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Economic Turmoil, Squabbling Politicians, But Still No Cholera

December 5, 2008

So, a Canadian, an Indian and a Zimbabwean walk into a bar.

“We have a terrible crisis in my country,” says the Zimbabwean. “Hundreds have already died of cholera. Things have got so bad that even the soldiers are rioting.”

“We also have a crisis in my part of the world,” the Indian chimes in. “A terrorist attack in our beautiful city of Mumbai killed more than a hundred people, and it seems increasingly likely that a group based in Pakistan was responsible. The mood between the two countries is becoming dangerously hostile.”

Both of them look expectantly at the Canadian.

“Er, our economy hasn’t grown very much this year,” he mutters into his single malt. “And our parliament has been, you know, prorogued… We might even end up with a coalition…” He shrugs, lamely. “You know. A crisis. No cholera yet, though.”

I don’t intend to downplay the real pain associated with job losses and other manifestations of economic turmoil, or the frustrations of seeing our parliamentarians behave like a pack of overtired fourth graders. Stephen Harper’s belligerent partisanship in the latest round of squabbling has been particularly ugly and deplorable, although the “coalition” parties have been less than constructive in their single-minded attacks on Harper’s jugular. The result has been a political mess unprecedented in Canadian history, at least in detail, and some unfortunate side effects such as the exacerbation of tensions between the west and Quebec.

Still, the jötnar are not exactly marching on the walls of Asgard. I’ve never been thrilled with Michaelle Jean as Governor General, but she made a reasonable decision by agreeing to prorogue parliament until January 26. Perhaps Harper’s near-death experience plus a few weeks of reflection on all sides will engender some willingness to compromise when the MPs return to the chamber. In other words, the safeguards built into our constitutional monarchy are keeping the ship of state afloat, and it would probably float well enough even with an unwieldy Liberal-dominated coalition at the helm. Indeed, our friends in coalition-prone countries such as Germany and Italy might be forgiven for wondering why the possibility seems so disconcerting to some Canadian commentators. The worst that could happen is probably an election early next year, but we’ll grin and bear it if necessary. There still won’t be any cholera.

This brings me back to parts of the globe that are experiencing real misery. Whatever may be happening on Parliament Hill, Canadians should stay aware of the misery in Zimbabwe and the deadly tensions on the Indian subcontinent, not to mention the awkward situations in Sudan, Somalia, Thailand, and other current and potential trouble spots around the globe. I’m sure I’ll find more to say about the Mumbai (alias Bombay) incident in a few days or weeks, once further information about the identity and motivations of the attackers becomes available. For the moment, let’s simply avoid forgetting what a real crisis looks like.


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7 Comments leave one →
  1. corsullivan permalink*
    December 9, 2008 2:09 pm

    Scott! Good to see you back here – it’s been a while. You’re absolutely right, of course, about the existence of significant poverty within Canada. It’s hard to know how our resources should be allocated: the more money we put into foreign aid, the less we have available to alleviate hardship and deprivation here in Canada. The whole business of alleviating suffering, at home and abroad, also needs to be balanced against investment in things that make Canada better, from roads to universities to fighter jets.

    It’s a perpetual problem made worse by the fact that there’s no objectively correct answer. As a nation, we just have to attend to our basic needs, satisfy some proportion of our impulses and desires (humanitarian and otherwise), and still be able to live with ourselves afterwards. Simple, right?

  2. Scott Y permalink
    December 8, 2008 10:44 pm

    I agree with the general gist of your argument Cor, that Canada’s recent problem pale in comparison to the misery in some other parts of the world. It reminds me of the foreign aid argument where critics argue that we should be taking care of ‘Canadians first’ rather than sending money overseas?

    I’ve never liked this perpetual one-downmanship game, that my misery is more worthy than your misery. I also believe that Canada has a responsibility to be a foreign aid donor to alleviate suffering in other parts of the world.

    But lest we forget that while we’re going through economic challenges and have had some very entertaining political drama, we also still have some significant poverty challenges domestically. There are First Nations reserves in Canada that still have what UN officials call ‘third world conditions’. Let the one-downmanship stop. Nobody is immune to poverty, disease, suffering or crisis.

  3. corsullivan permalink*
    December 7, 2008 12:24 pm

    Renee and Jon – Thanks for the comments, and for raising some really good points. Renee, I’m glad that your family are safe in Shanti Doot, and I hope they’re not too badly shaken by recent events.

    I’m not sure how extensively the UN is involved in the rural parts of Zimbabwe at the moment, but I’ll keep an eye out for reports that address this. Infant mortality is actually only slightly higher than the global average according to Wikipedia. Looking at the tables, I was surprised by how high the numbers were across the board, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been.

    The BBC has an informative profile of Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Mumbai attacks were apparently not too far from their usual modus operandi. However, their “signature issue” is the fight over Kashmir, which doesn’t fit with reports that the terrorists in Mumbai were specifically trying to target Britons, Americans and Israelis. It will be interesting to see what further information emerges. Regarding Jon’s point about how much or how little remains to be said, I think rational discussion of an event like this can only be helpful. If possible, we need to understand exactly what happened and why, not least because we may learn lessons that will be useful in preventing or mitigating future attacks.

    Canada and other Western countries seem to have few good options when it comes to dealing with Zimbabwe. Denouncing Mugabe can’t hurt, but I’m not sure it will particularly help. On the other hand, more meaningful involvement would be costly and would run up against all the usual anti-interventionist arguments, some of which I find quite forceful.

    Finally, I quite agree with Jon about the need for leadership in Canada. In the grand scheme of things, we’re not doing so badly – but the galling part is that we could be doing so much better.

  4. canworldjon permalink*
    December 6, 2008 11:04 pm

    Great post, Corwin. It would be, on my part, unconscionable to pit Canada’s constitutional and/or political troubles against Zimbabwean’s strife and hardship. Nor compare it to the recent terrible events in Mumbia.

    On Zimbabwe, I think British PM has taken the right step here: calling on the world, in the spirit of past global consensus against apartheid, to join in chorus to say to Mugabe: enough is enough. This is no time for ghosts of Haiti, with Western powers working out deals “behind the scenes” to skirt political processes and scuttle leaders to safe third countries. This is something Zimbabweans can, and should work out, but as I have argued before, the international community does have a role to play: speak united. And let Zimbabweans hear.

    On Mumbia – Can much be said about the tragedies? About the senselessness of it all? Or has all that needs to be said, been said, by those most deeply affected, those who have lost the most, such that we must pass over in silence, in respect, at least for now. Perhaps, perhaps not.

    World concern aside, Canadian anxiety about these uncertain economic times, I sense, is very real. Sadly, the hubris and arrogance of our politicians has only exacerbated the problem. Are we on the verge of collapse? Of course not, as Adam points out. We need not be worried, as England’s great folk baird Billy Bragg might warn, “that the third world is just around the corner”. But as Canada has seemed to transform overnight from a country returning stable majority governments, to political instability and senseless politicking, we need leadership. And fast.

  5. reneethewriter permalink
    December 6, 2008 12:46 pm

    Cor, I’ve just finished reading your piece, directly after having read Adam’s excellent post of the issue du jour here in the home country. I’ve posted my thanks to Adam and now, to you.

    I’m proud of this site and my fellow writers: there’s good stuff here.

    re Zimbabwe – do we know what kind of U.N. response, if any, has been allowed to penetrate into rural areas and what are the recent stats are on child mortality?

    If I remember correctly, Zimbabwe clocks in with one of the worst child mortality rates in the world, right down there with Haiti? Is that correct?

    re Bombay/Mumbai – I was born in Poona/Pune – the old British Hill station of Bombay – and my father’s family have called Mumbai home for generations. Thankfully, our family home, “Shanti Doot,” (House of Peace) in the suburb of Ville Parle, is still standing and my family is fine.

    I’ve been inundated with articles from around the globe about the latest Mumbai terror attacks. I am still “processing.” I very much look forward to your further comments/analysis. What information do you have on the terrorist group, Laskar- e -toiba?

  6. December 6, 2008 11:45 am

    Hear, hear!


  1. Canadian troubles… World Crises « Canada’s World

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