Promises, promises (4)

The National Post, in a recent editorial, makes a few very, very valid points about the recent statements by Global Affairs Minister Freeland and Defence Minister Sajjan. The crux of it is that a succession of Conservative and Liberal administrations have, with only a few exceptions, ever since Pierre Trudeau in the late 1960s, have been deluding themselves and lying to us. “The real story here,” the National Post says, “is that the government is finally abandoning Liberal delusions that Canada’s role in the world was given power merely by symbolic internationalist rhetoric, unsupported by meaningful strength. The ministers could have simply stood up and announced, “The Liberals have been wrong about the ways of world these last 40-some-odd years, and we plan to do better.”

The “Liberal delusions” began circa 1969 when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau set about trying to disarm Canada. He was convinced that nationalism was the cause of all the world’s problems and he could not or would not distinguish between, say, 19th century British jingoism, or 20th century American exceptionalism, nor even British defiance, in the 1940s on one hand, or the sort of German nationalism that Hitler revived and nurtured in the 1930s on the other. In his mind, it seems to me, all forms of nationalism were harmful, including the French-Québecois nationalism, propagated by e.g. Abbé Lionel Groulx, to which he had subscribed as a young man. He also appeared to see the military as a dangerous bastion of harmful nationalists. In his 1970 foreign policy white paper Prime Minister Trudeau explicitly rejected Louis St Laurent’s activist, engaged, ‘leading middle power’ vision of Canada and focused, instead, on economic growth, social justice and quality of life issues but, at the same time, managed to avoid any serious look at Canada-US relations, except to propose that Canada should engage, economically and socially, but not militarily, with Europe and China. It was a highly personal, even idiosyncratic policy which justified his 1969 slashing of the Canadian Forces and, especially Canada’s long standing commitment to NATO. But it was Template-6colalso convenient for successive governments ~ Mulroney, Chrétien, Martin and Harper ~ because it cut the defence budget and, over time, I have been told by some people who should know, both official (bureaucratic) and political Ottawa decided that $20 Billion was a hard ceiling and that Prime Minister Harper was flirting with trouble when he allowed the defence budget to climb, circa 2010-2012, to over $20 Billion.

The National Post editorial refers to this, saying that we should “Consider, for instance, one of [Global Affairs Minister] Freeland’s more widely cited lines: “To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state… Although we have an incredibly good relationship with our American friends and neighbours, such a dependence would not be in Canada’s interest. That is why doing our fair share is clearly necessary.” While pundits have pointed to these lines as a sign of Canada’s newfound recognition that it can no longer depend on the U.S., this statement is in fact remarkable because it is effectively an admission: that the chronic underfunding of the Canadian Armed Forces (dating back to Pierre Trudeau and with only brief exceptions since) has left Canada as exactly what Freeland says — an American client state.” That is Pierre Trudeau’s legacy ~ to paraphrase the great Canadian historian Arthur Lower, we went, between 1867 and 1931 from “colony to nation” and then, in the 1970s back to being a colony again, but a colony of the American empire rather than the British one.

The National Post editorial concludes that: “In effect, the Liberals have slyly admitted that, for decades, Canada’s foreign policy has been a disappointing sham. We have talked a good talk on human rights, multilateralism, foreign aid and collective defence. But we have failed to live up to our commitments or maintain the capabilities required to do so … [and] … If the Liberals do follow through on their plans, they won’t be bringing Canada “back.” They’ll be fulfilling the obligations our governments have for decades neglected.” I think the final “If” is key: this is good imagepolitics and it might not be bad policy (not really good policy, just a bit better than what’s been on offer for five years) IF the Liberals have any intention, at all, of keeping their promises … but we, Canadians, are learning that Prime Minister Trudeau finds it very easy to break promises of any and all sorts.



4 thoughts on “Promises, promises (4)”

  1. Ted, I think you have pointed this out before but if you are citing 1931 and the Westminster Statute as the apogee of Canada – The Nation then 1938 might reasonably be suggested as the commencement of the American colonization of Canada.

    Political Options describes the situation here:

    “In August 1938, on the eve of the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt’s acceptance speech for an honorary doctorate at Queen’s University included the following commitment: ”œThe Dominion of Canada is part of the sisterhood of the British Empire. I give to you assurance that the people of the United States will not stand idly by if domination of Canadian soil is threatened by any other Empire.” Prime Minister Mackenzie King, in response to Roosevelt’s pledge to protect Canada, said ”œwe too have obligations as a good and friendly neighbour and that enemy forces should not be able to pursue their way either by land, sea or air to the United States across Canadian territory.” That two-way commitment has been the essence of Canada-US defence co-operation ever since, and Mackenzie King’s commitment, which no subsequent Canadian prime minister has ever renounced, is even more relevant in the post 9/11 era. Dwight Mason, a former deputy head of mission at the US embassy in Ottawa, and subsequently US co-chair of the bilateral Permanent Joint Board of Defence (PJBD), has suggested that Paul Martin’s decision not to be part of ballistic missile defence (BMD) is an opting out of one aspect of North American defence in the knowledge that the United States would have welcomed such cooperation, and that it is therefore a backing away from Mackenzie King’s commitment in 1938.

    In 1940 Roosevelt and Mackenzie King went on to create the PJBD and the 1941 Hyde Park Agreement coordinated economic war mobilization of the two countries. Canada was involved in Project Manhattan, which developed the atomic bomb, and much Canadian uranium made its way into the American nuclear weapons program up until the mid-1960s, when it was stopped by Lester Pearson.”

    Has Canada ever been a truly independent nation? Appearances to the contrary the Brits, in my opinion, were never particularly enamored of defending their international settlers. They were more interested in defending their trade. Canada, being largely a creature of British merchants, or shopkeepers, was equally disinterested in defence and would much rather have British or American taxpayers pay for their defence than have their profits curtailed by paying insurances or taxes.

    Cynicism writ large……

    1. Yes, Chris, I have discussed 1938-40 before on these pages and I don’t disagree … except that Prime Minister St Laurent did turn Canada around after the King-Skelton years, and Diefenbaker and Pearson both bought into Prime Minster St Laurent’s grand strategy. It was Pierre Trudeau who, explicitly, rejected it ~ he was an isolationist which, perforce, made him a fool.

      1. I can agree with your enthusiasm for the St-Laurent years. I also am something less than a fan of Pierre Trudeau. I believe though that Canada has an in-built systemic issue with defence. Part of that is that it has been quite a while since it has been invaded by anything other some disquieted Irishmen. Part of that is, I believe, the French sense of the military as being connected with their oppression, although I take issue with that sense. But part of it is connected with the British tradition, passed from shopkeeping Whigs to shopkeeping Liberals that recoils against the notion of a standing army, both from the point of keeping authority in check and from the point of economics. Even parsimonious Tories agreed with that.

        A navy, and an air force – the aerial armada, may be more acceptable than an army.

        As long as they are cheap.

  2. I for one as I got older/matured have learned to hate the acceptance of Canada as a colony if we can’t do better than the yanks or the brits then it’s off to the equivalent of a nunnery , I am looking at this from the bottom and I don’t know if the officer class has a better perspective on our colony status so far it does not seem to.

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