Entries from July 2004
David Frum July 27th, 2004 at 12:00 am
What’s a Canadian’s life worth? Eighteen thousand dollars says the government of Iran. That is the compensation that an Iranian court proposed to pay the family of murdered photographer Zahra Kazemi — after that same court refused to hold any individual responsible for Kazemi’s death.
What can or should the government of Canada do now?
It could start by opening its eyes. For years, Ottawa has regarded Iran as just another authoritarian country with an unfortunate human-rights record — deplorable to be sure, but not ultimately a problem of special concern to Canada. Indeed, private citizen Jean Chretien, now a consultant to a Calgary oil company, unconcernedly does business there.
That indifference must end.
Iran is not only a terrible human-rights abuser, although it is that and worse. Iran is also one of the world’s leading aggressor states. It is the world’s foremost surviving state sponsor of international terror, terror that has reached into Europe and the Americas. Gunmen in Iranian pay have committed mass murder in Berlin; in 1994, Iranian agents blew up the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, killing 86 people — until 9/11, the deadliest act of international terror in the history of the Western hemisphere.
Now this gruesome regime is nearing completion of a nuclear weapon.
Once Iran acquires such a weapon, it will be able to practice terrorism with impunity. Nuclear mullahs will gain the power to defy not only Canada, but the entire international community.
Of course, Iran has promised to use its nuclear program only for peaceful purposes. But just as the Iranian government has told lie after lie in the Kazemi case, so it has repeatedly been caught lying to the International Atomic Energy Authority.
So far, Iran has suffered no consequences for its flagrant violations of its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The European members of the IAEA have urged a go-slow approach, hoping to coax Iran into behaving better next time. And Canada? Canada’s voice has gone unheard.
Nor has Canada spoken up in defence of the brave young Iranian students who have challenged the regime’s bogus elections and brutal human rights practices. In 2002 and 2003, dissidents took to the streets to demonstrate against the mullah-dictators. They waved American flags and chanted, “Death to the Taliban in Kabul and Teheran.” (The slogan rhymes in Farsi too.) These demonstrations were brutally suppressed: In at least one case, the regime shot at protesters with attack helicopters. Kazemi was arrested and killed for the offence of taking pictures at one of these rallies.
The people who conduct Canada’s foreign policy do not seem to connect the dots between the death of Zahra Kazemi and the larger Iranian threat to world peace. They seem to think of the protection of Canadian passport-holders as one kind of problem, terrorism as a second kind, nuclear non-proliferation as something different still and the arrest and murder of student protesters as yet another unrelated problem. They may understand that Iran is a vicious regime. But they have a hard time comprehending that this viciousness has anything to do with them. It is as if, like some ancient South Seas bird, the Ottawa mind has lived in such security for so long that it simply cannot absorb the idea that anyone out there might want to hurt it.
Because they cannot absorb the idea of real danger, Canadian officials seem completely baffled about how to respond to danger. Al-Jazeera’s application to the CRTC is a small but telling example. The CRTC seems to have analyzed the application in this way:
“Al-Jazeera is a popular international news service that unfortunately sometimes incites its listeners to go kill Jews. We favour international news, but we deplore killing Jews. Let’s see if we can’t find some compromise that satisfies all parties.”
But the whole point of al-Jazeera is that it is precisely not a news service. It is a tool of mobilization and propaganda used by the terrorist enemy to rally support in the Arabic-speaking world. And since the Arabic-speaking world now extends into many Canadian cities and suburbs, Canada as a country has to worry about the effect of this mobilization and propaganda on Canada’s own security.
Canada now hosts a large Arabic-speaking population. Most of this population wants exactly what all Canadians want: freedom for themselves, opportunity for their children. But a minority of this population has proven itself vulnerable to recruitment and manipulation by al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. And al-Jazeera’s purpose in coming into Canada is to help with that recruitment and manipulation.
The debate over al-Jazeera’s free speech rights versus the dangers of hate speech can occur only because it ignores the rather large fact that there is a war going on — and that Canada, like all Western countries, is an involuntary combatant in this war.
Canada’s ability to achieve justice for the Kazemi family will depend on whether Canadian leaders wake up to these hard facts. And so too does Canada’s ability to achieve security for the Canadian people.
David Frum July 20th, 2004 at 12:00 am
It’s good to be back at the old fruit stand. A lot of history has passed since I last had a regular spot on these pages, and not all of it has been happy. I’d been rather looking forward to a plush patronage appointment from a Harper government, perhaps as equerry to Canada’s new ambassador to the United States, the Hon. Mark D. Steyn.
Instead, the voters disappointed us all on June 28, and I’m reduced to filling newsprint again. Minority governments being unstable things, however, it’s all too possible the verdict of the voters might yet change and that the equerry job might come through after all. Just to stay on the safe side, the column will be a temporary one, lasting through the end of the summer.
But maybe before we close the cover on the recent past, we should try to understand it better. The new Conservative party had almost everything going in its favour on June 28. Three weeks before the election, a Conservative minority government seemed within reach. Then, in the last 10 days or so, the scandal-wracked incumbents recovered and won a surprisingly strong minority. The result was not a Liberal victory, but it was certainly a Conservative defeat. What went wrong?
One theory has had a good airing in these pages: That is the theory that the Conservatives were dragged down by their social conservative members. The hard-line opinions of some MPs against abortion and same-sex marriage, it is said, frightened away moderate Ontarians. If the Conservatives want to win power, the theory concludes, they must reinvent themselves as an economically conservative but socially liberal party.
Like a lot of theories, this one might well be true. It should be tested in polls and surveys, and if it bears up, then the Conservatives will have some hard thinking to do. But I strongly suspect that the theory will not bear up.
Is it plausible that the Conservatives failed to make inroads into Brampton and Kitchener because voters there are horrified by opposition to same-sex marriage? Is it really to be believed that the Conservative vote dropped in Atlantic Canada, one of the most socially conservative parts of the country, because an MP from British Columbia speculated that counselling might be useful to women considering abortion?
Abortion and same-sex marriage may be top-of-mind issues in midtown Toronto. But midtown Toronto was not where the Conservatives hoped to pick up the 40 or more Ontario seats they needed. Any explanation of the June 28 disappointment has to explain what went wrong in the suburban, ex-urban and small-town ridings where the Conservatives had been poised for big gains up until the election’s final days.
Let me propose an alternative theory, one that may fit the known facts somewhat better.
The Liberals opened the 2004 campaign with a barrage of ads about medicare. The ads at first seemed strangely beside the point. The Liberals argued that medicare was in trouble and needed to be saved with a big infusion of new money. The ads muttered darkly about a Conservative secret agenda. But as the Conservative counter-ads reminded viewers, it was the Liberals themselves who had taken the money out of health care in the first place.
And then along came Alberta Conservative Premier Ralph Klein, just days before the election, to say, in effect: “Yup. We Alberta Conservatives do have a secret agenda to change medicare. I can’t tell you what it is, because as I said, it’s a secret. All I can reveal is that my secret plan will quite possibly violate the Canada Health Act.”
The next day, Klein’s own government hastily backed away from his words. But the harm was done. The harm could be done because (to continue my theory) most Canadians in their heart of hearts know that Ralph Klein is right. They know that medicare is failing. They know it is a clumsy and unresponsive government monopoly that behaves in irrational ways and creates perverse incentives for doctors, nurses and patients alike.
They know all these things — but they don’t like them. They wish they were not true. And they stand ready to punish any politician they see acting on them.
Canadians are unhappy and anxious about medicare and crave solutions. They don’t much like the kind of medicare solutions that Conservatives tend to favour: solutions that emphasize competition, incentives, and individual responsibility. On the other hand, Canadians sense that the Liberal slogans that insist that medicare is just fine as it is — or will be fine as soon as it is topped up with another billion or 10 — are dishonest and exploitive.
It’s just that, for the moment at least, Canadians seem to prefer those exploitive lies to unpalatable truths.
So where can the Conservatives go from here? There’s not much point, not yet, in developing alternative medicare policies. First, Conservatives have to help Canadians acknowledge out loud what Canadians inwardly know to be true: Medicare as-it-is is failing. Nobody likes to criticize medicare; it has become so central to Canadian identity that listing its failings has become the Canadian equivalent of burning the flag in the United States.
But every day, medicare creates real live Canadian victims: underpaid doctors, nurses who feel the pressure to emigrate, patients waiting in pain for treatment. Conservatives should be able to throw Liberal secret-agenda talk back in the Liberals’ faces.
The message: This system is broken. You broke it. Canadians are suffering. And fixing it ought to be on somebody’s agenda — not in secret, but out in public, where it can for once be discussed honestly, by people who have an agenda bigger than power and the profits of power.