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America Takes Note

Dick Cheney is scared of us and Iceland wants our dollar. Lessons for John Baird.

By: /
15 March, 2012
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The United States hardly noticed when Canada took a decidedly tougher stance on Iran than it did. It didn’t notice when a Canadian foreign minister visited Burma for the first time — or even, really, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper brought home two pandas and a big trade deal from China shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama said no to the Keystone XL pipeline.

But recently Canada has been making news on Foreign Policy‘s website, the one-stop-shop for any American interested in international affairs.

And it’s not just because a man who many political commentators have compared to the villain Penguin from Batman canceled a visit to Canada, citing concerns about his “personal security.”

First, after U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary and proclaimed, “I’ll get that oil from Canada that we deserve,” Vaclav Smil (a Canadian, but still one of Foreign Policy’s top global thinkers in 2010) noted that a “thank you” every once in a while from our neighbours to the south “would sure be nice.”

Only a week later, struck by news that Iceland might “go loonie,” Foreign Policy editor Joshua Keating brought attention to Laurence Smith’s argument that power is shifting not to the BRICs, but rather to the NORCs (northern rim countries).

Now, The Multilateralist’s David Bosco is taking note of OpenCanada’s debate on whether Canada should endorse Jeffrey Sachs’s candidacy for the presidency of the World Bank. Perhaps this is what happens when an international figure is compared to Dean Martin with keys to a liquor store. Regardless, it’s rare for anything Canadian to be modified with the adjective “feisty.”

Canada’s repeated presence on the web pages of Foreign Policy may be mere coincidence, but perhaps there is still a lesson to be learned.

As the G8 transforms into the G20 and an increasing number of emerging countries compete with Canada for status on the world stage, Canada no longer has the flexibility it once did to be a leader across many areas of international concern. Canada only has so much power on the international stage – to be effective, we must focus our efforts.

I’m not suggesting that we focus on oil. Or that we focus on Iceland. Or even that we focus on the End of Poverty. As Foreign Minister Baird embarks on a foreign-policy review, however, he would be well-advised to avoid publishing a broad overview of possible Canadian priorities. It’s better to stay narrow and dig deep. Then, maybe, a Canadian political leader could make it into Foreign Policy’s top global thinkers of 2012.

Before you click away, we’d like to ask you for a favour … 

Journalism in Canada has suffered a devastating decline over the last two decades. Dozens of newspapers and outlets have shuttered. Remaining newsrooms are smaller. Nowhere is this erosion more acute than in the coverage of foreign policy and international news. It’s expensive, and Canadians, oceans away from most international upheavals, pay the outside world comparatively little attention.

At Open Canada, we believe this must change. If anything, the pandemic has taught us we can’t afford to ignore the changing world. What’s more, we believe, most Canadians don’t want to. Many of us, after all, come from somewhere else and have connections that reach around the world.

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