For Canadian prime ministers, the urge to pull a Pearson is powerful. As all good Canadian schoolchildren should know, Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for proposing a United Nations force during the Suez crisis, an idea that made him the father of modern peacekeeping. He went on to become one of Canada's most admired prime ministers, ranking among the top 10 in CBC's greatest Canadian contest.
For Paul Martin, the urge to be Pearsonian must be next to overwhelming. His father, Paul Martin Senior, served the great man as External Affairs Minister from 1963 to 1968. The junior Martin came of age in the Pearson era and clearly shares his vision of a generous, helpful, outward-looking Canada. As he put it in his government's first Throne Speech, "The world needs more Canada."
It is certainly getting more Martin. In the past few weeks, the Prime Minister has been flitting, bee like, from capital to capital, buttonholing prime ministers and presidents, doling out money and talking up his idea of a "new multilateralism." On Nov. 14, he was in Haiti for a day to hand out a planeload of aid supplies and lecture the desperate island's leaders about the need for "national reconciliation." Last weekend, he was in Chile for the annual Asia-Pacific meeting, where he pushed his idea of an "L20" group of rich countries to tackle world problems, and his plan to give the UN new powers to intervene in troubled countries for humanitarian reasons. Now he's off to Burkina Faso (for a meeting of francophone nations) and Sudan (to meet refugees). Earlier this fall, he went to France, Hungary and Russia, and soon he will travel to Libya, then Asia.
The Ottawa Citizen's Susan Riley calls him "the most dynamic Foreign Affairs minister we've ever had," gushing that "he reminds old-timers of Lester Pearson, of his own father, Paul Martin Sr., of an almost forgotten era when Canada played a larger, more sophisticated role in world affairs." Carol Goar of the Toronto Star says his diplomacy is "fast paced, creative and personal." As Mr. Martin himself told Parliament earlier this year, "we can more than carry our weight."
But before it starts carrying the weight of the world, Canada must start pulling its own. It's fine to talk about L20 and institution-building and the "responsibility to protect," but as former deputy prime minister John Manley once put it, Canada heads for the bathroom when the bill comes. Our military spending is a mere 1 per cent of gross domestic product, half of what NATO expects. Our foreign-aid spending has fallen to 0.28 of GDP, or about $100 per Canadian.
How can Mr. Martin seriously talk about leading a Pearsonian campaign to right the world's wrongs if Ottawa is always on bathroom break? Remember, it was his 1990s budget cuts that fell most heavily on foreign aid and the military -- and that Ottawa just posted a $9-billion surplus.
If only Mr. Martin could have been in the room this week when a delegation from Human Rights Watch visited this newspaper. Each campaigner asked plaintively why Canada wasn't helping more. Those from Afghanistan wondered why Canada had pulled out its troops instead of staying to stabilize the country. Those from the Congo asked why Canadian and other international troops weren't protecting them as they pursue mass murderers for war crimes. Those fighting for the rights of refugees in Sudan wondered why Mr. Martin had offered flak jackets to the African troops stationed there, instead of Canadian troops or equipment and transport?
Clearly, Canada can't. Ottawa brought our troops home from Afghanistan because the armed forces is stretched like a guitar string. As things stood last summer, Canada was 19th in the world when measured by the number of peacekeeping troops it had in the field. And this is the country that invented the idea.
The impulse behind Mr. Martin's Pearsonian foray is admirable, his sincerity unimpeachable. But unless he devotes the resources that are needed to make Canada a real global force again, the rest of the world will simply yawn and look the other way.