A less Naïve Canada on Foreign Policy?

Commentary, Culture Wars, Gerry Bowler

Pope Francis gave a speech recently in which he praised attachment to one’s own culture and place, criticizing global capitalism with its “consumerist vision of human beings” for its “levelling effect on cultures, diminishing the immense variety which is the heritage of all humanity”. But in Canada, nationalism – the idea that one should have particular regard for one’s own country – is an unpopular idea in many circles. 

Indeed, our current Prime Minister has a hard time conceiving of any Canadian core identity and has called for Canada to be the “first post-national state”. , whatever that may be. Globalism, a disdain for borders and an unthinking openness, are held as the virtues of contemporary political and media elites. But, there is still something to be said about the virtues of nationalism and skepticism about globalism.

Canada has committed itself to a policy of freer trade, signing agreements with the USA, Mexico, the European Union, and the World Trade Organization. In return for the right to sell our agricultural and extractive industry products more easily, we allowed our manufacturing sector to be gutted and replaced by cheaper Asian and Mexican imports. The televisions, washers, shoes, and shirts that we used to make now come overwhelmingly from abroad.

While many call the loss of manufacturing jobs a decent trade-off, the dominance of China’s aggressive economy has caused second thoughts. As the coronavirus crisis has shown, open borders mean diseases travel more rapidly and supply chains are endangered. Consider this: China controls the production of most of Canada’s medicines –  80% of the planet’s pharmaceuticals active ingredients come from China, not a country known for its strict manufacturing safety standards. What would be the result if threatened with a cut-off of medicines from China? Not a happy thought.

And then there is the Chinese stranglehold on rare earths, essential in high-tech manufacturing – electric car batteries, cell phones, etc. China ignores the enormous pollution problems from these mines and has been spending enormous amounts to buy up rare earth sites around the world. (The Chinese government held Japan to ransom by withholding exports of these materials when the two countries were at odds in 2010. Couldn’t they use this trade weapon again.)

But whatever threat China poses to Canada (we have already experienced their bullying over our arrest of Meng Wanzhou), we shouldn’t remain indifferent to our dependence on the USA in trade matters and national defence. Every Canadian government of the past few decades has been aware that our prosperity rests on access to the American market, and is mindful of the dangers of an over-reliance. 

We have been too lax in creating a credible military capable of defending our enormously-long borders, preferring to nestle under the American shield. Let us not forget that, historically, when the US has made territorial claims against Canada, we have tended to end up on the losing side. Now, in the twenty-first century, the Yankee eagle is casting a covetous eye on our Arctic passages. In 2019, the Trump administration called our claims there “illegitimate”.

Canada would do well to be a little more nationalistic and a lot less naïve.


Gerry Bowler is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy