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 also 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 politics 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.