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Fowler blasts Ottawa's inaction in Africa

Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

In the most scathing condemnation of Canada's growing silence before the world, Robert Fowler, the eminent diplomat who was kidnapped by Al Qaeda, excoriated Ottawa's abandonment of Africa Sunday morning.

Before a hushed audience at the Liberal Party's policy conference, Mr. Fowler relentlessly catalogued the "wanton squandering of Canada's reputation," as a respected voice within the dialogue of nations.

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Domestic political posturing "by politicians of every stripe in Canada as they compete to corner the 'ethnic vote'" coupled with he described as a relentless pandering to the superpower to the south has led to "a small-minded, mean-spirited, me-first, little-Canada, whatever-the-Americans-want foreign policy," he berated.

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Specifically, "the scramble to lock up the Jewish vote in Canada' has caused this country to "sell out our widely admired and long-established reputation for fairness and justice in the Middle East, in particular, for the cause of just settlement for the Palestinian people."

As a result the world's failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Fowler believes, Al Qaeda is successfully spreading its message of hate across the Sahel Belt, that part of Africa from Mauritanis on the Atlantic to Somalia on the Indian oceans.

I believe the Liberal Party has lost its way… indeed, is in danger of losing its soul. Robert Fowler

"Unless our friends within this region receive a great deal of clear-eyes, generous, timely and focused assistance," Mr. Fowler declared, "there is a good chance of Al Qaeda realizing their dream of turning the northern part of Africa into a combination of Afghanistan under the Taliban, Darfur and the current murderous anarchy in Somalia."

Consider who is saying this. Mr. Fowler, who is 64, served as foreign policy advisor to Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Brian Mulroney. He was deputy minister of Defence, and represented Canada on the United Nations Security Council.

He was serving as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy to Niger when he was kidnapped by Al Qaeda in December 2008. After five months in captivity, he was released in April 2009.

Mr. Fowler acknowledged the pain he felt at castigating the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which successfully brought about his release.

But this was no partisan Liberal attack. Far from it.

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"I believe the Liberal Party has lost its way… indeed, is in danger of losing its soul," he told the gathering. "Liberals seem prepared to embrace an infinite array of special interests in order to shill for votes, rather than forging a broad-based, principled alliance, founded in deep Liberal traditions, one with a distinct social conscience and an independents, Canadian character."

As Liberal Leader Michael listened impassively, Mr. Fowler urged the abandonment of the mission in Afghanistan, arguing "we will not prevail" because Canada its allies 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, and the Taliban share that view."

And he urged the federal government to refocus and intensify its efforts to aid northern Africa, "to ensure that it does not become a 7,000-km-wide Darfur."

As soon as he concluded, a television reporter rushed past with the videotape of the speech.

"The world needs to hear that," he said.

Liberals, at least, just did.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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