10.16.2014 05:13 PM

In Friday’s Sun: disasters are in the eye of the beholder

Rudy Giuliani’s second term was not going well. It was a disaster, in fact.

He’d been diagnosed with cancer. His signature tough-on-crime policy was rounding up more hot dog vendors than bad guys. He was confrontational and combative. He informed his wife he was dumping her at a press conference. His numbers stunk. Even without term limits, he wouldn’t have been elected NYC dogcatcher.

And then, 9/11 happened.

The attacks on New York City, and New Yorkers, dramatically changed the political fortunes of Rudy Giuliani. Standing at Ground Zero, reassuring New Yorkers and the world, Giuliani was stoic, strong, serene. In three short weeks, his personal popularity shot up more than 40 points, to an extraordinary 80 per cent.

New Yorkers wanted the term limits law lifted, so he could run again. Oprah Winfrey called him “America’s mayor.” The Queen gave him an honourary knighthood. Time Magazine named him person of the year.

But before 9/11, as one writer put it, Giuliani had been a bum. On that day, he became a man. And on the days that followed, he became a hero.

Such is the transformational nature of disaster – war, terrorism, public health crises. It happens a lot, when you think about it.

Before 1939, Winston Churchill was isolated and marginalized, a period he himself called “the wilderness years.” And then World War Two broke out, and Churchill would go on to literally led the world in a collective struggle against fascism and Nazism.

Closer to home, Trudeaumania faded when Pierre Trudeau started acting on his pledge to build a “just society” – legislating (appropriately) multiculturalism and bilingualism. But when the October 1970 crisis struck, Trudeau’s resolute refusal to negotiate with FLQ terrorists – and his willingness to impose the War Measures Act – dramatically boosted his popularity. Gallup found that 90 per cent of Canadians approved of his leadership during the crisis.

In Ontario in 2003, when SARS struck, the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves was intensely disliked. There had been the Walkerton disaster, soaring energy prices, and a ministerial expense account scandal. But when SARS hit – ultimately claiming 44 lives – Eves’ calm, reassuring approach put the PCs back in contention.

At the time, I was (full disclosure) the chairman of the Ontario Liberal war room effort, and was witness to an extraordinary event: a huge, overnight rise in the PCs polling numbers. Simply because Health Minister had held a press conference, and showed people how they should wash their hands, to avoid SARS’ spread.

Other examples are legion. A politician is reviled and headed to certain defeat, and then something happens – a war, a terrorist attack, a public health crisis – and everything changes. What once seemed impossible becomes possible.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands at the precipice of such a moment, with twin challenges facing him and his government. On the one hand, there is his (appropriate) decision to lend modest military support to the international coalition against the serial murderers who make up ISIS. On the other, his government’s (as-yet unseen) response to the metastasizing Ebola crisis.

As is always the case, a leader’s political opponents become mostly marginalized in such moments. Both NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader have said they oppose any military action against ISIS, and both may well come to rue the day they did so. There is no other criticism they can make, now, without sounding indifferent to the fate of Canadian men and women deployed to a battleground.

Meanwhile, neither man can say much about the burgeoning Ebola scare without sounding like they are fear mongering, or worse. So they will say little, if anything.

People come together in times of disaster, in times of war and terror. They set aside their differences.

And – as Messrs. Mulcair and Trudeau likely know too well – sometimes they set aside certain politicians, too.

42 Comments

  1. smelter rat says:

    There is no credible military leader who believes that bombing is going to make much difference in the fight against ISIS, a group armed primarily by the west and it’s allies, BTW. It’s just window dressing for the rubes. As for Ebola, good grief, the hysteria is already out of hand.

    • Derek Pearce says:

      I absolutely agree with you. But, the wider electorate, and may I say Sun readers even moreso, are governed by a more visceral reaction to both of these issues and so WK is also absolutely right.

  2. davie says:

    Some Machiavellian politician is credited with saying something like, ‘If you are going to solve the problem, you have to create the problem.
    A manufactured crisis, say just before an election, can also do wonders for a politician.

    Not sure of the Libs main election plan for the next year!
    Looks like NDP might go for social programmes.
    Conservatives for a while now have been putting together, at least in part, a trade and defence of freedom foreign stance…with the leadership trying to look as firmly in control as possible. Recently they have added the JT is alittle boy, NDP are wusses, we are brave adults thrust to their sell.

  3. Don McGowan says:

    Good evening Warren,
    Just wondering if you saw the following in this evening’s Globe:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/jean-chretien-defends-trudeaus-opposition-of-iraq-combat-mission/article21134448/#dashboard/saveditems
    “Jean Chrétien defends Trudeau’s opposition to Iraq combat mission”.
    I was proud to be a Canadian when our Prime Minister declined President Bush’s invitation to go War to Iraq.
    Today, I am proud as a Canadian, that our former Prime Minister Chretien had added some much needed clarity to Justin’s position and has proposed that Canada fully commit to helping to resolve the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria and Iraq.

    • Terry Quinn says:

      Now that WK’s hero has spoken out in favour of JT’s position I wonder if he will come around to that smart thinking.

      • Warren says:

        No, I disagree with him. I am with Obama on this one.

        • Waylon K says:

          But Warren, isn’t Obama’s Iraq and Syria military strategy somewhat akin to being slightly pregnant… when we know that US “boots on the ground” is inevitable? Perhaps a wait and see approach after sending in the Air Force may not require sending in the Marines, but I’m betting there is a contingency plan in the Pentagon to send in US troops to shore up the inadequate local armies trying to hold off the ISIL hordes.

          If the US send in the troops, I’m also betting that Harper will send in a token Canadian force to shore up the more motivated Kurdish forces, and leave the nasty regions of Iraq and Syria to the US, British and French forces. Canadian soldiers will hide behind the Kurds while the others directly face the ISIL jihadi suicide warriors.

          • Waylon K says:

            … and as an afterthought…. Harper was wise to quickly install up to 69 Canadian troops to assist the Kurds in a non-combat role for now. If the US sends in the Marines, Canadian soldiers will be fighting besides and behind the Kurds while the US troops will be fighting out in the open.

            It’s a lot better strategy than waiting and finding that Canadian troops are thrust into the middle of the melee like we were in the Taliban hotbed of Kandahar Province all because we didn’t commit troops early into a less dangerous region of Afghanistan. Harper learned well from Chretien, who he respects and hold in high regard notwithstanding their political differences.

  4. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    There are only three certainties in life: death, taxes and inevitable war escalation. That means boots on the ground — the only matter in dispute is when will it become an absolute necessity. The longer said war goes on, the quicker the bottom will fall out in polling. Like W, the leader goes from courageous genius to reviled bumpkin as it becomes clear that winning is impossible on the ground. And then comes withdrawal and the admission that the war was never winnable to begin with. They get to leave with their tails between their legs…end of story.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      Saudi boots, Syrian boots, Turkish boots, Iraqi boots. All those boots that we are helping out by “softening” up some ISIS for them with our bombing. “Our” being the West.

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        Elisabeth,

        We won’t see Turkish boots — they have signed a ceasefire with the PKK but how long will it hold? The last thing Turkey wants is supporting the Kurds who are fighting for a Kurd state in Turkey. There are reports that Turkey lets Kurds in from Iraq and Syria but then gives them minimal aid.

  5. terraderma says:

    With what Canadians hold dear having been tarnished by the wily and canny Harper, all it will take is a sophisticated and coordinated campaign to remove him.

    Truth to Power.

    • Al in Cranbrook says:

      “With what Canadians hold dear…”

      And herein lies this incessant pretention that somehow what the left wing holds dear is one and the very same with what Canadians deem valuable.

      Get this straight: What you and the left wing wannabe socialist/quasi-communists “hold dear” means absolutely SFA to this Canadian, and millions more Canadians like me!

      Get over yourself and the ideology you don like underwear before you start every day! You’re NOT the last word on what is important to 34,000,000 Canadians!

      • Terry Quinn says:

        Al, based on your almost solitary positions here in favour of the Harpercrites I would suggest your use of “millions” might be wishful thinking or, as usual, just more angst on your part because your boy is the most reviled politician in many a decade and you know it deep down.

      • davie says:

        As we get closer to next year’s election, and especially if poll numbers do not change much, there will be near hysteria in accusations with Conservatives not knowing whether to call others pinkos, commies, terrorists, wusses, or roundheads.

    • terraderma says:

      Before I pressed ‘Submit’ I considered editing the ‘dear’ out, but then thought that it would be the word that gets a hater roiled. It worked. Thanks to Terry and scot………

  6. Brachina says:

    I refuse to rubber stamp war in the name of coming together.

    Its Mulcair who is shining now, this war will end as poorly as all the other wars in the middle east, which lead to the rise of ISIS in the first place.

    Afganistan disaster.

    Iraq disaster.

    The unoffical Drone War In Pakistan Disaster.

    Libia, I believe in its current state its being refered to as Thunderdome, the chaos is so extreme. Disaster.

    Syria Disaster. Remember when we were bombing Assad, and now were asking for his permission? WTF.

    Mulcair’s skilled handling of the war and Mulcair masterful play on Childcare. And a 15 dollar an hour minium wage federally. And that’s just the beginning.

    And with Oil prices dropping Harpers in deep crap, especially in Alberta.

    • Austin So says:

      Well…nothing better than a little skirmish in the Middle East to help drive oil prices up…

    • Al in Cranbrook says:

      Mulcair’s masterful play on Childcare??? $15/hr min. wage??? Seriously???

      There’s a cartoon in today’s local rag. First frame: “NDP POLICY ROLLOUT DAY ONE – NATIONAL MULTIBILLION$ DAYCARE PROGRAM” Second frame: “NDP POLICY ROLLOUT DAY TWO – NATIONAL MONEY TREE PLANTING PROGRAM”

      BWA HA HA HA HA HA!!!

      The next socialist I ever meet or hear of with even the slightest inkling of functioning economics will be the first.

      On the plus side, such ridiculous drivel nevertheless will tax Trudeau’s and the Liberals’ leftist aspirations.

      • Waylon K says:

        But Canada’s Chatelaine asks rhetorically: Is Justin Trudeau the candidate women have been waiting for?

        Of course the answer is a resounding “YES!”… because Canadian women vote with their hearts first and foremost. Any political election strategist knows this to be true! Hearts always trump clubs!

        Why make a voting decision on troubling subjects such as the economy, euthanasia, abortion, ebola, military involvement, taxes… when all you have to do is simply follow your heart… which can never be wrong if you are passionately pleased… at least for the moment.

      • davie says:

        In the late 1930’s, a CCF MP was asking for aid to the provinces to help ordinary people who were jobless and destitute.
        The finance minister answered that he CCF MP must think that money grew on trees.
        Then in late 1939, as Canada got itself into a European war, the CCF MP observed that suddenly the finance minister had found a money tree, had, in fact, found a money tree here, a money tree there, all kinds of money trees.

    • Al in Cranbrook says:

      And yes, is there any doubt that western Canadians aspire to the heights of economic and financial success as has been demonstrated by Quebec over the last five decades…you know, the decades for which mostly westerners have been subsidizing them to the tune of mega billions annually.

      Or maybe it’s France, near and dear to Mulcair’s heart, that he envisions as a model for Canadians to aspire? That would be the same France that’s pretty much a socialist’s wet dream come economic and financial train wreck looking for a place to happen just about any moment now. The same France where just about anyone who has achieved any financial success is bailing for the exits, bank books in hand, before said socialist government strips them of whatever wealth is left that they haven’t already stolen to prop up their bankrupt state.

      Right! By all means, let’s jump on that bandwagon, tout de suite!

      • Terry Quinn says:

        I agree with your position on Tom the French citizen but you now miss the point on JT. He doesn’t want to be a right wing hawk like you and your “leader” so he resides right in the middle where many many millions of Canadians reside politically and socially. Some day you will understand but probably not soon. Maybe you also read Chretiens’s comment on the ISIS situation which is rational and thoughtful and coming from someone a lot more educated on the subject than you.

  7. smelter rat says:

    Ebola is no threat unless you absorb body fluid from an infected person.

  8. patrick says:

    I think Trudeau should have been clearer and stated that much of his opposition stems from the fact that bombing the shit out of terrorists that are hiding in public areas is only going to make things worse. That bombing areas to dust will only inspire others to hate. Further Isil is no threat to us and since we’ve been quite happy to let other equally horrific groups have their ways in other countries why should this be any different?
    And why is opposition to war, criticism of a war, of the methods of war taken as “indifference to soldiers”? I will never put a “Support the troops” sticker on anything because I have never met anyone who doesn’t “support the troops”, who doesn’t want our men and women to come back safely, or to have the tools to do the job they have been asked to do. The decal is a lie. It is meant to promote silence and obedience to the war mongers so their war lust will not be criticized and their failures from Korea, to Vietnam, to Iraq will not be questioned.
    If you support the troops, truly care about their well being, then questions need to be answered, constantly, and actions justified, otherwise our soldiers will die pointlessly as they have in the Middle East, other than providing glorious poll bumps for our glorious leaders.
    To “support the troops” to truly care about their well being we must question why we are putting them in peril and then why we are keeping them there and from a position that war is a failure of our humanity, of our ability to reason and be self aware, that it is not glorious and is only shameful.
    If we are obedient zombies, shedding a tear occasionally at a casket on television and believe the crap that “being blown to pieces by a land mine in a foreign country” is what “they always wanted to do” then we only support imperialism, oligarchs and accept our sons and daughters being used as cannon fodder for interests other than our own.

  9. Waylon K says:

    “People come together in times of disaster, in times of war and terror. They set aside their differences.
    And – as Messrs. Mulcair and Trudeau likely know too well – sometimes they set aside certain politicians, too.”
    — W. Kinsella

    Warren, the Conservative government will soon be tabling their Omnibus Bill likely containing proposed tax cuts for Canadians and the contentious “Fair Use” of media material legislation.

    If you were advising Harper, would you urge him to call an election after the Omnibus Bill is passed… to get from Canadians another vote of confidence as we Canadians enter into an uncertain economic, military and medical future given all that’s happened now? It will force Canadians to choose between Harper, Trudeau or Mulcair to guide the Canadian ship of state through troubled waters and around hidden shoals. Or would such an obvious political move backfire?

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Waylon K,

      OK, I’ll bite. But I get to play Harper: he will once again ignore the fixed election date and drop the writ provided he can get a double blip in BC and particularly Ontario. Over at ThreeHundredEight.com, Eric Grenier has prepared the federall polling averages. Nationally, Liberals lead by seven points. In BC, Liberals and Conservatives are tied. In Ontario, Liberals again have a seven point lead.

      Watch for a real turn of events — or as others have said, a manufactured crisis to try and move CPC numbers. If it works, dig out the lawn signs!

  10. Derek Pearce says:

    On Ebola who knows, it’s too early to tell where this (hopefully won’t) lead. But as for fighting ISIS, it depends on if the mission is extended, and extended again… and whether or not any of our pilots come to harm. Isn’t it supposed to be a 6 month thing? You can bet the Tories will extend it in March even if things are quiet over there.

  11. Domenico says:

    This quote from George Monbiot in The Guardian captures my thoughts much better than I could have.

    “There are no good solutions that military intervention by the UK or the US can engineer. There are political solutions in which our governments could play a minor role: supporting the development of effective states that don’t rely on murder and militias, building civic institutions that don’t depend on terror, helping to create safe passage and aid for people at risk. Oh, and ceasing to protect, sponsor and arm selected networks of death. Whenever our armed forces have bombed or invaded Muslim nations, they have made life worse for those who live there. The regions in which our governments have intervened most are those that suffer most from terrorism and war. That is neither coincidental nor surprising.”

  12. doconnor says:

    The Afghanistan campaign wasn’t a big enough deal to have a major effect on any elections. I don’t think the ISIS campaign or Ebola will become a big enough deal to have an effect, either.

  13. ottlib says:

    The support of Canadians for the war in Afghanistan was never universal and it declined as time went on. This despite the fact that the guys who planned the attack that brought down the Twin Towers were located there.

    ISIS is reprehensible and Canadians want to see them gone but there are limits to what they will accept to make that happen. The tepid action of the Harper government and their emphasis on the limited nature of the mission’s scope and length is a very good indication that they know the current support for a military response to ISIS is about as firm as quicksand.

    The war against ISIS is not the great crusade that was the Second World War and ISIS has not demonstrated themselves to be a real threat to Canadians at home or abroad. They offend the sensibilities of Canadian, which is not enough to sustain support for military action when Canadians are concerned about other issues.

    In other words, the positions of the various political leaders on the war against ISIS will not be a ballot question in a year.

    As for Ebola, we will have to see if the Harper government learned from their response to the H1N1 scare a few years ago. During the run-up to the crisis the Harper government seemed content to let the provinces handle it and only seemed to respond to H1N1 after it reached crisis proportion. Ebola is in the news more and more. I am seeing more reports of individual provinces and cities preparing for the possibility of it arriving on our shores. However, the federal government has been rather silent on the issue so far. Maybe they did not learn from H1N1.

    • ottlib says:

      I would add that I am from rural Eastern Ontario and my family still lives there.

      Last weekend during our Thanksgiving gathering the topic of the military mission in Iraq came up. To summarize the conversation they generally agreed with the military mission but they also agreed that “Harper is full of shit”.

      These are country folk, born and raised, those that are supposed to make up the foundation of the Conservative base. I was not surprised by the agreement with the mission but I was surprised by the level of vitriol for Mr. Harper.

      This is by no means a scientific assessment, it is based solely on an anecdote, but it could very well be that even if Canadians do agree with the mission in Iraq Mr. Harper and the Conservatives may not gain much politically from it.

  14. debs says:

    indeed, probably downsizing has reduced the help. but as you know now by now, this one we were lucky, I certainly hope northern gateway doesnt get their way or we will be having these situations happen alot more frequently. Harper is good at avoiding the press when there are important questions to be answered.

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