Can Canada become a cool kid again?

Remember way back, when we were taught in school about how great Canada was on the world stage? About how we pioneered peacekeeping, and were always among the first nations to step up? Remember how nice it made us feel coming home from school to know that we were part of a country that cared about our fellow human beings? It felt like Canada was one of the cool kids.

Well, it seems things have changed quite a bit since then. Canada now ranks an embarrassing 52nd out of 108 nations involved in peacekeeping, with only 126 active peacekeepers, and Canada only makes up a shameful 3% of the UN’s annual peacekeeping budget.

Over the past two decades, Foreign Affairs has chosen to take the strictly diplomatic route, a policy labeled “the human security school.” Canada has stepped up its global influence through means of diplomacy and rhetoric, choosing to flex its mouth more than its muscle. Our global team of diplomats has been influential in important matters such as the Darfur Peace Agreement, where we have sent diplomatic assistance, with the hopes that we can lead by example. In comparison, the United Nations is leading by force, with over 26 000 peacekeepers in Darfur in a conflict that has seen an estimated 400 000 people killed and 2.5 million people displaced. How did we fall so far?

The biggest problem with Canada’s role as an international negotiator is our close relationship to the US, the global bully, championing cowboy diplomacy wherever its interests could be met.

Canada’s now combat-heavy involvement in Afghanistan can be traced to the fact that we said “maybe” and then “no thanks” to the US’ repeated call to join in the invasion of Iraq. Prior to the Iraq invasion, Canada held a minor role in providing security and intelligence operations in Kabul after the initial ousting of the Taliban by American and British forces, termed “Operation Enduring Freedom.” Fearing an economic shitstorm blowing in from the south, then Prime Minister Chretien agreed to up our role in Afghanistan, putting troops and resources on the frontlines against a militia that had nothing to lose.  

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are proving taxing. Faced with a broken economy, a dictating stature and more soldiers coming home in metal boxes, the US is losing support on a multilateral basis – and Canada is tangled in the mooring rope of a sinking ship.

There is no doubt about it, we need the United States, but they need us too. As their biggest source of oil, and a massive supplier of water and electricity, we have huge bargaining chips. And we need to get those on the table. Our open and symbiotic relationship needs to travel both ways equally. Granted, we depend on them for a large chunk of our economy, but we are playing witness to what happens when they sneeze: we get swine flu.

On the international stage, Canada is often referred to as the US’ lap dog. This image has tarnished Canada’s reputation among many western allies, especially with Canada seeking a seat on the UN Security Council in October 2010. Many of the voting members who carry the clout to give Canada that seat oppose the hegemonic authority that the US has shown around the world.

In order for Canada to get that seat, we need a makeover. First, Canada needs to pay a visit to a proctologist to find out what is stuck up there. Second, we need to work on our upper body strength, namely in the flexing of our fingers, or one finger in general. The “Trudeau Salute” was once eponymous in the diplomacy that Canada was once revered for. We used to be strong, independent, and could hold up our views in any court of opinion. That took courage and garnered respect.

Third, we need to start seeing a therapist who specializes in middle-sibling syndrome to build up our self-confidence. Formerly, when Canada was an only child, it sent its youth to two world wars, both times before the US got involved. To this day, you can still visit the Dutch, Belgian and French countrysides and see monuments and memorials commemorating Canadian bravery.

Canada has the means to be fully and completely sovereign. That sovereignty entails taking inventory of what this country was built from. From its inception, Canada has endeavored not to be American. We govern differently, we spell words differently, and we kick ass at hockey. Imagine if, one day, everyone in the global classroom turned around to see the quiet dorky kid in the corner stand up in a red, maple leaf speedo and walk right up to the bully of the school, give him the finger and then take the box of oreos right out of his hands. That just might be the answer to how we can get that seat on the Security Council and get back our reputation as a cool kid.

//Paul Garbini

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