International security, trade and governance

By The Hon. David Kilgour on May 29, 2008

According to a legend, in creating the world, God gave to Canada British Columbia, the Gulf Islands, the Rockies and many other natural wonders. Someone asked, "Why are so many good things going to Canadians?" God replied, "Wait till you see the neighbours I'm giving them." You'll recall the similar Mexican cri de coeur, "Oh Mexico! So far from God; so close to the United States!"

Our three countries are well-placed geographically and there are numerous joint approaches to common concerns. One is waterfowl co-operation among the three peoples, which is seen as the most successful international conservation plan in the world. Barry Turner of Ducks Unlimited Canada notes that since the North American waterfowl management plan partnership began in 1986, more than CDN$1.3 billion has been invested in securing and managing 2.4 million hectares of Canadian wetland and adjacent upland land. Canada contains a quarter of the planet's wetlands and habitat for 80% of the continent's waterfowl population and 310 other bird species.

Following years of spirited discussions over lunches and emails between David Jones, the former American diplomat, and myself  Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs, was released last fall. Coming to the  conclusion that for reasons of history, geopolitics and culture, Canada and the U.S. are different and always will be in our approaches to some core policy issues, we set out to explain these differences dispassionately on a dozen or so key issues. One chapter, for example, deals with the very differing world roles of the two countries; another looks specifically at the military in each.

International Security

For Canadians, multinational initiatives rather than unilateral actions are clearly our preferred option internationally, except in the case of Spanish fishing trawlers. Since 9/11 it has been difficult for many Americans not to see the world through the prism of their national and personal security perceptions.

In the important case of the United Nations, which Canadians say only half jokingly is part of our national DNA, American support is currently at a low ebb, at least while the current Bush administration completes its final term. Serious reform is certainly needed in the UN system and those of us who believe in it should be advocating for change.

In Canada, multilateralists comprise the overwhelming majority among Canadians generally and our foreign policy analysts. Should all of us not therefore be pushing harder for the UN Security Council to take its peace responsibilities more seriously in places like Sudan and Burma (where there are as of today an estimated 100,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless and at risk of dying while the generals fiddle with their referendum intended to make dictatorship constitutional)? What about Canada's Responsibility          to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which    has been adopted in principle by     the UN? Should it not be applied      in one form or another in places     like post-election Zimbabwe or      post-cyclone Burma?

Many Canadians now recognize that the kind of  peacekeeping between two sovereign countries for which Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956 has now essentially disappeared. The most common need today across the world is for carefully-trained conflict personnel, who can protect minorities effectively from intra-state violence? The slaughter of African Darfurians has continued essentially uninterruptedly since April, 2003; neither the UN Security Council nor any ad hoc assemblage of the "willing" has managed an effective response to what even the most casual observers recognize to be a continuing genocide within the terms of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

These issues have strong resonance among Canadians, but thus far seem to be eclipsed by national security priorities in American public opinion.


External Voices Project

The most penetrating assessment of Canada's role in the world currently is the External Voices Project of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, published in 2005 and written by Robert Greenhill. The report draws on the thinking of 40 knowledgeable individuals from  nineteen countries. Its blunt conclusions for our purposes at this conference might be summarized as follows:

Canada's performance and reputation internationally have both fallen significantly over the past 15 years. International institutions, including the G8 and NATO, in which Canada played major roles are thought by the persons consulted to be losing influence, with countries such as India, Brazil, China and Mexico—along with niche ones like Norway—perceived to be assuming roles historically filled by Canada.

The interviewees identified three key factors absent in Canada's international approach in more recent years: a willingness to make hard choices; "consistency in choices and relationships (especially with the U.S. and the United Nations) over time"; and thirdly a "determination to build world-class assets in the areas where Canada has chosen to lead." Greenhill, who is now CIDA's president, thinks nothing will improve for Canada internationally without a "major change in our mindset and our allocation of resources."

The study differentiates between making contributions and making a real difference. It notes that between 1989 and 2004 Canadians spent about $243 billion of our tax money on diplomacy, defence and international development, yet most of the experts consulted said that Canada's role has been "marginal over the past 15 years." Our role in achieving majority rule in South Africa, however, was cited as important because we were able to leverage our position in the G-7, the Commonwealth and la francophonie, lobby international leaders, support the Front-Line states and engage the African National Congress and the South African government during the transition. It was clearly our finest period on the continent of Africa in recent years.



American interviewees believe that an independent foreign policy will not affect our bilateral trade. He cautioned, however, that it was only Canada's rapid response to 9/11 with our "smart borders" initiative and tight security cooperation with the U.S. that allowed the border to remain open. To keep it open, we must ensure that we not ever become a security risk or a perceived one.

One of the distressing conclusions of the External Voices study among the U.S. sources,  "Democrats, Republicans and career officers alike", is that Canada has become "almost irrelevant to U.S. foreign policy making." It has long been assumed by many that Canada's ability to influence American foreign policy was one of our major diplomatic assets. Greenhill cites Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Clinton administration:"...For about a generation, the U.S. has conducted foreign policy largely without regard to Canada's perspective."

Finally, on security issues, Greenhill notes that our defence assets are seen as "largely irrelevant to today's real international security needs" and that we must reform our military assets in areas that would improve security domestically and make substantial difference internationally. David Jones and I think he sells short Canada's contributions in former Yugoslavia, Haiti and particularly Afghanistan since 2001 and continuing there now until at least 2011. These assignments were real and relevant-and probably more important than some of the UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKO). In 2001 under the Taliban, for example, there were only about 650,000 Afghan children--all boys--in school; today there are evidently more than six million, with 35% of them being girls. The effort is fully justified in my view.


Economics and Trade

Canadian and U.S. prosperity have, undoubtedly reinforced each other. Ninety-five plus percent of our bilateral trade has been friction free. Canada now depends on trade more than virtually all of the world's other affluent economies. In the most recent year for which we have statistics (2004), our exports of goods and services constituted 38.2% of our GDP; imports, 34%. About sixty percent of our exports were finished industrial goods, machinery and automotive products, with thirty percent of our merchandise goods being energy, commodities and forestry products. Americans took 84.5 percent of our exports and a little more than 23 percent of all American exports were consumed by Canadians. As Pamela Wallin has indicated , 40 percent of Canada's national income comes from the Americans and we do more trade with the U.S. in a week than we do with China in a year. I think it is important to remember that Americans look north for security and we look south for trade.

Canada is also rapidly becoming an energy colossus. This country's proven reserves were officially upgraded in 2004 by the responsible agency of the U.S. government from 4.9 billion barrels to 178.8 billion. In reality, the total amount of oil trapped in the Alberta oil sands is estimated to be 1.7 to 2.5 trillion barrels, with the smaller figure reflecting only the part which is economical to extract with today's available technology.

As an Edmonton M.P. for about 27 years, you'll forgive me for suggesting that virtually any amount of additional oil and gas can be sold to our southern neighbours at world prices under NAFTA in its present form. Canada is the only stable democracy among the top ten countries in terms of oil reserves. There are also, of course, serious conservation and global warming issues. One encouraging sign is the proposal by one current producer for its next expansion not to use natural gas in  the conversion of bitumen into synthetic crude oil. Another is to sequester carbon underground rather than release it into the air.


Approaches to Governance

Our two peoples have significantly different approaches to government, which have been enthroned and no doubt over-simplified in the juxtaposition of "peace, order and good government" of the 1867 British North America Act and "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" from the Declaration of Independence. In 2008, the differing antecedents probably still mean a less skeptical attitude towards government among Canadians than south of the border, where checks and balances are used to keep governments on shorter leashes.

Our model of Westminster parliamentary democracy, which is about as strongly centralized as any democratic state can be, maximizes the strength of any governing party and prime minister/premier. The checks on both the executive and legislative branches to the south are so numerous that one  Canadian ambassador to Washington described the place as "dysfunctional". Deadlock is a constant hazard, but the American Congress does reflect the interests of its people and regions.

Canada's late renowned historian, William Morton, noted another major political difference between our two peoples: radically different self-perceptions. As of 1960 at least, Morton saw the U.S. to be a nation of covenant, which meant at least three things: a need for uniformity because covenants can only exist among like-minded communities; Americans separate themselves from the uncovenanted, whether abroad or at home: Americans are messianic, which means that where they think it warranted they will enter other countries to fulfill their goals. Morton at the time felt Canadians were above all loyal to the Monarch and attached to parliamentary democracy. Today, most of us would presumably say that our loyalties are much broader, ranging from the rule of law, democracy, social justice, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

All of us, regardless of our points of view, should seek to interact with our fellow citizens more with facts and reason about the things that bring us together. Canadians are busy with their jobs, careers, education, families, sports and many other things. Those of us who are concerned about national and international issues of all kinds have got to do more--and to do it more effectively—to make Canadians a lot more engaged.


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