Talk shops

The Harper government keeps announcing its intention to promote democracy, but doesn’t seem interested in talking about it


So there’s this thing called the Community of Democracies. It’s truth in labelling: it’s a loose international assembly of countries that at least claim to be democracies. It’s not perfect — Egypt and Yemen signed its founding declaration in 2000, apparently with a straight face — but it puts democratic freedom at the heart of its mission and makes that aspiration a guiding principle for its existence and action.

Every year the Community of Democracies has a ministerial meeting. Steven Fletcher, who was then the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, attended on the Harper government’s behalf in 2009. “I appreciated the opportunity to meet with experts on democracy assistance and government officials to share Canada’s commitment to take on a more active role in supporting democracy on the world stage,” he said at the time. Lawrence Cannon, then the Minister for Foreign Affairs, attended last year’s ministerial conference. “The Community of Democracies is an important forum for supporting and strengthening democracy around the world,” Cannon said then.

You know where this is going, don’t you. This year’s meeting of the Community of Democracies is in Vilnius, Lithuania, right now. Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, is attending, as is his colleague Radek Sikorski from Poland. The Finnish president will be there, and the prime ministers of Slovakia and Kosovo. So, perhaps more significantly, is Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State. State Dept. officials told reporters yesterday: “During the last two years, the Community of Democracies has undergone a transformation from a forum where democracies could get together into a platform where democracies are getting things done. And that shift from an aspirational body to an operational platform has occurred with strong support from Secretary Clinton and at a time when there is a real need for international backing for civil society and newly emerging democracies.”

Canadians at the conference include Kim Campbell, who had a summer job as Prime Minister 18 years ago; Jeremy Kinsman, a retired diplomat who isn’t really in this government’s good books; and Senator Reynell Andreychuk, who chairs the Senate committee on foreign affairs. Sen. Andreychuk has an M.C. role on a panel where other people will do most of the talking.

This isn’t a catastrophe, but we can throw it on the pile of missed opportunities. The Harper government keeps announcing its intention to promote democracy. I see no reason to doubt its sincerity. I’m amazed, however, when Canadian leaders don’t show up at the “operational platform” where Canada’s values are supposed to be put to practice. Especially when they did so last year and the year before.

In an interview in the new issue of Maclean’s, Prime Minister Harper says, “We don’t fund talk shops anymore, we fund aid that actually makes a difference.” Perhaps it’s naïve to suggest talking can make a difference.


Talk shops

  1. It’s actually not talking that the Harper government has a problem with; it’s listening.

  2. I would have to know what Harper said exactly but talking is good, in general.

    Often read of dissidents who were inspired to continue their fight against totalitarian governments across the world because someone in West recognized their struggle. 

    “Accordingly, Reagan spoke formally and repeatedly of deploying against criminal regimes the one weapon they fear more than military or economic sanction: the publicly-spoken truth about their moral absurdity, their ontological weakness. 

    This was the sort of moral confrontation, as countless dissidents and resisters have noted, that makes these regimes conciliatory, precisely because it heartens those whom they fear most—their own oppressed people. Reagan’s understanding that rhetorical confrontation causes geopolitical conciliation led in no small part to the wall’s collapse 20 years ago today.”


    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …. “

  3. No, no no….now we BOMB people into democracy.

    ‘Talking’ is soooo…I dunno…pre-May?

  4. Question: why do you “… see no reason to doubt its sincerity”?

    Repeatedly this government’s actions belie its words.

  5. “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” This is just an opinion, mind you, but the speaker who expressed it was a conservative, and knew a lot about both jaw-ing and war-ing.

  6. If nothing else, talk at meetings assists in pinpointing the places, organizations, and people that will most benefit from targeted aid. But confessing that would suggest that our current government isn’t the all-wise, all-knowing group that they pretend to be.

  7. I am finding it so hard to care what the lefties on these boards post anymore, now that it all sounds like sour grapes.

    That, and the fact half of Wherry’s blogs have a single reply by Emily make posting here a lot less entertaining then it use to be.

    • And yet here you are, still.

    • Mild coincidence. I find it difficult to care what guys named ‘Turd’ think, ever.

    • I have notice that the level of debate has dropped a bit since the election. I miss the folks who were good to debate with, because they had points that they backed up.

      It will pick up again.

  8. And Mr. Wells could have responded, ” Hey!, I talk democracy everyday! via the intertubes!” (Lithuania is wired pretty well too) – not what Mr. Wells friends had in mind, I imagine

  9. Paul,

    Has the gov’t come up with an official line as to why they weren’t there?

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