Seize the Day

Article excerpt

Andrew Cohen, who has covered international affairs at home and abroad as a journalist for 25 years, is Associate Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication and the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.

The themes of this article are explored further in While Canada Slept: How We Lost our Place in the World, to be published by McClelland & Stewart in May, 2003.

A FEW WEEKS AFTER THE CALAMITOUS EVENTS of 11 September 2001, John Manley, then Canada's minister of foreign affairs, mused about Canada and its place in the world. More lawyer than diplomat, Manley was artlessly and unusually frank in conversation with journalists. 'We are still trading on our reputation that was built two generations and more ago,' he complained, 'but that we haven't continued to live up to. You can't just sit at the G-8 table and then, when the bill comes, go to the washroom. If you want to play a role in the world, even as a small member of the G-8, there's a cost to doing that.' He cited 'the glaring inadequacy' of Canada's capacity in areas of foreign and defence policy and how that weakness was compromising its ability to honour its traditional commitments overseas.

Manley did not withdraw his comments when he was received coolly in cabinet. Indeed, the next day he reiterated that 'a lot of things have changed since 11 September. And one of those is that the burden that we are going to have to be asked to bear internationally is going to become greater. And we're not going to have an option, if we intend to play the influential role we have in the past... without shouldering the burden.'

Manley, who has almost ten years experience as minister, has a penchant for making direct, provocative remarks; over the next few months, after he was appointed finance minister and deputy prime minister, he would cause a tempest when he questioned the meaning of the monarchy in Canada during a visit to the country by Queen Elizabeth. Amid the puree of platitudes that passes for truth in Ottawa these days, though, his lament had a ring of authenticity. It was a siren call to a country whose presence in the world is a shadow of its former self.

Manley speaks of a sense of Canada beyond its shores that is narrower today than it was in the past, especially in the decade or so after the Second World War. Canada is no longer as strong a soldier, as generous a donor, or as effective a diplomat. This reality is apparent to anyone who examines the strength of Canada's military, the size and reach of its official development assistance, and the quality and stature of its foreign service. Canada's decline is not a secret - it has been obvious in some areas for decades - but it is only now, as our obligations grow, that our weakness is more accentuated and the gap between our resources and our rhetoric is more acute.

A sceptic might ask: Decline? What decline? At first glance, Canada seems to be as engaged internationally as ever. Indeed, surveying the breadth of Canada's roles abroad, a visitor to Canada in 2002 might reasonably wonder what all the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing was about.

After all, there was Jean Chretien playing host to the leaders of the world's richest industrialized nations last June in Kananaskis, Alberta, in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, confirming Canada as a member of the inner circle of the world's biggest economies - even if economists argue that it no longer deserves to be there. While the G-8 is the most exclusive club to which Canada belongs, it is only one of many. Beyond the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organization of American States, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Commonwealth of Nations and la francophonie - most of which Canada helped found - Canada is a member of virtually every other agency and organization, big or small, global or regional. …