Issues

October 2007

Re: “Fantasy Foreign Policy,” by Ezra Levant

Re: “Fantasy Foreign Policy” by Ezra Levant

It doesn’t take much empathy for me, as an author, to feel Mr. Byers’s pain after being eviscerated by Mr. Levant. I do not know if Mr. Byers is an ideologue or dyed-in-the-wool anti-American Canadian chauvinist and I have yet to read his book. But I am pretty sure Mr. Levant, as revealed in this and previous offerings, gladly numbers himself among those right-thinking Canadians for whom Canada can do little good and America can do little wrong. From this perspective, no matter what catastrophe unfolds in Iraq, America remains strong and brave and refusenik Canada remains snivelling and weak.

Perhaps Mr. Byers is as Mr. Levant so scathingly depicts him, but it is difficult to credit a reviewer hurling epithets and personal invective with this degree of lust. It is also difficult to credit a reviewer who brags that five minutes of in-depth Googling has led him to the “fact” that there is twice the rate of violent crime in Canada as in the United States. In fact, the Canadian and American statistics on violent crime are not comparable because the categories of measurement in the two countries vary hugely, as any criminologist would have helped Mr. Levant to understand. (He would surely be able to find the e-mail addresses of some reputable scholars with his prodigious Googling skills.) What is comparable is the most extreme expression of violent crime, homicide, where the definitions in the two countries are the same and incidence counts are more reliable. In this department, the inconvenient truth for Mr. Levant is that the U.S. wins hands down: Americans murder one another at fully triple the rate of Canadians. According to the FBI, the U.S. murder rate in 2006 was 5.7 per 100,000 while Canada could only muster a measly 1.9 per 100,000. When it comes to violent crime, the U.S. only counts the most serious assaults whereas in wimpy, oversensitive Canada we count all assaults—including a pushing or shoving (although not malicious book reviews)—as violent offences.

I hope Mr. Byers and others who are more fair and balanced—or at least less fast and loose with the facts—respond to Mr. Levant’s egregiously biased screed.

Michael Adams
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Fantasy Foreign Policy” by Ezra Levant

I haven’t read Michael Byers’s book yet, but Ezra Levant’s attack is so personal and angry it barely qualifies as a review (“Fantasy Foreign Policy,” October 2007). I can’t comment on Byers’s work, but Levant’s ignorance is total. Abu Ghraib was an anomaly—a “rogue act of abuse”? Tell that to Cherif Bassiouni, the United Nations human rights investigator for Afghanistan, whose two reports detailed the torture of detainees in U.S. custody to the point of death. Tell it to the U.S. military types who have acknowledged to Congress that acts that are defined in law as torture occur in Guantanamo Bay. Those responsible for Abu Ghraib have been punished? Hardly. The highest ranking officer involved was merely demoted, while a couple of low-level grunts were tried.

Levant’s ideological onslaught against Byers and “the left” finishes by incorporating the entire neo-con canon. There is an unbridgeable dichotomy between Muslims and “the West”; global warming can be explained away by summer melting; Canadian liberalism is contemptible; and so on. He is at his most silly when he places quotation marks around the word “rules,” as in the “rules” of international law—as though his personal dislike of global agreements means they simply don’t exist.

Levant’s rant demeans an author who deserves to have his book discussed seriously.

Erna Paris
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Fantasy Foreign Policy” by Ezra Levant

Talk about projection! Ezra Levant’s purported review of Michael Byers’s Intent for a Nation (“Fantasy Foreign Policy,” October 2007) is replete with assertions that the book is a “cartoonish caricature,” a “fantasy,” “Oprah Winfrey,” “daydreaming,” “leftist myth,” “psychological therapy” and—not to miss the insultingly gratuitous—“political masturbation.” This has little to do with Byers but a lot to do with Levant’s own views about Canadian foreign policy, which appear to be premised on cartoonish caricatures and fantasies, albeit of a rather different kind, Bill O’Reilly instead of Oprah Winfrey, neo-con rather than leftist myth.

Not without flaws, Byers’s book is, contra Levant, “a serious attempt to outline a Canadian foreign policy.” It’s just not the foreign policy of Stephen Harper. Why not welcome a debate about alternatives, especially if one is as self-assured about one’s own position as Levant wants to appear? But Levant hardly engages with Byers on the level of argument since he is so intent on dispensing ad hominem ridicule.

According to Levant, Byers dismisses terrorism as a “fake problem” or a threat “trumped up by the White House.” Anyone who actually read the book would know that this is simply untrue, a cartoonish caricature. Levant finds the “blurriness of moral equivalence” in Byers, citing his statement that Abu Ghraib “scars the psyche almost as deeply as the image of the two skyscrapers collapsing in Manhattan.” “There is no equating the deliberate mass murder of 3,000 [sic] civilians by terrorists,” Levant thunders, “with an isolated, rogue act of abuse by a handful of U.S. soldiers.” Except that Byers does not “equate” the two, as any reader can plainly see: Levant conveniently ignores the crucial word “almost.”

Besides, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, CIA torture, “extraordinary rendition” (that sent a Canadian, Maher Arar, to a nightmarish torture cell in Syria) are not isolated, rogue acts, but integral to Bush’s global war on terror. It is not a question of moral equivalence, but rather that such dark stains on “our” side must be taken seriously, precisely because we are not those who deliberately plan to murder innocents in the name of God. Levant seems to think that labelling terrorists “Muslim fascists” absolves our side of the obligation of self-critical scrutiny. It does not, and Byers understands this.

Byers’s ideas are relentlessly dismissed as “anti-American.” This is not an argument; it is the avoidance of argument, a label that replaces thinking. Why the bluster? Could it be because Levant (and Harper’s) foreign policy is joined at the hip with the neo-con “fantasy” that has sucked the White House into the fiasco of Iraq? Byers shows us that Canada has often dissented when we had reason to dissent, and has not suffered adverse consequences for acting as an autonomous thinking nation, quite the contrary. This is an inconvenient truth, to coin a phrase. Levant is desperate to sweep it under a carpet of bombast. Bluster hides insecurity.

Unpleasant as it may be, I am drawn back to Levant’s nasty crack about political masturbation (“Foreign affairs is not about accomplishing anything. It’s about feeling good”). Levant keeps dipping into sexual innuendo (“smug impotence,” “frisson of naughtiness”) with Freudian insistence. He sneers at the idea of soft power without ever understanding it. Levant comes from the General Hillier school of hard power: foreign policy is about going out and killing the “detestable murderers and scumbags.” Under the swagger, might we not detect a certain insecurity, as the neo-con fantasy grows limp? Might we not detect some of the same insecurity behind the foreign policy bravado of the Harper government?

Perhaps this has little to do with Michael Byers’s book. But neither does Ezra Levant’s review.

Reg Whitaker
Vancouver, British Columbia


Re: “Fantasy Foreign Policy” by Ezra Levant

I felt some measure of astonishment when I read Ezra Levant’s assertion that Canada’s violent-crime rate is double that of the United States. My astonishment eased considerably, however, when I checked the sources that Mr. Levant cited. Certainly the numbers he cites exist—a violent-crime rate of 943 for every 100,000 inhabitants in Canada in 2005; 469.2 per 100,000 for the U.S.

However, the American figures only take into account aggravated assault, while the Canadian figures include assaults of all kinds. Not surprisingly at all, a large proportion of the Canadian violent-crime rate stems from level 1 assaults. Subtract those assaults from the Canadian figures and the rate in this country falls to 379—arguably far too high, but well below the American rate.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about crime rates in Canada, particularly the complicated question of under-reporting by victims. But overly dramatic assertions such as Mr. Levant’s only serve to further cloud those already-muddy waters.

Patrick Brethour
Vancouver, British Columbia


Re: “Canada's Candide,” by John Richards

Re: “Canada’s Candide” by John Richards

Having watched the intellectual evolution of John Richards for 35 years, I have always been impressed by his ability to perceive new social patterns, challenges and potential solutions well before others do. In this article, he does not disappoint (“Canada’s Candide,” October 2007).

First, though, a quibble. In my opinion, Vancouver and Toronto have grown much closer to each other over the past couple of decades while distancing themselves from most of what lies between, including Calgary. To the horror of Vancouverites, especially those originally from the east, Torontonians have adopted English Bay, Kitsilano and Shaughnessy as their spiritual coast, hoping one day to end up there the way people used to hope they would go to heaven.

It is Calgary, rather than the twin cities of Vancouver and Toronto, that confronts an existentially Canadian predicament. Richards is right that Calgary’s brains and energy have made it a city that is ready to rule. What others, including the bankers of Toronto who chose not to invest in the Alberta oil patch during its early days, have often failed to see is that Calgary has had to reinvent itself a number of times over the past century. Rail town, cow town, spiritual headquarters of Social Credit during the Depression, oil town and now a financial, cultural and political metropolis, Calgary’s rise is the great Canadian success story of the past six decades.

I don’t agree that Calgary lacks physical charm. Its rivers, neighbourhoods, transition from prairie to foothills and its outlook on the Rockies give the city the look of a place that is continually in the process of movement and creation.

In a setting that cannot escape the problems of resources, global markets, revolutionary technology and environmental degradation, Calgarians have always had to live by their wits. Therein lies the city’s next historical conundrum as Richards suggests.

Richards is quite right to deride the placebos Canadians have been fed to coddle them as they confront the climate change crisis. His own list of proposals, while debatable in its details is a least a serious one.

It may well be true that Stephen Harper will be most remembered for how he confronts the climate change question. That is also the challenge that confronts Calgary.

To make its next historic leap, the business, intellectual, cultural and political leadership of Calgary will need to look beyond the oil sands and oil itself. To succeed, it will need to devise a program that will allow Alberta to benefit from oil the way Norway has, as a stepping stone to the future, while providing leadership to Canadians on the environment.

Could Stephen Harper devise such a program? Based on past performance, it doesn’t seem likely. But Richard Nixon did reach out to China, as Richards reminds us. Nixon, though, was much more corrupt, dissolute and opportunistic than Harper, which made him malleable, and he did have Henry Kissinger at his elbow.

Still, the idea of an environmental political saviour from Calgary is an intriguing one.

James Laxer
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Canada’s Candide” by John Richards and “A Province Poised for Leadership” by Roderick Fraser

Rarely have I been so discouraged by the written word, but these two articles did it (“Canada’s Candide” by John Richards and “A Province Poised for Leadership” by Roderick Fraser, October 2007). It was the complacency that piled on in sentence after sentence, paragraph after unrelenting paragraph. The details of these essays were, as you would expect from two mature men with distinguished career credentials, impeccable. Yes, I agree with Mr. Richards, Mr. Harper got the equalization argument right. Yes, Mr. Lougheed has said for many years we’ve forgotten who owns Alberta oil. Yes, it’s clear Calgary is playing a different role from Vancouver on the national political scene. But taken as a whole, both essays were like listening to the captain and executive officer of the Titanic explaining in sonorous, confident terms the wonders of their great ship as it steers directly for an iceberg.

The marvels of the Alberta economy are going to mean nothing when Calgary and southern Alberta dry up like a prune, which is what all the climate change science tells us is going to happen when the Bow River glacier evaporates and the underground aquifers are exhausted. And northern Alberta is going to have no water to come to the rescue with because the Tar Sands is polluting the northern water stock faster than it can be replaced. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: the entire Canadian economy has been hijacked by the carbon-hyper growth of Alberta. A whole generation of young people has been taken from eastern Canada, leaving it disconnected from its own past and future, unable to develop sustainable local models because the youth who should be doing that creative work are employed in the carbon industries of Alberta. Nonetheless, everything in Alberta, according to Mr. Fraser, is just peachy-keen because the Heritage Fund is increasing greatly in value and Alberta is calling the national tune.

The complacency of all this is staggering. With the Alberta population exploding, the province needs to be investing massively in hard services that will endure long after the paper value of the Heritage Fund has evaporated into the ether. Instead Mr. Fraser takes Albertans’ desire to have the Heritage Fund used for “long-term” investments as a signal to crank more money into overheated capital markets, instead of into in-the-ground investments like rail, public buildings and the imaginative retooling of services to deal with climate change. Without these investments now, when the boom ends, the province will be stuck with a grossly inflated population and inadequate infrastructure to support it. The Heritage Fund will evaporate along with the oil that has been extracted from the sands. And that’s just another tip of the iceberg.

Climate change isn’t just about droughts, hurricanes, permafrost and Arctic ice decline. It’s about changing the terms of reference on which humans have depended for millennia. Mr. Richards rhapsodizing about Vancouver hiding away in its northern rainforest nirvana and Mr. Fraser rhapsodizing about Alberta poised for leadership write as if we were still living in the 1950s and competing against each other for the biggest piece of the good-life pie.

Clive Doucet
Ottawa, Ontario


Re: “A Province Poised for Leadership,” by Roderick Fraser

Re: “A Province Poised for Leadership” by Roderick Fraser

In his essay “A Province Poised for Leadership” (October 2007), Roderick Fraser opens with a provocative question, asking if Alberta is a “wasteful, profligate, polluting, redneck and small-minded place.” Ouch! As a life-long Albertan, I admit that these are not terms I like associated with my province.

Yet Fraser is correct in asking the question. If Canadians are ready to accept that Alberta is assuming a growing leadership role, they have the right to know if Albertans are mature enough for the job. Who would want their country being led by a province full of small-minded rednecks?

I would suggest that Albertans are, as a group, no more redneck than anywhere else in the country. The split is urban-rural, not West-East. The only difference is that Alberta’s small-minded rednecks are politically more vocal and organized than elsewhere.

Rednecks in rural parts of other provinces are no more enlightened or open-minded that those in rural Alberta. The difference is that Alberta’s rural rednecks manage to get elected to office.

On the other hand, I am skeptical that Alberta is truly ready to lead. There remains a niggling unwillingness to change in Alberta, a small-c conservatism that infects our politics, our cultural institutions, even our architecture. Leadership requires risk taking, and while Albertans may be entrepreneurial, in general we are not yet pushing the boundaries of all that we could become. Not yet.

Is Alberta ready for a leadership role in this country? It is a question worth asking, but in some ways it is moot: Alberta is already leading by default in many areas. Take for example the trade, investment and mobility labour agreement with British Columbia. The two western provinces are taking the lead in doing something obvious that the other provinces seem incapable of doing on their own: breaking down barriers to interprovincial trade.

Alberta is a bit like a gangly teenager with more self-doubt and pimples than true, mature leadership quality. Yet that teenager is finding himself increasingly in the leadership role among the family members. As Fraser points out, with the strides the province is making in research, post-secondary education and alternative energy development, true leadership potential is there. Alberta just needs a bit more time, encouragement and the willingness to take some risks.

Todd Hirsch
Calgary, Alberta


Re: “Clearing the Air on Climate Change,” by John Robinson

Re: “Clearing the Air on Climate Change” by John Robinson

In John Robinson’s otherwise favourable review of our book (“Clearing the Air on Climate Change,” October 2007), he argues that we are unfair to environmentalists and underestimate the prospects for dramatic changes in behaviour, lifestyles and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In response, I note that these two points are related: we criticize environmentalists in that, like Robinson it appears, they argue that sustainability must entail dramatic lifestyle changes in the coming decades, fail to explain what policies would cause these to occur and substitute wishful thinking about value shifts for quantitative research into how people are likely to respond to policies. This approach has allowed politicians to trumpet the need for behavioural change (with labels, brochures, awards, conferences, ads, grants and Rick Mercer commercials) while avoiding the essential, but difficult-to-implement, regulations and financial penalties that should have been enacted 15 years ago—and were in countries such as Norway with considerable success.

To make his case for dramatic behavioural change, Robinson criticizes us for using “historical data about consumer behaviour.” Excuse me? Future data do not exist. To estimate society’s likely response to policies and future conditions, we collected recent behavioural data about preferences for technologies and energy services and augmented these with in-depth surveys in which people were asked to respond to possible future situations. While this research is not perfect, it is the best method that leading researchers around the world use to guard against the tendency to rely instead on wishful thinking.

Robinson prefers to replace this predictive research with “scenarios” about radically changed behaviours and lifestyles leading to much lower energy use. But I might equally surmise that people will use much more energy in future—just as today they use 6,500 times more lighting per person than 200 years ago. How do we ensure one energy outcome and not the other?

Robinson agrees that policies are required, and he supports our policies. However, he then criticizes us for ignoring “alternative approaches to energy policy” by failing to discuss “energy futures based on improved efficiency and alternative sources such as wind, solar, biomass.” But these are not policies; they are actions. Like many environmentalists, Robinson never tells us what policies in addition to our “inadequate” regulations and taxes would cause this dramatic shift to a renewables-based, conserver society. A deluge of Rick Mercer commercials? Re-education camps?

Scenarios of wishful thinking about a conserver society, with no policies to foster it, and no predictive, real-world research to express its likelihood, are dangerous because they deflect our attention from the pressing need for forceful government climate policies. This is indeed our critique of the position of many environmentalists.

Mark Jaccard
Simon Fraser University


Re: “Demography in the Balance,” by Warren Cariou

Re: “Demography in the Balance” by Warren Cariou

We write in response to the essay “Demography in the Balance” by Warren Cariou (October 2007). Cariou presents both some troubling prospects and some promise for western Canada generally and aboriginal people specifically.

Cariou’s essay also demonstrates some misconceptions and biases that in themselves are barriers to his limited definition of complementarity. Finally, Cariou’s work while presenting some prospects for aboriginal peoples based on population fails to present a historical context to view population within.

Cariou’s essay is timely in that, as he notes, it comes at a time of economic boom in the West and a population boom among aboriginal peoples in the West. You will note our preference for the term “peoples” denoting aboriginal peoples as distinct groups from mainstream society with our own languages, cultures, traditions and laws.

While our populations are increasing at a greater rate than the rest of Canada, as Peoples we are experiencing a renaissance in terms of pride and hope for the future. This rise in population should not be compared solely to the population rate of non-Natives, but rather it should be measured against what our populations once were. If we interpret the so-called rise in aboriginal population from this standpoint, it is understood then that our current population rate should be celebrated rather than feared as we are on the path to building up our nations once again.

We find the idea of “white flight” from the migration of aboriginal peoples to our traditional territories where cities now stand, puzzling. White flight represents in the most profound way the lack of understanding of the treaty relationship which built this country. Treaties epitomize both relationship and the concept of complementarity.

Rather than think of economic boom and population boom as the basis for complementary action, we view this as a happy coincidence. Acting in a complementary fashion would mean that we would view each other as essential to each other’s future progress. Complementarity speaks of mutuality, reciprocity and respect, all essential ingredients to our shared future. This is much more than a numbers game; it is a nation-building exercise, which requires all of us to do our part. In order to view each other in a manner consistent with this theme, we need to reconcile a past characterized by cultural imperialism manifested through institutions like residential schools and instruments like the Indian Act, with a desire we all possess: a better future for our children.

Vanessa Watts and Bob Watts
Victoria, British Columbia
Six Nations, Ontario


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