What is happening to the Liberal Party of Canada?
The behemoth of Canadian politics, Canada’s so-called natural governing party, the virtually undefeatable. What has become of this once-great institution?
Reasonable minds could agree or disagree about the wisdom of past Liberal Party policies. The wisdom, however, of one of their endorsed policies is beyond reproach. It has become standard operating procedure in foreign policy, and a key Canadian value. That policy is the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine.
R2P essentially says that countries that fail to protect their own citizens (or proactively endanger their own citizens) from mass atrocities give up their sovereignty. R2P also calls for the international community to intervene with coercive measures when states fail to protect their own citizens. R2P imputes a responsibility on countries that have the capability to protect those who are vulnerable. This makes sense: shouldn’t democratic countries with the means to save the lives of innocent people do just that? Isn’t there a moral responsibility?
Justin Trudeau doesn’t think so. This past week, his Liberal Party voted against the government’s plan to send six fighter jets to Iraq to contribute to an international effort to stop the terrorist organization ISIS. The gravity of this mission could be no greater. A recent UN report highlighted the atrocities that ISIS has committed in Iraq. In the first eight months of 2014, 24 000 Iraqi civilians have been killed or injured by ISIS. 1.8 million Iraqis have been displaced. Using death tolls always masks the inhumanity of what is actually happening. These are innocent men, women, and children whose lives have been lost and destroyed in the pursuit of radical, insane religious goals.
This isn’t to mention the methods ISIS uses to incite terror. They routinely sell women and girls into the sex trade. They radicalize and convert 12 and 13 year olds to their cause, putting AK47s into their hands and telling them to patrol the streets.
If all of this, the deaths, the destruction, the inhumanity, if all of this does not justify our action, what does?
It’s unclear for Justin Trudeau. He crudely said that Canada simply can’t “whip out our CF-18s,” and solve the problem. His analysis seems to be based on the fact that voters can’t distinguish between the unpopular 2003 campaign in Iraq and today’s challenges in the region. He has made a base, populist decision governed by politics and not based on any broader humanitarian goals. Meanwhile, innocents are killed.
The Liberal Party of the past has spoken out against Trudeau’s folly. Lloyd Axworthy, a former Foreign Affairs Minister in a past Liberal administration, and a key proponent and developer of the R2P doctrine, said the following: “I was surprised at the Liberal decision, to be honest, because traditions and the history and the principles of the party were very much centred on this idea that part of our mandate, nationally, is to help innocent people.” He went on to say “You’ve got to realize that diplomatic niceties are not going to work, humanitarian aid is not going to work if people are going to be shot in their beds … At times you have to toughen up.”
Axworthy is onto something. Trudeau, in the first place, turned his back on not only a Liberal tradition, but a Canadian tradition. His rejection of any role for Canada in stopping the madness in Iraq is nothing less than a rejection of Canada’s rightful place on the world stage. His populist decision reveals a fundamental lack of understanding (or a wilful blindness) to the realities in the region. The government’s approach is balanced — it will contribute to a meaningful, multilateral effort without overextending ourselves, or putting boots on the ground. Most importantly, we will do our part to save innocents.
So, it comes to this. Trudeau’s betrayal of the R2P doctrine not only amounts to turning his back on his party. It amounts to turning his back on the good that Canada can do in the world to help those who need it most.