For a while, Canada has played the “good cop” to the United States’ “bad cop” performance on the world stage.
In the old order of things, Canada was easier to deal with and the softer touch for getting North American interests taken care of on the world stage.
Now fast forward to today, Canada is just short of supporting military intervention in Venezuela and following the US’ lead in our relationship with the formerly friendly China.
Regardless of what you think about either of these ongoing scenarios—I sure have my own opinions about them—it’s important that we ask: how did this change of roles come about?
The old archetype of “peace-keeper” seems to have been shed for something new altogether.
Over the last two decades, Canada’s foreign policy has grown increasingly aggressive and confrontational.
By now, we’ve either alienated former friendly states to save face with the US, or have directly participated in our southern neighbors’ power plays.
Perhaps Canadian political theorist and religious studies professor, George Parkin Grant put it best when he said Canada has become a “branch plant” of the United States.
Despite all of the political rhetoric and grandstanding about how, oh-so different we are from our southern neighbors, when push comes to shove, Canada falls in line with American interests.
Grant, in his seminal essay on Canadian sovereignty, “Lament for a Nation” claimed that this change began to take place after the Second World War.
Following WWII, Canada’s defense became increasingly reliant on the United States. Our integration into NATO, the adoption of NORAD and the Bomarc nuclear question made it clear to the establishment that decisions regarding Canada’s defense would thenceforth be made in Washington.
Every once in a while, we are reminded of how correct Grant was in his analysis of Canada’s post-WWII predicament.
Yet despite our silent acceptance of American superiority, for a while Canada’s approach was starkly different from that of the United States.
We preferred diplomacy and engaged others as a middle power, willing to set aside differences and finding common ground. Take the Suez Crisis as an example.
But all of that seemed to change after Canada’s participation in Afghanistan.
From that point forward, Canada became complicit in the United States’ global policing. Since then all claims towards peacekeeping and mediation have seemed superficial at best.
This was also particularly evident with Stephen Harper’s belligerent attitude when it came to Ukraine. Despite appeals to human rights and international peace and stability, Canada really had no business involved in a civil conflict in Eastern Europe.
While the Liberal government likes to put a clear wedge between themselves and the Harper Conservatives, on the point of foreign policy, they seem to have gone further than Harper would have even dared to.
On the issue of Ukraine, the Trudeau Liberals have sanctioned supplying the Kiev government with small arms, while Harper made it clear that his only intention was to distribute not lethal aid to the beleaguered state.
The reason for the similarities between Harper’s and Trudeau’s approach to foreign policy and defense is simple: it finds its roots in Washington.
No matter the prime minister, on foreign policy and defense, there’s only one way to go and that’s the American way.