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Canada and Kandahar

Beryl P. Wajsman



March 16, 2006

Andrew Coyne is national affairs columnist for The National Post. On Wednesday he wrote a compelling must-read article called “Harper’s Mission Statement”. You can view it at the following link:



The piece generated much commentary and a number of opinions, including ours, were published by the Post in a section entitled “Harper in Kandahar: Now we have a game”. Because of space considerations they were edited down. I want to share our full text with you now.



Beryl P. Wajsman, president
Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal


Andrew Coyne’s words ring profoundly in the swirl of debate about Canada’s “values”. Not since Trudeau, has a Prime Minister spoken so boldly of freedom and commitment to its expansion, as the core Canadian belief. Trudeau defined it as the pre-eminent right of each individual having sovereignty over any imperative of state or collectivity. As Mr. Coyne so poignantly brings out, Mr. Harper has broadened that parameter making Canada’s participation in the defence and expansion of liberty in the world the existential basis for who we are and why we exist as Canadians.


Indeed, perhaps Mr. Coyne is right that Canadians may finally be in a mood to listen. And maybe, just maybe, it is not so much that we are not used to being spoken to in such terms as we have grown tired of our leaders mouthing platitudes dripping with equivocation and equivalency in order to appease tyrants for the sake of a deal. It was not so long ago that Mr. Martin called the butcher of Lockerbie, Libya’s Muammar Khaddafi, “…a man with a philosophical bent of mind…” How refreshing to have a Prime Minister today who calls us to a more noble purpose and challenges us to marshal a more vigorous resolve.

This nation, sacrificed more sons and daughters in the struggles against tyranny over the past century than even the United States as a proportion of population. This land we love was never compromised nor cudgeled by mountains of munitions. Sadly, over the past twenty years, it has seen its policies and purposes fall victim to the avarice of self-aggrandizing careerists. In the process, Canada has forfeited much of the authenticity and legitimacy of our national conscience through neglect of our inherent responsibilities to, acceptance of and engagement in the urgency of democratic development in the international order. And for what? A higher rating on the pay scale for bureaucrats and a few more barrels of oil. We chose to forget that throughout our history we understood, viscerally, that humankind’s long march out of the forests of barbarism was a precious quest.

Prime Minister Harper is reminding us that as a nation we must stand with those who believe that all people must be helped to exact their full share from the bounty of life's possibilities. That we cannot be "salon liberals" clinging to the smug belief that the struggle for social justice can stop at our borders. He reminds us that as a G-8 nation benefiting from the cheap resources and labour of third world countries, many of which are held captive under the iron heels of oppression, that we have a responsibility to engage in every effort to hold out hope for the millions trampled beneath those heels.

Mr. Harper’s words in Kandahar do indeed provide us with a compass of moral purpose. A purpose that holds that Canada, existing as it does in an age of instant communication and instant destruction, can no longer afford to maintain an attitude of "I'm all right Jack.” And as Mr. Coyne rightly points out, if Canadians do not have the courage to follow that compass – to recognize our responsibilities to our common humanity - then what are we as a people?


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