A new Latin American focus for the Canadian Government. Garreth Westwood, BNA Consulting: In March, the Canadian Press reported that Canada’s Prime Minister Harper was planning “to say ‘Hola’ to Latin America” — though the chattering classes appear to be disinterested. The report wasn’t denied by the Prime Minister’s Office yet the geopolitical signals of such a trip have been ignored by the so-called intelligentsia.
It is clear that Latin America is becoming a geopolitical priority for Harper’s Conservative Government. Of course, Prime Minister Harper’s mandate was to repair the relationship with the United States after years of neglect and abuse at the hands of Jean Chretien’s Liberals. The United States will remain Canada’s Primary Geopolitical Priority given the ties of trade, history, geography and a common Anglosphere citizenship. It appears that by giving his first speech as Prime Minister outside of Canada, that Mr Harper is also revitalizing the Special Relationship with the United Kingdom. Speaking at the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce in London on Bastille Day, 2006, he remarked:
“Still, business is but one aspect of our combined history. That history is built by layer upon layer of common experiences, shared values and ancient family ties. In my own case, the Harper family traces its known forefathers back to the northern England and southern Scotland of the 1600s.”
Mr Harper sees the Mother Country as more than just an important trading partner. PM Harper understands that Canada’s relations with the United States and the United Kingdom are of a different order than its relations with countries with whom we do not have an “organic” link:
“… much of what Canada is today we can trace to our origins as a colony of the British Empire.”
Again, the chattering classes in Canada ignored this important speech: the CBC simply reported that Harper gave a speech about Canadian energy policy in London on his way to Russia! If the relationship with the US and the UK are the Number 1 and 2 slots at the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade, [DFAIT], an argument could be made that the Afghanistan brief is Number 3. Afghanistan could also be understood as being part of Canada’s commitment to Anglo-American foreign policy. If so, it looks like Harper’s Cabinet has been quietly elevating Latin America to the Number 3 or 4 slot in geopolitical importance. Governor-General Michaelle Jean will be part of what the Canadian Press is calling a “re-engagement” visit; between the the Vice-Roy and the Prime Minister, they will potentially touch down in capitals such as Santiago, Sao Paulo, Montevideo, Bogota and Mexico City. Harper made an important symbolic move in December 2006, when he attended the inauguration of Mexican president Felipe Calderon, the centre-right Panista candidate. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay attended the general assembly of the Organization of American States [OAS] last summer in the Dominican Republic, and in February, he visited counterparts in Mexico City and Sao Paulo. The Clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, and Harper’s foreign affairs adviser Susan Cartwright were both in Mexico City two weeks ago meeting with officials.
Given the complexities and competition for attention on the world stage, why are the Americas becoming more important to the Canadian Government? Canadian business has been busy investing in the region while previous Liberal governments have been focusing on America-bashing and pandering to Asian-Canadian constituencies with Team Canada trips to China and India. Meanwhile, Canadian investment in Latin America and the Caribbean is almost three times that of our investment in Asia according to DFAIT statistics while Mexico has now become Canada’s fourth largest trading partner. PM Harper’s focus on the Americas is correcting a huge blind spot in Ottawa.
Leftist Academics will be disappointed if they are expecting a pro-Chavez, pro-Castro alignment for Canadian foreign policy. Harper is clearly working on the Security & Prosperity agenda and will not descend into gratuitous Anti-American sentiment. Given the threats to North American security (illegal immigration, energy security, and an Anglophobic tone emanating from the ‘populist’ states), it is imperative that Harper not present Canada as “the gringos that want to be liked.” We have a shared Anglosphere agenda with the United States which can be pursued without abandoning Canadian distinctives. Moreover, while Canada holds the purse strings on development aid, the Government needs to do more to protect the human rights of Canadian expats who work and travel in Latin America.
Harper has ambition for his country, referring to Canada’s destiny as an “energy superpower.” Latin America offers Canada the opportunity to make an impact on the world stage, open up new markets, and contribute to the democratization of a whole geopolitical bloc.
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