Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A dangerous foundation

Carol Goar writes that for reasons unknown, the Libs (or at least those on the Foreign Affairs Committee) are entirely eager to give the Cons a massive amount of political cover on foreign policy issues:
Depending on your perspective, Ottawa is poised to embark on a bold new foreign policy mission or plunge into a costly misadventure.

The blueprint is laid out in a 190-page report released last week by the foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons...

It calls for the creation of a Foundation for International Democratic Development. The new agency's mandate would be to make Canada a world leader in promoting freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It would operate independently, but report to Parliament annually through the minister of foreign affairs...

The Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party have both issued dissenting reports.

The Bloc's is the most comprehensive and cogent. It raises objection after objection – the cost of the proposed institution, the risks of meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries, the scarcity of foreign aid dollars and the difficulty of monitoring arm's-length foundations – and concludes: "This way of proceeding defies all logic."

The NDP argues that Canada can hardly hope to export democracy when it is doing so little to alleviate world poverty.

Neither party has any realistic hope of blocking the initiative. It has the support of both the Conservatives and Liberals...

What the report does not say is:

How much the government should spend on the new institution.

Whether the money should be diverted from other foreign policy priorities.

What would become of existing projects.

Why Canada needs another arm's-length agency when it already has the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, set up in 1989 to "promote, develop and strengthen democratic institutions and programs."

Alberta MP Kevin Sorensen, who chairs the foreign affairs committee, was unavailable to answer questions. Phone requests left at both his parliamentary office and his constituency office in Camrose produced no response.

Opposition MPs on the committee also ran into a blockage when they sought pertinent information. They were promised, but subsequently denied, a draft of the government's strategy on fragile and failing states.

This, coupled with a policy departure that bore little relation to the committee's deliberations, left the Bloc and NDP wondering what the government's real agenda was.
From the Cons' perspective, the appeal of the proposed plan is obvious. The proposed new foundation would let them divert attention from their own missteps by pointing to the agency as evidence of their commitment to "freedom, democracy and the rule of law". And by starting over with a new independent agency, they'd have the ability to institutionalize their idea of "democracy" (hint: Palestinians need not apply) as Canada's operative policy in the longer term.

It's far less obvious, though, why the Libs would be eager to sign onto a vague plan based on little information which seems to duplicate structures and goals which already exist. And that goes doubly when the plan's effect is to strengthen the Cons' hand in picking and choosing which type of democracy they see political value in supporting.

We'll see if the Libs recalculate their position once the report comes back to Parliament. But so far, it looks the Libs are happily enabling and encouraging a significant portion of the Cons' foreign policy - and both the Libs and Canada as a whole look to be worse off if they maintain that position.

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