President's Commentary: Is Canada now the world's schoolyard bully?

The actions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs are out of step with the tradition of diplomacy that Canadians have been so proud of. The belligerent bully is not the persona that I want my country to adopt on the world stage.

Ottawa (05 Dec. 2012) - I have been following the actions of the Harper government as they relate to the recent incarnation of the Israel-Palestine conflict with a great deal of concern. In particular, I find the behaviour of our Foreign Minister, John Baird, quite troubling.

It won't be a surprise to anyone that I, along with the majority of the world's nations, support the UN's granting of statehood to Palestine. While I see it as mainly a symbolic move, it does signify a small step towards the realization of a two state solution in the region. This is another matter that the Harper government and I obviously disagree on.

But being able to respectfully disagree on a policy matter is a cornerstone of democracy. I might even contend it is essential to a healthy and vibrant society.

So, while I disagree with the Harper government's position on Palestine, I have struggled to understand the basic premise of their argument in the hope of engaging them on it. What I do not understand is the extreme and divisive manner in which they have approached the debate. The level of vitriol, accompanied by threats of retaliation, in the matter is wholly inappropriate, unhelpful and frankly embarrassing.

These actions by the Minister of Foreign Affairs are entirely out of step with the tradition of diplomacy that Canadians have been so proud of. The belligerent bully is not the persona that I want my country to adopt on the world stage.

However, it is more than simply a matter of Canada's international reputation that concerns me. Sadly, we have more than one example of our government bringing international condemnation down on our country. And heaven knows we have seen enough bully-boy politics from this government within Canada.

However, in this instance our government's actions also undermine the ability of Canada to play any meaningful role in efforts to resolve the ongoing crisis.

Despite Minister Baird's comments about furthering the peace process, his actions and Canada's vote at the U.N. have effectively ended our ability to influence the process. This is not simply my interpretation of the situation. It is shared by both Palestinians and other commentators on the dispute.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has said that the actions of the Harper government portray Canada as too extreme and partisan to play any effective role in the region. He has said that voting against the resolution is one thing, but Canada’s approach is another.

In an interview in the Globe and Mail, he said that “I believe this government is more Israeli than the Israelis, more settler than the settlers. I think they have disqualified themselves from playing any role in the Middle East peace process.”

This position is shared by others. Journalist and Mideast expert Eric Margolis has said that “Canada can't have it both ways. It can't want to be the neutral peacemaker and, at the same time, be out there very militant on the issue of Palestine.”

I absolutely believe that this is not the approach to Foreign Affairs that Canadians want from their government. This government is betraying decades of work made to create an important peacemaking role for Canada on the world stage. This change in foreign policy conveniently forgets all those who served, and sacrificed, on U.N. peacekeeping missions in the belief that Canada was playing an important mediator role in international affairs.

Furthermore, our government has not gone to the people of this country to determine whether there is agreement to make such a dramatic shift in foreign policy. If we are going to change our international profile so significantly, Canadians deserve a say in the matter.

My union has long called for a full, open, transparent and public consultation on Canada's foreign policy and international presence. Such a consultation is needed now more than ever. There have been significant changes in the global political and economic forces.

It is time that Canadians had a say in setting out our nation's positions in international affairs.

James Clancy
National President


James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE