Speaking to the Liberal policy renewal conference on Sunday, Fowler blasted the leading federal political parties for letting the country’s foreign policy be dictated by special interests.
Fowler said both major parties have been enticed by the allure of political gains within the Jewish community. He said it is a strategy that leads to an unproductive support for Israel and undermines Canada’s reputation as a trusted mediator in the Middle East.
“The scramble to lock up the Jewish vote in Canada meant selling out our widely admired and long-established reputation for fairness and justice,” Fowler said.
“As the globe has become smaller and meaner, Canadian governments have turned inward and adopted me-first stances across the international agenda,” he said.
“Canada’s reputation and proud international traditions have been diminished as a result.”
The conference was immediately set abuzz by Fowler’s comments, and he became the de facto topic of conversation in the corridors outside the main ballroom.
Delivered at 8:30 a.m., the speech was like a splash of cold water for delegates at a cerebral gathering.
And if Fowler didn’t mince his words about Canada’s current foreign policy, he was downright ruthless in his message to the Liberal party, which he warned risked “losing its soul” in its quest for power.
“I have the impression that they will endorse anything and everything which might return them to power,” he said.
His frankness could complicate life for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who was forced to dance around Fowler’s condemnation of his party’s stance on Israel.
“Robert Fowler is a Canadian hero,” Ignatieff told a news conference following his closing speech Sunday afternoon.
“I didn’t agree with every syllable, but that’s exactly the kind of challenge that our party needs.”
When pressed further, however, Ignatieff was categorical in his rejection of Fowler’s claim the Liberals pander to the ethnic vote.
“I’m looking you in the eye and saying that it’s not (true).”
Still the criticism is likely to raise eyebrows given its source.
Fowler spent five months as an al-Qaida hostage in western Africa in 2009 after being kidnapped while serving as the United Nations special envoy to Niger.
He also served as a diplomat and adviser under Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Brian Mulroney.
At the heart of his speech was an impassioned plea for Ottawa to reorient its foreign policy toward Africa, where he said population growth and endemic instability threaten the West’s security.
Money spent in Afghanistan, he argued, would go much further in Africa.
“The bottom line is that we will not prevail in Afghanistan,” he said.
“We are simply not prepared to foot the massive price in blood and treasure which it would take to effectively colonize Afghanistan … and replace their culture with ours, for that seems to be what we seek.”
But before launching into his broadside, Fowler prefaced his remarks by noting he owes his release last year to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He acknowledged that his blunt remarks “may not sound like a terrific way to express my appreciation for the fact I’m alive.”
News from ©The Canadian Press, 2010