16 January 2009

Canada as slacker?

I seem to remember that Canada was once a world leader, but the memory is fading. More and more these days we seem to be a follower.

Take foreign policy, for example, and the current crisis in Palestine. Our objectivity once allowed us to be a peace-maker in the Middle East, winning a Nobel Prize in the process, but now we are such a slave to Israeli and American policy we are irrelevant to making peace in the region. In the not too distant past, we contributed significantly to achievements in international law and security such as the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court. Now we seem indifferent and uninvolved. Once we were leading peacekeepers, now about the only military action we see is in Afghanistan, faithfully following the American initiative.

We once had some small importance in the effort to achieve international responsibility toward the environment. We signed Kyoto, after all. Now, if we are not pariahs on climate change, we are close to it. At the last round of international meetings on greenhouse gas emissions in Poland, we were singled out for criticism by South Africa. South Africa, for heaven's sake! In an assessment ranking the 57 largest greenhouse gas emitters on their efforts to combat climate change, we came 56th, ahead only of Saudi Arabia. Bereft of initiative, we wait patiently for Barack Obama's lead.

Our efforts on social policy don't seem to be setting the world on fire, either. In a ranking of 25 developed countries on the care and education of young children, we came dead last. Needless to say, Sweden ranked first.

Not that the country isn't in rather good shape. It is. Our economy is suffering like everyone else's, but nonetheless it is in much better shape than most (thanks largely to Paul Martin's brilliant eight years as finance minister). Our health care and education systems creak and groan but continue to provide excellent service. So life in good old stable Canada is fine indeed, as usual. Yet . . . when it comes to making a difference in the world we seem to have stalled. We are in something of a dead zone.

It shouldn't be hard to come up with some creative leadership in a world desperately in need of it. The international economy is in a mess. Global warming advances almost without heed. The Middle East succumbs to death and destruction. There's room for a million inspiring ideas here. We just don't seem to be in the mood.

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