Thursday, December 31, 2009

Preston Manning's Odd Concept of Honesty

The Globe and Mail regularly publishes commentary from Preston Manning, whose role in society is billed at as "president and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy." This billing, of course, is true enough, but completely deceptive. The reason Mr. Manning's drivel is regularly published is because his past role as founder and leader of the Reform Party. Or, even more accurately, because of his role as midwife to Canada's modern right wing leadership, including his proudest delivery of all -- the Right Honorable Stephen Harper. While this type of re-packaging is fair enough (politicians of all stripes do it) surely the Globe and Mail should at least give some indication for the benefit of younger readers or readers new to Canada that Preston is not merely some altruistic guardian and promoter of democracy but is a former politician who is now pushing his right-wing anti-secular agenda under misleading title (have a look at the list of patrons and directors of the Manning Centre if you would like some reassurance of this characterization of this organization).

Normally it is easy enough to pass over Preston's opinions -- there are not enough hours in the day to read every right wing screed that makes it into the newspapers -- but a recent column extolling Stephen Harper's honesty was eye catching (if for no other reason than the cartoon of Steve wearing two halos). On reading it, it turned out to be a tribute to the Prime Minister's honesty in (1) speaking the truth to the Chinese about human rights while still promoting trade and (2) not advocating for unrealistic targets at Copenhagen but instead making it clear that Canada would only follow the United States. This analysis is shocking and cannot go without comment because of what it truly says about Preston Manning and his centre.

The first example of the Prime Minister's honesty that is lauded by Mr. Manning is openly mispackaged. The Prime Minister certainly did call out China for its human rights abuses in the past but in recent months has pulled back his horns as realized that this type of behavior was inconsistent with promoting trade with Canada. Now the Prime Minister does what every other Canadian Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau has done -- mutter something about human rights under his breath while busily shaking and hands and hosing banquets to promote trade. Real honesty on the human rights front would have been speaking to a friend -- say George W. Bush -- about his human rights flaws (say that little due process free prison in Cuba) or supporting the promotion of human rights at home (say for example by sending a letter politely asking for Omar Khadr's return). Instead, all we see hear is the Prime Minister criticizing those who he politically disagrees with until he realizes that it is politically inconvenient.

The Copenhagen example is doubly ludicrous. I will first pass over the global warming debate per se but instead will comment on the approach advocated by Mr. Manning. Mr. Manning's argument is that it is honest to advocate for weak standards and commitments because that is all that we can do in the face of what the United States is doing. More generally he is saying that all Canadians will do is slightly limit their emmissions so it would be dishonest to bring forward anything more aggressive (this is true enough and is an excellent argument for doing with Canada's drug laws as we have no intention of seriously limiting the consumption of intoxicants across society). Of course, this ignores the idea that an event such as Copenhagen brings people together so that new positions can be forged so that the problem of not getting out of step with trading partners can be avoided. Thus it is a chance to advocate stronger positions leaving open the possibility of falling back if no new consensus emerges. But of course this is not Mr. Harper's real goal and it is here that Mr. Harper's lack of honesty shows through.

The reality is that Mr. Harper does not believe in human caused global warming and does not believe anything can or should be done about it. If Mr. Harper genuinely believed in human caused global warming then honesty would dictate developing binding standards and pushing as hard as possible to do something about it. Anything else would be stupid and inhumane when the future cost of global warming (whether human caused or not) is taken into account. Mr. Harper however clearly does not believe in human caused global warming and sees the expenditure of effort to avert the continued discharge of greenhouse gases in large quantities as a waste of economic resources and an example of bowing at the altar of left-wing voodoo science.

But Mr. Harper is politically astute enough to know that he cannot say this. The reality -- he knows -- is that he will loose large chunks of votes in the centre if he were to publicly come out and say "there is no such thing as human caused global warming and we should not be wasting our time and economic resources fighting it." Such a statement would be honest but would relegate the Prime Minister back to Reform Party territory in terms of votes. The reality is that voters in Toronto pump out tonnes of greenhouse gases and are not particularly willing to bear the costs of reducing those emissions, but at least they accept it is a problem even if they are afraid of the solutions. To be faced with a blunt statement of the Conservative Party's true belief would only serve to remind those voters that Stephen Harper has a cabinet minister who is rumoured to believe that men and dinosaurs walked together.

What Preston Manning really seems to admire is Mr. Harper's ability to hold true right-wing beliefs buy then tell the lies necessary to package them -- something Mr. Manning was never able to do effectively in his days as an elected politician. Mr. Manning's centre gives him a forum to advocate for his political views -- not for democracy generally, but right-wing anti-secualr democracy. He is willing to rebottle hypocrisy as honesty -- as most policticians do -- as a pasrt of this quest. What is pathetic though is the fact that the Globe and Mail is willing to give him a soapbox to do it from. Isn't the National Post good enough for that?

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1 comment:

Die said...

Glad to see you back blogging, Robert.

I have to say, I doubt that any midwife was involved in the birth of the Reform Party. They are a "too posh to push" crowd and I am sure the birth of the party was the result of a scheduled Caesarean.