By Matt Gouett
One of the best pieces of advice that I have received in my time as a PhD student was regarding the importance of the head nod. The head nod, as it was explained to me, is the important point in any essay, argument or debate where you acknowledge that your point may not be the only point to be made on the subject. A head nod to the contrary argument indicates that you realize that you are not the knower of all things. A head nod to the progression of ideas put forth by Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos that continued questioning and attempts at falsifying begets better theory and practice.
It seems like head nods are few and far between among our current political class in Canada. Issues, as laid out by our politicians, are black and white; and if you sit yourself in the grey, you are labelled a waffler, weak, and implied to be unprincipled. This was especially striking to me this past week when reading Foreign Minister Baird’s comments in front of the American Jewish Committee in Washington. Among other things, Baird regaled the attendees with an anecdote about his summer job at the Department of Foreign Affairs twenty years ago where he was told by an officer that it was difficult to ascertain the “white hats and the black hats” with regard to bombings in northern Israel. Baird, then asserts, that even his early twenties self, knew that Israel was Canada’s “best friend” and Hezbollah was Canada’s “worst enemy.” He then tells the attendees that he intimated to the official that the differences between the white hats and the black hats couldn’t have been more stark.
In the immediate hours leading up to the release of DFATD’s Global Markets Action Plan, those interested in such things were teased by an article on the Globe and Mail’s website outlining how this new foreign policy document was going to force Canada’s diplomats to change their clothes. Not only were diplomats to expect new directives on their wardrobe, but they were told that there was going to be a “culture shift”; marshalling the full force of Canada’s diplomatic core in the pursuit of economic gains was the new direction.
After reading the Global Markets Action Plan and the responses from the usual suspects, I am left with one question: what changed? Did I miss something? The document itself outlines a very broad framework for how the “tweeded-class” at DFATD is to pursue economic linkages with no less than eighty different countries. Yes, that is right; DFATD has decided that Canada is going to take its economic diplomacy and friend eighty different countries. Well, I guess that will be a real slap in the face to Togo, Palau, and Nepal who didn’t get a friend request for Canada’s new and improved economic diplomacy. The point being that for a very long time now, DFATD has been primarily focused on pursuing economic interests; it just has a slick new name now. Don’t believe me? Ask Iran or the United Nations how interested Canada has been in undertaking non-economic diplomacy over the past couple years.
For those that missed it earlier this week, your Treasury Board President Tony Clement, once again refused the technological high-road, and decided to engage in an argument with Tim Edwards, president of the union representing Canada’s striking foreign service officers (PAFSO), with regards to the accuracy of claims made by former Ambassador Derek Burney in his article for .
Let us take this step-by-step. First, Minister Clement claims Burney is misinformed and that the government made a fair and reasonable offer in an attempt to resolve the current work action undertaken by PAFSO. While never having met Mr. Burney, I have met many people that have worked quite closely with him. It seems unlikely that he would willfully not access information for both sides given his links to members in the foreign service union and the Conservative party. Implying that Burney either disregarded the information given to him or did not seek it out in the first place strikes an interesting balance of either calling Burney intellectually dishonest or intellectually lazy, both of which I find distasteful when referring to a citizen of Burney’s stature.