Canada filling the lead­er­ship vac­uum

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - OPINION | - Ni­cholas Kristof

Af­ter the Cana­dian for­eign min­is­ter, Chrys­tia Free­land, tweeted con­cern about Saudi Ara­bia’s im­pris­on­ing of a women’s rights ac­tivist, the crown prince there seemed to go nuts. Saudi Ara­bia an­nounced that it was ex­pelling Canada’s am­bas­sador, halt­ing flights to Canada, end­ing pur­chases of Cana­dian wheat, re­call­ing stu­dents from Canada and sell­ing off Cana­dian as­sets. Did the United States or other West­ern coun­tries stand up for an old friend and ally, Canada?

Not a bit.

“The United States doesn’t have to get in­volved,” Heather Nauert, then the State Depart­ment spokes­woman, told re­porters.

Yet Canada stuck to its prin­ci­ples. When a young Saudi woman, Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun, fled to Bangkok last month and warned that she would be killed by her fam­ily if she was forced home, it was Canada that again braved Saudi fury by ac­cept­ing her.

Free­land was at the air­port to wel­come Alqu­nun as a “very brave new Cana­dian.” And Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau didn’t mince words, say­ing, “We’ll stand up for hu­man rights and women’s rights around the world.”

Canada may be one of the world’s more bor­ing coun­tries, as yawn-in­spir­ing as sen­si­ble shoes — wake up, reader, I know you’re snooz­ing! — but it’s also emerg­ing as a moral leader of the free world.

There’s no one else. The United States un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is on a na­tion­al­ist tear. Bri­tain’s lead­ers seem de­ter­mined to drag their peo­ple over a Brexit precipice. France is dis­tracted by protests. Ger­many is pre­par­ing for suc­ces­sion.

So Canada is step­ping up.

Dur­ing the worst of the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ad­mit­ted just 12,000 Syr­i­ans and pro­voked a fu­ri­ous back­lash, in­clud­ing Trump’s Mus­lim ban. Canada ac­cepted 40,000 Syr­i­ans, with Trudeau ap­pear­ing at the air­port to hand out win­ter coats to these new Cana­di­ans.

All around the world, doors to refugees were clang­ing shut. But Cana­di­ans were so ea­ger to spon­sor Syr­i­ans that or­ga­ni­za­tions were clam­or­ing for more of them. Cana­dian politi­cians are mostly re­warded for show­ing com­pas­sion.

Trump gets head­lines with his pe­ri­odic threats to in­vade Venezuela to top­ple Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro, but Canada has been qui­etly work­ing since 2017 to help or­ga­nize the Lima Group of 14 na­tions push­ing for democ­racy in Venezuela. When Canada rec­og­nized the op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaidó as in­terim pres­i­dent, he won cred­i­bil­ity be­cause no­body sees Ot­tawa as an im­pe­ri­al­ist con­spir­a­tor.

Canada has spo­ken up about the mass de­ten­tion of about 1 mil­lion Mus­lims in the Xin­jiang re­gion of China even as Mus­lim coun­tries have mostly kept mum, and it de­tained a Chi­nese ex­ec­u­tive at the re­quest of the Amer­i­can govern­ment. China re­tal­i­ated by ar­rest­ing Cana­di­ans and sen­tenc­ing one to death, but Canada is stick­ing to its guns — even as Trump un­der­cut Canada by sug­gest­ing that the case against the ex­ec­u­tive might be dropped for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

For aid pro­grams in the de­vel­op­ing world, coun­tries usu­ally try to fi­nance big, glam­orous projects that will get lots of at­ten­tion. In­stead, Canada cham­pi­ons pro­grams that are ex­tremely cost-ef­fec­tive but so deathly bor­ing that they will never be dis­cussed on TV — ini­tia­tives like iodiz­ing salt to pre­vent men­tal im­pair­ment.

Reader! Wake up!

Still, Cana­di­ans can be de­vi­ous. A cou­ple of years ago, I sought an in­ter­view with Trudeau for a piece about Canada’s suc­cesses — and he kept stalling. Aides ex­plained that praise from an Amer­i­can might dam­age his re­la­tions with Trump. That may have been the first time I’ve had a leader re­sist lauda­tory cov­er­age.

When­ever I say some­thing nice about Canada, I get in­dig­nant emails from Cana­dian friends point­ing out the coun­try’s short­com­ings (which are real). For­tu­nately, Cana­di­ans don’t seem ca­pa­ble of mean emails. Not even of mean tweets. One study found that Amer­i­cans’ tweets are loaded with curses and words like “hate”: Cana­di­ans’ tweets are larded with “awe­some,” “amaz­ing” and “great.”

(Note: Ig­nore all the bits about Cana­di­ans be­ing nice when play­ing hockey with them. In the rink, they’re brutes.)

Off the ice, Cana­di­ans pur­sue poli­cies that are preter­nat­u­rally sen­si­ble. Cana­di­ans reg­u­late guns, over­see the bank­ing sec­tor so as to avoid fi­nan­cial crashes, and nur­ture en­trepreneur­ship and eco­nomic growth with­out enor­mous in­equal­ity.

Typ­i­cally, more Cana­di­ans use mass tran­sit, and the coun­try has bet­ter traf­fic safety laws, so that the ve­hi­cle fa­tal­ity rate there is half that of the United States’. If the United States had Canada’s traf­fic death rate, we would save more than 20,000 Amer­i­can lives a year.

To­day there’s a vac­uum of con­struc­tive global lead­er­ship. Canada may be in­ca­pable of a mean tweet, but it’s tough when nec­es­sary — and it may be the leader the world needs.

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