By Scott Taylor
Canadian media outlets reported last week that Chris Alexander intends to throw his hat in the ring with a bid to become the next leader of the Conservative Party. Alexander was elected to parliament in 2011 and is considered to be an incredibly ambitious politician.
His loyalty to the Conservative Party in general and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in particular resulted in his rapid promotion to cabinet minister. Appointed as minister of Immigration in July 2013, Alexander held that post until the Conservatives flamed out in last October’s election.
It was during that extended election period that the shine came off Alexander’s heretofore carefully manufactured Golden Boy reputation. First it was his arrogant and cavalier handling of the Syrian refugee crisis.
The heart-wrenching photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach had prompted an outpouring of anger and sorrow from the Canadian public. Little Aylan Kurdi was just one of the thousands of asylum seekers fleeing the war in Syria, but his death sparked demands for why Canada had not done more to help in this crisis.
Instead of adopting an apologetic, sympathetic tone, Alexander combatively accused the media of being to blame for having ignored the plight of the Syrian refugees. When confronted with factual proof of the contrary — including several televised news panels in which Alexander had himself participated in — people began asking, “Who is this guy?” — and not in a good way.
Unable to shun the spotlight, Alexander and his Conservative colleague Kellie Leitch called for the establishment of a national “barbaric cultural practices” tip line. The notion of Canadians calling a snitch line to report on their neighbours’ activities created an angry public backlash against the Harper Conservatives.
When the dust settled on October 19, 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were in power and Golden Boy Alexander was an unemployed, one-term parliamentarian. However, now that he is dusting off his resumé and looking for the party leader’s job, it is interesting to note that he is still granted blanket kudos for his previous endeavours.
For instance, the Toronto Star reported that “Alexander won praise for his work as a diplomat in Afghanistan.” It is true that Alexander was Canada’s youngest ever ambassador, serving as the envoy to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, and that he remained in Kabul as the deputy special representative of the UN mission until 2009.
However, even if Alexander was earning himself heaps of unearned praise during his tenure in Kabul, we now know without a doubt that the entire Afghan intervention was giant balls-up from the get-go.
Alexander was one of the key architects in negotiating Canada’s redeployment of troops from Kabul to Kandahar in 2005. Even as our casualties began to mount alarmingly in this far more violent region, Alexander would breathlessly insist to any reporter who would listen that Canada was essentially ‘one building of a schoolhouse away’ from an allied victory.
According to him, the deathwatch journalism back home in Canada was a case of nervous citizens seeing the Afghanistan glass as being half empty whereas, from his perspective, the Canadian-led reconstruction efforts had that glass brimming over.
In the interest of full disclosure, I had the dubious pleasure of interviewing Alexander in his spacious Kabul UN office in January 2007. I had just returned from an arduous trek north, where I had interviewed the reclusive and notorious Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum in his Sheberghan stronghold. Alexander was angry with me for engaging with what he claimed to be the “old Afghanistan” and not the democratic paradise he was intent on creating.
For the record, since September 2014 Dostum has served as Afghanistan’s vice president and, as such, he still remains very much a part of the real and present landscape in that war-ravaged corner of the world.
Canada lost 158 soldiers killed, with a further 2,000 wounded or injured. The total cost — including long-term medical care for our veterans — is expected to top $20-billion. There was no victory; instead, we failed utterly.
I believe that we not only need to admit this, but that we should follow Britain’s lead and establish a full parliamentary investigation into who exactly made those costly mistakes.
For instance, who thought it would be a good idea to send in an inexperience ambassador who saw only what he wanted to see and not what was really unfolding? We can’t blame Alexander for being out of his depth, but clearly he was.