Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Entry archive:

A Canadian flag flies from a snowmobile as military personnel gather during a sovereignty patrol in Eureka, Nunavut, on Mar. 31, 2007. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
A Canadian flag flies from a snowmobile as military personnel gather during a sovereignty patrol in Eureka, Nunavut, on Mar. 31, 2007. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Canada's grand strategy Add to ...

There are debatable points in Friedman's model. For instance, neither Serbia nor Iraq appeared to be capable of constructing a navy capable of rivaling the United States in the medium-term, but China or India do. Why would the U.S. expend time and resources on minor regional players at the expense of major potential rivals? (Friedman does lay out answers to these points in his book, which I recommend for anyone interested in geo-strategy, or the impact of physical geographic factors on international relations.)

Friedman's model raises the question of Canada's grand strategy. What is it? And how successful are we are implementing that strategy? I would argue it goes something like this:

1. Independence from the Americans

2. Political unity of Canada

3. De facto as well as de jure control of our territory

4. Strong international institutions to counterbalance U.S. hegemony

5. Open borders with the United States

Allow me to explain.

1. Independence from the Americans

The history of Canada is a story of resisting joining the Americans, either culturally or politically. From the War of 1812 to the decision not to join in the Iraq war, our relationship with the Americans has been central to our national strategy.

The 19th century saw the introduction of the National Policy, a closed border tariff regime designed to foster East-West trade and ensure our independence from the Americans. Only after the nation had solidified over a hundred years and moved through all of the other elements of our strategy, did we finally feel ready to move to the open borders policy that we currently use.

While we want to profit and learn from our relationship with the U.S., there are relatively few Canadians who actually want to join the Union. In fact, maintenance of cultural and political independence from the United States is a topic where there is broad agreement in the result people want, and a thousand opinions about the methods.

Everything from Canadian content rules in radio broadcast to the ownership structure of critical industries is about maintaining a separate cultural identity. The impact has been to create a hybrid between the global export U.S. culture of People Magazine and Glee, with a localized and satirical Canadian sensibility that plays off of and enhances our own identity.

The methods by which we maintain that separate identity - and even what that identity is - remain in debate, but the necessity of remaining independent culturally and politically is rarely questioned.

2. Political unity of Canada

The second challenge for our country is unity.

Immediately after Confederation, Canada faced a separatist threat from Nova Scotia. The Red River Rebellion and North-West Rebellion were attempts to break free from central control. More recently, we have faced the existential question of Quebec dissolving Confederation in 1980 and 1995, as well as less acute but menacing threats to unity from western separatism, particularly in the 1980s.

While some like to shrug off the impact of Quebec independence on Canada, it is painfully obvious that it would shrink the country, isolate our Atlantic provinces, and leave Canada with diminished prospects and scope at best. From currency devaluation to opportunity costs, the financial impact would be severe. As East-West trade became more difficult, our dependence on North-South trade (and the United States) would soar. Quite possibly, succession would lead to further fragmentation, economic instability, reduced standards of living, or even war.

Maintaining our sovereign nation with dominion over the Northern half of North America is the overriding agenda for Canada. More than any other potential threat, the exit of a major element of the nation would compromise the country and its citizens.

3. Defacto as well as de jure control of our territory

On paper, Canada is the second largest country on earth. But our actual control of this territory is undermined by the extremely sparse population north of Edmonton. The second major challenge for Canada is maintaining sovereignty over this vast territory. Control of all of our territory less critical than keeping all ten provinces in the fold, but it is key.

The Arctic is the most visible stage for this challenge, but control of our oceans is also important. The passage of the Polar Sea, an American ship, through our territorial waters in 1985 was a major threat to continued Canadian ownership of the land and resources there. The Hans Island dispute earlier this decade was about control of our territory. There are major border disputes between Canada and the United States in the Beaufort Sea.

Further south, the Turbot War was a political battle for control of off-shore fisheries, particularly critical at a time of chronic over-demand on the resource.

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobePolitics


Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular