Friday, January 10, 2014

Reality check ~ Canada is the most highly regarded country in the world, not the pariah Liberals think we are

Back on July 1, I wrote a piece for Canada Day about how certain self-proclaimed radicals are persuaded that Canada is an awful place, and even if Canadians don’t see it, the rest of the world, they claim, looks at Canada as a pariah state.

Except, as I pointed out, this is nonsense. According to extensive polls, among people throughout the G7 countries, Canada is the most highly regarded nation in the world – and has been for three years running. (See here.)

Now in a piece for the National Post, Michael Den Tandt has picked up on the same discrepancy between the received wisdom of Canada’s supposedly ruined international reputation and the actual research that precisely the opposite…

On foreign policy, Tories closer to Main Street than critics suggest
Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have, it is a given, laid waste to Canada’s formerly sterling international reputation.
By Michael Den Tandt, Postmedia News January 3, 2014

We know this because various and sundry former diplomats, led by the venerable Paul Heinbecker, have been telling us so for years. They’re backstopped in this by a cohort of thoughtful, stern-minded academics, most recently the University of Ottawa’s Peter Jones writing in Thursday’s Globe and Mail, saying more or less the same thing: Harper and foreign minister John Baird are blinkered Visigoths, stomping about the world stage with their good-versus-evil, black-versus-white world view, shattering the fine china of international diplomacy as they go.
This portrait is eagerly embraced by the opposition parties, of course, because it helps create ideological distance between them and the government — a logical necessity if change (beyond putting new behinds in old seats) is ever to be embraced.

But then along comes something like the New York and Copenhagen-based Reputation Institute’s list of the world’s 50 “most reputable” countries — an online survey of 27,000 respondents from across the G8 — to give that thesis a hard shake. The G8 includes the United States, the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Russia. If this sampling, published last summer in Forbes Magazine, is to be believed, Canada’s international reputation is in fine health. Indeed, we’ve topped the ‘global reputation’ survey for the past three years.

What’s truly intriguing is the list of countries with which Canada shares top billing. In second place in 2013 was Sweden; after that in descending order came Switzerland, Australia, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, The Netherlands and Austria. The countries in Canada’s immediate peer group, in other words, include the very northern European social democracies with whom Harperland is often disparagingly compared by Canadian critics on the Left.  How can this, be if our reputation abroad is in such a terrible state?

No single opinion survey can be the be-all-end-all, obviously. Where an annual snap-shot such as the Reputation Institute’s can be helpful, though, is in providing an anecdotal reality check of some of the more extreme assumptions emanating from the Harper-hating half of Partisan Canada, or Partisan Nation, to borrow the current handy convention.

Partisan Nation exists primarily in cyberspace. It reaches full flower on Twitter. Its membership spans all federal political parties. Members share a barely sane belief in the sanctity of their chosen political heroes, and an equally bug-eyed capacity for demonizing opponents and their opinions. In this mostly imaginary world Justin Trudeau is the shiny pony and Stephen Harper Beelzebub himself.

The irony: Liberals and New Democrats who trade in demonology, caricaturing  Conservatives as Rush Limbaughs in hockey sweaters, are themselves engaging in “black-and-white” dogmatism. In the process they habitually blind themselves to the areas where the Tories are strong, which impedes their ability to counter.

It’s this intellectual inwardness that broke the Liberal party’s back from 2004 on, and now threatens to do the same to the New Democratic Party’s great beachhead of 2011. Partisans simply cannot believe that not all reasonable, good people on Main Street grasp the singular brilliance and inevitability of their worldview. So they keep repeating it.

Surely the starting point for any useful analysis of political reality should be, well, reality? Among people I bump into in daily life, on those rare occasions when foreign policy comes up at all, most agree with Harper and Baird that Canada should support democratic Israel and oppose theocratic Iran; agree with them that Chinese state-owned companies’ interest in the resource sector should be met with deep scrutiny and caution; agreed with their decision to join in the 2011 Lybia campaign but keep clear of any possible military engagement in Syria last year; thought the early Liberal and NDP opposition to Canada’s involvement in the Afghan war was daft; but wholeheartedly endorsed the eventual decision to pull Canadian soldiers out, with the last expected to leave in March.

Paul Heinbecker, declaiming from the op-ed pages of the Globe and Mail or the airwaves of the CBC, is a remote voice indeed.

Bottom line? The selling point of Harper’s Conservatives has never been their personalities, his included. The party wins because it provides policy that millions of Canadians, albeit often with nose pinched between thumb and index finger, consider to be the least bad alternative, and that millions more simply agree with. For government critics to stubbornly insist this isn’t true, whether in foreign policy or another area, is not noble. It’s a recipe for another Tory victory in 2015.

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