THUNDER BAY ON ----- September 27, 2010 ---- You might think that a deliberative body comprised of the supposed crème de la crème of the world’s diplomatic corps would know better. On Thursday of this past week, Harper addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations regarding the failure to reach the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The problem, was, not much of the Assembly chose to assemble. The last of thirteen leaders to speak on that day - Obama batted lead-off - the video evidence shows an audience of a dozen or two at best at the celebrated and massive hall. Unpopular people have better attended funerals. (Then again, as Red Skelton famously said upon the occasion of Columbia Pictures’ dictatorial Harry Cohn having a jam-packed funeral, ‘You give people what they want to see, they’ll show up.’)
It takes a lot for me to raise much sympathy for Harper. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had an easier time of it with the Devil. In this case though, my knee has jerked at the rubber hammer landing a blow to national pride. I’m sorry, but we deserve a little more than Rodney Dangerfield respect.
The undoubtedly hastily conceived cover line is that several of the earlier speeches had gone long. There were meetings to be held, negotiations to be negotiated, hearty cocktails to be mixed. All true. But surely diplomatic missions to the UN contain enough secretaries, assistants, stenographers, press officers and interpreters to fill seats while the Big Guy is toasting Cardinal Puff.
In case nobody is feeling either guilty or bothered about this, I quote from Harper’s apeech:
As a founding member of the UN, and the seventh-largest contributor to its finances, Canada has been a consistently reliable and responsible participant in UN initiatives around the world
This was so in the earliest days of the UN.
It was so during the difficult days of the Cold War, of de-colonization and of the struggle against apartheid. It is so today.
Canada continues to pay, for instance, a heavy price to fulfill our UN obligation to support the lawful government of Afghanistan.
We pay it in both the resources of Canadian taxpayers, but also with profound sorrow, in the priceless lives of our young men and women who serve there in the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as, sadly, civilians who have also given their sweat and their lives in the service of both our country, and of the people of Afghanistan.
Granted, Harper is unlikely to be mentioned in the same breath as Lester Pearson when it comes to a diplomatic legacy. It verges on the ironic that the Prime Minister had the chutzpah to speak on the Millennium Development Goals in the first place. Those goals were targeted at the Third World, aiming to eradicate hunger, poverty and gender equality. Well, the present Conservative government cut off aid to eight African nations, frozen aid to the continent as a whole, and the former president of the International AIDS Society Dr. Julian Montaner felt compelled to remark in July of this year, “I am ashamed to say that the government of Canada has punched well below its weight in funding universal access and supporting those affected by HIV and AIDS around the world.” Well, attaway to take an international goal and make it your own.
So, our hands and souls are not perfectly clean. Our support for Israel would warm the hearts of Arthur Balfour, if not T.E. Lawrence. For some reason we seem to be in the midst of a military build-up when the war we are fighting is unwinnable on the battlefield.
Nonetheless, we are fighting that war and for the reasons of loyalty to an idea that it is right and just to sacrifice in order to advance the march of justice and anti-terrorism into the very Heart of Darkness. No matter how one feels about that war, or any of the other policy decisions by Harper’s government, Canada has more to it as a nation than whomever the idiot living in subsidized housing on Sussex Drive is on a given day; just as the United States is more than Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush or Obama.
Yes, it is ironic that a nation small in population yet great in wealth such as Canada manages currently to expend more of the former than of the latter. But our history and much of our present is filled with honour. For that alone, the empty hall was an insult we did not deserve.
Be seeing you.
for Lake Superior News
September 27 2010