Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Canada that can say "no".

I kind of laugh when Canadian politicians talk about "guarding Canada's sovereignty". Especially when Conservatives do it, but the Liberals (especially from the business wing of the party) aren't immune from my skepticism. The Conservatives, however, are in power at the moment, and have racked up a bit of a record already. Softwood is the best-known, but in general Harper has made it clear that he actually has no real idea for a Canadian foreign policy separate from the wishes of the United States.

I don't actually think the Harper-Bush comparisons are fair, and I think they over-complicate things. Harper would be trying to make nice with any American president, because he can't imagine a way for Canada to a) dissent from American views that wouldn't b) risk upsetting American business or political leaders. I think he's probably right about that: I just don't particularly worry about B, and I don't think it's proper or right for the Prime Minister of Canada to base every single foreign policy action on those concerns.

Which brings me to this question of Canada's national sovereignty. On the one hand, we have a party and Prime Minister who have loudly proclaimed their goal of guarding Canada's claims over the Arctic. On the other, the very same party has made it clear that a) they will not oppose American foreign policy objectives, and b) they will accuse those who do of "anti-Americanism" and endangering Canada's most important relationship.

(This anti-American canard has a happy home in the Liberal party as well. See Ignatieff, Michael and Martin, Paul.)

Some authors, most recently Jack Granatstein, argue that Canada needs a larger military to protect our sovereignty and participate in the War on Terror. (Much of Granatstein's efforts have been devoted to convincing Canadians that the GWoT is "our war too." So on the one hand, we're supposed to give ourselves the tools of sovereignty, but we mustn't contemplate using them in any way other than that dictated by Washington. But sovereignty isn't particularly useful getting dusty in the closet. Unless Canada actually does something as radical as disagree with the United States, and act on that disagreement, we might as well not be sovereign at all.

Let's take the hypothetical case of an attack on Iran: There's plenty of evidence that such a thing is planned, and is certainly favoured, by constituencies in America. But there's no conceivable explanation that such an attack is in Canada's interests. (There's no sane explanation that it would be in America's, or even Israel's interests either, but we're talking Canada here.) There's plenty of ways that such an attack will in fact do great harm to Canada's interests -- not the least of which is retaliation against NATO forces in Afghanistan. What, then, is the proper response for the Government of Canada if American bombs start falling on Iran?

Does anyone think that Stephen Harper's instincts will be to immediately and loudly denounce the US? Anyone? If so, based on what?

How about something even more hypothetical: Assume we actually had a robust Navy capable of operating in the Arctic, and the Americans began sending ships through our waters without permission. Would Stephen Harper, say, order the RCN to board those ships and turn them around? He's claimed the mantle of both sovereignty-champion and America-friend. What happens when they're in conflict?

This is the dilemma for the pro-American (that is, anti-Canadian) sovereignty hawks: For good or ill, the country that will threaten Canada's sovereignty and interests the most is the United States, simply by virtue of American power and America's own interests. (I'm not imputing malice here. Just the usual American attitude of ignoring Canada, "all tucked away down there.") You cannot simultaneously crow about protecting Canada's sovereignty unless you're willing to, at least on the big issues, break with Washington and risk DC's opprobrium. Yes, Fox News will call us the Venezuela of the North. Live with it.

One of the things our home and native placate-America-at-all-costs Parties of both sides curiously forget is that Canada really is a country that was, is, and will always define itself in opposition to the United States. The United Empire Loyalists literally came here because they didn't want to be Americans, and they built Ontario as a result. Francophones not only don't want to be Americans, they're still not totally sold on this whole "Canada" idea.

The point is that "anti-Americanism" isn't just something that Canadians affect as an air of superiority, though it is sometimes that. Not being American is what we do up here, though we still like to sell stuff to the Yanks. Lots of stuff. Cheap.

Speaking of which: oil. I've said before that if Canada is serious about meeting Kyoto, then we simply must begin closing down the tar sands. There's no way that maintaining, much less expanding, such a CO2-intensive energy sink is possibly compatible with Canada's environmental goals.

At the same time, we can't do this without cutting off our largest customer. How exactly does Stephane Dion plan to do one -- meet our Kyoto objectives -- while placating the pro-business, pro-American side of the Liberal Party? (I assume Harper won't even try.) I don't envy Dion the task, I really don't.

James Laxer has some thoughts on what an independent Canadian foreign policy would look like, which prompted this post.

1 comment:

RepoCreepo said...

Maybe Dion would be a lot better if he heeded the advice of his newest MP Garth Turner.

Garth has already told him to improve his english. So if GARTH says it, he should do it right away.