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Canada used to be the one with the global conscience

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Lawrence Martin, G&M


LAWRENCE MARTIN lmartin@globeandmail.com The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama prompts a question. Where would the current Canadian Prime Minister finish in the Nobel committee's rankings? Would our guy, Stephen Harper, be short-listed, middle-ranked, long-listed or worse? If you guessed worse - as in the Nobel jurors wouldn't touch him with a barge poll - you've probably nailed it.

The Nobel priorities are disarmament, multilateralism, the extension of olive branches to adversaries etc. Those components were usually central to Canadian foreign policy.

But if you're partial to that kind of thing, don't look now. With the Conservatives' preference for a more confrontational approach, we've gone the other way. That long-time multilateralist image is fading fast. Now, it's Washington, where the new President reaches out, that is seen as having the global conscience.

It's a striking role reversal. Through the decades, we were the do-gooders, often trying to rein in the U.S. with calls for collective security. Now, the dove is in the other hand.

In the past week, the new way was on display. The Obama administration, trying to shut down Guantanamo, has been appealing to other countries to help in the process by taking some of the detainees. Many have agreed, but our government, irritating the White House, turned down the request.

Guantanamo is okay by us - or at least the new us. Other countries see it as representing a travesty of the norms of international justice. They got their prisoners out. Ottawa is doing everything in its power to keep Omar Khadr in. Important judicial principles are at stake here, but there's no outcry. You wonder how far the standards can fall.

The Nobel committee cited the American President for his work in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. That issue used to be a high priority for Canadian governments. Not so with this one. The Harper government has shown little interest in the disarmament file.

The U.S. President has also been credited with making a new opening to Russia with his cancellation of the planned missile defence system for Eastern Europe.

Ottawa's noteworthy act with the Russians this year was to stir their wrath by falsely accusing them of encroaching on our air space with bomber flights. That followed our back of the hand to China when our Prime Minister became one of the only major leaders not to attend the Beijing Olympics.

That's how internationalist we are these days. Reports say that last week the Canadian delegation at a climate-change conference in Thailand was chided by dozens of developing countries for laggardship, as opposed to leadership, on global warming.

As for role reversal, the Middle East offers another example.

Ottawa, for better or worse, used to take a more evenhanded approach to the conflict there. Now, while Washington shows more flexibility, we're about as one-sided as can be.

Other prime ministers had a different view of the world than Mr.

Harper. Paul Martin has recently scored on the multilateral front.

He was a lead player in the opening up of global summitry - the expanding of the cozy club that was known as the G8 to a much broader and more representative G20.

Of course, Lester Pearson won the Nobel Prize. Pierre Trudeau was always badgering Ronald Reagan to pursue negotiations with the Soviets and finally the Gipper did so. Jean Chretien let Lloyd Axworthy have his way with soft power and stood up against the unilateral impulses of George W. Bush and the vile Dick Cheney.

It wasn't just the Liberals. Brian Mulroney showed enough of a diplomatic streak to be touted as a potential secretary-general of the United Nations. Joe Clark has become increasingly Pearsonian in his approach. Kim Campbell is an arms-control campaigner.

Though Stephen Harper has moderated to some degree, he still tends to see the world in black-and-white frames - a good guys/bad guys optic as opposed to the one-big-family perspective. It's at the root of our role reversal with the Americans.

It's ironic that Canada will be kicking off the expanded summitry era when we host the G20 next year.

It will coincide with our move away from our multilateralist tradition.

A long-time leading advocate of conciliation and diplomacy, the country is now probably further away from the Nobel door than ever before.

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