COLUMN

Double standards on Canada’s left

There is no pernicious lie or action to which our liberals would not be sympathetic— provided, of course, that it comes from the left

BARBARA AMIEL September 25 1989
COLUMN

Double standards on Canada’s left

There is no pernicious lie or action to which our liberals would not be sympathetic— provided, of course, that it comes from the left

BARBARA AMIEL September 25 1989

Double standards on Canada’s left

COLUMN

BARBARA AMIEL

There is no pernicious lie or action to which our liberals would not be sympathetic— provided, of course, that it comes from the left

CBC Radio’s Vicki Gabereau came to London last week and invited me to chat. I took a taxi over to the rabbit warren where the CBC hangs out in Britain, and we both croaked at each other. Gabereau is many things, including an accomplished interviewer. Most of all, she typifies that natural ease and modesty endemic in North American society. Those are the qualities I have missed during the past four years of living in London, where society is oiled by malice and wit, and where life consists of dinner parties on the edge and friendships on the surface.

I have been thinking about my interview with Gabereau, intermittently, ever since we talked. I thought about it, for example, when I watched footage last week of the young East German refugees setting foot on West German soil. The connection between the two events is this: Gabereau asked me what I missed about Canada, and I found that easy to say. One misses one’s country and one’s own familiar life. Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish between the two. What I had more trouble explaining was what I regret about Canada.

The East Germans reminded me. As I listened to a 21-year-old woman and her brother explain how she had waited all her life to live in a free country, I remembered the words of an associate professor in the philosophy department of the University of Toronto. “The primary purpose of putting up the Berlin Wall,” wrote Frank Cunningham in a 1976 book, “was to stop a U.S.-backed campaign of economic sabotage.” According to Cunningham, food and other necessities were so much cheaper in East Germany that a wall had to be built to keep all of us, shopping bags in hand, out of the country. “This is the most important fact about the Berlin Wall,” concluded Cunningham.

On an impulse, I picked up the telephone. I wanted to see if Cunningham, now a full professor at U of T, would have let last week’s events affect his views. “Yes and no,” he replied. “Despite what I wrote, I never doubted that

part of the purpose of the Berlin Wall was to keep people in, especially those with skills. I find that lamentable.”

Well, a partial conversion is better than none. But there is an element in Canada, found especially I think in its civil service, its cultural bureaucracies and allied institutions, that does not wish to make any response to changing realities. That is made manifest in Canada’s foreign policies. For our political mandarins— as well as opinion-makers and intelligentsia— the watchword has been “no enemies to the left.” There is no pernicious lie or action to which our liberals would not be sympathetic— provided, of course, it comes from the left. Communist and socialist regimes have always had the special protection of our policymakers.

Only last week, on the 100th day after the Tiananmen Square massacre, more Chinese dissidents were sentenced to death. But in Canada, this curious lagoon in the world, the body politic acts as if Tiananmen Square had never happened. This summer, we approved the loan of taxpayers’ money to China—business as usual. It is as if, in the words of a friend of mine, Canadian scientists had made a striking new discovery that economic laws operate differently north and south of the equator, or

maybe east and west of the international date line. Sanctions and boycotts are beneficial when applied against the Southern Hemisphere, but have a reverse effect in the north.

The obverse of that attitude is the fury of our liberals at anyone holding a right-of-centre view. That can drive them to desperate measures. An astonishing example was the opinion column written in The Toronto Star on Aug. 31 by Olivia Ward. She began by stating that Canada’s pro-life movement and Romania’s President Nicolae Ceau§escu “have much in common.” Normally, I would have stopped reading there. Even to mention Ceauçescu in the same breath as the pro-life movement is unspeakable. But Ward is not simply some amateur letter writer; she actually writes for the Star on international affairs and the United Nations, so I wanted to see if anything could explain or redeem her unfortunate statement.

Nothing could. From Ward’s point of view, both the pro-life movement and Ceau§escu cause the “rigorous repression of women, hatred of homosexuality, and the belief that reproduction should result from any sexual contact ____” In conclusion, she actually suggested

that Canadians “who oppose reproductive choice ... can apply for citizenship in Romania.”

In my view, there isn’t a responsible paper I can think of outside of Canada that would continue to employ a writer to comment on anything beyond the weather after reading such embarrassingly muddled copy. It is true that, among the many delusions Ceau§escu has, is the idea of a Greater Romania. Unhappy with all his ethnic minorities, he wants to force the Romanians to have more children through draconian anti-abortion laws. His motivation is not the sanctity of human life but rather a Hitlerian notion of racial purity. Except for the utterly incidental result of being against abortion, our pro-life movement and Ceau§escu have no coincidence at all.

But in Canada, even Romania has standing. The European Community has resolved to halt any further trade development with Romania, and West Germany briefly recalled its ambassador, while Portugal and Denmark have closed their embassies. But Canada, well, we are still sending them the technology for a nuclear reactor—one that to all intent is being built by slave labor. It is that sympathy for leftwing totalitarianism that I regret about Canada, and I still wonder why it flourishes.

The answer, I suppose, is that 15 years under Pierre Trudeau led to the entrenching of people of certain views in our liberal establishment and schools. We are still caught in what Tom Wolfe described as a 1960s neo-Marxist fog. In this one limited sense, Canada is a cultural backwater. It views events in the world the way it sees a faraway star—not as it actually is now, but rather as it was when its image began to travel light years ago. That is reinforced by our geography and self-sufficiency, which give Canada natural barriers against hard experience. The result is that we reflect the world as it was—but the world has been changing for the better and, regretfully, in that one sense Canada has not.