TheStar.com, January 1st, 2008
"So, how does it feel to be the citizen of a rogue state?"
The British professor asking the question was serious.
We were in Cambridge, England, and yet the words "Kyoto," "Bali" and "Canada" were on many lips.
For on the other side of the planet, Environment Minister John Baird was blocking an agreement that would have bound the world's wealthiest countries to specific targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 – when the Kyoto Protocol expires.
Canada, traditionally a proponent of multilateral co-operation and environmental stewardship, was thumbing its nose at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 2,500-member scientific body that had recently warned that the planet faces "abrupt and irreversible" damage unless greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized by 2015.
Canada was also ignoring the pleas of Kevin Rudd, Australia's new prime minister, who explained that an agreement was necessary because "there is no plan B; there is no other planet any of us can escape to."
Instead, the Canadian delegation embraced the stubbornly unilateral, anti-environmental stance of U.S. President George W. Bush. They mimicked his demand – always intended as a deal breaker – that any specific binding targets include developing states.
The move caught some foreign experts by surprise. Canada had previously shown the good sense not to join in Bush's most egregious mistakes, including the Iraq War.
But then Stephen Harper became prime minister, with views on foreign policy that parallel those of American neo-conservatives. Like them, Harper sees the Kyoto Protocol – arguably the most important treaty ever – as "essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations."
Harper's Bush-like views extend beyond climate change. In July 2006, he described the far-reaching destruction of Lebanese infrastructure as a "measured" response to the abduction of an Israeli soldier, souring our relations with Arab states and precluding a diplomatic role for Canada in the Middle East.
He has also picked unnecessary quarrels with China over human rights, Russia over the Arctic and Iran over ambassadors, rather than seizing opportunities to constructively engage these increasingly important states.
In Afghanistan, Harper has stubbornly opposed negotiations with dissident groups, shown a casual disregard for the rights of detainees, and seems to view the mission mostly as a way of currying favour with the United States.
Why else would his defence minister, Peter MacKay, invite the U.S. ambassador along for a Christmas visit to Canada's troops in Kandahar?
Closer to home, Harper has refused to repatriate Omar Khadr, a Canadian child soldier arbitrarily imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. He has curtailed the practice of seeking clemency for all Canadians sentenced to death abroad. He's even sought to curtail the civil liberties of Canadians by extending our anti-terrorist laws – now, more than six years after 9/11.
In September 2003, the cover of The Economist showed a moose in shades under the banner Canada is `cool'. Can anyone imagine us earning the same accolade today?
Thanks to Harper, Canada has become the pliant instrument of a failed U.S. presidency. We are now, for all intents and purposes, a vassal state.
But in the same way that Harper's government has hijacked our foreign policy, so could a new government bring us back on course.
Canada, with its large and resource-rich territory, robust economy, and diverse and internationalized population, could exercise a considerable and beneficial influence on the world stage.
On climate change, geography gives us the potential to be a leader in wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power. Let's change our tax system to favour sustainable energy sources, and stop the lunacy of unrestrained development in the Alberta oil sands. Let's recognize – as the Danes and Germans have – that those who make technological advances first, reap the greatest gains.
Instead of dragging our heels on emissions reduction targets, let's be bold and brave. Let's decide – as Norway has – to become a carbon neutral country by the middle of the century.
Binding targets are not the problem. The problem is the lack of political courage to speak straight to Canadians and to implement fundamental changes to the way we work and play.
In Afghanistan, it's time to move from a combat-oriented approach to one that focuses on negotiation, peacemaking and nation-building.
It's time to ensure that Canadian soldiers are never complicit in prisoner abuse by stopping detainee transfers until the Afghan prison system has been comprehensively reformed.
It's time to move NATO troops out, and UN peacekeepers in.
And then, let's get serious about the "responsibility to protect" where it's needed most: in Africa.
Let's make sure the UN peacekeeping missions in Darfur and Congo succeed. Let's help bring peace to northern Uganda and a change of government in Zimbabwe. Let's ramp up our overseas development assistance to those countries burdened by drought and disease.
On the perennial problem of nuclear proliferation, let's show leadership by admitting the obvious and formally declare Canada to be a nuclear-weapons-free zone.
Let's use the UN Law of the Sea Convention and Arctic Council as opportunities to make the Far North a zone of co-operation. Let's work with the Russians, Americans and Danes on mapping the Arctic Ocean and ensuring that shipping and resource development there is safe and environmentally sound.
As for the United States, let's face up to the economic mess that Bush has created with his tax cuts for the rich and vast increases in military spending.
Instead of shrugging our shoulders in dismay or complacency, why not seize the moment to change the balance of rights and obligations in NAFTA? The renegotiation of international agreements is a normal consequence of shifts in relative power, a shift that in this case favours Canada.
We are the United States' largest trading partner and primary source of secure energy, making them as dependent on us as we are on them. And our economy is now outperforming theirs.
So, let's rid ourselves of the NAFTA provisions that mandate U.S. access to Canadian oil and gas and require that the prices charged for energy exports to the United States not exceed those charged to Canadians. Let's opt out of the mechanism that enables U.S. companies to initiate binding arbitration whenever their businesses can claim to have been detrimentally affected by Canadian laws – including laws designed to protect our health and environment.
To suggest this is hardly anti-American. It is merely to advocate exactly what they would do were they in our position.
On all foreign policy issues, let's not be afraid to conduct our own analyses, to have our own national debates. In the end, we'll likely decide to work with the United States about 95 per cent of the time.
On the remaining 5 per cent, let's not be surprised when the U.S. government expresses displeasure or even makes threats. That's what good negotiators do, as they prepare for the next bargaining round.
It's what happens over the long term that matters. And it's in the long-term interests of everyone – including Americans – to have a strong, friendly, yet independent country to the north of the United States.
Bono said it best: "The world needs more Canadas." But the Irish rock star meant a particular kind of Canada – a Canada that is sovereign, compassionate, committed to peace, willing to co-operate, yet also prepared to lead.
This year, let's elect a government that shares this vision. Let's shake the "rogue state" label – before it sticks.