October 18th, 2010

[BRIEF NOTE] It's not Canada's fault it didn't get on the Security Council, well, not only

While discussion about the reasons for Canada's failed bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council is ongoing, emphasizing Canadian foreign policy, absinthe_ca pointed me to some surprisingly intelligent analyses of the situation from David Frum. Canadian foreign policy may have contributed, but broader international politics played a critical role. Canada belongs to a voting bloc that includes western European countries, like (say) winners Germany and Portugal; this has complications.

The Western European and others group nominated not the requisite two candidates, but instead three: Germany and Portugal, as well as Canada. By nominating three, the Western European and Others bloc forfeited its right of decision. That looks like an unwise act. Why did it happen?

The answer has nothing to do with Kyoto or Israel, and everything to do with the internal politics of the European Union. It’s the European Union countries that dominate the Western bloc. Increasingly, the EU countries have been negotiating these UN nominations among themselves first. They decide that they want Germany and Portugal — and then they muscle their way through the rest of the bloc onto the UN floor.

[. . .]

European Union bloc voting gives the EU unintended clout within the Security Council. Remember, Eastern Europe is also a bloc, and it gets one seat on the Security Council, currently held by Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina is not yet a EU member, but it would dearly like to be, and so would other members of the Eastern European group. The EU can pressure EU applicants into complying with EU wishes, even against a supposed EU ally like Canada.

Meanwhile, Brazil's geopolitical heft may have led to the United States' not choosing between Canada and its Lusophone European ally.

Of the five seats that open in January 2011, one belongs to the Latin American bloc.

This seat will go to Colombia. The seating of Colombia is a deserved accolade for a democracy that has successfully battled terrorism and drug gangs. Colombia’s seating also represents a diplomatic victory for the United States: Colombia is a close U.S. ally and a target of subversion from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.

How did the United States score this victory? Answer: with a lot of help from rising regional heavyweight, Brazil. (Brazil also helped the United States stop a Venezuelan bid for the Security Council back in 2006. The seat went instead to Guatemala.)

But when a country like Brazil offers help, it usually expects some kind of payback. Portuguese-speaking Brazil feels a special relationship with its former metropole, Portugal. And we know that Brazil campaigned hard for Portugal in the General Assembly vote.

[. . .]

In the early 2000s, Germany had launched a quixotic bid for a permanent Security Council seat. That bid went nowhere. But as a consolation prize the other European countries agreed to give Germany another early turn in a temporary seat — even though Germany had had a turn very recently, in 2003-2004.

Accelerating Germany’s next turn in this way threatened to displace small country Portugal, which had not had a turn since the 1990s. Portugal declined to stand down.

The United States might have tried to pressure Portugal — but didn’t, because it needed Brazil’s help with the Colombian nomination. Thus, two Western European candidacies went forward at the same time as Canada’s.

Although the United States preferred Canada’s nomination over Portugal’s, the deal with Brazil required the United States to stay neutral between Portugal and Canada both in Brussels and then at the General Assembly.

[BRIEF NOTE] On the new saints, saints of the people

Bertrand Marotte's recent Globe and Mail article examining Brother Andre, a Montreal-based monk from the early 20th century who became Canada's first saint of the new century, highlights

He is of another time, when piety and subservience to the Catholic Church were paramount in average Quebeckers’ lives.

Yet more than 70 years after his death – in a secular age when church attendance is anemic and the institution is under fire for its alleged role in the cover-up of priests’ sexual abuse of children – Brother André’s star is burning bright.

[. . .]

For the Roman Catholic Church and the oratory, it’s an opportunity to get some much-needed good news out, as well as to spread the word about Brother André to the secular world.

“I get the sense that among Quebecois, [Brother André] is viewed as ‘one of our own,’ ” said Father Charles Corso, who heads the pastoral services at the Oratory. “Here is this ordinary Québécois who is now recognized worldwide. Any Québécois with a scintilla of spiritual feeling has to feel a sense of pride, of good pride.”

To attain the status of sainthood, Brother André, whose legend as a miracle worker grew over his long life span, had to have two of his alleged miracles verified and confirmed by the church. The institution insists on keeping the details of the alleged miracles confidential.

The Archbishop of Montreal, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, recently called Brother André – born Alfred Bessette in 1845, an orphan who could barely read and write and became the doorkeeper and janitor at Collège Notre-Dame, across the street from the basilica – a folk hero, akin to hockey great Maurice Richard in the hearts of Quebeckers.

On a radiant, sunny fall day, Esther Lemay stands in front of the massive Oratory and muses about the significance for ordinary Quebeckers of Brother André’s canonization. “He was someone close to the people, he was a man of the people, devoted to them,” said Ms. Lemay, 75, who lives in Shawinigan.

The oratory is playing up Brother André’s common touch with a major advertising campaign that includes television spots and radio ads and even a website. Its public-relations team will post updates, live from the ceremony in Rome, to social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The ad campaign’s tagline is “Brother André, a Friend, a Brother, a Saint.”

This theme, of Brother Andre as a man of the people and a man whose religion is something modern-day Quebecois could sympathize with, is really being played up.

Fr. [Mario] Lachappelle said what interests him most about André’s life is not so much the healings but his unconditional acceptances of others and his ability to speak simply about the love of God. and what he calls his “avant-garde” ecumenism. “What is fascinating about Brother André is that he was so much ahead of his time,” he said. “He was a father figure, and did not have an image of God as a dispenser of justice.”

André, he said, was “avant-garde” in the sense that he was unusually liberal for his time. For example, he befriended non-Catholics and non-Christians, a rarity for devout men of the Church in that era. One of his closest friends was George H. Ham, the Protestant newspaperman who published the first biography of Andre, “The Miracle Man of Montreal,” in 1921.

Mind, whatever Quebecers feel about Brother Andre, and about the province's traditionally close association with Roman Catholic identities of one sort or another, this identity is idiosyncratic. Leaving aside the legality and accepotability of same-sex and common-law relationships, after Cardinal Marc Ouellet condemned abortion even for rape victims, polls revealed that 94% of Quebec's population disagreed with him, newspaper columnists and journalists went after him fiercely, and the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution calling for safe access to abortion for all women. Catholic identity--like religious identity generally--can be elastic.

Still, I suppose the Church is taking what it can get, and if canonizing a man of the people could help ... I wonder if the same phenomenon might be at work in Australia, where Mary Mackillop has become that country's first saint of the 21st century, a woman who foounded and ran her own religious order and was exzcommunicated for a couple of years for exposing and sending off a sex-abuser priest. As in the past, so in the future?