Reasons to be Thankful
Paterson Chair in International Affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs
Despite a decade in Canada, I tend not to think about giving thanks in early October, but in late November. So, what can we be thankful for this year? Peace and prosperity. Most of the countries with which Canada can be compared have one, the other, or neither, but not both.
Canada has largely avoided getting involved in a new war. It has not been easy or inevitable. The conflict in Syria keeps spilling over just enough to threaten to spread but not enough to escalate and drag a reluctant NATO into yet another Mideast conflict. The downside, of course, is that the civil war drags on, with many civilians in harm’s way. The problem is that there are no easy or even hard solutions that would provide relief. Similarly, despite many forecasts, there has been no war with Iran. Stephen Harper and his government have been most clear about where they stand on Iran, closing Iran’s embassy here and Canada’s mission in Tehran.
Canada has managed to avoid incurring further casualties despite maintaining a training mission in Afghanistan (and having a small number of troops on exchange with allies in Kandahar). The rise of “green on blue” attacks where members of the Afghan National Army fire up on the NATO forces training them has not significantly affected the Canadian contingent thus far. This is probably largely due to the nature of the Canadian training effort – focused on training Afghanistan’s trainers – but might also speak to the Canadian trainers doing a better job of working with the Afghans. Either way, it is an outcome for which we should be most grateful, and that we should not take for granted. The mission is likely to get smaller and smaller as 2014 approaches, but the risks will remain as long as the Canadian Forces operate in Afghanistan, even if they are behind the wire.
Canada has weathered the Great Recession far better than Europe or the United States. The European Union continues to struggle not just with Greece’s difficulties, which get all of the news, but also with debt crises and fiscal challenges throughout Europe. Indeed, the deep economic problems facing the EU have allowed Hungary’s creeping authoritarianism to be almost entirely ignored. The fiscal cliff in the U.S., and the paralysis this has induced in the political system, make Canada’s budgetary problems appear to be quite minor by comparison. Canada does face some difficult choices ahead, as the new weapons procurement programs, especially the F-35 and the shipbuilding effort, will threaten to crowd out the rest of the military budget. But, in general, the fiscal house up here is rather sound. Canada can make different choices, and does not face the straitjackets that await the Greeks, the Irish, and much of the rest of Europe. So, even though Canada is experiencing some tight budgets, it could be far worse, and, for that, we can be thankful.
Of course, Canada’s economic situation always greatly depends on the United States and its political/economic dynamics. While its recovery has not been robust, the U.S. is in better shape than four years ago. The re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama means that there is unlikely to be any big swings in American economic policy, foreign or domestic. It is unlikely that Obama will be able to push through major initiatives that require support in the House of Representatives, where the Republicans will continue to focus on thwarting him. But with a majority in the Senate, Obama should be able to make appointments without too much trouble. He is in a stronger position to make a deal with the Republicans to avoid the so-called and over-hyped fiscal cliff. So, we can be thankful for continued American economic and political stability, upon which Canadian prosperity depends.
Oh, and personally, I moved to Ottawa last summer, so I am most grateful to the people I have met since then. They have been very friendly, incredibly helpful, and very insightful. One of the major motivations of my move to Ottawa has been to become part of the Canadian policy community, and, thus far, I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from this experience. I, therefore, am very, very thankful. Now, if only my new-ish country and my old one could agree about Thanksgiving, I would be less confused.