News emerged on Sept. 16 that Canada and the United Kingdom have reached an agreement to share embassies in some countries. While the agreement may help cut costs, its stated goal can also harm Canada’s image abroad.
The agreement, as it stands, doesn’t seem so threatening. Canada will allow British diplomats to work out of its embassy in Haiti. The U.K. will allow Canadian diplomats to work out of its embassy in Burma. In this way, both countries will gain diplomatic representation in countries where they previously had none.
What’s concerning is that the agreement could grow to cover a much longer list of embassies and consulates around the globe. Canada was once a colony of Great Britain and our foreign policy was once dominated by that country. Sharing embassies with our former colonial power certainly calls into question Canada’s independence.
Under the Conservative federal government, Canada has restored the “royal” moniker in the name of its armed forces. Premier Stephen Harper’s government also ordered all Canadian embassies to display a portrait of the Queen. Last year, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird drew criticism for having paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan removed from the lobby of the Department of Foreign Affairs, only to have them replaced by the Queen’s portrait.
It feels almost as if this recent agreement to share embassies is but a small part of a longterm plan to recolonize Canada.
While Canada is regressing, it seems the rest of the Commonwealth is coming-of-age. Jamaica is considering abandoning the monarchy to become a republic, and Australia held a referendum in 1999 on whether to ditch the monarchy and elect its own president; the referendum was defeated, but at least they held a sincere national conversation on the subject.
In the meantime, our government has instead been trying to reassociate Canada with the U.K. out of some stubborn and misguided sense of nostalgia. And they’ve been doing so without any discussion on the subject. It is inevitable that the sharing of embassies will lead people around the globe to associate Canada more closely with the U.K. and Canada’s image will be hurt as a result, especially because of the differences in foreign policy.
The two countries’ foreign policies diverge in more areas than one might think. The last time Canada stored nuclear warheads for the United States was in 1984; meanwhile, the U.K. still has its own stockpile of 225 nuclear weapons. The U.K. joined the U.S. in the ill-advised war in Iraq, a war Canada refused to join in the absence of any mandate from the United Nations. Economically and politically, the two countries have different foreign policy objectives in a number of countries.
As Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s former ambassador to Germany, told The Globe and Mail, “We have an incompatible brand with the U.K.” Canada, known for being a peace-loving nation will now be rooming with a former colonial power. Whether it’s fair or not, many people will now think to paint us with the same brush.
Far too many questions remain about the specifics of how such an agreement would work in actual practice. If the U.K. were to decide it wanted to cut off diplomatic relations with a country, where would that leave Canada if we shared an embassy there?
If our foreign policy interests diverged and we had competing interests in a country, what type of strain would an embassy-sharing agreement place on our relationship? Would Canadian diplomats working out of a British Embassy have the same power to work against the U.K.’s interests as they would if they were working in a separate embassy?
Although government officials have called it a largely “administrative” agreement, the plan calls not only for the sharing of facilities, but also for the sharing of staff. Will Canadians still have access to the same level of French-language consular services as they currently do in our own embassies?
This agreement is pretty harmless because it only covers two locations but if it was expanded to encompass many more, it could have real implications on Canada’s image. Not only do the optics of sharing embassies undermine the notion that Canada is an independent nation, but the agreement may well undermine Canada’s ability to meet its own foreign policy objectives in the future.
As is typical with the Harper government, this agreement was formulated under a shroud of secrecy. And what Canadians are now left with is a long list of concerning questions and few satisfying answers.