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Norman Spector

A teachable moment Add to ...

I doubt that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications advisers will be thrilled with the headline in this morning's Globe and Mail. For all I know, some may even see it as part of one of their favourite memes, the so-called Liberal media conspiracy.

In this strongly held view, they are unlikely to be deterred by reading the article beneath the headline, wherein it is reported that the Prime Minister was actually blaming Canada's refugee determination system, not our country, for his government's decision to impose a visa requirement on Mexican visitors. Nor will some of Mr. Harper's shriller political opponents, who'll see the headline as a gaffe to be jumped on with an eagerness not seen since communion wafers became a matter of secular public discussion.

As a low-blow artist of considerable propensity himself, Mr. Harper no doubt knows that, in an era of sound-bite politics, a prime minister blaming his own country is simply not done. For anything. However, if he's wise, he'll seize on the controversial headline as a teachable moment, much as President Barack Obama recently did with the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Sure, many pols and pundits said Mr. Obama had committed a gaffe - defined by cynics as a politician telling the truth - in saying that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" when they arrested the professor in his own home. And polls showing that the President took a big hit by involving himself in the controversy would certainly bear them out.

That said, the truth is that Americans have unfinished business in the matter of race relations. On our side of the border, the truth is that the refugee determination system is broken and that successive governments of two political stripes have done nothing about it - notwithstanding the advice of public servants for more than twenty years. As Prime Minister, Mr. Harper now has an opportunity to take on this unfinished business - not just to talk about the system, but to propose ways to fix it.

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