"Canada has a good reputation...in the world, but let's make no mistake about it: Canada does not have a history as a pacifist or a neutralist country. Canada has soldiers who are buried all over Europe because we fought in defence of liberty."
This quote by former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley came to mind this week as I listened to an awkward press conference with Canada's new prime minister trying to articulate the reasons behind the first major foreign policy decision of his government. John Manley was a smart and thoughtful politician and this simple, yet deeply patriotic quote, made days after the horrible terror attacks of 9/11 came to reflect the sentiment of many Canadians reacting to the terror attacks that killed 26 Canadians and thousands of Americans.
Throughout our history, standing with our allies has never been a Conservative versus Liberal proposition.
Manley spoke about a Canadian willingness to stand up against such acts of terror by evoking the powerful imagery of our past and the solemn white gravestones that mark Canada's history of playing a role far from our shores. While Manley led the cabinet committee that planned our response to the 9/11 terror attacks, it was this powerful quote, more than anything else, that led to Manley being recognized as Time Magazine's Person of the Year in Canada.
Canadians are not an aggressive people, but from our earliest days as a nation we have never shied away from taking a stand for liberty alongside friends that share our values. Throughout our history, standing with our allies has never been a Conservative versus Liberal proposition. In fact, Canadian political debates over successive generations have shown near unanimity on this point.
In 1939, Prime Minister MacKenzie King thanked Conservative leader Robert Manion in the House of Commons for his bi-partisan support for action in Europe and went so far as to compliment Manion's personal record of military service (Manion was a Vimy Ridge Veteran). In that debate, King cast aside differences between Canadians and viewed all citizens as united in common cause to preserve freedoms far from our shores. King said, "[t]his deep-lying instinct for freedom is, I believe, characteristic of the citizens of Canada from one end of this great country to the other."
In a 1951 speech to the Empire Club of Canada years before he became Prime Minister, Lester Pearson similarly articulated the need for an active Canada in a dangerous world. He described the need for Canada to be part of "collective action with our friends abroad." He also linked Canadian deployments overseas as being critical to our domestic security. "We should accept without any reservation, the view that the Canadian who fires his rifle in Korea or on the Elbe is defending his home as surely as if he were firing it on his own soil." This active and internationalist approach coupled with Pearson's view of Canada as a leader amongst the middle powers of the world became so central to Canadian foreign policy that our Foreign Affairs Building bears Pearson's name.
The Conservative government's approach to countering the Islamic State (ISIS) threat was a three-pillared plan that combined allied military action, alongside direct foreign aid, and support for refugees and the dislocated in the region. In many ways, the plan brought to the last Parliament by the Conservatives was consistent with the Pearsonian worldview that Canada has a duty to take collective action with our friends to advance liberty for others and provide security at home.
All this leads me back to the press conference held by Prime Minister Trudeau announcing the withdrawal of CF-18 fighter jets from the coalition fighting ISIS. This Liberal government seems comfortable tossing aside central tenets of Canadian foreign policy if they conflict with the pre-election position of their leader. We witnessed a collection of Ministers offering clumsy platitudes about training and institution building without answering the simple question as to why Canada is withdrawing our modest combat commitment while our allies step up their efforts to fight ISIS.
Prime Minister Trudeau did not invoke King, Pearson, Manley or any of their shared foreign policy principles, but instead offered his own insight that military action against ISIS was not in Canada's national interest because "the lethal enemy of barbarism" is actually "reason." Thank you prime minister. Perhaps ethnic minorities at risk in the region, or orange jumpsuit clad prisoners being readied for execution can try to reason with ISIS going forward. Until then, the vast majority of Canadians are looking for the Canada our allies and the world once knew.
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