Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why Not Share Embassies with the UK?

I don't have a big problem with Canada finding economies in sharing real estate with other nations in maintaining our diplomatic and consular services around the world.  As this map shows, we've got a pretty extensive reciprocal arrangement with Australia.  Good for both of us.

I do take issue with sharing with the UK though.  Three main reasons:
  • Canada was a UK colony and doesn't exactly have a very high profile around the world.  One of our big national stories concerns the World War 1 battle of Vimy Ridge, the first time Canada's forces all fought together, and fought under Canadian instead of British command.  We teach kids in school that the victory at Vimy was the first time the international press wrote about the activities of Canadian troops in WWI as Canadians rather than just as part of British forces.  It's something of our foundation as a separate nation apart from the UK.  When Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, Canada, despite having independent rule simply understood itself to also be at war with Germany.  All that is to say historically we took some pains to distinguish ourselves from the UK.  I don't love the idea of implicitly putting ourselves back in the mother country's shadow.  We only repatriated our own fully domestic Constitution in 1982.
  • Quebec.  There are serious points of contention with Quebec and while there's little immediate danger of a new referendum on sovereignty it's irresponsible to needlessly offend them like this for something as petty as some operating budget savings (which is how the government is now justifying this).  Quebec is not going to break the country up over this, but all these petty cultural insults by this government just serve to remind Quebec how little they support the government, and how little influence they currently have in Canada.  It all adds up.
  • The UK's colonial baggage.  This mostly isn't about any specific recent thing the UK has done or is doing but just that much of the world has not forgotten that Britain ruled an empire that included many of them, and they didn't like it very much.  One of Canada's under appreciated diplomatic strengths has been that we don't have the baggage of colonialism.  We never had a global colonial empire.  Britain still has simmering disputes around over their few remaining holdings, and don't say those don't matter.  But when you combine our underwhelming presence and identity on the world stage the last thing we need is to start letting ourselves be defined as Britain's little brother.  Better than "America Jr." perhaps, but not by much. 
It could be much ado about not much, but to the extent that views of our country are shaped by people in other lands driving past a building that says "Joint Canadian and British Consulate" - they know damn well who Britain is, but they probably don't know much about us, so we are too easily defined in relation to whom we associate ourselves with.   Sharing with nations like Australia is far less a problem in this regard.  I'm sure their foreign policy record isn't ideal, but they don't have a global legacy of centuries as the Superpower. 

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