough and are still capable of rational thought. Everyone knows what a disadvantage that is in politics.


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            Peter says:

            Not to worry. After you lose the next election, you can all get together for a party and tell one another how brilliant & rational you are and how the stupid public has let you down again. It’s not like you haven’t had lots of practice.


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            Al in Cranbrook says:

            Rational thought. More to the point, rationalizing the irrational. Desperately.

            Let’s turn to the “experts”, so that we may intellectualize away our fears and guilt. So that we may find comfortable distance between ourselves and what our senses, our intuition, and out very guts are telling us. God forbid human beings each rely upon their own God given brains.

            Let’s be clear: This is about “ideology”, no more, no less.

            Too many human beings cannot separate their very selves from their ideology. It is the very ID papers by which they define themselves, who they are, and how they exist minute by minute, day by day. Strip away their ideology, and they are naked and afraid, exposed to the world as mere biological blobs of flesh called man.

            How it plays out is only a matter of degrees. Too many on this very forum, while decrying censorship of criticism in all its forms of religion, at the same time have no problem whatsoever with censorship of science or politics to which they are personally opposed. Indeed, many even demand it. Think skepticism of AGW.

            How many media outlets in this world refuse to print/air anything remotely skeptical of climate change? Some have publicly stated as much as a matter of policy, while others quietly, but deliberately, ignore the counter debate…think, f’rinstance, the CBC, and at least half a dozen other major broadcasters in N. America.

            Many, many “progressives” are not even slightly disturbed by this. Indeed, it comforts them, primarily because it absolves them having to defend their personal ideology with which they identify their very beings. Life gets so messy when one has to deal with such challenges, doesn’t it? “But I am backed up by science!” Really? Or just the “science” you want to hear? The stuff that fits neatly within the narrow confines of your personal ideology? And fuck all the rest of it, eh!

            How many of the same who are outraged by defending an ideology by killing opponents, on the other hand have no problem with destruction of property and looting if it’s for a “good cause”? Only the thinnest of degrees separates what clearly are both acts of war upon “non-believers”…or, if you will, “infidels”. Oh, but you draw the line at killing. Well, aren’t you the noble example of tolerance and forbearance to our children, eh?

            There is a stench of hypocrisy wafting through all of this indignant outrage that I just can’t get past.


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            doconnor says:

            “So that we may find comfortable distance between ourselves and what our senses, our intuition, and out very guts are telling us.”

            Nice call back to Steven Colbert’s orginal segment when he coined the word Truthiness. As long as people like you are in the world, we won’t forget him.


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    Ian Howard says:

    Steven Harper has given up on human rights in China.

    Limited his ability to influence Israel because of domestic politics.

    Our country is pluralistic, France has turned it’s back on that concept.

    His biggest contribution to security is leaving the collection of data largely to the spooks and even that will never stop the lone wolf.

    We want assurances in a world where there are no guarantees we are bereft of real leadership and have lost faith in ideas. We are like angry children driven by fear instead of reason


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    graham watt says:

    Needs repeating. There is nothing harder to stop than a trend.


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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    I will be watching the poll numbers of President Francois Hollande going forward. Up until now, his numbers haven’t been very good.


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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    I get it that Conservatives see the war on terrorism as an expression of deeply held values. One would think logically speaking, that meant hanging in there until the war is “won”. But that is precisely what the West hasn’t done in Iraq and Afghanistan. Combat operations have ended while our rhetoric moves on to other matters where again we will not win despite the heroic efforts of our servicemen and sevicewomen.


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    Africon says:

    Excellent article and spot on.
    And let’s not forget the Russian’s activities in Ukraine and in Syria.

    Not that I’m a big fan of war, we in Canada now find ourselves as unprepared and unequipped for war (far more important) as Neville Chamberlain’s Britain.
    Peacekeeping sounds great but really does not have much of track record of solving anything anywhere.
    Helping to educate or build infrastructure would be far far more useful in the long term.

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