Dion gets off a good one


Dion delivered his best joke of the campaign at University of Victoria this afternoon. (OK, there aren’t a lot of other contenders.) Asked about his policy for Arctic sovereignty, he criticized the Tories for emphasizing a military presence too much. That won’t work, Dion said, because, “We can’t win against the Americans, we can’t win against the Russians, and we’re too civilized to shoot the Danes.”

Beyond the comedy interlude, this was Dion’s slickest stop of the campaign so far. The old professor is still most comfortable on a campus. Endorsed from the podium by a trio of local environmental luminaries, he went on to sound confident fielding a bunch of questions from students. He seemed fired up in the post-event scrum.

I spotted David Anderson, the retired veteran Chrétien cabinet minister from Victoria, hanging around, and asked him for his review.

“He’s much more relaxed than he used to be,” Anderson said. “The answers are still longer than they need to be, but these are students and they were ready to listen.” According to Anderson, the “big risk of the campaign” for Dion is his bet that the Green Shift will lure NDP and Green votes as the race unfolds.


Dion gets off a good one

  1. I’m a CONbot, but even I think that’s a pretty funny line.

  2. It’s a good one, but telling. His policy is to criticize the government’s policy. I guess we know he would rather be in opposition than be in charge.

  3. It’s true. Stephen Harper never criticizes Dion’s policies.

  4. That’s a pretty funny line. Dion needs to cut loose more.

    Methinks this campaign is far from over.

  5. I like Anderson. He named his dog Kyoto before it was fashionable to do so :)

  6. So what does he propose? If the Russians pull a Georgia on us and move their ships into our waters we’re just supposed to do nothing?

  7. Cool Blue, since we can’t really sink Russian ships, I think the idea is to negotiate an agreement on the Northwest Passage that everybody’s happy with, before any crisis arises.

  8. Yes Cool Blue, we should do nothing. Russian literature is amazing. Bring on the Russians!

  9. Dion should take a cue from his success – just be himself and not the leader he is pretending to be. He might end up being Prime Minister someday.

  10. I think that Mr. Dion’s asking the audience if they were ‘aware of any country in the world that makes a debate about climate change a debate about unity’ was much more powerful than the joke about the Danes.

  11. Those Danish flags that popped up on Conservative blogs over the Muslim cartoon flap bugged me for some reason. Most of the blogs didn’t even have a Canadian flag above their Danish flag.

    It’s really nothing, but I thought I’d say something since Greenland came up :-)

  12. So, Jack, your solution is to negotiate an agreement in respect of our territorial integrity that everyone will be happy about. I suppose this is called the “Sudetenland” solution. I presume it will work just as well this time

  13. Well, Horseface, if that’s the only example of diplomacy that you can recall, I don’t blame you for having a poor opinion of it.

    There are, however, literally thousands of instances of negotiated territorial agreements in the modern history of the world. I’m sure this will simply be another one of those.

  14. Canada is a big boat, I’d rather the captain be an intelligent person. The ghost of Pierre Trudeau haunting the quarter-deck is far more appealing than the thought of Mulroney tucking Thousand dollar bills into a bank account in New York or Geneva. Or, Harper having a blank cheque to cash in on Canada’s future.

  15. As far as the rest of the world is concerned there’s nothing to negotiate re: the Northwest Passage. Unless Canada makes it clear it would act with whatever force necessary to enforce our claim to exclusive jurisdiction, why would anyone sit down with us to work out a compromise?

    If Dion were PM what he said is tantamount to surrendering Canada’s claim and accepting free foreign passage through the NWP.

    Also his claim that Canada can’t monitor the North and sink any ship that isn’t to our liking is just wrong. The serious question is would Canada ‘pull the trigger’ or are we just bluffing.

  16. To expand a bit…

    Just look at a map. Canada is so geographically isolated as to be impervious to attack from any country save for the US. Similarly, the NW Passage is both thousands of km from any country and thousands of km through the middle of Canada.

    Point being, Canada could stop/board/sink any non-US ship with impunity. The Machiavellian IR major in me would jump at the opportunity to do just that to set the precedent. Said country could protest but nothing else.

    Rather, the question is how to work out a comprise with the US (which the rest of the world would be stuck with fait accompli). If the US was made to understand that Canada considered control over the NWP a vital interest, and attempts to force international status would damage relations in the extreme, I think a deal could be done. But words like Dion’s have precisely the opposite effect.

  17. Err.. you’ve heard of planes, perhaps? Big things with wings. Fly long distances. Russia to Canada isn’t so far for them.

    If Canada were to have the temerity to shoot a russian ship, you can bet Putin would have few qualms about using that as an excuse to move in a major military presence. We’d have to rely upon America to repel them, and if you think America would do that out of the goodness of their hearts, and then leave the NW passage to us, I think you might need to re-evaluate that.

  18. Was in the room at UVIc today. Dion was v. good.

    The room was packed… extremely crowded room that held 200 or so…prob another 150 listening in the lobby at least and loads more that left when couldn’t get in. Attendance was not screened. And had to leave a few minutes early but seemingly zero nay-sayers.

    Dion had a few stumbles on wording but none major and he was clear, pretty concise and effective. Def seemed to be back at home in front of the classroom.

    In agreement with kontrol….more days like this event and at the very least he will tighten the race with Mr Harper, esp given the first week of the Tory campaign.

  19. Actually Canada is a HELL OF A LONG WAY from Russia, even talking about just the far North (try looking at a globe not a map). Specifically almost 4 thousand km from the nearest possible Russian airbases to the nearest possible Canadian targets in the far North… or about the distance between Southern Canada and South America.

    Without getting into the specifics, while the Russians could certainly throw some bombers against Canada, and maybe even a few fighters, they’d be far out-classed and fighting at a huge huge logistical disadvantage… they’d be mincemeat for even the modest RCAF.

    …but that’s not the point, since anyone with a foot in reality understands you don’t respond to a localized provocation with all out war. The arithmetic for any country wanting to force the opening of the NWP is can they, in fact, FORCE their way through, and for every country but the US of course it’s a resounding no.

  20. Perhaps a better illustration: as the crow flies, Murmansk to Iqaluit is the same as Vancouver to Halifax.

  21. Do tell that to Georgia. I’m sure they’d love to hear about a localized provocation not leading to all out war.

  22. Besides the fact that the Georgian war was in fact very limited, the situations could not be more incomparable for more reasons than I could possibly list…

    Canada is self-secure through the virtue of being *THE* most geographically isolated nation on the planet (notwithstanding our proximity the United States)… that is, if only we take the most minimal steps to ensure our own security. That we’re naturally dependent on the US for our domestic defence is one of the Great Canadian Myths.

    What worries me about the NWP situation is that it threatens our sublime isolation. I think Canadians are nice, tolerant, trusting people in large part because we’ve never been exposed to things most of the rest of the world has always had to deal with: international power politics and imposed changes to the status quo, proximity to potentially hostile foreign forces…

    The psychological impact of having the NWP forced open against our will by foreign powers by implicit threat of force would shatter our centuries-old sense of utter security, as would the ongoing presence of foreign military vessels in the Passage (in addition to foreign oil tankers sure to destroy the local ecosystem, junkers full of illegal immigrants, etc… off of which we’d be powerless to stop if we allowed the Passage to be internationalized).

    With the costs of allowing that to happen so high, ongoing, and guaranteed, while the costs of preventing it – by adequately garrisoning the Arctic and proclaiming loud and often our intent to stop trespassers – so low… well it just astounds me how glib and short-sighted Dion’s line was.

    The sometimes maddening timidity of the Canadian political class also bares out in the ongoing reluctance to settle this issue with the Americans (which would take 99% of the uncertainty out of it)

  23. Very interesting post Stewacide.

  24. I think that this ebate is focussing on the NW Passage, when really what we should be talking about is the Lomnosov Ridge, which is disputed by Canada, Norway, Denmark, Russia and the US. Of import, all parties have submitted it to binding arbitration by the UN.

    This is an example (unlike the NW Passage) where boots on the ground are not as important as diplomats in the boardroom. If Russia claims the ridge, Canada cannot stop them no matter how well garrisoned we are in the north. However, if the UN awards the ridge to Canada, I cannot see how Russia could possibly claim it (as the US has also signed onto the convention).

    And since Russia has little or no interest in the NW Passage, I have to think this is what Dion was referring to.

  25. “We can’t win against the Americans, we can’t win against the Russians, and we’re too civilized to shoot the Danes.”

    That might be a good joke by Dion’s standards but to me it says we won’t defend our sovereignty if one of the ‘big boys’ comes in and tries to take over and he also seems to be saying we would gladly kill Americans and Russians but the Danes are alright.

  26. stewacide, I too wish we were a major world power with a military option, but we aren’t. It’s time to put away the Axis & Allies board and promise your Mom you’ll stop playing it by yourself.

  27. I agree the continental shelf issue has nothing to do with the military. And the Hans Island issue is ridiculous. If that’s what Dion’s talking about then meh…

    But the NWP is a VITAL INTEREST with EVERYTHING to do with the military. The only way to maintain the status quo, and work toward an access system which suits our interests, is by having credible military force in the area and the apparent will to use it.

    Anyone who thinks defending our own borders is militaristic and paranoid, what do you think would happen to Canadian society if we were subject to gun-boat diplomacy?!? (I’ll tell you: we’d become militaristic and paranoid in actual fact… and it’d already be too late)

  28. stewacide, it’s not militaristic and paranoid, it’s laughably unrealistic.

    Ok, take out your Axis & Allies board again. Now take one frigate, one infantryman, and one fighter plane and put them on “Canada” (or, if you prefer, “Nunavut” – you may have to write these names on the board in crayon).

    Now take about 20 ships, 100 infantry, and 30 fighter planes and put them on “Russia.” I know the board doesn’t cover the north pole but we’ll just have to pretend.

    What I’m saying, acerbically, is that the whole rest of the world claims the NWP as an international waterway, like the St. Lawrence, the English Channel, the Malta Channel, etc.; we rather wish it were ours, like the Suez Canal & the Panama Canal.

    If we start sinking Russian, Danish, or Polynesian vessels that “violate” our “claim,” no one else in the entire world will back us up, because they don’t share our Suez Canal view of what is, admittedly, a natural waterway. They will not leap to our defense, sending in the Indian or Greek navies to Triumph for the Cause of Justice. In particular, the Americans would certainly have told us, before any “incident” were allowed to develop, that they have no interest in starting a war with Russia on our behalf!

    So it would be just our brave sailors and airmen vs. Russia (or whoever – let’s say Russia because if they sniffed a conflict they might try and get in on the game so as to screw us). And, you know, as good as the CF is man for man and plane for plane, there are a hell of a lot more Russian planes and Russian missiles. Not to forget, incidentally, that the Russians have a very large number of nuclear weapons.

    So, stewacide, I fear that, lesson learned, it’s time to pack up the board again, wipe away the tears, and turn on that Eddie Murphy movie again.

  29. “stewacide, I too wish we were a major world power with a military option, but we aren’t.”

    You say that like you understand the first thing about it.

    Military power diminishes with distance at a huge and increasing rate. The realities of power projection are such that no country except the United States can project any but token force much beyond its borders (that applies to Canada as well) in the face of a modern adversary.

    This isn’t close to an opinion: it’s self-evident fact for anyone with the most minimal versing in such things. The likes of Russia and China are great powers only insofar as it relates to their immediate neighbours: they have no ability to project credible force overseas.

  30. You’re not thinking realistically about how such a situation would develop.

    Lets say the Chinese or Russians or whoever decide to test out claim, and we board their vessel and turn it around or even sink it… what can they do? Sure, they can protest, and they can send more ships with the same outcome, but that gets them nowhere.

    Think about the game-theory of it. If the world is convinced of Canada’s ability to block passage (any knowledgeable observer would agree Canada easily can) they simply won’t test the claim, because they can’t win doing so.

    Moreover, if anyone was so foolish as to try and had their vessel boarded/sunk, it makes absolutely no sense for them to double-down on a losing bet: again, game theory predicts they seek to de-escalate the situation.

    If any non-US country ‘declared war’ over such a minor provocation (which they never would), it would be a completely phoney war since neither side can actually strike the other.

  31. Aha, game theory. I wasn’t wrong that you are well versed in it. Nothing is more hilarious than someone trying to use it to “predict” real-world outcomes.

    Actually the Russians have a heck of a lot of long-range bombers – remember NORAD?

    They also have quite a large navy, compared to us. Half of it’s rusting right now but it’s still far larger than ours.

    They also have ballistic missiles, which would make mincemeat of our bases up North if we started sinking Russian ships.

    By way of naval power, you might want to fire up Google Earth. It’s 1900km from the tip of Siberia to the NWP “exit.” You’re right that I’m no expert on naval logistics, but if the Russians can’t supply ships less than 2000km away, I’ll eat my hat.

    But as I say, it’s all about air power. And the Russians have a lot of it.

    But I have the feeling I’m debating this with a 16-year-old so I think I’ll call it a day.

  32. Again, the idea that bocking a ships passage would results in all-out war is completely ridiculous, but…

    The problem is fighter cover. Without it Russian bombers (overwhelmingly ancient tupolov turboprops) and surface ships (rusting and decades out of date technologically) would be sitting ducks. Russian fighters simply could not challenge Canadian fighters in the area immediately around Canada, so anything else is a complete non-starter.

    And the ‘game’ outlined couldn’t be much simpler: Canada, if it has the will to do so, can stop any and all transit through the Passage. Therefore it makes completely no sense for any country to test our resolve. Foreign governments understand that kind of simple math, particularly when they don’t really care about the Passage! (without getting into the arcane game theory of it, the value Canada places on controlling the passage being so vastly larger than any one countries desire to have it open works greatly to our advantage).

    Again, the point of all that being there’s only one country that matters: the United States. If the US decides to force the issue then all bets are off. But if Canada makes its resolve clear, I’m sure an agreement would be worked out with the US, at which point it’s a settled issue as far as the world can do or say anything about it.

  33. To claim sovereignty, you have to be able to assert sovereignty. If you don’t put up any resistance then you’re proving that you can’t assert sovereignty.

    They Russians are watching and now they’ve got proof that Dion, the possible future PM of our country, won’t put up a fight if they move in. Great.

  34. And, the comparison of the Northwest Passage (a route that is bordered by Canada on both sides) to the English Channel or Malta Channel (which have multiple soveriegnities) is not in any way accurate.

    The best comparison is to the Straits of Java, bordered by Indonesia on both sides. Indonesia and some countries claim that they are sovereign waterways, whilst the US and many others say that they are not because they provide a passage between two oceans.

    In point of fact, the US ony (presently) opposes Canada’s claims to the NW Passage because it does not want to hurt its claims in Java.

    And I agree with Stew – we have to be able to claim that we CAN control access to the NWP. that is the fundamental test of any sovereignty. I am not talking about starting a war, but being able to say that we can prevent unauthorised access is a must.

  35. Cool Blue, what do you mean by “move in”? Set up their own bases on our islands in the far north? The US would never tolerate that. Besides, what would the Russians have to gain?

    The Russians have not, since 1945, outright annexed any territory. That is simply not how the world works.

    What do we have to gain by asserting, as against the universal opinion of the world, and in fact as against international law, that we “own” the Northwest Passage? Are we going to charge a fee?

    I’m not against establishing a couple of northern fighter bases and one good naval base, expensive as that would be. I’m in favour of defending our sovereignty. But the fact is that this “issue” will be resolved diplomatically and we will not end up controlling the Northwest Passage (whatever that would involve).

    What other benefit do we foresee from even having the NWP in our territorial waters? Truckstops? Nude cabarets?

  36. Principally we gain the right to deny access when and where it suits us. For one, oil tankers in the high arctic are a disaster in the making. And we definitely do not want Chinese or Russian or whatever unfriendly nations military vessels taking ‘innocent passage’ thousands of miles through Canadian territory. There’s also the issue of covering our costs in policing the NWP (through tolls), and giving the local population a say. We may also want to have experienced Canadian pilots at the helm of all ships making the transit (so they don’t hit a rock and cause a huge expensive mess).

    The Americans are naturally inclined to see things our way on all accounts (on the security question, on the environmental question, on the local-sovereignty question), hence doing a deal with them would be a no-brainer for a PM with some foresight and balls. The issue will – correctly – be settled diplomatically with the Americans; but it will be settled with the rest of the world unilaterally and militarily.

    There is ***ZERO*** prospect of Canada retaining sovereignty if we aren’t prepared to enforce it. NADA. NONE. That’s not the way it works.

  37. To clarify a bit: I strongly doubt any country except the US will ever officially (de jure) agree to the NWP being internal Canadian waters. There’s no negotiation to be had.

    What matters, however, is that the world will be forced to accept the de facto internal status of the NWP if Canada can enforce that status, and the US is willing to comply. Whether the US officially recognizes complete Canadian sovereignty, or simply complies with whatever we come up with, is really a moot point: what matters is that if the US doesn’t challenge Canada’s claim, nobody else is in a position to.

  38. as a fomer northerner I think the best way to keep the arctic canadian is to make the sure the people who live up there, work up there, use the land, and make the north something already ((and who will into the future with any luck and goodwill), want to be canadian.

    you’ll disgruntle more than a few by ignoring northerners, save for patrolling the passage with gunboats.

    maybe thats what the increased militarization will be used for… as it thaws out uncontrollably due to inaction, cultures and people, and yes even industries already, that depend on the ice will get even more crunched, and some people might be very p-o-ed… but hey i’m a cynic.

  39. I always wondered why the Americans wouldn’t prefer the NWP be “controlled” by a stable ally and military partner, rather than be declared a global lawless free-for-all. Chris B brings up the Indonesian Passage, and I will now re-think my understanding of the US position. Thanks, Chris B.

    Regardless of its potential realism, to publicly state our position of disregard over our own sovereignty (“we’re too civilized, come and get us!”) is an irresponsible statement to make as a potential national leader.

  40. I do not believe Mssr. Dion was stating any disregard over our sovereignty in his comment. He was indicating the limited military resources Mr. Harper was making available for Arctic sovereignty would not significantly impact a concerted military challenge from a superpower. Diplomacy, science and the support of local populations will have a far greater role in supporting our claims in the Arctic.
    If you are looking to bash the guy, there are lots of opportunities – this is not one of them.

  41. Actually, woe, look at the quote. We can’t win against two of them, and we’re too civilized to shoot at the third. This is precisely a potential national leader who has surrendered before any conflict even begins. Irresponsible.

    There are plenty of opportunities to bash ALL the leaders over something or other. For Dion, this is most certainly one of them.

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