Sunday, January 25, 2004


On Friday Paul Martin announced that he has invited U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan to address Parliament in early March. Said the prime minister:

"We spend a lot of time in Canada talking about our relationship with the United States. That's important but, fundamentally, our relationship with the rest of the world and how that world works is going to be the determining factor as to whether our children and their children after them enjoy the same quality of life that we do."

Historically, Canada's foreign policy outlook has been divided into two camps. Conservatives have generally advocated that Canada focus its efforts on maintaining a strong relationship with its colonial masters be they British or American. Tories have consistently believed that Canada's economic and military security lies in trade with Britain or the U.S along with support for their foreign wars.

In contrast reformers (the pre-confederation type) and Liberals have cautiously resisted the colonial hegemony of London and Washington while timidly attempting to expand Canada's reach to the wider world.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the colonial power was Britain and the wider world, in Canadian terms, often did not extend beyond the U.S. Hence Tories like John Strachan forcefully proclaimed that Canada must be a refuge of British values in defence against American republicanism, while reformers like William Lyon Mackenzie saw in the U.S some valuable attributes that Canada could incorporate.

The Liberals under Sir Wilfred Laurier looked beyond the exclusive trade relationship with Britain to pursue free trade with the U.S. Laurier also compromised on sending Canadian troops to South Africa, forcing the British to pick up the tab, something Conservative leader Robert Borden never forgave him for. Borden, conversely, sacrificed national unity to support the British during the First World War.

As 'Britain's Weakness Forced Canada into the Arms of the U.S' as Jack Granatstein has so eloquently put it, the U.S could no longer provide a counter-balance to the colonial power, it was the colonial power. Conservatives switched their allegiances accordingly and Liberals attempted to truly internationalize. Diefenbaker focused on the Cold War American relationship while Pearson and Trudeau attempted to broaden Canada's international relationships, the former doing so much more successfully than the latter. Under Mulroney Canada entered a free trade agreement with the U.S that was not unlike the trade agreements with Britain from earlier in the century.

With Chretien we saw the rise of the 'modern' Liberal. He attempted to play both sides during his tenure. In the early years of his government he sided more with the Conservative tradition by accepting the FTA. By the end of his career he had returned to the Liberal legacy in the style of Laurier with his rejection of a unilateral American war in Iraq.

In the early months of the Paul Martin government we see him perfecting the modern Liberal policy of being all things to all people. With his right hand he curries favour with the imperial president in Monterrey while his left hand is courting the leader of the largest international organization in the world in Davos. In which tradition will Paul Martin's policy follow? Are his attempts to play both sides a simple balance for political reasons? Or, is he truly attempting to create a new vision and break the dichotomy that has shaped Canadian foreign policy for the last 150 years?

Cross posted to BlogsCanada Election Blog

Posted by Matthew @ 2:44 a.m.