RM
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RM Issue #030611

Canada's wonder years are long gone


George Jonas
National Post
Saturday, June 07, 2003

It was uplifting to read Paul Robinson's recent essay extolling Canada's virtues in the British Spectator -- a piece republished on these pages yesterday. I'm delighted he thinks highly of this country. So do I, which is why I've lived here for nearly half a century.

Mr. Robinson and I may not like the place for the same reasons, though. The Canada he admires is a country of the "third way" -- a system that mixes "progressive" statist intervention with individual liberty, and judicious doses of socialism with private enterprise. This Canada is inhabited, in Mr. Robinson's words, by "the sort of people who invent UN peacekeeping, promote multilateral institutions and gentle notions such as 'human security' and 'soft power.' "

This being what Mr. Robinson likes, you'd think that he'd support it with appropriately gentle examples. But no: Most of his examples are hard-nosed, if not outright martial. He notes that it was "Canadian airplanes which dropped one third of all the NATO bombs on Yugoslavia in 1999." He argues that these soft-power, left-liberal wimps are tough hombres. He quotes with approval "nattily-dressed, French speaking" Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's dismissal of "bleeding-hearts" at the time of the FLQ crisis.

"He replied, 'Just watch me!' ", writes Mr. Robinson, with evident pride in the sturdiness of philosopher-princes. "One day later, he declared martial law, deployed tanks in the streets of Montreal, arrested and detained hundreds without trial, and crushed the FLQ in short order."

Sounds like a statist wet dream, indeed -- though Mr. Robinson fails to add that Mr. Trudeau's fellow left-liberals felt betrayed by the War Measures Act and never forgave him for it. Anyway, it's revealing that so many of the examples Mr. Robinson cites to buttress his high opinion of Canada come from the distant past. They describe a country that barely exists anymore. "It was a Canadian unit that took the surrender of the Boers at Paardeburg," he writes. I'm afraid the Boers would have to trek to Ottawa if they wanted to surrender to a Canadian unit today. Our current forces wouldn't have the manpower and transportation to make it to Paardeburg.

Mr. Robinson notes that it was "a Canadian corps that routed the Germans at Vimy Ridge and Amiens, Canadian warships which convoyed half of all maritime traffic across the Atlantic during the Second World War, Canadian infantrymen who held the line at Kapyong in Korea." No doubt, but that was in the days of our parents and grandparents. "A state which is prepared to fight when fighting is needed, but which also knows how to make peace when peace is called for" describes the Canada I came to in 1956. It doesn't describe the Canada of 2003.

It's amusing, in a grim sort of way, to see someone list a country's virtues, from military prowess to medical care, to defend policies that have diminished them. In the very issue of the National Post in which Mr. Robinson describes Canada as "a society which combines prosperity and opportunity for the individual with socialized medicine" there's a letter from a doctor telling about a comatose woman who needed to be transferred from Ottawa to Kingston in an air ambulance because there was no ventilator available in the nation's capital. When discussing cuts to military budgets, statist champions of the "third way" like to speak of a tradeoff between ventilators and helicopters, but in their quasi-socialist systems the usual result is a short supply of both. The only things that flourish are bureaucracies and their boondoggles.

The crux of Mr. Robinson's piece is that Canada's refusal to support the coalition during the war in Iraq proved its backbone, not its wimpiness. "Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has never been invited to the ranch in Texas and almost certainly never will be now," writes Mr. Robinson, "unlike his more subservient British and Australian counterparts." The thought that Tony Blair may have supported the war against Saddam Hussein for reasons of conviction, not subservience, doesn't seem to enter Mr. Robinson's head. Perhaps no one advised him that there are no votes at Texas ranches for British politicians.

In fairness, there were no votes in Mr. Chrétien's stance either. Though Mr. Robinson fails to mention it, a majority of Canadians believed that Canada ought to have joined the coalition. Mr. Robinson may like this country for its political elite; I like it for the plurality that would have fought alongside the Americans in Iraq.

The "third way" (or, as Mr. Chrétien called it recently, somewhat petulantly but not inaccurately, "the Canadian way") is the glossiest, most sophisticated, and most up-to-date version of the illiberal state. In many ways it's a model for the European Union, which a Canadian columnist (one that Mr. Robinson has little time for) described succinctly. "The European Union is run by an unelected Commission and a secretive Council," wrote Mark Steyn, "and given a fig leaf of respectability by a parliament of EUnuchs with no real power." Voila, the one-party state of contemporary Canada. As for the staunch ally of wartime Britain, that's history. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Robinson, but you can't get from present-day Sussex Drive to Vimy Ridge.

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