Politicians don't define us, we do
By: John Kennair
| Posted: Saturday, Mar 23, 2013 06:00 am
Last week, Jean Chrétien lamented the demise of Canada’s international reputation; we were no longer held in high esteem because of the policy decisions and actions of our current government. There is much irony with this for those who study Canadian foreign policy, because Chrétien was Canada’s least internationally active prime minister. This may be circumstantial though, as the world truly changed in 1991, just before Chrétien became prime minister, but still these comments seem more reminiscent of a bygone era, when such roles no longer apply: the Cold War was over. So where did that leave Canada?
The Chrétien government, in this post-Cold War era, began the process of re-branding Canada, giving us an image makeover. It sought to distinguish us from past comparisons to the U.S. and Britain, and it believed that we could become a world leader, espousing an ideal once stated by Wilfred Laurier.
But branding is nothing more than public relations, lacking substance for the most part, and never asking who we truly are as Canadians? Or really, why should that matter? The result seems to have been the creation of an ideal of Canada, but it was still based upon perceived stereotypes of how others saw us. Though it did project an image of Canada to the world, its real purpose was for domestic consumption, placating the Canadian ego.
This Liberal brand sought to define Canada as a peace-keeping nation, but it offered a revisionist mythology of our Pearsonian success story. This is why, on the 10th anniversary of the second Gulf War, Chrétien tried to re-justify why Canada did not get involved in this conflict in support of our southern neighbour. In truth, decades of budget cuts and the undermining of our Canadian military meant that Canada probably could not have actively participated in that conflict – we were already stretched thin on that front. But the Harper government has come forward with its own branding of Canada, which contradicts that of Chrétien’s, thus the reason for his lament.
The Harper government’s brand is more nationalistic and reminiscent of the historical glories extolled by states. Throughout history the tales and glories of wars have reflected a sense of prestige for states. This helps to explain why the Harper government chose to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the 1812 War with the U.S. This resonates well with the martial policies of this government, which seem to show us emulating and forming a closer alignment with the U.S. We have become perceptibly more active in military missions. We have also become more vocal in condemning regimes with whom we do not agree, usually an echo of those positions held in the U.S. Like that of the Chrétien era, most of these actions have been promoted for the domestic audience, in an effort to once again placate the Canadian ego.
So, two political parties have tried to define Canada for Canadians, giving us two competing versions of our country. Their reasons are quite obvious: it is part of their constant battle to gain power within Canada. In truth, however, it will never be possible to define Canada, because it will mean something different to each one of us. What it does do, however, is raise a passion within us that shows a love for our country: our patriotism. It is here where we will find our identity, within ourselves. We can then accept our differences, our foibles, and stop letting others define us.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.