Monday, August 14, 2006

Harper and the Middle East Crisis

Even if today's ceasefire holds, warfare isn't over. Hopefully, some of the world's attention will turn to Gaza and the humanitarian nightmare unfolding there.

But I'm going to use the occasion to comment on Harper and the weaknesses these events have exposed in the Conservative game plan to become a majority government.

A few caveats are in order. Foreign policy is rarely a highly salient issue in Canadian politics. With the economy humming along and the deficit conquered, the Conservatives find themselves on the right side of the remaining domestic issues - crime and kids. They could screw up crime by getting too heavy handed on the drug war. They probably aren't going to come out of another vote on same-sex marriage looking good (I predict SSM is safe in this Parliament). But domestic issues look like winners for them. And domestic issues determine most federal elections.

But a superficial glance at Canadian history shows that foreign affairs - really our relations with Britain and the US - have swung a substantial minority of elections. The Conservatives seem to have backed off on the moribund softwood deal as the basis for an election - wisely, if I'm right that they don't want to fight a referendum on how close we should be to George Bush.

The war on Lebanon showed Harper at his infuriating worst (and I have a soft spot for the man). It wasn't just the position he took, or the fact that it was at odds with his deemphasis of support for the Iraq war in the last election. It was the arrogance of the way he expressed it. It was the overt politicization of external ethnic loyalties (a taboo in Canada since it is a recipe for importing the world's conflicts).

I don't imagine it will make a big difference in English Canada. It plays to one of his weaknesses - the feeling that his loyalties are not with Canada, but with a deracinated and militant neoconservative ideology. But he probably doesn't need the votes of George Grant conservatives. Still, even in English Canada, the Tories need to realize that stealing from the Republican playbook doesn't work when knee-jerk nationalism cuts against you.

But the bigger deal is that this might - I'm not making any firm predictions yet - sour Quebec on reviving the old blue coalition. There is zero sympathy for Israel in Quebec and some cultural ties to Lebanon. Again, people can live with some disagreement, but the arrogance with which Harper has expressed Canada's position on this isn't going to go over well.

Everytime it has been put together, the coalition between Anglo conservatives and Quebec nationalists against the federal government has fallen apart. With the exception of the most recent breakdown on whether to recognize Quebec symbolically in the Constitution, all the previous ones were over our foreign loyalties. Will it happen again?


MSS said...

Zero sympathy for Israel in Quebec?

Given that, at an estimated 100,000 as of 1998, Montreal's Jewish community was in the top 15 worldwide (not counting Israeli cities), that statement would seem a tad exaggerated, no?

PithLord said...

Good point, and sloppy writing on my part. I have a post up on whether there is some bigger meaning to my sloppiness.