Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

O Canada … rising?

Update : 11 Mar 2017, 02:43 PM

For as long as there has been an independent entity known as Canada, that entity has been overshadowed by her neighbor to the south whose sheer size in terms of population, economy, and military strength has dwarfed the former.

In terms of the economy, popular culture, and international engagement, therefore, it is little surprise that the polite and well-mannered Canadians have largely played the role of a loyal sidekick to the US since Second World War.

This hasn’t been a major problem since the two countries have had societies with similar -- though not identical -- core values and shared cultural heritage, and their respective governments have been in sync regarding the complementary role of the two English-speaking democracies in the world.

Certainly, such a harmonious partnership has not come without the occasional friendly spat; but when push has come to shove -- like during the Iranian hostage crisis -- the two neighbours have stood together hard and fast.

Time may have come for Canada to shine on its own now, after the breath-taking change in the orientation of the US in the aftermath of the 2016 elections. No longer can Canada count on her neighbour to be a solid partner for trade or a fierce advocate for the post-Cold War geo-political order whence global democratisation has been ideal.

Canada seems to have recaptured the optimism that once greeted the dawn of the neo-liberal world order

Indeed, some institutions that, heretofore, underlined the similarity between the societies on both sides of the 49th parallel, have come under unprecedented pressure in the US from the highest echelons of power.

Institutions like newspapers, professional and trade organisations, universities, and scientific bodies have long been part of the policy-making discourse in English-speaking democracies; whether they continue to be in the US under a populist administration is an open question now.

A similar trend seems to be growing, albeit much slowly, in places like Britain, France, Italy, and Poland where rising populist movements have stoked distrust of civic institutions with considerable success.

Canada, perhaps true to its “polite” image, has so far successfully avoided this populist rage engulfing other democracies. Rather, all the four major political parties in Canada have actively discouraged fringe groups that seek to undermine confidence in traditional political and civic institutions.

In its youthful prime minister with a sunny disposition, Canada seems to have recaptured the optimism that once greeted the dawn of the neo-liberal world order in the early 1990s, an order that was predicated on growing the remit of representative democracy, tolerance, pluralism, and free trade around the four corners of the planet.

In their own quiet ways, Canadian diplomats and security services have done more than their share in promoting that order, though often tempering it with the necessity of realpolitik.

Is this Canada’s moment to go from Robin to a co-Batman, maybe?

Many of the ingredients are there already. The neo-liberal world order is ripe for a titular leader whose domestic regime reflects a microcosm of that order’s optimistic narrative and who articulates the values inherent in the liberal democratic paradigm with the vigor, clarity, and moral authority that was once the province of American presidents like John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and George HW Bush. Without the heft of the American military muscle, arguably this role is difficult for anyone other than an incumbent tenant of the White House.

Yet, with so much of America’s own economic giants and NATO allies looking adrift in the new era, perhaps a case can be made for at least a temporary place holder for the title of the “Leader of the Free World.”

A former British prime minister had some premonition almost a century ago when he asserted with his characteristic bluntness that Canada was the “linchpin of the English-speaking world.”

In ways that the world hasn’t seen in several generations, that very exaggerated piece of wisdom may perhaps have some currency in it.

It may be too much and too early to see much beyond hyperbole in erstwhile Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s quip that he was so excited “about Canadians ruling the world,” but getting to the point of ruling the hearts of many around the world may not be that far off. Well, at least in the next four years of the interregnum in the traditional American leadership of the liberal democratic West.

Whether the traditionally modest and self-effacing Canadians are ready for such a role or not remains to be seen.

Esam Sohail is an educational research analyst and college lecturer who writes from Kansas, USA.

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