Happy Canada Day! Pass the Vodka Cooler and Thank God We’re a Middle Power

The dock may be outside your isolation perimeter and the barbecue could set your mask on fire, but at least we’re still a democracy.

Hill Times/Flickr

Lisa Van Dusen/For the Hill Times

July 1, 2020

It’s tempting, at a time like this—not that there’s ever been, let’s face it, a time like this—to say that this is the weirdest Canada Day ever in peacetime. It’s the sort of context-setting line that makes for a perfectly serviceable lede. The kind of lede that conjures visions of readers nodding their assent as they toggle their tabs between ordering vodka coolers by the case and watching Sarah Cooper hilariously rubbish Donald Trump.

This Canada Day, as we avoid gathering ‘round our screens in socially distanced, overextended isolation and watch an all-star lineup of performers be as Canadian as possible under the circumstances from their well-appointed, but not obnoxiously ostentatious, rec rooms, it might be a little harder to forget about current events.

Wartime, like so many things—news, reality, elevator rides—isn’t what it used to be. The perpetual churn of epic competition for global supremacy waged by so many generations of powerful men with too much time on their hands has been overtaken by a different sort of struggle for dominance.

Those old power rituals in which very large, entirely randomly shaped weapons were displayed literally or figuratively for swagger and deterrence purposes while rarely or never being deployed in order to sustain a military-industrial complex whose retail game played out in a festival of lobbying retainers and expense-account dinners have been replaced.

Power is no longer measured in warheads or territory. Power is now measured in the ability to manipulate events and control outcomes, which makes corruption—especially but less and less specifically, covert corruption—the new nuclear warhead inventory. This evolution in power games gave non-democracies an early, Fourth Industrialized Revolution-enabled advantage, which is one reason why democracies are now under siege.

Which brings us to Canada. In this new geopolitical cesspool of colonized multilateral institutions, juvenile propaganda, globalized thuggery, hijacked elections, and weaponized quislings, Canada stands out for being partially protected, so far, by its middling value as an anti-democracy target and its longstanding values as a liberal, multilateralist member of the rules-based international order. That order is currently being cannonballed by the outcome-manipulating narrative impresarios who’ve brought us Donald Trump as a wrecking ball deployed to demolish his own country, Brexit as his U.K.-EU equivalent, and an array of other avoidable disasters and catastrophes.

Our middle-power status, long the cause of a perpetual pendulum swing between forelock tugging and poppy decapitation from the cheap seats like this one, has actually, up to a point, protected us by consigning us to a place in the target field somewhere between the high-value circus currently unfolding south of the border and the low-hanging authoritarian arse opera of Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines.

Which is why Canada’s relationship with China is so disproportionately important at the moment. Justin Trudeau’s rule-of-law orthodoxy in response to Beijing’s norm-obliterating hostage diplomacy has isolated him in a way that says far more about China’s role in our current global unpleasantness than it does about Trudeau’s entirely normal position.

At a time when Canada’s adherence to principle makes it a potential narrative pawn and global object lesson in the outcome-controlling allure of criminal intimidation, this Canada Day feels like the 21st-century version of a wartime one. Think about the degree to which conventional wisdom about the world’s geopolitical players has changed in the past year, and the extent to which it could change further between now and next July 1.

At a time when there are sides to be taken—not for or against countries, and certainly not for or against our fellow human beings, but for or against principles and worldviews—we should celebrate the fact, on this Canada Day, that we’re still free to take them.

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and a columnist for The Hill Times. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington.