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J.D.M. Stewart: The history of the future on Canada Day


It is useful for a country to look to its past for both wisdom and inspiration. Canada, to its good fortune, has had a number of leaders who have helped to shape the country and lay down the values for which this great Dominion has become the envy of the world. 

One such person was Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Prime minister from 1896 to 1911 and the first francophone to hold the position, he left an imprint with his words. “Laurier reveled in language as an artist might revel in paint,” wrote the late journalist and historian Bruce Hutchison in 1964.  

“I am a Canadian,” Laurier declared in 1911. “Canada has been the inspiration of my life. I have had before me as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day a policy of true Canadianism, of moderation, of conciliation.”

These values outlined by Sir Wilfrid in 1911 are clearly relevant today. You don’t have to be a linguist to see the connection between “conciliation” and “reconciliation”, a theme that rightly remains at the heart of the Canadian project today. A June report from the Environics Institute titled “Confederation of Tomorrow” noted that 67 percent of Canadians feel they have a role to play in advancing reconciliation, including half who say they feel strongly about this. This is good news.Relations with Indigenous Peoples

And while headlines were made with the report’s findings that 60 percent of Canadians were familiar with residential school history, the category most familiar with it was young people aged 18-24. Students are learning this in schools. Close followers of Canadians’ knowledge of the past might note that a number such as this 60 percent is actually quite impressive. For example, during the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017, only 49 percent of Canadians could correctly identify it as one of the country’s most significant battles of the First World War.Ipsos – Vimy Ridge History has not been our strong suit but many toil to change this. Indigenous history is top of mind in many classrooms from coast to coast to coast. 

While reconciliation necessarily continues, Laurier also reminds us that this country is about what lies ahead, too. “We cannot unmake the history of the past,” he wisely noted in 1902. “As to the history of the future, I hope it will continue to be what it is today, that is prosperity, cordiality, good fellowship, and goodwill amongst those whose privilege it is to be inhabitants of this good land of Canada.”

Sir Wilfrid’s optimism and attention to positive elements of our nature seem discordant during a period in this country when politicians appear to seek to divide us rather than unite us. When this is our starting point, when we think only about our own experiences and see the world as black or white, when we stop listening and cease to find solutions, we have lost the plot on what it means to be Canadian. 

Yet, each year on July 1 we get the opportunity to reflect and renew our commitment to Canada. There is much that holds this country together after 155 years besides “good fellowship and goodwill” (though we could certainly use more of both, along with a strong dose of “cordiality”). 

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the “Confederation of Tomorrow” report noted the importance of a document that close to 90 percent of Canadians agree is beneficial.Results from the Confederation of Tomorrow Survey of Canadians

“The overwhelming majority of people in Canada—young and old, men and women, rich and poor, Indigenous and non-Indigenous—say the Charter has been a good thing for the country,” wrote Andrew Parkin, executive director of Environics in The Globe and Mail in April.  

“This may be the only survey question that elicits the same strong, positive response from supporters of Québec solidaire and of Alberta’s United Conservative Party. If anything in this country unites us, it is support for the Charter.”Are Canadians finally at peace with their Constitution?

We are also held together by our continuing commitment to fighting injustice abroad as the Canadian government, and perhaps more importantly, individual citizens, have rallied to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion. The grassroots benefit concerts, bake sales, and refugee support exemplify Canada at its best. 

There is no doubt that it has been a difficult year for Canada. Inflation has many families worried. More unmarked graves were found near residential schools. There were the protests in Ottawa this winter that at the very least revealed stark differences of opinion and an egregious lack of civility. But it also showed a growing chasm between the government and the governed. Not surprisingly, Monsieur Laurier had something to say about all of this in what is a fitting message for all Canadians as we celebrate the nation formed in 1867.  

“Be adamant against the haughty; be gentle and kind to the weak. Let your aim and your purpose in good report or in ill, in victory or in defeat, be so as to live, so to strive, so to serve as to do your part to raise the standard of life to higher and better spheres.”

Stephen Nagy: Canada has pressing interests in the Indo-Pacific region. It’s time we started acting like it


The Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) initiative,Establishing the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP): joint statement the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue,Defining the Diamond: The Past, Present, and Future of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue AUKUS,FACT SHEET: Implementation of the Australia – United Kingdom – United States Partnership (AUKUS) and the Indo-Pacific Framework (IPEF)The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework: What it is — and why it matters have two things in common. First, they are meant to contribute to sustainable institution building in the Indo-Pacific, and second, Canada is not part of any of these mini-lateral arrangements. 

Considering Canada is a G-7 country, is part of the Five Eyes Network, and is participating in maritime security operations in the Sea of Japan through the Neon Operations to ensure that North Korea does not evade sanctions, its absence is conspicuous. 

Why is Canada being excluded from these emerging institutions in the Indo-Pacific region? Why is Canada not seen as a second or third choice for these emerging institutions that are providing the framework for institutional building within the Indo-Pacific?

There are possibly three explanations for Canada’s absence: 1) political leadership; 2) domestic literacy about the importance of the Indo-Pacific region and how that translates into Indo-Pacific policies; and 3) credibility. 

First, political leadership matters. This means the prime minister, vice premier, foreign minister, and defence minister should be crafting a foreign policy for the region that links Canada’s national interests to the evolution of the region. Here, Canada has an enduring interest in ensuring that the region is stable and open for trade. This means institutions and rules that are adopted in the region are in line with Canadian interests and provide Canadian businesses with open access to the region’s economy. 

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly and Defence Minister Anita Anand received mandate letters to develop a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy in December 2021. In June 2022, Canada’s Indo-Pacific Advisory Committee was formed to contribute to formulating a strategy. This comes more than a year after the May 2021 Shared Canada-Japan Priorities for contributing to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

Others such as Mark Agnew, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President, Policy and Government Relations, have appeared at the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, stressing that in “an Indo-Pacific Strategy, the elements that pertain to China will be critical. It is important to be clear-eyed about the size of the market and of course the geopolitical challenges. How we engage with China needs to have intelligently balanced considerations and it must be anchored around cooperation with allies.”

Agnew’s comments stress that China should be part of an Indo-Pacific strategy, not the Indo-Pacific strategy, and echos Canadian Indo-Pacific thinkers such as Jonathan Berkshire Miller, Kenneth Holland, Maxandre Fortier, Marco Munier, and Justin Massie.

Aggregating Indo-Pacific writing, there seems to be consensus, in one way or another, around key pillars that include: 1) middle power diplomacy; 2) climate change; 3) inclusive development; 4) energy and critical minerals security; 5) economic security and resilience through infrastructure and connectivity; 6) maritime security.

Another important area that would be important is supporting Canadian businesses within the Indo-Pacific region through enlarging the CPTPP,Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) deregulation, and being part of the standard-setting for key technologies that will shape the region’s economy, governance, the relationship between the state and citizens, privacy, AI, quantum computing, and cyberspace. 

Second, domestic literacy about the importance of the Indo-Pacific region and how that translates into Indo-Pacific policies. The MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI) and Asia Pacific Foundation (APF) have both conducted research on Canadian views of the Indo-Pacific (Asia-Pacific).

MLI’s findings suggest that “For countries that share Canadian interests, values, and systems of democratic governance, there are significant opportunities to strengthen ties and public perceptions of these alliances in East Asia.” Similarly, the APF National Poll found that Canadians were warming to like-minded democratic states, were significantly cooling on China, but, overall, recognized the importance of Asian economies to Canada.  

Neither poll investigates the Indo-Pacific/Asia-Pacific literacy amongst respondents, and this may be part of the crux of the absence of a Canadian Indo-Pacific Strategy. For the average Canadian and Canadian business, there is little if no difference in using the terms Indo-Pacific, Asia-Pacific, or simply Asia. 

They primarily see the region through trade opportunities and, importantly, Chinese belligerence after the hostage diplomacy incident following the arrests of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. These negative perceptions have been worsened with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, substantiated reports on so-called Uyghur reeducation camps, and the crushing of the One-country/ Two-systems model for Hong Kong after the adoption of the 2020 National Security Law.      

This lack of literacy in regard to the entire region contributes to the lack of focus of Canadian politicians in crafting an Indo-Pacific Strategy.  

Third is credibility. The 2022 annual CFPJ Trudeau Report Card produced by David Carment and graduate students at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, in consultation with experts throughout Canada, highlights that the “government’s diplomatic performance is hampered by rhetorical overreach, squandered opportunities, failures to engage, hypocrisy, and irrelevance. The most recent example of Canada’s fall from grace is its glaring absence at the Oslo talks on Afghanistan.”

In a similar vein, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy spearheaded an open letter including the voices of 40 Canadian scholars, experts, and former diplomats stressing that “if Canada continues to marginalize the vital role of foreign policy discussions at home, it risks diminishing its ability to secure its way of life and prepare for an increasingly uncertain world.”

This credibility gap is not just at home. As a growing number of countries put forth their own Indo-Pacific strategy, the common refrain is where is Canada? What is Canada doing? How will it distinguish itself from the U.S. and be sustainable? 

These sentiments are exacerbated by past intransigences such as the last-minute walk-out from the original TPP signing in Danang in November 2017 or its penchant for advocating for a progressive agenda in trade deals, resulting in failures such as the Canada-China FTA. 

The way forward is clear. Political commitment to securing Canada’s proactive and sustained role in the Indo-Pacific through a clear articulation of Canadian interests in the region. 

Getting Canadian buy-in will require leaders to succinctly and simplistically explain why the region is important for Canadians. For example, outside of North America, the Indo-Pacific region presents the largest economic opportunity for Canadians. We have a direct interest in ensuring the region remains rules-based, open, and stable. 

Lastly, we have to rebuild credibility through a sustained diplomatic, economic, and security engagement in the region built around like-minded allies and institutions. The Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) initiative, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, AUKUS, and the Indo-Pacific Framework (IPEF) are excellent points of engagement to demonstrate Canada’s commitment to the region.