By coincidence, the day this blog urged Canadian Liberals to return to their great tradition of advancing and modernizing Canada’s destiny as North Americans, Michael Ignatieff addressed the Montreal Council of Foreign Relations. His speech was probably in the “can” before this blog proffered advice. However, the extraordinary absence of anything of substance in his speech about the United States or the circumstances we share is noteworthy, to put it diplomatically.
In 3,900 words, entitled “Rebuilding Canada’s Leadership on the World Stage," he addressed over 80 acronyms, individuals, countries, capitals, global issues, institutions, arrangements, tensions, recent Canadian embarrassments, and diplomatic modalities.
At about the 3,000-word mark, Ignatieff observed: “Meanwhile, our border with the United Sates remains an obstacle to greater tourism and trade. We need to be thinning the border, not thickening it.” Had he used the term “the 49th”, he would have managed to canvass the globe without any reference to the United States.
The world is a big place. Nevertheless, except for the United States of America, in one speech, he was able to say something encouraging to offer almost every Canadian NGO and policy desk in the Department of External Affairs. His criticism of Stephen Harper was unreserved: an unlovable incompetent driven by “domestic politics” when he should be a global leader. In its evasions, however, this major speech was timorous.
(A Liberal paper released in June included two pages on “Renewing Partnerships in North America.” A Liberal government would “revitalize” the status quo by undertaking greater public advocacy in the United States and further collaboration in Washington on energy and the environment. Essentially, they’d do a better job with the same US files now on Harper’s desk.)
Ignatieff must know that our thick border is a direct manifestation not of failed diplomacy, but of longstanding national policies in our two countries. The border between Germany and France is open while ours is shut because, on our continent, we’ve decided to do politics differently. He must know as well that our border will not open unless Canada addresses anew how we relate to the United States and how we define our sovereignty—not as citizens of the world, but first as North Americans.
Fifteen years ago, the Chretien government could separate its affable global ambitions from its business relations with the United States—the un-dramatic cornerstone of the emerging global economy. Today, however, to speak on one day about the world and later, if at all, about the United States misses the mark: America is central to how Canadians provide for themselves and advance their interests and idealism internationally.