Chairman's Desk

To save our most precious relationship, Canada must start pulling its weight

A boat, all alone, in the middle of the ocean.

That’s how conservative thinker Sean Speer recently characterized Canada’s place in the world in an episode of “The Hub Dialogues” podcast. He’s not wrong. Aligned against us we have Russia, a long-term adversary; China, who views us as a major irritant; and now, of course, India.

And given India is currently the belle of the geopolitical ball, the timing couldn’t be worse as we watch nations — not the least of which are our closest allies — tripping over themselves to request a dance.

Whatever happened to the notion of Canada as the quintessential middle power, characterized by many friends and few enemies?

Good question. Now, many think things for our little raft are about to get worse — so much so, we might just sink.

So, what’s the threat? A Trump victory in 2024, of course. On this front, we shouldn’t have any illusions. Provided Justin Trudeau is still in power, we would have a U.S. president who is not only openly hostile toward our prime minister, but eager, for domestic political reasons, to dive back into his tariff tool box and put Canadian jobs in harm’s way.

The great irony and corresponding pain of this possibility is that it would come at a moment when Canada is more dependent on the U.S. than ever before. Because the truth, in this multi-polar landscape, is that Canada can only move but one way: toward our southern neighbour.

There’s just one problem: our friends no longer have open arms.

For all the sentimental rhetoric that often accompanies them, international friendships, fundamentally, are built on economic and security guarantees — on hard power. And when U.S. policymakers, on either side of their political aisle, look at us they see a country with both of these pockets turned inside out.

Make no mistake, the question of how we turn this position around is of existential importance for our national future. So what can be done?

Back when Trudeau was first elected in 2015, there was a mission in Liberal politics to diversify our trade relationships. There was a genuine, well-founded belief that Canada was too dependent on our relationship with the U.S. Moreover, it was thought the new prime minister’s star appeal on the international stage could be used to forge lucrative relationships.

Fast forward to today and this strategy has manifestly imploded. We’re back at the American doorstep, hat in hand, tail between legs. Ensuring we’re let in and even welcomed as old friends, requires us to do two things.

The first is being clear-eyed about the challenges facing our friendship regardless of who is president. A Biden victory might make things easier but his re-election does not magically guarantee Canadian prosperity. After all, this is the president who, on Day 1 of his presidency, killed the Keystone XL pipeline.

Second, is to understand we need a wholesale reset of the relationship based not in banal slogans of historic friendship but in substantive offerings. Here, there are numerous holes to plug — the most urgent of which is security. To build American trust and respect, we simply must correct the systemic underfunding of our military, not cut $1 billion of the annual National Defence budget as the federal Liberals now plan to do.

Freeloading is simply no longer acceptable. This is for another column but our energy riches actually give us a strong hand to play in selling the U.S. on a North American security and energy-sufficiency partnership.

Camus wrote, “if a man who places hope in the human condition is a fool, then he who gives up hope in the face of circumstance is a coward.” Easy to say. Harder to do. To neither be fools and believe that Americans will never restore Trump, nor cowards and panic if they do.

The path forward, under any circumstances, starts by recognizing our ship is now tied closer to our American allies than ever before, and understanding that the least we can do is to start pulling our weight.

This article first appeared in The Toronto Star on October 1, 2023.

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