While Justin Trudeau was Bungee Jumping. . . .
Two years ago, a threshold was reached. Autocracies now outnumber democracies. More than half the world's people now live in truncheon states, and "sunny ways" free trade is making things worse.
I’ve got a long-form backgrounder and analysis in the National Post today on democracy’s global retreat through the 21st century and the rise of the police state bloc. It took a good bit of work over the past month or so but much of the research and background was at the ready because it’s the main story I’ve been covering for the past 20 years.
I’m not happy to notice that Canada is perhaps the most parochial and unserious of the world’s liberal democracies in confronting this reality. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is by mistake or by design. It’s comforting to imagine that democracy’s worldwide eclipse is merely a brow-furrowing “foreign policy” concern. It isn’t.
The weakening of even the most advanced democracies has come from within and from without, and it’s often unclear which is which and where the line is. Globalization’s interlocked supply chains and the emergence of global digital information and financial networks have exposed democratic states as never before to subversion, election interference, disinformation, “elite capture” and dangerous trade dependencies.
The frivolousness in the face of all this was too brazen to ignore this weekend. While 50,000 Canadians showed up in Richmond Hill to rally in support of the revolution in Iran, our prime minister, who had been invited to speak at the rally, had other things to do. Bungee jumping in Chelsea, Quebec. How fabulous of him.
He had good reason to avoid that rally though, and I’ll get into that down below.
Something you might notice in the piece, which is part of the National Post’s New World Disorder series, is that I don’t deal directly with the challenge of climate change. I’ll have some unwelcome realities about that issue, along with some other rather delicate matters, on the far side of the paywall. I’m perhaps less likely to find myself up against a lynch mob there.
For now, let’s just say that too many Canadians have cultivated the preposterous habit of arguing about and demanding action on climate change as though it were almost entirely a “domestic” issue. You’d think what matters was the federal carbon tax, bike lanes, electric cars, solar power, hydrogen technology, and of course the gallant struggle to divest from the satanic power of Big Oil and the death grip Albertan roughnecks are said to hold over the prospects of our very survival as a species.
None of these things matter a damn. It’s not called “global climate change” for nothing. Here’s what’s important: A flourishing of global democracy will be necessary to the cause of reining in C02 emissions and mitigating and adapting to the damage that’s already been done up there since the days of the Industrial Revolution.
Sorry to say so but it’s already too late for most of the pollyannish prescriptions on offer, and whatever suite of prescriptions you might want I’m afraid it’s going to require more democracy, not less. Besides, Sri Lankans, Syrian Arabs, Rohingyas, Iranians, Hongkongers, Ukrainians, Sudanese, Venezuelans, Zimbabweans, Tunisians and quite a few other peoples I could mention are not content to just shut up and do as they’re told.
They’re not going to pipe down, and it’s not just the tyrants of those countries who wish they would. So does much of Canada’s foreign policy establishment.
Last week at the United Nations, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly was positively bubbly the virtues of “multilateralism,” casting Canada in its fairytale role of “honest broker” to help everyone get themselves sorted. Well, no. Sometimes you have to take sides.
As is customary in these circumstances it was only after the eruption of massive popular support for the Iranian rebellion that the Trudeau government this week unveiled a raft of sanctions against 34 Khomeinist individuals and entities. They’re mostly copy-paste sanctions from the U.S. State Department. None derive from Canada’s rarely-used Magnitsky sanctions law, weirdly.
About people refusing to pipe down, here’s some good news. Although the rebellions of the Arab Spring were largely crushed, uprisings in the decade since have arisen in 44 per cent of the world’s police states. News out of Iran these past two weeks has lifted spirits mightily across the Middle East and Central Asia, and in the streets of London, New York, Vancouver and Toronto. But will that show of global solidarity make a difference? How deep is it?
Here’s the index from the Freedom House report I mention in the Post overview, looking backwards from last year:
I’ve long been an admirer of the Syrian revolutionary democrat Yassin Al Haj Saleh. His view: “The Iranian uprising is the most important thing that is happening today, and its support is a duty.” That happens to be my conclusion in the National Post today as well, although I take a slightly broader view: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changes everything, for all of us, and as with the Hongkongers and the Iranians and the Sudanese and the rest, the Ukrainians are entitled to a blood-oath commitment of solidarity from all of us.
There was something else Saleh observed during the depths of Bashar Assad’s Khomeinist-backed war on his own people that struck me as a critically important insight. A socialist intellectual, Saleh put it this way: “I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. . . Syria is only an additional occasion for their old anti-imperialist tirades, never the living subject of the debate.” Ukrainians have come to know something of that lately, too.
I’d stumbled onto what Saleh noticed on my own during the 2015 federal election campaign, seeing a confluence of the “left” standpoint on the Syria question with that of the far right: The abstentionism of Britain’s hysterical anti-refugee gasbag Nigel “this is not our war” Farage finds its Canadian parallel in the pseudo-pacifism of the NDP’s ostensibly “progressive” Thomas Mulcair: “This is not our fight.”
Two years ago, this odd state of affairs induced a kind of cognitive dissonance among quite a few young progressive Hongkongers. Alliance Canada Hong Kong executive director Cherie Wong, who describes herself as a “very left” 24-year-old intersectional feminist, was puzzled that the New Democrats and the Liberals were weak on foreign policy generally and on China policy specifically.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, on the other hand, was way ahead of Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the Greens and the Bloc. His policy prescriptions on China and Hong Kong and Xinjiang were robust, detailed, and wholly consistent with what Hong Kong’s democratic insurrectionists had been calling for. “If the NDP had policy like that, I wouldn’t hesitate to support the NDP,” Wong told me, “but this kind of leadership on China issues is not evident in any of the other parties, especially with the Liberals right now.”
Fast forward to this past weekend, when 50,000 people gathered in a rally in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill - an amazing turnout, and one of 150 solidarity rallies around the world. Both Trudeau and Joly were invited to speak. Neither even bothered to respond to the invitation.
The freshly-minted Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre was invited. He went, he spoke, he articulated a solid and militant pro-democracy policy for Iran, and he was quite loudly cheered.
How too awkward.
You want awkward? There’ll be a lot more of that below the paywall involving the Iran lobby and climate change and China and the Trudeau government’s chronic unseriousness. It’ll be quite data-rich. I’ll start with awkwardness about Richmond Hill’s Liberal MP Majid Jowhari, and the reasons why the organizers of that massive weekend rally quite understandably denied him the opportunity of the podium. He’d wanted to make a speech. They told him to go away.
They probably did him a favour.