Canada Foreign Policy
Thursday, March 31, 2005

Three Amigos

On 31 March 2005 Ottawa joined the European Union. That is, the Liberal government teamed with the EU and other countries over trade with the Americans. Effective 1 May, Canada will be collecting on “millions of dollars worth of sanctions on U.S. imports in retaliation for a lingering trade irritant” [“Canada Fires Trade War Salvo…,” AP, 31 March 2005. Story posted at]. Impacted goods will include live swine and oysters from the U.S., and the windfall to Canadians could be in the range of $14-15 million per year. All this is in response to the Byrd Amendment, an Act the World Trade Organization calls “illegal” and which “allows American companies to keep the proceeds that Washington collects in anti-dumping disputes -- something Canada and other countries complain unfairly enriches their U.S. rival firms” [“Canada Fires Trade War Salvo…,” AP, 31 March 2005. Story posted at].

But is Washington taking notice? Will this really broadside the US economy?

Only about a week ago, on 23 March 2005, things seemed very much different. PM Paul Martin, along with US President George Bush and Mexico’s President Vicente Fox met in Waco, Texas. More than anything, these three amigos seemed to favour cooperation, deciding to agree to go ahead with Fortress North America, concluding that wide-ranging accords on security and prosperity were in everybody’s interest. Gone, at least for the reporters, was even the hint that tensions existed between Martin and Bush over the former’s refusal to sign on to missile defense. Closer ties, said Martin, would translate into greater independence for Canada. There would be no intention to cede national sovereignty. “If you're competitive, if your standard of living is rising, then in fact what you're doing is strengthening your sovereignty,” he noted [cited in]. Fox added his support, stressing North America faces “new threats that carry a risk for our societies, but we also want to work toward the good performance of our economies…We want to make North America the most competitive region in the world, and we can do it with actions in the fields of energy, education, technology, security and through protecting our natural resources” [cited in].

Some may argue that for Bush the meeting was little more than a distraction, and that the sanctions to go into effect on 1 May will go little, if at all, noticed. Washington may have in mind Fortress Americas, stretching as far as the southern-most tip of Chile. If Bush believes he can ignore Canada, he may yet be in for a surprise. Minister of Foreign Affairs Pierre Pettigrew, also in Texas, found himself carded by security. Evidently the secret service didn’t recognize him, or just couldn’t believe his claim about being a foreign minister. If this doesn’t prompt him to do something that grabs attention at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we may have to settle for Pettigrew getting a new passport.

Stan Markotich
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Sunday, March 20, 2005
  I'm sure there has to be a line between fact and fiction. But does this mean we should watch Thunderball as documentary?

Stan Markotich
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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bigger and Smaller

For some reason, the exact numbers seem a little difficult to track down. In any case, the story goes something like this: in 2004 Ottawa had foreign aid commitments amounting to roughly $2.6 billion to about 115 countries. Most of these states were the recipients of mere pennies, getting sums of $5 million or less. In early March news came the federal government would overhaul how foreign aid works. While the exact details of any changes are not likely to surface in advance of a long-awaited foreign policy review, it has been learned that the number of countries to benefit will be reduced, dramatically. It may just turn out that no more than 20 or so can look forward to Canadian dollars.

The new approach will be sold as an effort to target spending, a measure that’s guaranteed to go a long way not only for the dollar, but also for the developing world. Gone will be the days of pouring scarce resources into infrastructure and agriculture; the new focus is on education, with some funds going to healthcare. To qualify, countries are not going to have to be just dirt poor, but demonstrate more than a mere verbal pledge to “strong civil service, good laws enforced by an independent judiciary, a respect for human rights and an aversion to corruption”. At least that what International Co-operation Minister Aileen Carroll says. If you’re one who suspects cutting from the most needy can do little to solve global poverty, you’d be among the confused and ill informed. Carroll explains: “If we are to effectively reduce -- and ultimately eliminate -- global poverty, we must better co-ordinate and focus our effort…For Canada, that means not doing everything and not being everywhere” [Text of Minister Carroll’s speech cited in CTV News, 9 March 2005. Article posted at]. The key to targeting aid rests in bigger amounts for a smaller number of countries. Why the world’s emerging economic superpower, China, remains on the recipient list is not explained. To date, not even the argument that pouring money into the Middle Kingdom will help set up that country not just as a model, but as a new platform which will evolve into a major donor, has been offered up.

These days, retrenching is a theme more popular than perhaps most of us suspect. In what appears an unrelated item, news broke several days ago that the idea of Fortress North America is very much in vogue again, at least among the trilateral commission architects of a report for the US-based Council on Foreign Relations. The idea is to turn Canada, the United States and Mexico into a European Union for this continent, an eventuality, say the proponents of the idea, made necessary by security and economic factors. Former Deputy PM John Manley, likely preparing to use the Fortress idea in a possible leadership contest in the not too distant future, claims: “The security of North America is indivisible” and when leaders from the three countries meet next week, they should embrace the plan, “think big ... show some vision.” [Cited in “Fortress America’ Sparks New Fears,” by Tim Harper, Vive le Canada, 15 March 2005. Posted at]. What remains unclear is how China is going to be regarded. The trilateral free enterprisers recognizing Beijing’s growing economic clout will likely seek to defend the Fortress concept while claiming it will in fact somehow facilitate trade with the wider world. If that is to be the strategy, why for now are citizens “being offered a new vision of a Fortress North America in which the continent is wrapped in a security perimeter from the Arctic all the way to the Guatemalan border” [cited in “Fortress America’ Sparks New Fears,” by Tim Harper, Vive le Canada, 15 March 2005. Posted at]?

The trend seems to be towards thinking bigger, but planning on a smaller scale. Is anyone thinking about what this might turn out to mean?

Stan Markotich
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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Canada Says “Hi Bob!”? How a Dated Game Goes with Old Ideas

It’s just hours away from being 17 March. I think we all know what that means. The Tory Party is about to kick off its policy convention in what promises to be an affair without suspense, without much interest from the public. Already having indicated the internal split between old Conservatives and former Reformers is so deep, so profound, all signs point to so little being done, save for papering over the discord by saying the Parliamentary Caucus will treat all contentious issues by allowing free votes. This means the official stance of the Party is to avoid making policy; the result, a policy convention without policy and, one may assume, devoid of substance. The effort will no doubt be made to market this as the work of a party so committed to grass-roots democracy, its mantra is “free vote.” And while tempers may flare and personal animosities surface, even this is unlikely to captivate and entertain the masses. So if you’re planning to follow every moment of this event, what to do? How to stay awake?

I suggest that, given what’s about to materialize, going this one alone is next to impossible. You’ll need to gather at least a few friends, for moral support. If that doesn’t work, you and your friends may have to resort to playing “Hi Bob,” the Canadian version. The “Hi Bob” party, an institution on American college campuses, involves a room full of shot glasses and, ideally, an equal number of frat boys. The point of the game is to watch as many episodes of Bob Newhart’s old classic TV series, downing a shot of hard liquor each time one of the characters in the show says “Hi Bob.”

The Canadian version of this classic pursuit will, I suspect, prove even more intoxicating and mirth-inducing than the original. Of course, responding with a shot to “Hi Bob” doesn’t happen, as the Tories will supply their own linguistic gems. And who says a player has to stop with just one shot? A new, more complex set of rules could be adopted. For example:

Down one shot every time either leader Stephen Harper or any elected MP says: “national unity”, “all Canadians”, “traditional values”, “Red Tory”, “freedom of choice”, “gun registry”, “lack of leadership”, “same-sex marriage”, “missile defense”, “sponsorship scandal”, “opportunity”, “Tory Youth [NB-but only in the context of ‘How come we don’t have any?’]”, “Dithers”, “social issues”, “NDP leader Jack Layton”, “American neighbours”, “Michael Ignatieff [NB-but only in the context of some Tory making, emphatically, the point that Conservative ideas are actually older than Ignatieff’s]”, “Bare Naked Ladies”, or “election”.

Down two shots anytime there’s even a hint of linkage between Belinda Stronach and Peter MacKay. Down three shots if David Frum is mentioned, and four if he’s linked in any way with Canadian foreign policy. Five shots may be called for if Harper manages to offend the people of the Maritimes via an explanation of how Atlantic Canadians are a hard-working, industrious lot. A whole bottle may have to go down if any high profile Tory manages to offend the people of Quebec by attempting to make a point in French…And so on and so on.

Watch TV or turn on the radio only if you absolutely must, and drink responsibly. 17 March 2005, the birth of a new Canadian tradition? "Hi Stephen!"

Stan Markotich
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Saturday, March 12, 2005
  Of interest:

Stan Markotich
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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

How does a Canadian spell CANADA? C-eh-N-eh-D-eh. For coverage of issues from coast to coast, look to peace, order, and good government, eh:

And what’s going on with the public eye?

Stan Markotich
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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

So say you’re a Hollywood producer and you wanted, badly, to make some kind of superhero picture. But just then you realize you don’t have the budget for all those special effects. What to do? One solution may be to develop a character with powers more potent than the ability to bend steel or trap villains in giant webs. This character will be endowed with the purity of middle class virtue. Better still if the production can be “based” on real world goings on. There will be audience appeal, and some will argue the result is profound filmmaking.

Not too long ago Dr. Eric Gordy (of wrote about Hotel Rwanda. It is with his kind permission that I repost his piece. This is an important contribution to the sociology of film, and has something to say to foreign affairs observers as well.

Thanks Eric.

Hotel Rwanada

We finally had a chance today to see Hotel Rwanda, the cinematic adaptation of the story of the urbane hotel manager who housed and protected people who sought refuge in the luxurious Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali.

If there is a story designed for the Hollywood heroic-individual-does-what-they-said-could-not-be-done treatment, probably it is the story of Paul Rusesabagina, who cobbled together connections, inside information, what bribery he could muster and good will to protect people who every major institution, from powerful countries and the United Nations to established religions, outrageously failed to stand up for. Together with the Canadian general Roméo Dallaire, repeatedly undercut by a scandalously indifferent UN bureaucracy, Mr Rusesabagina is one of the few genuine candidates for hero status from the Rwandan genocide. The film prefers Mr Rusesabagina's modest heroism to Mr Dallaire's tragic mode. While Mr Dallaire is demoted to colonel and suffers the further indignity of being played by Nick Nolte, Don Cheadle's Rusesabagina functions at all times as the embodiment of every middle-class virtue a viewer can imagine.

One can only complain so much about the Hollywood treatment. The film is not a documentary and does not pretend to offer a reliable historical record. There have been documentaries, which were sparsely watched. I have taught enough courses in which the explanation of Rwanda has to begin with "where is Africa?" that I am accepting of a little melodrama as the price of getting information out. Still, two things disturbed me. One was the individualistic mode of storytelling in which a few big figures seemed to direct the activity of others (refuge seekers, killers) who matter crucially but do little. In the context, it is confusing. The second is the "plot resolution" at the end, in which a couple of ICTR verdicts are deployed to imply that everything has been resolved and justice done. Anyone who has followed the ICTR and domestic initiatives knows how incomplete this is.

Still, it is a film more likely to enlighten than mislead, and is considerably less sanitized and ideological than the average political thriller. When we left the theatre, there were students outside handing out leaflets proclaiming "Prevent 'Hotel Darfur'." But we know how that story comes out: it was not prevented and nobody will be defended. Maybe afterward somebody in entertainment or journalism will find another heroic individual to celebrate, and everybody can feel a little bit better that such a person exists and immensely relieved that it is someone else.”

Stan Markotich
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Monday, March 07, 2005

Canada in Crisis?

It’s over. Read about the Great Liberal TV event, the convention:

Well, Liberals have just wrapped up their latest convention, endorsing Great Leader Paul Martin’s stewardship of the Party. The whole affair concluded with a love-in; Martin promising to wipe-out the competition at the polls, when that time comes, and the followers endorsing his leadership with a margin that might have made Stalin or Mao envious.

Some in the media have already taken to describing what happened as “a sort of Gong Show” event, a political party creating a carnival atmosphere, spilling so much rhetoric and energy over discussion of matters average Canadians maybe don’t even think about. So I suppose I can understand why “the Gong Show.”

With so many changes going on in the world, Canada’s Liberals claimed they looked way into the future, divined the issues, and came away with a lock on the forward looking solutions the public demands. Yes, they saw so far into the future, so far, they ran right into the late 1960s-mid 1970s all over again. Foreign policy was discussed, but mostly evaded or avoided. When it was dealt with, the emphasis involved touting initiatives that could restore and revitalize our “soft power”—all very cutting-edge for something that might have been talked about 30 years ago. Then we had the youth and their allies. There was no shortage of discussion focusing on burning social questions. As a result, I am now racked with guilt for not having voted for Tommy Chong all these years. Seems we in this country are supposed to be transfixed talking about the legalization of marijuana, and maybe little else. So does this mean that, finally, all critical social issues have been explored? Hardly, I fear. What’s now finished may be just the warm-up for the all too critical compulsory cross-dressing legislation debate.

I’m not at all sure how confined to our national borders the effects of this past Liberal convention were/are. While non-industrial hemp may not be on too many formal agendas just to the south of us, it may just be possible that at least some inhaling is going on. Only a few weeks ago I wrote about ignorance as virtue, as asset, in foreign policy. Now some of our southern neighbours have seen the light, with media accounts emerging there saying that President Bush’s lack of knowledge of the Middle East was the factor that enabled him to initiate policies that are resulting in reform in that part of the world. Still other reports now claim that region is awash in liberal democracy.

All this actually making you want to turn to (legal/legalized?) Liberal solutions? If so, sit tight. In just a few short weeks the Tory convention opens, and I think we’ll want all our faculties unimpaired. High hopes? Lofty expectations? You bet. When the Conservatives pick up where the Liberals left off, I want Chuck Barris’ legacy to have some shot at living on.

Stan Markotich
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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Today, just two words: KITIMAT WATCH. From BC’s far North comes a new voice that promises to make some very important contributions to the writing and understanding of this often neglected part of the country. In the years ahead, both the town of Kitimat and the region it belongs to will grow in significance. Economics and geopolitics have much to do with this. So, I hope we all observe the process, and watch Kitimat:

Stan Markotich
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Friday, March 04, 2005

For those of you who’ve asked: yes, my last essay was indeed actually about the state of global politics, with maybe a prediction of how tensions will play out in the long term. That stuff about Dithers and his reaction to missile defense was a hook that allowed me to develop the story…Seems already the diplomats and analysts have kicked into high gear, attempting to smooth over the crisis triggered by Dithers’ remarks. They’re resorting to linkage, but this time to fix a problem instead of using it to complicate issues. If only Washington hadn’t been so wrong on trade… if only, or so they’re saying.

…And now on to the new. Dr. George Irani, professor at Royal Roads on Vancouver Island, teaches and writes about the Middle East. Not too long ago he published an article exploring Canada’s role in the region. He also brings up a crucial issue that many either aren’t aware of, or simply don’t understand; namely, while oil is an important factor determining international responses to and within the region, it may not be the only factor guiding policy. I urge you to read a very worthwhile piece:

Stan Markotich
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A discussion of geopolitics and Canada's role in the world. A series of essays to examine the components of Canadian foreign policy making. Psychological, sociological, historical, and cultural variables impacting Canada's perceptions of the world.

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