Thursday, January 31, 2008

Canada stands strong into the 20th Century

As the first decade of the new millennium draws to a close, many experts and critics have struggled to determine just where exactly Canada as a nation stands in the global arena. Current Macleans national editor Andrew Cohen has provided us with a pessimistic and skeptical view of the country’s loss of stature in his book “While Canada slept” which some would argue is a wake-up call to the people in authority in our beloved nation. On a somewhat more inspirational note, authors including Canadian-born academic Jennifer Welsh have ascertained that Canada has done a fair job of climbing from the middle-power status which has surrounded it’s name, dating back to the post-World War II era, but purports that we still have a ways to go to reach our full potential.

While both of these perspectives hold considerable merit and possess obvious accuracy, many of Canada’s actions, on both international and national fronts, have displayed strength, commitment and determination as a major contributor to the global agenda. While still being a-ways-away from perfection, Canada has made a number of crucial policy decisions which have emphasized its collective might.

The first of which was by displaying its commitment to the George W. Bush and Tony Blair sponsored “War on Terror” and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Although Canada initially withheld its contribution, Prime Minister Jean Chretien working on the advice and sentiments of his advisors and the national electorate fulfilled his obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) mission by providing troops and support for their Western comrades, as well the Afghani people who had been suppressed by the tyrannical Taliban regime.

While in the Middle East theatre, Canada has demonstrated its finely-tuned military might, despite being a department which has been plagued by a tradition of budget cuts dating well back into the Trudeau era. Canadian troops have taken part in many logistical and tactical operations and have held their ground in the southern Helmand province, which throughout the war has been one of the toughest and most dangerous areas, providing consistent safety and security to fellow soldiers and civilians. Toughness aside, the precision and technical skills of the elite Canadian troops have also been displayed as a Canadian soldier recorded the longest kill with a rifle in military history; from over two kilometeres. These demonstrations of the Canadian military have helped chisel our nation as being a relatively- small but definite power in the current world.

Another policy decision which has proven to be just as critical as the Afghanistan mission was the decision to stay out of the American-backed witch-hunt for weapons of mass destruction and regime change throughout Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This strategic move by the Chretien- Paul Martin camp has proven to be beneficial to Canada in numerous ways, the first of which being the absence of terrorist backlash in our country such as has been experienced in America (though mostly attempted), the Australian region and Great Britain. While the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have foiled minor attempts to conduct terror by Islamist extremist groups with ties to the Mid-East, Canada for the most part has gone unscathed in comparison to Britain, for example, who has been repeatedly targeted by such groups, reeking havoc on, and underneath their streets and creating an massive civilian death toll. Naturally, it is unfair to suggest that Britain’s role in the occupation of Iraq is the only cause for this aggression, though it definitely plays into a pattern which is difficult to ignore.

In the global picture, arguably the greatest benefit reaped by Canada’s abstention in the Iraqi conflict is the message it sent to its closest neighbour and economic trading partner, as well as its former colonizer, that this is a mature and sovereign nation which can make decisions for itself, and for its people. Canada’s decision, which was based strongly on the voice of its electorate as well as a realistic evaluation of our military and resource situation, was extremely crucial in defining ourselves as an independent entity, free of persuasion, and even coercion, from our economic and defense cohort, a stigma which has been trailing the country for the majority of the last century.

Finally, turning to a more domestic issue which has major transnational implications, is the recent interest that Canada, and a few selected other nations, has had in the Arctic territories. Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been steadfast in his position that the northern areas in question belong to Canada and is a non-negotiable issue with the United States, Denmark and Russia. Harper’s unwavering stance on Canada’s entitlement of the mostly uninhabitable and overly undesirable tundra yet again displays the nation’s commitment to continually reaffirm our sovereignty and stand in the world as a mid-to-large power, who will no longer be pressured or commandeered into policy decisions which hold little, or even negative, benefits for the nation.

While these policy decisions have assisted in ascending Canada into the upper-echelon of credible and powerful global players, there are a few areas and directions which Canada must pursue in order to maintain its position. The first of which, is it must get in line with the Kyoto Protocol and develop viable and attainable solutions to control our greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution as a whole. Canada, being one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases in the world, is now faced with the daunting task of meeting the 25 to 40 per cent reduction which was set out at the recent United Nations conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia. However, if the current and future governments are able to wrangle these figures and do our part in fighting global climate change, Canadian credibility will rise even further, increasing our credibility as a nation who is committed to overall good in the international eye.

Another area where improvement is definitely welcomed and some would argue necessary, is the expansion of our intelligence service. At present, the major name in Canadian security outside of our defense capacities is the aforementioned CSIS, whose mandate and resources are drastically limited for the size of nation it serves. In order to quell future acts of terrorist or other aggression within and outside of our borders, a dual structure, one national, one international, is needed. Many of the leading Western nations operate systems of similar nature: the US with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as a slew of other military Intel agencies, and Britain with MI:5 and MI:6 respectively, who are assisted by other national policing branches such as Scotland Yard. With these institutions as an example, it is time for Canada to reevaluate the current system of CSIS handling national intelligence and exercising minor efforts abroad, to a system where CSIS is exported and revert to the days when the RCMP would handle all domestic espionage and surveillance operations. While not an immediate necessity, a dual system such as this would increase Canadian efforts to provide security at home, and protect the freedoms and liberties which pillar Western democracy abroad.

For the last eight years, Canadian policy makers and leaders have made a number of critical decisions regarding the sovereignty and power of our beloved nation, which have increased the international respect and prowess of the nation. These key choices, along with many others, have helped shape Canada into a serious economic, political and military contender in the current global landscape. If those with the vested power continue to make similar, forward-moving decisions, the 21st century, to echo former P.M. Wilfrid Laurier’s words, will also belong to Canada.

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