Chrystia Freeland (Photo: Chris Young, Canadian Press)
I suspect I was not alone on Canada’s birthday in spending a little time mulling over its future. This year, given recent events, the exercise has left me feeling somewhat apprehensive. This is because it seems, the way I look at it, that it is as if the occupants in the house next door have suddenly been replaced with the equivalent of “neighbours from hell.” These neighbours, quite unlike their predecessors, seem determined to pick fights, act insultingly and do what they can to lower the value of our neighbourhood.
Much has been written and said about the steps taken and threatened to undermine our commercial interests. These, apparently, are necessary in the interests of protecting their home’s “security.” What does that mean? What are they afraid of; surely not a home invasion?
Then last month we invited the head neighbour to a meeting to discuss matters of mutual concern. You know the rest: he arrived late, left early and, on his way out of the door, insulted the head of our house. He called him “dishonest”, among other things. Perhaps you, too, can think of a sentence containing the words “kettle” and “black.”
So what should be done in response to this unneighbourly conduct?
Well, so far – until recently at least – we have acted as Canadians are supposed to do; that is to say, we have been very “nice” about it. Words like “measured” and “restrained” were bandied about, said to be in keeping with our image. Some have made excuses for our neighbour’s conduct speculating that it is simply a negotiating ploy. Some, on the other hand, would describe it as being akin to a bully leaning over the garden fence.
However, it appears that we may be stepping out of character judging from the ratcheting up of the rhetoric in recent days. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (pictured above), has been positively feisty. Today’s birthday has been marked by the imposition of tit-for-tat tariffs on some targeted products. There have also been pleas that consumers should boycott American goods and also spend our tourist dollars elsewhere. (According to official US statistics, in 2016 Canada delivered the largest inbound travel market to the United States at 19.3 million visitors, spending a total of $19.8 billion.) That certainly finds favour with me so, even though I have tickets, I will not be attending the Newport Jazz Festival this year.
In the final analysis whether any of this has any effect probably depends on what the neighbour’s true agenda is. After all, this is someone who, while he was insulting our leader, was at the same time tweeting unctuous compliments about one of the most reviled of world leaders. Almost in the next breath, he tweeted that the idea of being a “leader for life” appealed to him also …
Debra Steger, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who is a former senior trade negotiator for Canada and a one-time official at the World Trade Organization, is quoted in the New York Times this week in an article discussing Canada’s retaliatory tariffs. She said,
We’re living in a brand new world. It has been pretty messy and it’s not going to get better soon. We really are in a very difficult time.
Let us all hope that Canada does not prove to be a casualty of this “brand new world.”