I wonder how many people are familiar with a woman by the name of Marine Le Pen. Probably not too many on this side of the Atlantic. But my bet is that may well change in the very near future.
Le Pen is a French politician on the far-right of the political spectrum. Twice she has been defeated in an election for the presidency of France. She is running again in a third attempt and this time it is a cliff-hanger. In a run-off election which usually occurs in French presidential politics, a poll conducted by YouGov shows current President Emmanuel Macron with a plurality of 51 per cent with Le Pen at 49 per cent. That is well within the margin of error.
Why should that be of concern to us? Let’s get to that.
Marine Le Pen is an avowed populist. As well, if elected she has pledged to take France out of NATO. She is a Putin sympathizer, proposes to establish a “privileged partnership” with Russia, and believes Ukraine has been “subjugated” by the United States. She would initiate a referendum to take France out of the European Union and she is in favour of abolishing the International Monetary Fund.
According to the news outlet Politico, Le Pen’s surname “in some circles is synonymous with racism and xenophobia.” Her election as president of France would also be a win for Putin and would dramatically and negatively change the landscape of Europe and alter the already-fragile balance of power globally.
To top it off, former United States president Donald Trump has all but endorsed Marine Le Pen as president of France. Certainly, he has made no bones about the fact that he admires her, just as he has been known to praise Vladimir Putin.
Shut your eyes for a moment and just imagine a world only a few years from now: with China opposed to Western democracy, Vladimir Putin still president of Russia and still getting away with whatever he wants, Marine Le Pen as president of one of Europe’s leading nations, and Donald Trump once again president of the United States.
Improbable perhaps, but not impossible. Even the prospect is enough to make one shudder. It would be a marriage made in hell.
Populism as a political alternative is gaining momentum and it is doing so at the expense of a global response to international issues. We are prone to put more emphasis on our rights, our so-called freedoms and our immediate prosperity, and to worry less about what is happening in other parts of the world and the subsequent eventual and inevitable consequences to our own way of life if they are ignored.
Ukraine is an appropriate example. The West, including Canada, is talking the good talk when it comes to this tragic war, the inexcusable invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the massive destruction and loss of life, the genocide and the rape.
But are we walking the walk? At the end of the day, will Russia have achieved its goals? Lip service aside, will we have allowed it to do so? And if they do get away with it, where does it stop? What does it say to every other global power with an eye to expanding their territory to gain additional resources at a time when the entire world is changing in so many ways?
If we think Canada is immune to this, we are fooling ourselves. We need to ask at what point caution has trumped courage and isolationism has muted our recognition that what happens elsewhere will inexorably affect what happens here. What goes around comes around.
Indeed, there are signs now in this country that are disturbing. It is only months ago that we endured civil disobedience across Canada, all under the guise of a “freedom convoy” that disrupted commerce, blocked borders, and held communities hostage. Pandemic restrictions were the catalyst but not the cause. What started as a legitimate protest, ended with chilling aspects of insurrection. Those who were yelling the loudest for “freedom” were the very ones who were seeking to control it.
The unrest that we witnessed then may be in remission now, but it has not gone away. Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum are catering to the frustration of Canadians—some Liberals by attempting to be all things to all people and some Conservatives by riding on the coattails of the so-called freedom movement.
It particularly annoys me that Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre has practically adopted the freedom movement as part of his campaign; indeed, as a home for it. He continues to woo the radical portion of that movement and his support of the illegal blockades was highly evident and well-publicized. I agree with Jean Charest that no member of Parliament has the right to treat the rule of law in Canada as a buffet. In fact, no one does.
The bun fight we are witnessing in the Conservative leadership campaign at the moment is unfortunate, but sadly necessary. Moderate conservatism and moderate liberalism have collectively been the backbone of Canada’s identity, reputation, and success since confederation. The Liberals have now moved further to the left and the Conservatives are going through an identity crisis that needs to be resolved.
In the long run, polarized politics with no middle ground, with ‘my way or the highway’ attitudes, do not work. It divides the country, it tarnishes our reputation, and it prevents progress. In my view, both the Liberals and Conservatives in Canada need to move back toward the middle, with competing visions for what is best for Canadians but with moderate policies, an ability to compromise when appropriate, and with respect for differing viewpoints when they cannot. From a Conservative perspective, that is something I believe Jean Charest—and, yes, longshot though he is, Scott Aitchison—could bring to the table.
Since World War Two, Canada has held an important place on the world stage, particularly because we have demonstrated how much a relatively small country can contribute globally in many different ways. My sense is that influence is now diminishing at a time it is badly needed, as much of the world is beginning to view Canada in a different light.
The first important step to reversing that is to get our own house in order.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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