Whither Internationalism?

Article excerpt

Professor of International Studies. University of Northern British Columbia. Funding for this research was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Northern British Columbia seeds grant program. I am grateful to Suzanne LeBlanc for valuable comments on an earlier draft. Daniel Savas managed the 2001-2002 survery work at Ipsos-Reid. Assistance was provided by Chris Baker of Environics, Bob Burge of the Queen's University Canadian Opinion Research Archive, and staff of Compas, Goldfarb Associates, and Decima Research. Michael Driedger prepared and formatted the data files for much of the 1980s survey data used here. All the analysis herein employed SPSS, Version 10.

ARE CANADIANS COMMITTED INTERNATIONALISTS or have they begun to turn inwards? Has necessity forced them to give greater priority to domestic issues? Have they chosen to become not merely disinterested in international affairs but more isolationist? Did these attitudes change with the end of the cold war or with a decade or more of retrenchment in international commitments by the federal government? Did they shift again in wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001? Will they do so in response to the war on Iraq?

The purpose of this article is to begin to track Canadian public internationalism over time. The attitudes of the Canadian public toward involvement in international affairs have not traditionally been the subject of much serious scholarly attention. In contrast to an active and ongoing debate in the United States about the degree to which Americans support internationalist foreign policies, public opinion on foreign policy and internationalism has, until recently, been largely ignored by Canadian analysts. Certainly it has not been as closely or extensively studied as opinion elsewhere, and the examination of trends over time is still rare.(1) Such temporal trends, more than snapshots from single polls, will be necessary to unravel the puzzle of Canadians' involvement with the world.

REVIEWING THE DEBATE

Although observers seem to agree that internationalism became the watchword of Canadian foreign policy during the so-called golden era of the early post-World War II years, debates have erupted regularly since the 1970s over the extent to which this internationalist tradition still holds. Some argue that Canadian policies in recent years have reflected a declining internationalism; others maintain that internationalism is with us still.

More than a decade ago, Cranford Pratt noted an 'eroding' internationalist spirit in Canada, particularly amongst Ottawa officialdom.(2) Kim Richard Nossal charged more recently that the 1990s had witnessed 'a progressive retreat from internationalism,' which had been 'nailed to the perch' by the government of Jean Chretien and its 'pinchpenny diplomacy,' an 'overly frugal' foreign policy motivated by 'a meanness of spirit.' Instead of the internationalist ideals that animated Canada's foreign policy makers during the cold war, contemporary Canadian foreign policy 'delegitimizes the voluntaristic acts of "good international citizenship" that are essential components of internationalism.'(3) Jean Francois Rioux and Robin Hay went further; Canada had 'retreated from the world' during the 1990s and was now 'bereft of its internationalist focus.'(4)

Such criticisms are not new, even in the recent history of Canadian foreign policy. The foreign policy green paper issued by the government of Brian Mulroney in 1985 rated two 'thumbs down' with the reviewers, mainly for its lack of internationalist script. Although Joe Clark, the minister of external affairs, was at pains to emphasize that Competitiveness and Security was not a formal white paper but rather an attempt at dialogue on substantive foreign policy issues, his disclaimer did not dissuade the critics.

Stephen Clarkson suggested that the green paper merely 'strums the chords of Pearsonian internationalism' for 'political symbolism. …