Poor Canada. Like any nation, we want to believe that we’re leaders on the world stage. When we manage to escape the usual trap of negative identity definition (i.e., we don’t know what we are, but we sure aren’t America . . .), we have relied on some pretty tired images to define ourselves. Lester Pearson came up with the idea of a UN peace-keeping force back in the 50s, so we define ourselves as a nation of peace-keepers. We have a lot of rocks and lakes and trees, which we quite enjoy, so we define ourselves as environmental leaders. If you look at the evidence, though, neither of these characterizations are exactly true in 2008.
Not only are these tired and not-so-true definitions becoming globally revealed as the empty shells they are, but by hanging onto them so strongly we are quickly moving to – horrors – global irrelevance. I was looking at international coverage of the G8 summit, which is currently taking place in Japan, and the pundits were weighing in on whether the G8 serves a useful function and, if it does, whether its membership should be amended. In the discussion about amendment, Canada was one of the main targets for questions about the relevance of the current membership. Canada has a smaller economy than Spain – why is one included and the other isn’t? Canada “brings nothing to the table,” and emerging super-powers like India, China, Brazil and South Africa have as much right to be there as we do, if not more. Apparently, PM Harper has been talking about the importance of the G8 as bringing together “the major advanced democratic nations of the world,” but it seems that fewer and fewer people are buying the benefit of these annual summits.
It seems like it’s time for us to look long and hard at what we do, and how it’s perceived, if we really want to continue to be a “leader on the world stage” – or maybe we don’t, and we should just strive to be a middle power with the best domestic policy possible, in which case we are still going to have to take that good long look in the mirror, and figure out what facets of our identity actually stand up to scrutiny.