Canada struggles to redefine its role in new world order

Canadian farmers have found themselves on the front lines of the trade wars that have been breaking out with alarming regularity.  |  File photo

What’s Canada’s situation in the world?

That’s a tough question to answer these days. It ain’t what it used to be.

The easiest thing in the world right now is to talk about the daunting challenges facing Canada, focusing on the complexities of the Canada-United States, Canada-China and Canada-European Union relationships.

I hear a lot of that stuff. It’s important for farmers to understand how things are changing because farmers are on the front lines of the trade wars breaking out with regularity. They’re not the cause of the wars, but when the great powers decide to send a shot across your bows, farmers and agriculture have to duck the fastest because they are in the line of fire.

Terms and phrases that once summed up our situation and relationships, such as “rules-based,” “multilateral” and “international” now seem quaint, from a time of innocence.

The rules that have defined recent decades are being thrown out by many players, not just China and the U.S. Remember the conflict with Saudi Arabia?

Multilateral organizations and agreements still exist, but they’re slipping into paper-tiger status, unable to exert much power or influence. Think of the World Trade Organization and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The WTO is toothless. NATO doesn’t seem to have any cohesiveness at all, at least as long as Donald Trump is boss of that place to the south.

The idea of an international community feels untenable, with the world perhaps falling into a 19th century-like or Cold War era set of spheres of influence.

What kind of words and terms could we Canadians use to describe our situation?

I ventured out onto the Twittersphere to ask tweeps about that and I got many humorous comments, but also some that seem apt. Actually, most were both.

“Mostly harmless,” from analyst Chuck Penner, was one of the ones that seemed both funny and true, as well as being a reference to a book I should have known.

Two pithily dark ones but maybe also true were “lost,” and “doormat,” from western aggies Ward Toma and Jim Hale.

David Kucher proferred “naïve boy scouts,” and I have trouble denying that image.

A phrasing I particularly like for a new strategy for Canada came from true geopolitics expert Jacob Shapiro of Perch Perspectives — “depoliticize and defuse.” That’s a nice way of summing up Canada’s likely need to duck and cover and become inoffensive.

That approach didn’t work out so well for the janitor in the Kids in the Hall sketch titled Who’s to Blame (check it out on YouTube; it’s worth it), but it worked great for everybody else before him. Maybe we’ll get lucky.

That recalls to me another quintessentially Canadian bit of comedy from Double Exposure. Remember Victoria Penner — Small but Vital Reporter?

Perhaps that’s what Canada can hope to be in this new age of great power struggles and middle power existential dread: small but vital.

That’s on good days. On bad days we’ll probably have to focus on depoliticizing and defusing, being a little less boy-scouty, embracing seeming harmless, and finding a way to not be lost and treated as a doormat.

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