“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” That’s a pretty reasonable piece of advice, even if few people actually adhere to it. It is in our nature to protest and criticize and call things as we see them.
But there is a crucial kernel of wisdom inherent in that saying: debate or disagree if you must, but at least try to be polite.
Unfortunately, a bevy of Canada’s senior ministers are not party to that basic tenet of human decency.
Faced with a critical report Wednesday on food security in this country, they lashed out at the messenger with childish insults and threats.
It was an astounding display of rudeness and hostility against a UN diplomat.
First, let’s be clear.
Olivier De Schuster’s findings were certainly debatable. In fact, even his presence in the country raised a few eyebrows.
As UN special rapporteur specializing in food rights, De Schuster usually visits more agriculturally challenged regions of the world. This year, his bosses changed his mandate, asking him to visit a few wealthier nations. The idea, one supposes, is that he may be able to offer some useful ideas. At worst, it would help him keep Third World problems in perspective.
Following his report, however, here’s what some federal ministers had to say.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was the only minister who agreed to even meet with him. She said it was “disappointing,” that the envoy was “ill-informed” and “a bit patronizing,” and that he was just “another academic studying us from afar.”
She mocked him for not having visited her home in Nunatak, even though De Schuster did visit other aboriginal communities in northern Alberta and Manitoba.
And she said he didn’t understand the lifestyle and challenges faced by northern natives (even though his findings reflected the opinions of other aboriginal leaders).
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also jumped aboard the slugfest, calling De Schuster’s 11-day visit a complete waste of time.
But the most damning comments came from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who called the envoy’s mission “completely ridiculous.”
Kenney even issued what seemed to be veiled threats with respect to Canada’s foreign aid.
“It would be our hope that the contributions we make to the United Nations are used to help starving people in developing countries, not to give lectures to wealthy and developed countries like Canada,” he said.
“And I think this is a discredit to the United Nations.”
No one even thought of adding a token “thanks for the input” or even a halfhearted wish for a safe flight home. It was a schoolyard pile-on, the kind of reaction you’d expect in a bellicose dictatorship, but not a respectable western nation.
It was, in short, another major embarrassment for Canada as a whole. Another notch for the Conservatives in their goal to obliterate this nation’s treasured reputation for civility and diplomacy.
And we wonder why Canada didn’t get a seat on the UN Security Council.