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Canada Day Musings on the Arctic and the Governor General

July 1, 2009

Over at the Globe and Mail, Canada Day seems to have prompted a bit of soul-searching. Franklyn Griffiths invites us all to “grab a cold one and think pan-Arctic thoughts”, which is a pretty good line. Unfortunately, I found the rest of the column to be a bit mushy. Griffiths seems worried that Canadians are indulging in “[e]xaggerated worry over Arctic sovereignty”, whereas we should “be persuaded of new opportunities to enhance the quality of Canadian sovereignty under the conditions of environmental and political interdependence that exist throughout the Arctic” as part of a “project that could yield a 21st-century equivalent of international peacekeeping” (cringe-inducing sanctimony, muddled objectives, and lots of corpses, then).

I think Griffiths is basically saying that we should pay more attention to potential areas of cooperation with other circumpolar nations, and worry less about maintaining sovereign control over the Canadian Arctic. I’m all in favour of cooperating, especially in areas like wildlife management that are intrinsically international, but surely maintaining control over our territory and resources is important too. If we proceed as if the 21st century equivalent of international peacekeeping might someday have to be supplemented by the 21st century equivalent of the War of 1812, we’re unlikely to go too far wrong.

In other Canada Day soul searching, Jeffrey Simpson seems to have developed an alarming case of heroine worship with respect to Governor General Michaëlle Jean. Apparently she’s “very Canadian, contemporary, bilingual, multicultural, modern, [and] worldly” and incidentally “a woman of fashion, grace and elegance”. She also happens to be “a great deal more charismatic than the dull white men running our national political parties”. It presently becomes clear that Simpson’s real target is another white man, Prince Charles, who will be visiting in November. The “very presence” of this “stodgy British prince”, we’re told, will “drive up the number of people who want to clip their umbilical ties to the British monarchy”.

This noxious cocktail of hysterical adulation for our Governor General and vitriolic loathing of our next monarch seems like a pretty dismal way to celebrate Canada Day. The white men running our political parties have their shortcomings, but the last thing they should do is cultivate the superficial, media-friendly qualities that Simpson seems to find so irresistible in Michaëlle Jean. As for Prince Charles, I wish he’d drop the nonsense about alternative medicine, but he seems like a thoughtful and dignified man who will make a fitting head of state when the time comes.

And Michaëlle Jean herself? Well, her charisma is an asset, she served us well in agreeing to prorogue Parliament last fall, and you’ve got to respect a woman with the gumption to gut a seal. However, she’s valuable to Canada primarily as our link to the monarchy, and to the centuries of British tradition that have contributed so much to our national DNA. Sometimes, especially on this Canada Day, I wish she would pay a bit more attention to that part of her job description.

Corwin

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2009 10:02 pm

    I have an oddly traditionalist streak in me that causes me to support the monarchy. If nothing else, I consider it a relatively harmless outlet for a seemingly universal need to endow our leaders with an emotional and spiritual significance that transcends the person holding the office. If you doubt that, just look at the pomp and circumstance surrounding the office of President of the United States. Look at how their Presidents live, the ceremony and protocol that attends their every move, and how past Presidents are revered and even mythologized. Does that compare more closely to how we treat our Prime Ministers, or how we treat royalty?

    The danger comes when that sort of reverence is bestowed on someone with real political power. When it is placed on a figurehead, we’re then free to doubt and question our political leaders and treat them as regular people, no better than ourselves. As it should be.

    On top of that, Michaelle Jean and Prince Charles both get to do things and champion causes that would probably make them unelectable if they were mere politicians. Have you seen the work Charles is doing with sustainable communities? Very cool.

    • corsullivan permalink*
      July 5, 2009 11:54 am

      Yes, I don’t think Prince Charles gets anywhere near as much credit for his environmental work as he deserves. He was talking about sustainability long before it became fashionable, too.

      I’ve always been amused by the way Americans seem to treat their presidents almost like royalty, as you point out. To be fair, they also don’t seem to find it too difficult to disagree with the president when the mood takes them. I suppose many Americans would say that they’re really revering the office of the presidency, rather than the flesh-and-blood holder of that office. However, I’ll take the aristocratic grandeur of our monarchy over the rather dry and legalistic American constitutional tradition any day of the week.

  2. July 1, 2009 8:00 pm

    I’m not sure I am as enamoured with the monarchy as some, although I am impressed with Michelle Jean, but less as the Queen’s representative and more as a Canadian who can use her role to speak meaningfully to other Canadians – which I think she did today in her Canada speech which was refreshingly devoted to the capacities and current leadership of young people .
    But the monarchy and Michelle Jean aside, I want to follow up on Frank Griffiths piece. I agree it was a bit fluffy, but I think both Griffiths and Rob Hubert are sounding an important alarm for Canadians. I used to the think that the Arctic was something that our current government drummed up as an issue to rally national sentiment. After learning more, I realize that the issue is very real.
    Griffiths makes the argument that Canada’s ability to preserve our interests in the Arctic is based on a stewardship approach, Hubert would take more of a control approach (I think, but I’ll let Rob speak for himself). It worries me that Russia and Norway are building large military installations in the North and increasing the sizes of their northern submarine fleets. It also disturbs me to know that China spends more money on Arctic research that Canada does.
    I think Griffiths is right to point out that this is one of the most compelling foreign issues for us to try and address as a nation. It requires thoughtful leadership and a balanced approach to protecting our land in a manner that recognizes the rights and obligations we have to Inuit and First Nations. Perhaps its time to invest in both a stronger diplomatic and defense effort in the region?

    • corsullivan permalink*
      July 5, 2009 11:46 am

      I’m not sure I am as enamoured with the monarchy as some, although I am impressed with Michelle Jean, but less as the Queen’s representative and more as a Canadian who can use her role to speak meaningfully to other Canadians – which I think she did today in her Canada speech which was refreshingly devoted to the capacities and current leadership of young people .

      Hmm. If you mean this speech, I have to say I found it a bit lazy and underwhelming. If she thinks youth are so terrific, she could have treated them to something a bit more substantive than what was basically a series of platitudes.

      Perhaps its time to invest in both a stronger diplomatic and defense effort in the region?

      Yes, definitely. I hope my post didn’t seem to imply that the north isn’t important to Canada – on the contrary, I think it should be a major focus. My objection to Griffiths’ piece was that he seemed to be saying that we could approach the Arctic strictly in a spirit of cooperative stewardship with the other circumpolar nations, without worrying too much about the defence of our own territory and interests. I would agree that there are many areas of potential cooperation, but in my opinion we also need to be firm in asserting our own legitimate claims to sovereign control over a large piece of the Arcitc.

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