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, March 18, 2013

Why is the United Nations swarming Canada?

It can’t be saidyetthat the world media thinks Canada is fascinating and its policy-makers especially brilliant or dangerous. You won’t see film crews from CNN and BBC hanging out in Ottawa’s Press Club, or in the villages and cities where Ottawa priorities are causing noticeable harm. However, a storm of sorts must be building: policy wonks on most every floor of the United Nation’s New York headquarters seem very excited about Canada.

Over the last year, formal UN reports and senior UN spokespeople have attacked Canada’s performance in SEVEN areas of policy interest: breaking up a public wheat marketing monopoly, exposing dairy and egg marketing boards in trade talks with the EU, neglecting Canada’s Charter obligations overseas, marginalizing Aboriginals, making the supplementary long form census voluntary, letting Canada fall to 11th in human development, and, finally, not having a national strategy to make urban bicycling safer.

(The UN left it to Amnesty International to question the Quebec Legislature’s response to spontaneous student parades in Montreal.)

Behind the happy surface facts about never failing to pay its UN dues and being second only to the US as the most popular destination in the world for high skilled immigrants. Behind its recent sacrifices in Afghanistan and Haiti, is Canada stealthily turning against those magnificent UN Charter aspirations that Canada helped write in the late 1940s?

Does Canada need a special audit and high-profile outside reminder about how to be a topnotch Western democracy?

Awkward questions.

If you answer, “Get lost,” eventually you might start thinking complacently: seeing Canada as another complete, historical jewel separated from Scandinavia. 

If you start seriously worrying about the country’s "image," former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien will think you miss him, along with all the other polite people he meets at funerals and chases down in boardrooms around the world.

There are no damning moral or aspirational gaps or data black holes in Canadian governance. Neither Ottawa nor the City of Toronto needs emergency services from the UN. And Canadian UN-sponsored consultants and aid workers needn’t rush back from Eastern Europe, Africa, or the Middle East to fix Canada’s democracy, mixed economy, or public health services. 

Still, is something dangerous going on at the UN?

We’d need more evidence to fear that the UN thinks it’s important to get Canadians to “rise up” and throw out Stephen Harper. Nevertheless, the newsy, gratuitous nature of much of their concern about what’s going on in Canada clearly points to a classic bureaucratic malaise.

The UN is steadily becoming less effective in addressing global problemseven being at the same table with leading problem-solvers. Furthermore, its continuing budget pressures must keep its vast policy machinery nervous.

Making news about even-tempered places like Canada on how they can do better is one way for their policy professionals to look busy and keep their jobs.

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