The shaping of a new national policy

November 11 1985

The shaping of a new national policy

November 11 1985

The shaping of a new national policy


In its 29-page memorandum to the members of the Mulroney cabinet, entitled Canadian Sovereignty, the external affairs department proposed a number of measures to help persuade Canadians that their sovereignty is being strengthened and defended—even though difficult “trade-offs” may be necessary during Canadian-U.S. trade negotiations. Excerpts:

Canadian sovereignty is not at risk. No country, in particular the United States, poses any serious risk to our sovereignty in the forms in which sovereignty is most often understood: as territorial integrity, equality and independence in law and national identity and consciousness. (The Soviet Union obviously poses a threat to our security.)

But for largely historical reasons, Canadians have a special preoccupation with sovereignty, which can produce a particularly vigorous reaction when a sovereigntyrelated issue arises to touch a nerve in the body politic. Each dimension of sovereignty gives rise to a distinct set of sovereignty-related issues, and there is an accumulation of such issues to be dealt with now.

Economic renewal is one of the government’s principal policy themes, and the enhancement of trade with the United States could significantly strengthen Canada’s economic base. But for the negotiations to be successful, we may need to make trade-offs between different policy objectives.

Canadians have traditionally preferred a relationship with the United States that is friendly and co-operative but respects Canada’s distinctive character and interests. Hence, it is important that as Canadian foreign and defence policy evolves, the public be made aware that policy is designed to respond to Canadian interests while recognizing that we share important interests with the United States and other Western democracies.

Sovereignty issues tend to stir emotions, and a policy of sovereignty en-

hancement has to be handled carefully if it is not to encourage extreme protectionist or nationalist sentiments. Too much nationalism in one country can, of course, generate a backlash in another (i.e., in the United States). In addition, to belabor sovereignty may trivialize it or create rather than allay concerns that it may be threatened. Fi-

nally, a sovereignty policy could also stimulate excessive expectations that —despite the interdependence of states —we could be fully in control of our own destiny if only the government were sufficiently determined.

It is recommended that . . . [government] departments and agencies will seek opportunities for constructive use of the sovereignty themes and will examine their current programs and activities, and their existing communications efforts, with a view to: raising the public profile of existing programs and activities that show the government actively exercising its sovereign jurisdiction over territory, persons and resources;

—accelerating the implementation

of and undertaking additional sovereignty-asserting programs;

—avoiding actions that could run counter to the objective of enhancing sovereignty.

The secretary of state should proceed, in consultation with appropriate ministers, with the preparation of recommendations to cabinet on means by which:

—the achievements of Canadian individuals and groups, at home and abroad, could be accorded more extensive public recognition and honor;

—bilingualism could be further advanced and multiculturalism programs could encourage the integration of the multicultural community into Canadian society;

—citizenship could be further accentuated;

— national symbols could be further promoted.

The government has declared its policy on the question of sovereignty over the waters of the arctic archipelago. It now remains to give further effect to this policy by proceeding with the design and construction of an arctic (Polar 8) icebreaker which can fulfil the sovereignty mission... assigned to it, instituting other measures for the exercise of effective control over arctic waters and, if possible, negotiating a co-operative arrangement with the United States that recognizes Canadian sovereignty.

It should be noted that there have been encouraging signs that the United States may be prepared to enter into such an arrangement with Canada. In that event, the question of Canadian sovereignty over the waters of the arctic archipelago would be far easier to manage. This would not, however, eliminate the need for effective control of these waters. Moreover, present hopes for a co-operative arrangement may well prove illusory and it may yet be necessary to develop contingency plans to meet a U.S. challenge.

No one doubts that Canada has its own

distinet political, social, cultural and juridical systems and an economy that reflects the special character of Canada’s geography, natural resources, agriculture and industry. But there are concerns that we have not always fully exercised our right to run our own affairs at home and that we have sometimes allowed others to dictate our foreign policy.

A challenge in the next 12 months will be to convince Canadians that the objective of trade negotiations with the United States is to secure net economic benefits for Canada, that a healthier economy would enhance our ability to exercise sovereignty across the board. The Canada-U.S. trade negotiations are a central element of the government’s program for economic renewal, and to be successful those negotiations may require trade-offs between different policy objectives. But the government’s commitment to enhancing cultural sovereignty leads naturally to consideration of such measures as restrictions on foreign investment in selected cultural industries, restrictions on foreign access to the Canadian cultural marketplace and subsidies to Canadian cultural industries. Considering that American objectives in the trade negotiations include such fields as investment policy, copyright law, pharmaceutical patents, book publishing and films, there is real potential for conflict between our desire for a successful conclusion to the negotiations and our pursuit of cultural sovereignty.

A further challenge will be to make it abundantly clear that our foreign policy is being conducted in response to distinct Canadian interests; that its “independence” is not to be judged by the degree to which we may agree or not with American policy on EastWest issues.

The government has made a commitment to construct a Polar 8 icebreaker. A number of additional proposals should also be noted. One calls for the construction of submarines with a capacity to operate under the ice. Construction of four nuclear attack submarines.. . and acquisition of the necessary infrastructure, would cost between $2 billion and $3 billion.

One can envisage ways in which the public stature of the Governor General (already high) could be raised still further to communicate to Canadians and others the distinctive character of Canada. Among the possibilities are speeches on unity; closer association of the Governor General with sovereignty-related issues through being briefed by the government on such issues, making appearances and undertaking

travel that has a special sovereigntyasserting character.

Over the course of the next 12 months a special effort will be required to ensure that sovereignty is seen to be a principal objective of Canadian domestic and foreign policy. This will call for sovereignty messages to be included routinely in speeches by the Prime Minister and ministers and a diligent approach to articulating the sovereignty-enhancing dimensions of government decisions and to publicizing the supportive actions being taken by the government. A good deal could be accomplished through packaging existing policies to emphasize their sovereignty dimensions and through drawing attention to international events in which Canada can be seen as an important and independent player.

A program to enhance Canadian sovereignty and independence will have important implications for Canada-U.S. relations. Handled with care, it will encourage Canadians to deal with their American neighbors with confidence and in a spirit of co-operation, and it will generate respect for Canada in the United States. Handled poorly, it will appear to Canadians as protectionist and defensive, and to Americans as unfriendly and possibly infantile.