In a speech this Wednesday as part of Henry P. Habib Distinguished Speakers’ Series, Raymond P. Chretien, Canada’s former ambassador to France, Congo, Mexico, Belgium and the United States described the confluence of past events that have shaped Canada’s development as a middle power on the world stage.
During an advance interview with the Concordian, Chretien was far less coy regarding his views on Canada’s future within the world – arguing that Canada has already gone much of the way towards a fully integrated North America, and that our commitment to Afghanistan is tied inextricably to our trade politics.
An Objective Decline:
According to Chretien Canada has suffered both a relative and an objective decline since its post-WW2 peak of power. This decline, he argued, although partially caused by the rise of European nations brought low during the World Wars, has primarily been driven by federal government cuts to all Foreign Service departments post-1995. According to Chretien, Canada’s diminished military capacity – the military shrank from 85,000 personnel in 1994 to 60,000 in 2000 – has had significant impacts on our trading relationships and on our place within the world.
“Canada cannot be taken seriously in the world if it systematically refuses to participate in such missions,” he said. “Its credibility is at stake.”
Chretien argued that in recent years, Canada has taken on a larger global profile, its present commitment remains insufficient to the task at hand.
“A signal has been sent by our present minority government, that they want Canada to play a major role; they are beefing up the armed forces, they are arming our soldiers better . . . but remember, for a country with the wealth of Canada, we still have only 2,500 military in Afghanistan, and of them, only perhaps 900 are actually fighting.”
Chretien argued that he would like to see Canada’s commitment within Afghanistan more than triple within the next few years, and that the Canadian Forces would do well to increase its strength back to its 1994 levels. This would, however, be difficult, he conceded, as many segments of Canada are currently strongly against the Afghan mission.
“For some reason, maybe it is because of the aftermath of what Mr. Pearson did in 1967 .)WHAT DID HE DO? . . here in Quebec, there is a lot of pacifism. There are some people here who think that we should be a big Switzerland; but that isn’t in line with our history or with our international commitments. In the First World War we had hundreds of thousands of people in uniform – in the Second World War we fielded ten percent of our population – 1,000,000 people.”
Chretien argued that Canada should see its commitment to Afghanistan through to the completion of the mission (although he argued that it should be incumbent on NATO members to take over from Canada in the more dangerous regions of the country). Conceding, however, that Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan would eventually have to come to an end, Mr. Chretien refused to take a position on how Canada would subsequently be able assert itself on the world stage in order to maintain its heightened international status.
“We are swimming in money,” he said. “You see those huge surpluses – why not use the profound wealth of those services in order to bring our level of commitment from 0.3 to 0.4 to 0.5. per cent. While 0.7 per cent remains idealistic, we could at least bring [Canada] back into the first tier of countries helping the poor.”
Chretien also discussed the increasing ties between Canada, the United States and Mexico, noting that serious discussions like the SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership) meetings have been occurring with increasing frequency between the three governments, and that many government departments now co-operate on a broad range of policy initiatives.
According to Chretien, further North American integration is almost a foregone conclusion. “When we signed the [1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement], we crossed a Rubicon for continental integration . . . We had the chance in 1988 to say, ‘stop.’, but we didn’t.”
Although Chretien would not specify the next move for such a project, he raised a number of potential issues, including a common customs union between Canada and the U.S., a continental security perimeter (including the use of biometric cards), and even the creation of a resources cartel between Canada the U.S. and Mexico.
That said, he argued, integration, while economically desirable, and any further concessions granted by the American government would likely come with a price-tag. According to Chretien, that price would be one thing: “Resources, resources, resources”. Chretien argued that any talk of expanding Canada’s trade with the United States risks running into troubled ground over the issue of trading scarce resources – in particular water – and that such moves should be approached slowly.
Equally improbable, according to Chretien, were more serious forms of integration like monetary or political union.
According to Chretien, “these things are no longer