Conservatives would like us to believe that Canada is defined by war. The Harper government uses any occasion to promote the idea of a warrior nation.
The War of 1812, we are told, was defining moment for Canada. The Harper government spent $30 million on re-enactments, coins and a new national monument on Parliament Hill. Canadians remain unconvinced. According to a Nanos poll, only 30 per cent support the government’s celebration of the War of 1812. Only 15 per cent feel more patriotic.
Canadians wish they would have spent more money celebrating the 30th anniversary of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms — a document that was brought in by a Liberal government in 1982 and which received only the barest of mentions last year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Almost half of respondents see the charter as a defining moment. The same number support a celebration of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 1919. Hardly war-like.
Emphasis on war is not only misguided, but ignores Canada’s traditional strengths in preventing war says Joe Clark, the longest-serving Tory foreign minister in Canadian history.
“Their emphasis has been insistently on the military, and latterly on trade — they came to that late, but they are pursuing it, I think, effectively. But there’s been a very sharp departure from the concepts of, you name any prime minister, really, since William Lyon Mackenzie King,” the Progressive Conservative told the Globe and Mail.
In his new book, Clark is critical of the government’s failure to bridge international divides and instead focus on military solutions. He writes that Ottawa has squandered Canada’s reputation in preventing conflict.
Canada is out of step with its closest ally. The Obama administration’s tactic in resolving world conflict is a radical departure from the cowboy mentality of the former government.
The Canadian government remains stuck in the past.
U.S. foreign policy is summed up by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Her government would “lead from behind” rather than blundering ahead with the mistaken notion that shock and awe would drag a reluctant “coalition of the willing” into the morass of war. Even a superpower needs allies and that’s where Canada excels.
Canada’s current backward thinking is demonstrated with Iran. While President Obama sees opportunities to ease world tension with appeals for patience, Canada continues with a confrontational approach. Harper severed diplomatic ties with Iran a year ago, shutting its embassy in Tehran and kicking out Iranian diplomats from Canada.
I would describe Canada’s foreign policy as vacuous pomposity. Clark is a little more diplomatic. He says that we “lecture and leave” and that this government considers foreign policy to be merely a verbal exercise.
“They’re not doing the diplomacy. They prefer the podium to the playing field. They see foreign policy as something you should talk about in terms that forcefully express your point of view.”
Mr. Harper is mistaken if he thinks the majority of Canadians see themselves defined by war and that diplomacy is about vociferously stating your opinion and walking away.