Thursday, March 17, 2005


Once more with pizzazz

Monday, 28 February 2005
Mark Steyn

I miss Jean Chrétien. Yes, in many ways he was an unattractive, vicious, small-time wardheeler it was unwise to get within throttling distance of, but in his own stumblingly inarticulate way he was impressively articulate, if only by contemporary Liberal party standards. When you asked him about Iraq, you got a lot of bilingually incoherent mumbo-jumbo that looked like gibberish when you put it down in print--“Da proof is da proof,” etc.--but you always sensed that behind the blather was a shrewd political calculation.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he’s a great man. Great men lead--and, in his rendezvous with history in the days after 9/11, M. Chrétien failed that test, unlike Tony Blair and John Howard. As Mr. Howard said, in the best sound bite that week, this is no time to be an 80 per cent ally.

M. Chrétien was still running the numbers in Quebec, and figuring out whether to be a 43 per cent ally or a 26 per cent ally, but certainly somewhere in that ballpark. But this is modern Canada and, by the standards of a one-party state whose one party is filled with opportunist mediocrities, M. Chrétien bestrides the scene like a colossus.

It’s not hard to be a colossus when everyone else is three-foot-two. Even so, few Canadians--and certainly few Liberals--expected Paul Martin to do such a spectacular job of shrinking in office. Remember the received wisdom of the turn of the century? Da liddle guy was just some Shawinigan bumpkin fronting for all the savvy stuff Paul had dreamt up as finance minister. Rick Anderson, the Canadian Alliance backroom boy who spent most of his time in the front window, was reported to be ready to jump to “the Paul Martin Liberals,” as if the one-party state now had wholly independent operating subsidiaries to give its monopoly the frisson of competition, like Chapters and Indigo. “The Paul Martin Liberals” was where the smart money was.

Some of us were never entirely persuaded by this. As I wrote in 2002, “When it comes to the drift and decline of the last decade, Martin bears as much responsibility as Chrétien. On the challenges of Kyoto, terrorism, foreign policy and health care, his leadership’s as bold as a vanilla blancmange.” But back then nobody cared. Bay Street was pining for a guy who spoke their language--i.e., complete sentences with the words in the right order, with periods and subordinate clauses and the occasional semicolon. And that’s what Martin offered. As he boldly declared at the beginning of the Iraq war: “Many people have asked me what my view is of Canada’s decision not to participate in this military action. I have said clearly that at a moment such as this Canada must, and must be seen to, speak with one voice. That is the voice of our prime minister and foreign affairs minister.”

Well, that’s two voices right there. But the point is that if you use enough forceful nouns, verbs and adjectives and emphasize at all times that you’ve said clearly that Canada must, and must be seen to, and must clearly be seen to, be speaking clearly with one clear voice that must be heard, and must be seen to be heard, then impressionable types will easily mistake your windy evasiveness for a courageous, principled stand.

I overestimated Paul Martin. I assumed that, underneath the autopilot boilerplate pol-drone, he had a view on Iraq, Canada, the world, etc., and it was only because of the interminable holding pattern he was stuck in, waiting to land at Sussex Drive, that he felt unable to reveal it to us.

But, if anything can be clearly seen these days, it’s that Paul Martin has wanted to be prime minister his entire life and has worked ruthlessly toward that end, and yet has never troubled himself to acquire a political philosophy. I don’t mean like Thatcherism or Reaganism. He doesn’t have to invent a top-to-toe Martinism; he could just latch onto someone else’s philosophy, one he happens to--what’s the phrase?--believe in. But it’s clear, and it’s increasingly being clearly seen to be clear, that he doesn’t believe in anything.

Mr. Martin’s latest wheeze is to outsource Canadian foreign policy to an international-relations gal at Oxford University. He was having it done in-house, but he felt his advisors’ report wasn’t quite what he was in the market for and decided that he was looking for something with “a little more pizzazz.”

That’s great, isn’t it? He may be onto something. In the most famous summation of British foreign policy, Lord Palmerston said that England had no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies, only eternal and perpetual interests. Canada has no eternal allies, no perpetual enemies, no eternal and perpetual interests, only an eternal and perpetual dearth of pizzazz. Hmm. Catchy.

Whether Jennifer Welsh, the Saskatchewan-born Oxonian in question, can provide the pizzazz is another matter. Her book, At Home in the World: Canada’s Global Vision for the 21st Century, is not without merit, he says sniffily, damning with faint praise. But its global vision for the nineties, its thesis of “Canada-as-model-citizen” is one nobody in any country that matters is interested in. Jean Chrétien tried it three years ago, and without having to put Miss Welsh on the payroll. Dispatching the environment minister to the UN with a copy of the signed Kyoto treaty, da liddle guy instructed him to tell Kofi Annan that “Canada is a good citizen of the world.”

Well, maybe. Certainly, if Canada wanted to be a good citizen of Canada, it would never have signed Kyoto. But, if anything’s been clobbered since 9/11, the Afghan liberation, the Sudanese slaughter, the tsunami, the Iraqi elections and the Oil-for-Fraud program, it’s the notion that poseur transnationalism is any kind of viable and sufficient creed. Do you remember Mr. Martin’s big idea from last spring, before he got the pizzazz fever? He went down south and proposed the creation of an alternative to the UN--a G20-plus, with membership confined to the big democracies plus select dictatorships it’s hard to keep out, like China. But that would just mean one more secretariat, one more bureaucracy, one more time-consuming summit at which nothing gets done. Mr. Martin, a quintessential “model citizen of the world,” understands that--which is why he suggested it: he wants a more effective platform for meaningless moral preening. But these days, as the tsunami relief effort underlined, the countries that matter--the U.S., Britain, Australia, India, etc.--are results-oriented. Real pizzazz is in the results, not the blowhard General Assembly address.

Emphasizing pizzazz tends to separate you from reality. I’d love to know what Lord Palmerston would have made of Mr. Martin’s take on Canadian history as articulated on his recent Asian junket. As reported by the Sun chain’s doting Alexander Panetta, “The principles in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are an example, Martin said recently, of how to build a peaceful country from the ashes of war.”

What ashes were around when the charter was adopted? Unless you’re standing next to one of those separatist barns M. Trudeau was so enthusiastic about torching or a traditionally incendiary Shawinigan business property operated by Jean Duhaime and lavishly funded by the Business Development Bank, Canada is pretty much an ash-free zone. Mr. Martin is OD’ing on charter pizzazz. Over-inflation is one reason why we don’t have much of a global identity: non-Canadians know baloney when they hear it.

In another dangerous time--1918--Fieldmarshal Haig said of Lord Derby, “D is a very weak-minded fellow I am afraid and, like the feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him.” We have not just a one-party state, but a one-man state, which Paul Martin cunningly seized from his predecessor. Yet, even though there are no alternative persons of power to sit on him, he’s even more of a feather pillow than Derby. From da liddle guy to da much liddler guy: how weird is that?


Blogger B.a.D said...

lotsa canada bashing on your end lately... what happened?

11:07 AM  
Blogger yochanan said...

canukistan bashing is fun and what can they do. Now if I were to bash Islmo-fascists they might cut off my head.

moonbats bast too

12:06 PM  
Blogger yochanan said...

i went to canada 4 times in the last 5 years and america bashing seems to be a national sport in canukistan so get used to it we bash back

12:20 PM  

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