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Federal Politics, Global Affairs

Re-imagining Canada in the World: Start by tackling Tall Poppy Syndrome

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The Globe and Mail has been choc-a-bloc lately with guest columnists (academics, NATO ambassadors, think-tank CEO’s) talking about where the debate over Canada’s foreign policy has gone. It was conspicuously absent in the recent federal election campaign, as noted by Jeffrey Simpson back on April 6 when he wrote that “there is plenty to talk about in a country hugely dependent on foreign trade and international stability, but apparently not during election campaigns.”

And he was right: for a country involved in multiple military actions overseas, Canada’s Armed Forces did not receive much attention. Along with the Green Shift, the Armed Forces enjoyed much campaign attention in 2008 when the country still seemed to be deciding whether there was any good left to do in Afghanistan. But by 2011, it seems to me that leaders didn’t talk about Afghanistan (or Libya, for that matter) because Canadians don’t want to talk or hear about it. The mood has shifted in the three years since our last federal election, and it appears as if there are no illusions left among the population that there is good work left to be done in Afghanistan. That does not mean failing to support our personnel currently working overseas, but it does mean thinking more responsibly about bringing them home than it does contemplating a renewed role.

After a decade in Afghanistan and hundreds killed and wounded, no one would dare accuse Canada of a cut-and-run. And eventually, we do more disservice to those killed in Afghanistan by risking the lives of their combat partners unnecessarily than we do by pulling those still alive out of Afghanistan.

Canada is not alone in its effort to re-imagine its role in Afghanistan, let alone the rest of the world. And as Simpson wrote yesterday in the Globe, “countries such as Canada have lost their stomach for the fight, preferring the role of trainers. (The Dutch pulled out in 2010.) The Americans, in increasing their military presence, simultaneously announced a timetable for beginning to withdraw. Blowing and sucking at the same time, in other words. In every NATO country, the public wants out.”

But what about Canada in relation to the rest of the world? We have a new Foreign Affairs Minister in John Baird, a man known for sticking to his guns, and shooting from the hip. I must say I did not like him as Environment Minister, and have no expectations for him as Foreign Minister. He would do well to realize that Canada has been losing it’s place in the world for the better part of a decade, and shames like the G8/G20 debacle and our problematic approach to maternal health in the developing world don’t help bolster our image abroad.

But Foreign Relations must not be seen simply through the scope of economics, the military, or diplomacy, although these facets have traditionally dominated the field. We should begin re-imagining how Canada can attract foreign businesses, foreign students, and immigrants to settle in Canada with the skills we are looking for. Just as importantly, we should also re-imagine the role we want Canadians to play in the world. Exporting our talents and strengths to parts of the world where they are needed (doctors in Africa, water engineers in Central America, election officials to Eastern Europe) will not only create better citizens, but share what we do well with those who need it most.

First thing’s first, though: if we ever hope to foster an attitude in Canada or wordly citizens doing good across the globe, we need to work towards destroying our entrenched sense of tall poppy syndrome (TPS). It benefits no one to cut your fellow citizens down for making good in the world.

Who better to start this trend off than Stephen Harper apologizing to Michael Ignatieff for his insulting and damaging “He Didn’t Come Back For You” campaign ads? This was TPS at its worst, operating at the highest level of Canadian society. It demonstrated that making good in the world, building your strengths and character globally, will be held against you if you strive for too much.

Harper has already won. He now has a chance to set an example and right a wrong that would benefit the entire country.

I won’t hold my breath.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.



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