08 November 2015

Making Canada a leader in the world again

Canada has a distinguished record of contributing to the use of hard power in the world, as our performance in two world wars and Korea attests. As a third-rate power militarily, however, we are always a follower, never a leader. In the realm of soft power, things are rather different. Here we have often been a leader.

For example, in 1956, working through the United Nations, our foreign minister, Lester Pearson, played the key role in defusing the Suez Crisis. For this, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, the nominating committee declaring he had "saved the world." Pearson is also considered the father of modern peacekeeping, an endeavour in which we once played a major role.

After coming to power in 1984, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney led the fight for sanctions against apartheid in South Africa (despite the opposition of his fellow Conservatives Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan). This proved to be an instance in which sanctions worked.

Mulroney, once named by leading environmentalists as Canada's greenest prime minister, was also an international leader on environmental issues. His government and our scientists were leaders in dealing with acid rain. Canadians were prime drafters of the Montreal Protocol which aimed at reducing emissions of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer. Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Anan called it the most successful international agreement.

Under Liberal governments, Canada has played a crucial role in creating various international institutions and agreements, including the International Criminal Court and the treaty to ban anti-personnel mines (known as the "Ottawa Treaty").

This history was a virtuous circle. We were able to lead because we were considered an honest broker, and leading in turn burnished our image as an honest broker. Unfortunately in recent years, we have entered more into a malicious circle. We have seemed more interested in stalling progress than leading it and have as a result burnished a reputation as a reactionary.

Bur under our new government, that should change. Prime Minister Trudeau has informed our top diplomats that Canada has entered a "new era" for our international engagement, and they have a critical role to play. This marks a radical change to the tight control the Harper government imposed on the diplomatic service. Foreign Affairs Minister St├ęphane Dion has stated that, “The Canada that helped the world to build its multilateral institutions is back,” while pointing out that former Conservative Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark were critical of the Harper government’s approach to foreign affairs. Regarding Palestine, he insists the new government will "stop making it a partisan issue."

As a middle power, we simply don't have the military might to lead hard power adventures, we can only follow. But there is a leadership role for Canada in the world and it lies in soft power. We have been good at it in the past and we can be good at it in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree, Bill. There is tremendous potential for Canada if it can once more inspire the world. While we probably have never been as good as we like to think, the fact is that we have been regarded highly in the world in the past, and we can re-establish that moral presence if the new government's intentions hold true.