Canada’s franchise opportunity

Canada’s franchise opportunity
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A lot of unjustified worry has been spread by Canadian press this week following a Sunday revelation that the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada may soon be sharing diplomatic missions and embassies across the globe. As I discuss in today’s HuffPo column, the coverage has overwhelmingly veered towards the extreme and sensationalistic, with screaming front-page headlines raising all sorts of fears about neo-colonialism and the like. For his part, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has been happily stoking the conspiracy fires as well; “It’s all very nice to be nostalgic for the great British empire,” he shouted before the House of Commons, “but there are still limits!”

Part of the problem is this horribly smothering narrative of Prime Minister Harper as some sort of creepy neo-imperialistic Anglophile — “Arguably the most pro-British leader in the world at this moment” in the words of the Toronto Star‘s Bob Hepburn, whatever that means. As I’ve discussed before, this unfair reputation comes largely from the fact that the PM’s been willing to throw the occasional symbolic bone to monarchists — chiefly the rebranding of the Canadian armed forces with “royal” appellations last fall —  coupled with the media’s evidence-free instance that spectacles such as royal visits or jubilee medals were in some way unprecedented prior to his rule.

If this muddled collection of hasty overgeneralizations forms your prism for understanding the prime minister, then sure, obviously there was something troubling about the embassy announcement. Canada does, in fact, house some radical monarchists who are nostalgic for empire and would probably happily concede some powers back to Britain if given the chance. It would be troubling indeed if one of them had found his way to the PM’s office.

But of course one of them hasn’t. As some of this country’s more rational columnists have argued (sadly often in the same papers happily stoking Anglophilia conspiracies elsewhere) Britain and Canada are simply two conservative-minded nations presently more interested in austerity than diplomacy. To occasionally bunk bureaucrats in the existing overseas base of a friendly nation rather than build some grandiose new embassy or consulate — a move, it should be noted, which is as likely to involve Brits moving into Canadian offices as vice-versa — seems a perfectly reasonable attempt to trim the fat around what is traditionally one of the more lavish (and hidden) costs of foreign policy. Was the symbolism of choosing Britain for this partnership a bit loaded given Canada’s constitutional history? Perhaps, but as Michael Den Tandt notes in the National Post, it’s hard to imagine a comparably sensationalistic response had the Liberals come up with the idea.

What should be clear at this point is that Canada is no longer a nation where it’s possible to have rational debates about the Harper government. It’s possible to have debates about an abstract, theoretical concept known as Stephen Harper, of course — particularly if you’re some manner of shrill, paranoid leftist who likes to imagine this country’s progressive status quo on abortion, women’s rights, same-sex marriage, and immigration is under constant attack and need a straw man to blame — but the middle-of-the-road, exceedingly cautious, socially permissive, fiscally moderate incrementalist who actually runs Canada? Bah, he’s no fun.

This recent bout of anti-Harper fear-mongering over a fairly innocuous foreign policy reform may not be the worst example of Harper derangement syndrome (I don’t think anything will ever top the great gay marriage non-scandal of ‘012), but it is a fine instance of the exceedingly pointless, time-wasting non-debates over non-issues that increasingly dominate Canadian politics just the same. It would be nice if this was a phenomena exclusively isolated to ignorant blogs and social media chain letters, but unfortunately it’s as much a problem with Canada’s mainstream press and politicians as anyone else. Those who should know better rarely do these days.

When ignorance is so widespread, democracy inevitably suffers. Passionate debate and criticism is obviously a required component of any system of political accountability, but when we direct the majority of our critical faculties to positing conspiracies, speculating on hidden agendas. and sussing sweeping conclusions from barely-there half-truths, we’ve made a cruel mockery of the obligations of citizenship.

Of course, none of this is to deny that Canada’s current prime minister is a decidedly flawed and imperfect individual. There’s no shortage of legitimate complaints to direct his way.

I just hope one day we hear them.


  1. @SideshowJon36

    I'm not a Brit or a Canadian, but seems to me it would be silly for two sovereign countries to tie their diplomatic corps together. While Anglophone countries generally stick together (with the exception of the slimy New Zealanders), there may be times when in benefits the Canadians and British to have separate voices in diplomatic affairs.

  2. Hentgen

    Even if there were some benefit, could it possibly overcome the cost of keeping separate embassies in small/far-flung/unimportant nations? The answer is almost certainly no.

  3. SES

    They'll still have separate voices. I'm pretty sure there will still be separate ambassadors/high commissioners, even if only one of them is resident.

  4. JonasB

    Yea. It's like two people sharing an office building. Address is the same but offices are different.

  5. Guest

    What has New Zealand done? Apart from the dependence of their ex-pats on Australian welfare I always thought they were quite nice…

  6. Jake_Ackers

    Only thing I can think of is the New Zealand's nuclear-free zone. Other than that nothing much. New Zealand seems even more like Australia's Canada (and by that I mean the stereotype of what Canada is to the USA) than Canada is to the US. Frankly NZ seems more like AU's Puerto Rico at times. Great country but they tend to want to keep to themselves. And only worry about the Pacific islands if there is some kind of threat, ie: the nuclear testing near them.

  7. @MT_Richardson

    It's not unheard of for some smaller nations to share diplomatic mission buildings – it's not a merging of actual representation, just physical facilities, if I understand correctly.

  8. Jake_Ackers

    The Anglo-American alliance is a team effort. I'm sure everyone plays a role in some form.

  9. csgardner

    As an American, I wish I could throw some stones. Our polarization has only gotten wackier. You wouldn't have thought it could get any worse than the Bush derangement, but we moved right on to Obama derangement with barely a blip. Now we have Romney derangement, and he isn't even running anything yet. It just goes along with the bizarrely radical defenses of Obama going on in a large chunk of the media. I used to poo-poo the worries of over-polarization. Sigh.

  10. Wiseman

    Just as Canadians assumed we would be the junior partner in the arrangement, the UK press seemed confident that it was a British move to reassert world authority as a balance to the EU!

  11. CoSLaK

    Why is it that international, and even national, media portrays us as some calm, wimpy nation? Sure, we may be passive-agressive, but that doesn't mean we're second fiddle to anyone else! So why are we letting them treat us like this?

  12. Jake_Ackers

    One of the largest economies in the world and Canada doesn't act like it. Canada can throw it weight around without being in the shadow of the US and the UK. But frankly until Canada becomes independent it will always be seen as the yes men to the UK because of its commonwealth status. And being a neighbor to the US well that literally comes with the territory. Even so Canada can step out if it just focused on how large it is both by landmass and economic size.

    For w/e reason it seems like Canada just doesn't engage as much as it can. Frankly when Canada is pretty much saying the same thing as the US and Britain, it seems like Canada is just part of the team. Anglo-American politics (ie: US and UK plus the rest of the Commonwealth) is a team politics. Canada strength probably lies in flying under the radar and using it's influence in ways other countries like the US and UK can't.

  13. @RicardoB

    To be fair, I'd say it's more like a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

  14. Mr. H

    The problem with that analogy is that in all the stores like that I've been in, the Pizza Hut part is usually truncated into a Pizza Hut Express, where one can't always get the variety of toppings, sizes, or sides one wants with their pizza, while by comparison the Taco Bell part remains relatively uncompromised.

    Obviously, no one wants to look like the Pizza Hut in this case, hence the massive freakout.

  15. Dan

    Comment of the year.

  16. Hentgen

    "Canada does, in fact, house some radical monarchists who are nostalgic for empire and would probably happily concede some powers back to Britain if given the chance. It would be troubling indeed if one of them had found his way to the PM’s office."
    This made me LOL.

    Canadians like this are as rare and impotent as they get. No Canadian government would be able to get away with ceding any authority to Britain, nor would they be particularly interested in having it, nor would they argue if we asked for it back under the next government. Get real.

  17. J.J. McCullough

    Did you read the next sentence? I know these people are rare and impotent. And that's what makes it so insane that some commentators and politicians seem to think Harper is one.

  18. Hentgen

    I did read the next sentence. It's not "these people are rare and impotent." It's "But of course one of them hasn’t."

    You may have implied that they're rare, but by saying it would be "troubling" if one of them found their way into the PMO makes it sound like that they could conceivably find power. That's ridiculous. Even IF the PM himself were this monarchist boogeyman you trotted out, there would be no possible way for him to carry out his agenda.

    Honestly, I just find the idea of any person who would run for and win a position of power being such a sycophant that he would willingly give up his power to someone else, ignoring even the political suicidalness of it, so ridiculous that I wonder why it even needed to be said.

    The sky is blue. That's obvious, too.

  19. Guest

    I wouls love to see the ad in Craigslist –
    Something like
    Nice, outgoing and neat diplomatic mission seeks housemate to share lavish building. Must be democractic/freedom loving and speak english…
    Arab countries need not apply.

  20. Guest

    I've gotta say, one is left to wonder what would have happened if it were the AMERICANS Canada was sharing embassies with.

  21. @Cristiona

    Heads would explode.

  22. Kyle

    I'm really of two minds on this. Given the way diplomacy works, saying "You're not important enough for *both* of us to have embassies…" Shutting down an embassy due to cost concerns is something you'd expect of an impoverished nation, rather than two of the wealthiest countries on Earth.

    That being said, Canada, the US, and the UK have long traditions of representing each other's interests in countries where where one party has cut off ties, such as in the case with Canada representing the US in Cuba. This practice makes the sovereignty argument seem really silly. And given that many ambassadors are basically patronage for retiring/troublesome politicians, they can't be that important as positions.

    I find it more quirky and cheap looking than upsetting.

  23. Jake_Ackers

    At this rate Quebec will be free from Britain before Canada is.