Thursday, July 28, 2011

Harper takes principled stand on Israel

Few issues have earned Prime Minister Stephen Harper as much praise or scorn as has his strong and consistent support for the state of Israel.

Some have lavishly lauded Harper's pro-Israel stance as courageously standing up for a democratic ally; others have vehemently condemned him as a cynical apologist for Zionist occupiers.

But for me, this issue elicits a some what tamer reaction, something akin to satisfaction.

OK that might sound strange, but let me explain.

To my mind, Harper's strong support for Israel is a welcome sign that he still retains at least some of the principles he once held during the time we worked together at the National Citizens Coalition.

In case, you're not up on your Harper history, let me give a brief backgrounder.

From 1998 to 2001, Harper was president of the NCC, which at the time was Canada's leading conservative advocacy group and I was his vice president.

And during his stint at the NCC's helm, Harper was a principled small "c"conservative who vigorously urged politicians to balance budgets, cut spending and to generally make government smaller.

Since becoming Prime Minister, however, Harper has largely turned his back on the principles of fiscal conservatism he once passionately espoused.

Rather than making government smaller, he has made it bigger; rather than cutting back on spending he has plunged the country into a sea of red ink.

This has seriously disappointed me and many other fiscal conservatives who were hoping Harper would implement a true small government agenda.

But despite my disappointment, a part of me doesn't want to believe my old comrade has completely forsaken his values.

That's why I often find myself striving to find evidence that the Harper I once worked with still exists, that his soul still contains some glimmer of the principled NCC president.

His stance on Israel is just such a glimmer.

Now please understand the NCC under Harper did not take any public stances on Israel. We were concerned mainly with domestic policies and issues.

But he and I had many conversations about Mideast politics and his view was
clear: he believed Canada must remain loyal and true to Israel.

He believed this not out of any religious conviction, but because he said Israel was the only country in the Mideast that shared our democratic traditions and values.

And so he was, as he once put it to me, "extremely pro-Israel".

And today, he is following through on his belief.

Canada is now widely considered Israel's "best friend" because as Harper himself put it, "those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are in the longer term a threat to all of us."

Now don't get me wrong.

I am not naïve enough to believe that there isn't some cynical political calculation that's also involved when it comes to Harper's relationship to Israel.

After all, the Jewish state is no ordinary country.

By standing firmly behind Israel the Conservatives can attract Canadian Jewish votes; they can appease their evangelical Christian base (which is vehemently pro-Israel) and as a bonus, it's also a policy that's likely popular with mainstream voters.

In a world that's teeming with hostile dictators and fanatical enemies, Canadians probably have strong sympathy these days for a fellow democracy that's in the front-line in the battle against terrorism.

This is a case for the Prime Minister, in other words, where good policy, good politics and personal principle intersect.

And principle and personal conviction are traits we need more of in Canadian politics.

Now if only Harper would go back to supporting the principle of smaller government.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The wisest man I ever knew

One of the wisest men I ever knew never graduated from high school.

He was a painter – and I don’t mean one of those artsy guys who get government grants to draw triangles.

I mean he was a tradesman, a man who worked hard his whole life painting homes and schools and factories.

He used colour to make the world a little more beautiful one brush stroke at a time.

And all the painting and scaffold building and climbing that went with the job, also made him strong.

In his older years, he would take great delight in challenging “young punks”, as he called them, to arm wrestling matches.

He won easily every time.

So why do I say he was wise?

Because he taught me a lot about what was important in life.

For one thing, when I was a teenager he taught me about the importance of education. He did this by getting me a summer job in factory that was so dark, so unbearably hot, so noisy and dirty I figured it was built from blueprints provided by Satan.

When I complained about the conditions, he said, “Well if you don’t want to work in a place like this for the rest of your life, stay in school!”

It was good advice.

He also taught me about the importance of loyalty.

A die-hard Detroit Red Wings fan, he stuck by his team even during the long drought of the 60s, 70s and 80s, decades during which the team was about as successful as a Michael Moore diet plan.

Yet, loyalty to his country superseded all else.

When the Red Wings finally won a Stanley Cup in 1997, their first in 42 years, I thought he would be deliriously happy.

But he wasn’t.

When I asked him why he wasn’t celebrating Detroit winning the Cup, he replied with an answer that would have made Don Cherry proud: “The Red Wings have too many God damned Russians on the team.”

Ironically, one thing this wise man never taught me was how to paint.

And that’s just as well because it meant I could always turn to him when I needed some painting done.

Not that I ever had to ask.

Whenever I moved into a new apartment or house, he would always show up on my doorstep, a brush in one hand, a can of paint in the other.

Of course, like any craftsman, he never tolerated amateurs messing up his work.

And so one time when my wife and I picked up brushes to help him paint around our house he looked at our work with a pained expression and declared: “Please don’t ‘help’ me.”

All this is coming to my mind because a few days ago, that wise man passed away.

I will miss his painting skills, his wisdom and his love.

He was my dad.

I figure right now he is standing on a cloud, a brush in one hand, a can of paint in the other, determined to make heaven look just a little more beautiful, one brush stroke at a time.

He is also probably telling God, “Please don’t help me.”