Colonial Canada

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Tempest in a tea pot, or legitimate cause to gripe?

That’s what I was trying to decide as I read the Globe’s headline about Canada sharing consular services abroad with Britain:

The story had a lot of comments – 1700 and counting – and a large majority was negative.

I’m all for saving a buck. I’m a proponent of very small government, and I’m also a bit of an isolationist. So this isn’t immediately a slam-dunk disaster in my book. For example, in countries that only have a British or Canadian embassy, citizens of either country are directed to go to each other’s embassies for assistance.

But there’s a difference between friendly nations helping each other out in a pinch, and the kind of cozy relationship sharing embassy space implies, especially given our membership in the Commonwealth. Money matters, but perception matters a lot, too, especially in foreign affairs.

This is not the right way to save money.

This is fundamentally demeaning. It makes us less of a nation. I have previously promoted a looser Confederation, with more powers given to regions and/or provinces. That hasn’t changed. But a loose Confederation would still be allied under the banner of Canada, and Canada needs an independent, international presence – and it needs to be perceived as having an independent, international presence.

Yes, I believe our baseline foreign policy position should be non-interventionist (with extremely rare exceptions). Our security efforts should be 90 per cent focused on our piece of real estate and eight per cent focused on intelligence work, with just two per cent tasked for foreign expeditions. (In other words, we should have a well-trained and funded JTF2 for hostage rescue and covert operations, but the billions we spend on equipment acquisition should be focused on the goal of protecting our borders, not war-fighting abroad.)

But we still need a robust, non-military presence abroad. Whether the topic is global trade, foreign aid, immigration or tourism, we need an independent, strong voice in countries all over the planet. There’s more to foreign policy than battleships and fighter planes.

Sure, my view of foreign policy is heavily skewed to carrots instead of sticks, but it still requires strength and a perception of clear principle (even if the reality has to be a little muddier).

Sharing embassy space with Britain diminishes us. It’s a classic example of penny wise, pound foolish.

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