We have the world's second largest expanse of real estate, a population of 32 million well-educated, globally connected people, a strong infrastructure and good public services.
We have abundant natural resources and vast tracts of farmland. Our location, halfway between Europe and Asia and next door to the United States, gives us easy access to the world's largest markets. We have the eighth largest economy and are the only G-8 country (apart from oil- and gas-rich Russia) with balanced books.
We have no sworn enemies and remain well regarded for our contributions – mostly during the 1950s, '60s and '70s – to United Nations peacekeeping, multilateral diplomacy and international law.
But he cautions Canada to follow its own path, distinct from that of the United States. Right now this means distinct from Stephen Harper - but Harper's Liberal predecessors are not blameless on the central issues of climate change and foreign policy.
Stephen Harper's government has been particularly subservient, blindly adhering to the policies, prejudices and prerogatives of George W. Bush.
On the Middle East, Harper discarded decades of Canadian policy when he declared last July that Israel's response to a Hezbollah raid in northern Israel was "measured." The Israel Defence Forces bombed arterial roads, bridges, power and gasoline stations as well as Beirut's international airport – the heart of Lebanon's tourism-based economy. More than a thousand Lebanese civilians were killed.
Harper refused to moderate his stance after eight innocent Canadians, all members of a single family from Montreal, died during an Israeli strike. He later accused those who questioned the Israeli government's actions of being "anti-Israel."
Harper's black-and-white vision of the Middle East stands in contrast to the nuance and even-handedness that Pearson brought to the 1956 Suez Crisis, when Canada's then-foreign minister won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In Afghanistan, Paul Martin moved our troops from a peacekeeping mission in Kabul to a U.S.-led counter-insurgency mission in Kandahar. Harper has kept them there despite mounting casualties, diminishing prospects for success and an absence of support from 21 out of 26 NATO allies. A focus on air strikes and poppy eradication – strategies borrowed from U.S. failures in Iraq and Columbia – are turning the local population against all Western troops, to the public consternation of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
On the all-important issue of climate change, successive Canadian governments have dragged their heels while knowing full well about the dangers.
. . . . In August 2006, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Conservatives were developing an environmental plan that would push for greater co-operation with the United States "on key aspects of air pollution and climate-change policy." The plan ignored the reality that the Bush administration has an abysmal environmental track record, not only on climate change but also on air pollution – where it has loosened the regulatory requirements for coal-fired power plants in spite of the objections of many U.S. states.
Last month, at the G-8 summit in Germany, Harper colluded with Tony Blair and Bush in watering down a summit communiqué that might otherwise have included specific, post-2012 emissions reduction commitments on the part of the world's largest economies.
Across the board, it's time to insist on a made-in-Canada foreign policy that relies on a clear-eyed assessment of how Canadians could best advance their collective interests, and those of the rest of humanity.
It's also time to recognize that, when we stand up to the United States, we rarely incur a penalty. Instead, we often gain. Jean Chrétien made the right decision on Iraq, and by doing so he saved Canadian lives, avoided the ensuing quagmire and signalled to other countries that Canada remains an independent country –open, among other things, to its own diplomatic and trading relations.
He might even have gained some respect for us in Washington – a city dominated by bare-knuckle politics rather than quiet, Canadian-style consensus – by demonstrating that Canada is a grown-up country, that our support must be earned and never assumed.