The Best of OpenCanada.org in 2013
Over the course of 2013, OpenCanada.org published 324 blog posts and comments, 32 essays, 54 interviews, and 16 graphics. Here are our 10 favourite pieces from the past year.
Starting a New Canadian Aid Conversation
“Canada’s foreign aid conversation is lost,” wrote John McArthur in the introduction to his series on Canadian aid published in June. “The issues to be resolved are much more fundamental than problems of bureaucratic org charts. They require systematic and robust thinking, rather than the loose commentary commonly trotted out during moments of sporadic media debate.” In the three parts that followed, McArthur unpacked some of the most common misconceptions around foreign aid, provided historical context for the current debates, assessed the current state of global need, and suggested a way forward that would bring together the range of key constituencies required to make aid truly effective.
ON THE NSA SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL
Spies Gone Wild
One of the biggest stories of the year was the fallout from the NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden. In this essay published in November, William Bendix and Paul Quirk compare the surveillance apparatus and the bodies that oversee them in the U.S. and Canada. Their recommendation: “major institutional reforms to strengthen oversight of their intelligence services and to improve policy deliberations on national-security strategies.”
Just the Facts: But Which Ones?
It is no secret that the Harper government is in favour of the Keystone pipeline. When the prime minister pitched it to a business audience in New York this September, he said that his position was based on the facts and “the facts are clear.” But that depends on the facts you choose says Madelaine Drohan. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has facts too, and they’re just as clear.
Digitally Enhanced Protest
What started out as a small protest in Sao Paulo over bus fares quickly spread to more than 350 cities in Brazil. To Robert Muggah, “the rapid spread of these demonstrations is the ultimate expression of open empowerment – the emboldening of millions of wired young people worldwide to press for change.”
ON THE ACADEMIC-POLICY DIVIDE
One of Those Fiddlers…
In June, the Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin published a column chastising Canadian political scholars for not playing a prominent role in national political debates – for fiddling while Rome burns. Steve Saideman took issue with this portrayal, noting that a new generation of academics are very much active in political debates through any number of mediums.
ON DIGITAL DIPLOMACY
The Digital Diplomacy Revolution
“The practice of international diplomacy is undergoing a revolution,” wrote Roland Paris in June. “[and] Canada is lagging far behind.” This can and must change, Paris argues, if Canada wants to avoid becoming a bystander in an increasingly fragmented world.
On the Ground in Afghanistan
Graeme Smith, former foreign correspondent for the Globe and Mail, returned to Afghanistan as a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. In this interview, Smith describes a country that the international community failed, but shouldn’t just give up on.
Taylor Owen considers the psychological impact of living under drones: “Imagine that you are living somewhere in Pakistan, Yemen, or Gaza where the U.S. suspects a terrorist presence. Day and night, you hear a constant buzzing in the sky. Like a lawnmower. You know that this flying robot is watching everything you do. You can always hear it. Sometimes, it fires missiles into your village.”
Turning Perception into Reality: Canada in Africa
“Canada’s image as a humane internationalist country deeply engaged with Africa relies on an idealized version of history, where we have provided steadfast support to the continent through aid, development assistance, and peacekeeping” writes David Hornsby. Today, we are about as far from that ideal as we have ever been. But while Canada’s engagement with Africa is disappointing, a rapidly changing continent could offer new opportunities.
ON THINK TANKS
Better Think Tanks, Better Foreign Policy
Canadian think tanks are on the ropes, starved for adequate funding and too often engaged in tired, 20th-century debates, argue Taylor Owen and Robert Muggah in this essay. And “without a robust think tank sector, the debates on global concerns – from energy and climate change to overseas assistance and arms control – turn partisan. As a result, foreign policy directives are informed more by ideology than evidence.” Owen and Muggah offer five ways to turn this trend around.