Canada in World Affairs

Canada in World Affairs

Canada in World Affairs

Canada in World Affairs

Excerpt

World War II marked the coming of age of Canada as a political actor on the world scene. The war and immediate postwar years also temporarily alleviated the twin problems perennially confronting Canadian decision makers: how to manage the almost suffocating proximity of the United States and how to maintain some central control in an exceptionally loose confederation that included "two founding peoples." During the war Canadians began to speak of their country as a "middle power," neither a great power nor a small power. The term suggested a particular kind of role which Canada could play, and in fact it has become the archetypical middle power.

Historical Background

Canadians have always been perplexed about their identity as a nation and the role of Canada as a state. In contrast to the United States, Canada became a fully sovereign state without having to fight for its independence. Except for memories of the War of 1812, there was no bloody armed conflict to provide emotional support for the new country at its founding. In the twentieth century, however, Canada's contribution in two world wars earned it recognition as a significant actor in world politics.

The British North America Act of 1867 brought together under one national roof most of the separate colonial governments and provided Canada with a constitution that apportioned power between provinces and the central government. The act thereby acknowledged Canada's right to self-government, but it conferred no status in foreign affairs. Canada's foreign relations continued to be conducted by Britain, not always to the satisfaction of the Canadians.

Recognition of Canada's independent role in world affairs took place in small symbolic steps as Canadian leaders began to claim a separate voice in relations with other countries. In 1871 the Canadian prime minister signed the Treaty of Washington, which had been concluded between the United States and Britain to settle disputes arising out of the American Civil War, but he was disappointed not to have achieved Canadian objectives with respect to some issues arising with the United States, including the fisheries question. In 1909 the Canadian government established a small Department of External Affairs to acquire information independent of that supplied by Britain. In that year also the Boundary Waters Treaty was signed, the first agreement Canada negotiated on its own with the United States; under it the International Joint Commission was established to study environment problems affecting the shared waters and to recommend action. The first . . .

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