What is Canada’s place in the world?

Canada is suffering from a serious identity crisis.
No, I’m not talking about separatism. I’m not talking about the mosaic or the melting pot. I’m not even lamenting about the supposed decreasing global popularity of our glorious game, ice hockey.
I’m talking about Canada’s place in the world.
This past weekend marked the start of a 500-day countdown to Canada’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in January of 2009. Yet our leaders in Ottawa are still struggling to figure out how we will leave without losing credibility in the international arena. In fact, I think most of the Canadian public doesn’t really know why we are there?
This “Afghanistan question”, ,highlights the dilemma that will face our leaders in the decade to come.
In the current global war on “terror”, the world has polarized into two different camps. As Bush so aptly declared to the rest of the world, “you’re either with (us) or against (us)”.
The question is, what will Canada’s role be in this new world order?
You often hear people complain about the operation in Afghanistan.
“Why are we there?” They ask. “Canada is supposed to be peaceful. We are supposed to stay out of conflicts.”
Well, that is not entirely true.
People forget that Canada’s defining moment, when we firmly declared ourselves as an independent nation state (separate from Britain) came during the two World Wars.
We were the only army able to capture Vimy Ridge in World War I. We were the only forces who met our initial target objectives on the beaches of Normandy during the D-day invasion. Our performance in these wars earned us the respect of other nations.
Canada has paid the price for its position then, with the blood of its men. We knew our place in the world and what we stood for.
Since then, we have played the role of a “middle power”. We have independently pursued multilateral strategies and called for the fight for ideals such as human rights and peacekeeping. We initiated the global land mine ban and guided the creation of the International Criminal Court.
All this has given us international legitimacy. For many years we deserved it. But now, we are running on a reputation we no longer deserve.
For more than a generation our military, foreign aid, and international development budgets have decreased.
We have chosen instead to focus solely on domestic issues such as health care and pensions.
Now don’t get me wrong, part of what makes us “Canadian” is that we are socially minded and egalitarian. That’s fine and dandy. But we are no longer certain of our place in the world.
We are no longer funding programs to help tackle the ideals that we believe in, but we also don’t have an army to fight for us, protect us, and keep us autonomous.
I believe we need to continue to stand up for global ideals.
Canada is not a superpower. We have a tiny population and a massive amount of resources. We are founded on immigration, giving us a truly global population.
Unlike so many countries and especially the United States, we can proclaim the values of human rights and global citizenship without being hypocritical!
But to do it, we face hard choices.
While most of us want Canada to continue giving humanitarian aid, supporting peacekeeping, and financing reconstruction abroad, we are also unwilling to allocate the resources necessary to achieve it.
Given our commitments to health care, pensions, and cheap education, the need for more autonomy and higher spending on defence and international development will be hard to manage.
If we abstain from involvement and remain “neutral”, we will be not only hypocritical, and historically “un-Canadian”, but we will be letting the US do our security bidding for us.
This is a dangerous proposition in the post 9-11, anti-American world.
We need to make sure, as a society, that taxi drivers from Pakistan have a happy memory of Montreal or Toronto. We need to be sure that people from the Islamic world have an impression of Canada as a decent and inclusive place.
Unfortunately, this requires us to put our money where our mouth is. And I’m not sure Canadians are ready for that.

Related Posts