Prime Minister Harper's 'new' government seems mildly schizophrenic: one part, the cabinet, has 'done the right things' and has 'done things right' with regard to rebuilding our armed forces; another part, led by the PMO, has failed to enunciate policies which justify that rebuilding to Canadians.
Prime Minister Harper has stated that he is putting Canada back on course to return to being a leader of the middle powers: a respected member of the international community that practices the responsibilities about which it preaches. The Ruxted Group commends him for this. We believe most Canadian soldiers are ready to pay the high price their country demands of them. The cabinet has put our money where the Conservative Party's mouth is: the budget has grown, new people are pouring into the recruiting centres and basic training units, new equipment is arriving and entering service, more plans for transformation and growth are being announced. BZ!
Prime Minister Harper and his ministers, even Defence Minister O'Connor upon whom an unfairly heavy and ill-considered communications burden has fallen, continue to fail to explain to Canadians that:
1. There are good reasons – consistent with Canadians' values – to be in Afghanistan, fighting, now and beyond 2009;
2. We can win the war in Afghanistan, if we clearly, properly and realistically define 'victory;' and
3. We are making a difference, right now, in ways which should make Canadians' hearts swell with pride.
Recently, André Pratte of La Presse, in an editorial, which can be found in English here, makes an important point which Ruxted feels obliged to accentuate and support. Prime Minister Harper, Pratte suggests, is turning Canada away from being a leader and towards being a “back seat driver.” That would be a return to the failed policies of former Prime Ministers Trudeau and Chrétien, when Canada sat on the sidelines, hectoring its friends and allies while remaining silent about the misdeeds of others.
Ruxted is convinced that Canadians want better. Canadians may be ill informed thanks to a veritable barrage of misinformation thrown at them by too many politicians and journalists and by some academics and 'activists' with political agendas that are suspect, to say the least. Misinformation, often copied from the press releases of opposition politicians or so-called 'activists,' creates doubt and confusion. Doubt and confusion breed fear. Fear is infectious. Fear, false fear, false fear created by Canada's enemies, is infecting Canada now. The government has a duty to join with the Canadian Forces and, as the recruiting advertisement says, “Fight Fear!” The government can fight fear by telling Canadian the clear, simple and palatable truth:
1. We are in Afghanistan for a mix of good reasons, including to protect our own vital, security interests and to exercise our international responsibility to protect the women and children of Afghanistan who will be enslaved if the Taliban prevails;
2.We are not in Afghanistan for oil or President Bush and those who say otherwise lie; and
3.We are helping the Afghan people – we are doing more, much more than killing and dying on Afghanistan's plains.
The Ruxted Group is appalled that the government remains unwilling or unable to explain itself.
Afghanistan is an issue on which the Conservative government is clearly and distinctly different from the opposition parties. Rather than highlight that issue and build support for the government's stated position, Prime Minister Harper appears intent on running in circles, à la M. Dion, looking for a place to hide. That may be good politics. Perhaps Canadians cannot be led to reason on this issue; perhaps their fears (and a few other unattractive national attributes) are too deeply ingrained. It is a worthy issue. The government's position has been 'right' for most of the past year; the opposition has adopted and espouses unworthy principles and positions. This ought to be a winner for the Conservative party. It should allow Mr. Harper to demonstrate principled leadership.
As we have said before, "Lead, follow or get out of the way." The clock is ticking, and the people, through elections, will make that choice if the government does not show leadership on this issue.