Two Fridays ago the Kentucky Canadian Roundtable treated myself and about forty other scholars and students to a day long seminar on Canadian foreign policy. In attendance were Liberal Party MP Dr. Keith Martin and Dennis Moore, Public Affairs Officer from the Detroit Consulate.
The program was put together by the Canadian Consulate in Detroit, and is apparently intended to serve as a reminder of Canada’s importance to the economy and social life of Kentucky. Did you know that Canada represents 34% of Kentucky’s exports, or that Kentucky has a $.6 billion trade surplus with Canada? Apparently, 280000 Canadians visited Kentucky last year, while only 70000 Kentuckans visited Canada; odd, that. Also, no fewer than two Canadian horses have won the Kentucky Derby. Anyway, it occurred to me while in attendance that programs like this are an important component of modern foreign policy; direct appeals to the population of the target country, bypassing government-to-government interaction. I suppose that the whole thing would have felt more sinister if the country sponsoring the event were Israel, France, China, Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela.
One of the breakout sessions concerned Canada’s status as a second tier power. A consideration of Canada’s position has to include, I think, not just the observation that Canada is a second tier military and economic power, but also that Canada stands in an almost unique position even among second tier states. For most of its existence, the problem of territorial integrity has largely been off the table, the responsibility of a much more powerful patron. This is not to say that Canada has somehow escaped the dangers of the international system, just that the critical questions of Canadian national survival have been answered in London and Washington rather than in Ottawa. Since Canada historically has broadly shared the values of its two imperial patrons, its position as world actor has essentially been as adjunct to empire. This is not to minimize Canada’s ability to affect the world, as having influence over Washington and London gives Ottawa a non-trivial capability to pursue its foreign policy values. Indeed, when one of the members of our roundtable asked “What is Canada’s greatest foreign policy resource?”, the answer seemed to me clearly to be its ability to influence United States foreign policy, even if that capacity sometimes seems limited.
Listening to Martin, who is the official Foreign Affairs Opposition Critic, I got the sense that the question of Canada’s relationship with the United States is more one of tactics than strategy. Liberals agree that maintaining a close relationship is critical, but differ with Harper regarding what this means for the relationship with the Bush administration and with the United Nations. Cleaving close to the United States does not mean going down with the sinking ship that is the Bush administration. From an outside point of view, it’s difficult to imagine a situation in which Canada will break more cleanly from the direction of US foreign policy than it already has. I’d be very surprised, for example, if Canada scaled back its presence in Afghanistan, even in response to heavy casualties.
In any case, it was a useful workshop.