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Rough Patches in Canada’s Relationship with Europe, from Africa to Afghanistan

May 18, 2009

Doug Saunders has a dispiriting piece in the Globe and Mail, identifying four areas of recent friction between Canada and the EU: the seal hunt, our redistribution of foreign aid away from Africa, our “bullying” requests for help in Afghanistan, and  our “sabre rattling” with respect to Russia. In each case, Saunders sees a failure of Canadian policy. Let’s take them one at a time.

1. The seal hunt. On this issue, Saunders concedes that “Europe’s views are probably outdated, wrong and ignorant of aboriginal traditions”. However, he argues that Stephen Harper should nevertheless have considered “sacrificing the seal hunt…in order to gain a larger victory”, or at least stopped Tory MPs from voting to incorporate sealskin into the Olympic uniform. I agree about the second bit, but abandoning the seal hunt would have been a concession too far to European squeamishness.

2. Withdrawing aid from Africa. Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy are both enthusiastic about engagement with Africa, and Saunders thinks they looked askance at Canada’s decision to redirect a lot of aid to Latin America. My feelings about this one are mixed. The redistribution was supposedly about concentrating our resources, which doesn’t sound like a bad idea. However, the choice of Latin America as the new focus is surely more debatable. I suppose it’s nice to be helping nations in our own hemisphere, but helping African nations is nice too – and maintaining good relations with Europe is probably more important, in terms of Canadian interests, than either.

3. Military bullying, as Saunders calls it. Germany, in particular, is apparently unhappy about Canadian requests to send more troops to Afghanistan. They already have a larger contingent over there than we do, and don’t appreciate being badgered to join the fighting in the south. Again, mixed feelings. Germany is already making an important contribution, and even northern Afghanistan, where the Bundeswehr is currently deployed, is no playground. In fact, an infantryman named Sergej Motz recently became the first German soldier to be killed by direct enemy fire since the Second World War, when a Taliban grenade hit his armoured vehicle. On the other hand, one would think a major European power with centuries of military tradition could do a little more – but when we ask, we should ask nicely.

4. Rattling sabres at Russia. Saunders objects to Harper’s “outspoken campaign to portray Russia as a retro-Communist aggressor in the Arctic and Eastern Europe”, and particularly his advocacy of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. On this point I’m in almost complete agreement with Saunders. We need to stand reasonably firm in the Arctic, but Harper’s tone towards Russia has been one of pointless provocation, and I don’t blame Western European leaders for finding it alarming.

At a time when we’re supposedly working towards free trade with the EU, and when we need to diversify away from our absurd economic and strategic dependence on the US, a less strident and high-handed approach to dealing with our European friends would definitely seem appropriate.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. reneethewriter permalink
    May 23, 2009 9:21 pm

    Thanks for the detailed/over/view, Cor…er, is that an oxymoron?

    And my two bits worth, D.Saunder is a bit dispiriting…but then, i tend to be a wee bit, shall we say, Fisk/ette on the G&M…r

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