Martin Cauchon wants Canada to be a strong soft power again.
After months of playing footsie with the Liberal membership base, former Justice Minister and noted Chretien-loyalist/footsoldier Cauchon is finally entering the Liberal leadership race.
Well, assuming he can get enough signatures. The former Montreal heavyweight is still scrambling to get his nomination papers signed so that he can enter the race.
A month ago, when Cauchon was dipping his pinky toe into the wading pool of the race, he sent out the text of a speech he delivered in Berlin to the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Confounded political journalists struggled to make sense of the former Outremont MP’s meandering meditation on Canada’s role in the international community.
Notably, they wondered how Cauchon, formerly one of the most powerful men in the country, or his speechwriter could misspell the name of the Prime Minister of Canada — Steven Harper.
One journalist graciously hooked me up with a copy. I’ve attached it above for your viewing pleasure.
Of course, a few things become alarmingly obvious when reading through that speech. Namely, it doesn’t actually say anything.
My first reaction was to think — how is it possible that the Liberals could go from such a noted internationalist as Michael Ignatieff to a man who, despite his hefty credentials, offers us this:
“It is through co-operation, discussion and intellectual curiosity that we will get to know each other better, that we will use difference as a catalyst for peace.”
He goes on to say that most conflicts are actually rooted in a “lack of willingness to learn.”
But trying to contrast that with all the substantiveness of Ignatieff’s reign proves difficult. Ignatieff, like Cauchon’s lofty-yet-simplistic speech, didn’t actually do anything of substance. He was a man of the world, who didn’t seem to care about the world very much. Of course, Harper’s “he didn’t come back for you” shtick helped quash any hopes Ignatieff had of playing to Canada’s sense of being an international diplomatic rockstar.
There will be a few truisms of the nominally left-of-center parties in the House — they support international development projects, they (generally) oppose war and they really like the UN.
Beyond that, at least in the last few years, there hasn’t actually been much else.
Maybe understandably so. The economic crisis forced the big parties to re-orient their rhetoric to as local as possible.
But Cauchon’s lede is a very good one, even if it’s not true: why aren’t we popular internationally anymore?
Maybe the most promising sign that Cauchon understands the sizeable gap in our national dialog where international affairs used to be, he invokes Lester B. Pearson, noted Nobel Peace Prize winner and bowtie aficionado. And that’s fantastic.
If Trudeau is harkening back to his father’s nationalistic charm and popularity, then it makes sense for Cauchon to channel Pearson’s brand of internationalism, social democracy and economic liberalism.
The fight of the dead prime ministers, as it were.
Yet, while that may be both the fight Cauchon wants and the fight the Liberal Party — and, probably, Canada — needs, it’s hard to find Pearson in either this speech’s tone or substance. See this rhetorical dud:
“I believe that Canada should continue to play an important role as a ‘soft power’ because more than ever it is through soft power that we will succeed. I prefer negotiations over bullets.”
Cauchon was here, perhaps, trying to construct a more sound-byteworthy, Tweetable, less offensive version of Pearson, who said it with a touch more flare (albeit with a hint of ableism/racism): “The grim fact is that we prepare for war like precocious giants, and for peace like retarded pygmies.”
But hey, the thought is there.
While Cauchon accuses Harper of wrecking the positive image that Canada once had, he doesn’t offer much of an alternative — help the poor, un-kill Kyoto, be a peace-broker for Israel-Palestine.
That, to an extent, is okay. This was a hardly the speech of his political life. But if Cauchon is serious about taking on Trudeaumania, he should hone this vision and really begin properly channeling Pearson. Play to nostalgic —misplaced and, frankly, a little primitivist — images of Canadians walking through throngs of cheering Africans as they stroke the Canadian flag pin on their backpack. That’s a powerful image to many.
So I, for one, am very happy to see a man of such gravitas enter the race. I am somewhat less happy to see a man of that stature sign off a speech with…this:
“Let me close with the words of one of the most prominent voices for cultural diplomacy, Bono, who once said ‘the world needs more Canada.’”
Stop. Quoting. Bono.