8.12.2006

clever

What do you make of Stephen Harper's recent appointment? As I'm sure you know, the PM appointed a Liberal MP, who is a Muslim, to be his adviser on Middle East foreign policy. From the CBC:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tapped a surprise source for advice on the Middle East: a Liberal MP of Muslim faith.

In a move apparently aimed at quelling criticism that he's been too ideological and too pro-Israel in his approach to the Lebanese conflict, the Conservative prime minister announced Tuesday that he's appointed Wajid Khan as his special adviser on South Asia and the Middle East. Khan, the Liberal MP for Mississauga-Streetsville, was born in Pakistan, where he served as a pilot in the air force.

Calgary MP Jason Kenney, Harper's parliamentary secretary, said the prime minister wanted "independent" advice from someone with intimate knowledge of the region.

Kenney said Khan could also help Harper build bridges to the Arab and Muslim communities, which have been furious about Harper's unequivocal support for Israel's bombardment of Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Khan is "somebody who has credibility with some groups of Canadians that might be skeptical about our mission in Afghanistan, for instance," Kenney said.

While supportive of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Khan voted against a rushed government motion last spring to extend the mission for two years. He said Tuesday he opposed the haste and lack of debate surrounding the motion but is strongly committed to Canada's "democracy-building" role in Afghanistan.

. . .

Polls suggest Harper's stance on Lebanon is out of sync with the majority of Canadians, who prefer to maintain a more balanced, neutral position in the Middle East. Support for the Afghanistan mission has also slumped as more Canadian soldiers return home in coffins.

The Conservatives' fortunes have slumped at the same time, particularly in Quebec, where opposition is greatest to Harper's decisions to extend the Afghanistan mission for another two years and to unequivocally back Israel in the Lebanese conflict.

Khan dismissed suggestions that Harper is using him to help restore his political fortunes or quell anger in Arab and Muslim communities.

. . .

Before accepting the assignment, Khan said he got approval from interim Liberal leader Bill Graham and encouragement from Liberal leadership hopeful Joe Volpe, for whom Khan is Ontario campaign chairman.

Volpe was vehemently opposed to the extension of the Afghanistan mission. Despite disagreeing over that policy, Khan said he remains a strong supporter of Volpe's leadership candidacy.
Perhaps it's my American background, but I can't see this as anything but a shrewd political move. The recap: Israel rains bombs on Lebanon (also killing some Canadians) - Harper unequivocally supports Israel - more Canadians die in Afghanistan - Harper takes a hit in the polls, especially where he most needs support - Harper appoints a Liberal, who is Muslim and ethnically Arab to shore up that support.

The surprise appointment also makes Harper appear flexible and non-ideological, countering two of the standard criticisms of him. Is he more flexible and less ideological than we think? Maybe. Maybe not.

Meanwhile, although Wajid Khan (who hails from Mississauga, by the way) voted against extending Canada's presence in Afghanistan, note the above quote:
While supportive of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Khan voted against a rushed government motion last spring to extend the mission for two years. He said Tuesday he opposed the haste and lack of debate surrounding the motion but is strongly committed to Canada's "democracy-building" role in Afghanistan.
So although Khan is a Liberal, he may not differ very much from Harper when it comes to foreign policy - as indeed, their two parties do not.

So while perhaps I should think praise this appointment as creative and foward-thinking, I criticize it as politically motivated - and fear it as potentially effective for the Conservative's strategy of gaining a strong majority in the next election.

7 comments:

Scott M. said...

The parlimentary system was originally designed such that the smartest people in the country could be tapped on the shoulder by the PM to become ministers of departments (there is no rule saying Ministers must be appointed from the elected Members of Parliment).

I would personally like to see a reversion to that sort of system, where the best in the country are called into cabinet. It would, of course, have to come with parlimentary reform where the backbenchers and other MPs have more decision making power however.

As you mention, whether or not Khan personally agrees with Afganistan, he is toeing the Liberal party line which is full support of the mission.

Lone Primate said...

My own feelings on the matter, to risk repeating myself from my own blog, is that it was the right thing to do. I think to put it down to basic cynical motives is to completely deny Stephen Harper of the simple human ability to choose a greater good, and as much as most of us here wish someone else were prime minister, I think that's a disservice to him personally. I think it also verges on insulting to the intelligence of the electorate. I, for instance, am fully capable of giving him in the nod in this instance without selling my soul. There are myriad other matters on which I disagree with Stephen Harper and his party, and this isn't going to suddenly pull me into his orbit. I'd like to think that's true generally of the people of this country. Let's face it; Harper didn't have to do a thing about this to keep the constituent base he already has... he has it because he reflects moral and economic values of a strong minority of the country. On most issues, I don't agree with him. But on this one, he chose the right person: an elected member of the House of Commons, an immigrant who is a Muslim from that part of the world. We don't owe Khan our brains, but I think we owe him our ears at least. So the PM has realized the person he needs isn't in his party; Khan, for his part, has risked his career in the Liberal Party (hopefully not, but apparently so) to serve his adopted country. I suppose I could turn a cynical eye to it, but I'm so tired of that. I, for one, intend to salute what I see as an unusual moment of people putting country before party, until I'm given reason, not merely attribution, to believe otherwise.

Even if Khan does his fact-finding and comes back and says, "Yes, yes, we must stay the course, send more soldiers to Afghanistan to build democracy," I will simply disagree with his findings. But I'll still respect the phenomenon of his non-partisan appointment. Truly, I found it refreshing.

L-girl said...

Hm, interesting. I find your refreshing take refreshing. :)

I think to put it down to basic cynical motives is to completely deny Stephen Harper of the simple human ability to choose a greater good,

Well, I don't see how I'm denying Harper anything, never mind "completely" denying him anything. I simply do not trust him, and I do not trust his motives. He's a political chameleon - if he weren't, he wouldn't be in office - and I can only meet that with suspicion.

I think it also verges on insulting to the intelligence of the electorate.

I plead guilty to that. My opinion of the electorate at large is pretty low.

Harper didn't have to do a thing about this to keep the constituent base he already has

Absolutely. It's the people who wouldn't automatically vote for him, but might be persuaded to do so, that he needs. I think this move is calculated to appeal to a good many of them.

Mere weeks ago he praised Israeli's war and blithely said "Carry on" while Canadians were killed. He pissed a lot of people off, so now he's making nicey nice.

I can understand being tired of cynicism, I fight against it myself all the time. But for me, this quacks and waddles, so it's a duck.

L-girl said...

My opinion of the electorate at large is pretty low.

Present company excepted, of course. People in the political blogosphere tend to be well-informed. But I don't observe that in most people I speak to.

Lone Primate said...

Absolutely. It's the people who wouldn't automatically vote for him, but might be persuaded to do so, that he needs. I think this move is calculated to appeal to a good many of them.

It's possible; I know that some Jewish people who have been Liberals -- some of them prominent -- have been swayed to support Harper of late for his carte blanche for the IDF. People have different issues. But in truth, I'd honestly be surprised if one appointment, as pleasant a change as it was (in my opinion) were sufficient to sway enough voters to fill a high school auditorium. It may wind up being part of a cumulative effect, but then, it will be fair to say Harper earned it if that happens. I think the principle is sound, in spite of my dislike for the policies of the PM generally. That is to say, I'm wary of judging whether or not an apple is worm-ridden based solely on the hand that picked it.

Mere weeks ago he praised Israeli's war and blithely said "Carry on" while Canadians were killed. He pissed a lot of people off, so now he's making nicey nice.

No question of that. But I mean, he's damned if he does and he's damned if he doesn't. If he doesn't change his ways, we're apt to characterize him as arrogant and undemocratic; if he does, well, it can only be because he's a weasel. But we demand of leaders -- and sensible human beings in general -- that they recognize their mistakes and learn from them. So perhap we might be charitable and say the man has realized that his views are at odds with much or most of Canada, and he needs some help in managing things. I may be wrong to hope so; it could very well be just a band-aid solution, mere cosmetics. But it seems to me if it is just that and nothing more, he still went beyond the pale in making the selection he did.

Sometimes it happens. Senator Byrd in the United States started out in the Klan in the 1940s. He went on to eventually support the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (AKA The Fair Housing Act), one of the few Dixiecrats to do so, and he survived and is still in the Senate. Today he's one of the few voices in the US Senate publically at odds with the war in Iraq, and was from before its start. I don't mean to say Robert Byrd grew wings (no pun intended) and became an angel. Just that sometimes, people learn, and change, and grow. Surely the US is a slightly better place for him having done so than, say, staying the course of Strom Thurmond.

I guess my bottom line is, though I'm generally a Liberal supporter, I grew pretty sick and tired of their (in particular, Jean Chretien's) never-apologize, never-explain attitude. The whole cynical Sheila Copps by-election thing on down. If there's even a small shift in our politics to a more conciliatory paradigm, I'm happy to see indications of it. I'm not on my feet applauding yet, but it did raise my eyebrows. :)

Lone Primate said...

He's a political chameleon - if he weren't, he wouldn't be in office - and I can only meet that with suspicion.

I think we need to look past this attitude if we're going to persist in the aspiration to democracy. If we give in to the idea that only the very worst of people have what it takes to achieve and hold public office, we might as well just hang "This house to let" on the doors of the House of Commons and resurrect Oliver Cromwell. He have choices, we have voices. We let government get away with murder -- in some cases literally -- when we absolve a democratic electorate of intellectual lethargy by saying we can't do better. Yeah, we can. But will we?

L-girl said...

LP, I'm not sure I understand your last comment.

What I meant by this

He's a political chameleon - if he weren't, he wouldn't be in office

was not that all elected officials must be this to get elected.

I meant that Harper himself has disowned his more extreme statements - telling Christian Conservatives that they are guideposts for Canada, anti-SSM, etc. - in order to have a broader appeal. And because of that, many people (as has often expressed here at wmtc) fear that if/when he obtains a majority, he will show his true colours and they will be very right-wing - and not just right-wing for Canada.

Although I never feared and loathed Harper as much as many who have commented here, I take these concerns seriously - and that's where I'm coming from.

Politicians, like all humans, can and should learn from mistakes. John Kerry was branded a "flip-flopper" for having an open mind and allowing his opinions to change as he received for information, while the Resident was praised as tough and stalwart for refusing to look twice at any issue and "shooting from the hip" in cowboy fashion. I couldn't agree more with you on that point.

But because I don't trust Stephen Harper, because he seems to be not so much open-minded as a shape-shifter, I don't trust this latest appointment to be anything but PR. That's the distinction I'm drawing. It may or may not be fair - time will tell.

Also, I have no great love for the Liberals. They brought Canada into Afghanistan and show no signs of wanting to get out. So although it's good that Wajid Khan is not a white man who speaks only English and some French, he won't bring Canada any closer to troop withdrawal - so I'm not pleased on that count.

I'm glad you feel, in general, that things like this have no effect on the electorate. I wish I agreed with you, and I hope you're right.