Saturday, September 19, 2009

The candidate

Turns out there's a new candidate on the scene, one who the Conservatives might consider running some of those "just visiting" ads against...oh wait...they'd have to run them against one of their own. Chris Alexander. The former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan who has spent most of his adult life outside Canada, is running for the Conservatives in...wait for it...Ajax-Pickering. The fact that the Conservatives have welcomed a candidate as highly qualified as Alexander is not surprising. But the hypocrisy should be noted. The news puts the lie to the Conservative ads, they don't really mean it. Otherwise, Alexander wouldn't be permitted to run for them. That silly ad stuff is only meaningless fluff meant for Liberals.

Much has been made of the fact that a supposed dance occurred between Alexander and both the Liberals and Conservatives prior to Alexander's decision to run for the Conservatives. But was there any doubt, really? Alexander admits he's a life-long Conservative, his family is Conservative, he has longstanding ties with Harper's former chief of staff, Ian Brodie. As a Canadian, he would have developed strong ties with the Harper government during his time as UN representative in Afghanistan. So his decision in terms of the personal connections is not surprising at all. Alexander admits this so you have to wonder about the Globe's spinning of this as a loss to the Liberals.

It's also not surprising if you're sitting where Alexander is if you're looking at your opportunities for advancement. Looking at the two parties, who gives him a better shot to be a cabinet minister? Alexander would leap-frog past all of Harper's present ministerial bunch. All of them, without a doubt. On the Liberal side, not so much. Quite a few candidates ahead of him.

In terms of what the Harper government's foreign affairs record is, however, Alexander's decision is surprising. This is not exactly a foreign affairs record to be proud of at all. Someone should ask Alexander whether he agrees with the removal of the word "humanitarian" from Canada's foreign policies on "international humanitarian law." The word has been excised. Someone should ask Alexander whether he agrees with Canada backing off its support for prosecutions at the International Criminal Court for those committing acts of sexual violence in the Congo. The Americans recently stepped up but we're backing down. And such changes have all taken place behind closed doors, as Conservative staffers strike out legally and diplomatically significant policies with their political antennae being exercised above all else, including the concerns of Foreign Affairs personnel. Alexander used to be one of those. Then of course we've had the summer of standing down for Canadian citizens abroad. Abdelrazik, Suaad Mohamud, continued appeals to courts to stave off acting to repatriate Omar Khadr. There's the Harper government's dithering on climate change too. None of which were enough for Alexander, former foreign service member to say no to the Conservatives. He's on board for the Harper foreign affairs agenda.

It might be that the extension of the Afghanistan mission is something that Alexander would be looking to change. While he expressed respect for the 2011 parliamentary resolution's deadline, it doesn't mean there couldn't be another one brought before parliament in the future. Is that what Alexander would hope a Conservative majority would do in order to obtain such an extension? Probably a question that will dog him. And Alexander has spoken of the Afghanistan challenge as being a "generational" one, so an extension would be a position you'd expect of him. It'll be fair game to pursue him on it. But anyway, the policy part of it is down the road.

The more immediate concern will be how all the Afghanistan stuff plays in Ajax-Pickering. That might be another story. Alexander's smart enough to know he can't run on that issue there. But no doubt his opponent will try to make him seem like an international interloper. What's good for the goose is good for the gander and all that sort of thing.

And it has to be noted, what a very interesting riding for the born and bred Torontonian Alexander to run in. For such a formidable candidate, you'd think the Conservatives might dare to actually make a run at Toronto. I mean, if not Alexander, you wonder who they'd ever run in Toronto. So Ajax-Pickering, home of local MP Mark Holland it is for Alexander. The parachute aspect may not go over so well in the riding against the well known local boy Holland. If I were Holland, I'd ask him why he's not running in his own hometown of Toronto that's so close by. If Alexander were to knock him off, it would be quite surprising.

Another great race to watch. If we ever get around to that election, that is.