Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, April 4, 2011

An ambassador's call for action on Canada-US border

Canadians are often reminded of a very Canadian story. Some years ago the New Republic ran a contest to find the most boring headline of that year, anywhere. The winner, apparently, by a landslide was: “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.” To illustrate:
Canada is having a national election that, so far, boils down to choosing between borrowing more money for middle class families versus government “stability.” A few opinion leaders are starting to ask questions. Being in two wars and with a third of its economy reliant of trade and its major trading partner within a month of a budget and credit crises, is it at all likely Canada’s next government will be free to spend its time catering to middle class frustrations? If we give one of Canada’s three national leaders a “stable” majority what significant changes would he try to accomplish with such enviable room to govern?
One high profile public policy voice last week tried to broaden the discussion. Derek Burney, a former Canadian ambassador to Washington is already very excited about the “Beyond the Border” Canada-US negotiations that were launched in February by Stephen Harper and Barack Obama.  Unfortunately, his excitement doesn’t easily translate. His opinion piece for the National Post carried the headline: “Time to be boldly bilateral.” It—along with the body of the article—should be sent on to the New Republic.
Burney worries about a “little Canadian” reflex and the “pernicious threat in both countries from green protectionism masquerading as climate change virtues.” These forces discourage rational national debate. Unfortunate, his antidote is inside jargon:
“We should use the current border negotiations to galvanize broader consideration of bilateral endeavours consistent with our respective self interests and our history of joint effort. To that end, whoever forms the next Canadian government will need to take the lead and engage systematically and confidently with the U.S. administration, with key congressional leaders and with leading opinion makers to ensure that our ideas, as well as our concerns, register where they matter most. The immediate political rewards at home may be elusive but, as history convincingly demonstrates, the benefits could be considerable.”
Foggy rhetoric doesn’t excite and only encourages people to stay indoors.
The political rewards of being elusive have for far too long far exceeded the benefits of concrete change. Boring and bland usually benefits incumbents with low election turnouts—and leaves the most contentious problems to fester. Just one shiny idea, Mr. Burney, might clear the fog.

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