Though Mr. Harper’s brief address to the troops contained many good lines, memorable for their pith if not their eloquence, it was much more than a rah-rah speech. It was a national mission statement.
It wasn’t just his invocation of a warrior heritage (“cutting and running … is not the Canadian way”) that generations of nationalist mythmakers have tried to paint over. It was his explicit appeal to Canadian idealism. Or perhaps should I say his challenge to it: Mr. Harper wasn’t flattering Canadians, in the manner of so many previous political leaders, on our matchless national worth. He was daring us to prove it.
The Afghanistan mission, he told the troops, is “about more than just defending Canada’s interest.” It is also “about demonstrating an international leadership role for our country. Not carping from the sidelines, but taking a stand on the big issues that matter.”
Our elites seem to have taken their cue from the self-esteem movement: that endless praise, and avoidance of criticism or negative commentary, is necessary and sufficient to good performance and self-confidence.
But that hasn't worked for our schoolchildren, many of whom have developed inflated egos and senses of entitlement even as they fail to learn the minimum skills necessary to become productive adults. And it hasn't worked for Canada, where praise for our national moral virtue seemingly exempts us from actually practicing it.
Stephen Harper's speech could have been given by Lester Pearson, that great hero of Canadian foreign policy, peacekeeping and Liberalism. Yet modern liberals, small-l and big-L, have proven themselves to be unworthy of the very legacy they claim to promote.
Our claims to robust middle power status were reduced to a pathetic joke, when we had neither the strength or the will to back up our moralizing.
"Our Canada is a great place, but Canada is not an island." And yet our elites acted as if it were, blithely ignoring threats against Canada from Islamic terrorism because they couldn't believe that not everyone loved them, and their idea of Canada, as much as they loved themselves.
And yet we stood aloof from Iraq, and hectored the American-led coalition, claiming to be defending the sanctity of international law as cover for Jean Chretien's protection of Paul Desmarais' Iraqi oil concessions.
And yet we still think that if we shut out the world, the world will not affect us.
Stephen Harper doesn't believe in the myths that our elites do.
And that's what terrifies them, more than the prospect of Canadian soldiers being killed in Afghanistan.