Canada has celebrated its founding as a country since July 1, 1867, but it wasn’t until 1927, almost 60 years later, that it was first recognized as an independent state. That’s because our colonial overlord in London still controlled our foreign policy over that period. Canadians, through their elected representatives, had no power over whether to commit their country to war, the ultimate decision over the fate of a truly independent nation.
The United States, or anyone else for that matter, didn’t even bother to establish diplomatic representation in Ottawa until that year. In reality, we should celebrate February 18, 1927, the date our first ambassador Vincent Massey presented his credentials in Washington, DC, as our de facto independence day.
As is noted on the “Office of the historian” website of the US Department of State, “This action followed the 1926 British Imperial Conference that produced the Balfour Declaration, which stated the United Kingdom and the Dominions ‘are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs.’”
Now, under the Harper government, we are pretty much back to where we began: as subservient colonial hicks good for little else than chopping trees, digging mines or drawing water – and leaving the important decisions of diplomacy to our big brothers on the international scene.
The recent announcement that Canada would henceforth “share” embassies around the globe with Great Britain was carefully presented as a simple cost-saving measure. The reality is that the international perception of our power to present an independent Canadian voice on world affairs will be deeply compromised.
It’s true that Canada and Australia have had a similar arrangement for several years. This is different. Great Britain was once the all-powerful imperial master of both countries. But Australia, at least, now jealously guards its independence from that former empire. It’s worth noting that the current Aussie Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, won election in 2010 only days after she said Australia should drop its ties to the British monarchy. There is a political leader who is in tune with her constituents.
If only our prime minister had balls as big as hers.
Instead, over the past couple years, Harper has gleefully frittered away millions in public funds so that the bonnie Prince William and his porn-star-wannabe princess could give the royal wave during a lavish national tour across Canada. Then the star-struck PM took our military into the distant past by reinstating the archaic “royal” designation on our navy and air force, as if they were once again the playthings of Buckingham Palace and not the ultimate guarantors of our Canada’s sovereignty.
This was followed up by this year’s orgy of government-funded fetishism to celebrate the War of 1812, in which the British troops then occupying this land had their starched bottoms rescued by Native allies during the US invasion – though this little detail has been largely airbrushed from a publicity campaign that has evolved into a bizarre propaganda exercise in historical revisionism worthy of the Soviet politburo under Joseph Stalin.
Given this pattern, the decision to demote our international diplomats to the status of British bunkmates is extremely disturbing. As I said, perception matters. The other members of the United Nations know our history, and will not fail to note the glaring symbolism of the move. Embassies are a symbol of our independence around the world. And symbols matter.
It’s difficult to imagine, however, had not Harper’s ideological fellow traveller, the Conservative David Cameron, been the current prime minister of Britain. This detail tells us volumes about the true loyalty of neo-cons like Harper. It’s not to their fellow citizens and country but to a political idea and its cadre of disciples.
Take, for example, the other bizarre Conservative government decision to dramatically end diplomatic relations with Iran despite the complete absence of any credible threat. It’s a move transparently organized by the right-wing prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Israel’s steady build up to a military strike against Iran. Canada is only a useful puppet in Israel preparations for war, Canadian citizens or interests in Iran be damned.
There is a threat to our country, but it doesn’t come from Tehran. It is resident at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa. Step by step, our very own prime minister is methodically working to debase and eventually erase the notion of Canada as an independent country of citizens with common purpose and collective interests.
Given Harper’s success to date in achieving this mission, one might reasonably ask why we should bother funding independent diplomatic representation around the world. Just to ask this question, though, is to answer it. One wonders how long it will be until US decommission its own embassy in Ottawa as an unnecessary, expense.