While Canada Sleeps

  • National Newswatch

Hurkle-Durkle (ˈhərkəl - du̇r-kel) def. “to lie in bed or lounge about when one should be up and about.”

In 2004, author and journalist Andrew Cohen published a seminal book titled: “While Canada Slept”, lamenting the decline of Canada on the world stage and the erosion of the pillars of our international stature. Twenty years later, we must wonder… are we mired in the geopolitical equivalent of “hurkle-durkle” – the centuries-old Scottish expression taking the Internet by storm, meaning “to lie in bed or lounge about when one should be up and about”?

The irony is that no country has benefitted more from the world order established after World War II than Canada. Blessed by geography, neighbourhood, and resources, we sit at the best tables, have maintained a strong and growing economy, have negotiated all the best trade deals, and remain a destination of choice for those dreaming of opportunity, safety, or simply a better life.

Regrettably, that relative comfort has bred complacency. Secure in the knowledge that our collective interests are inescapably tied to those of the elephant next door, Canadians go about our daily lives more concerned about mortgages, cell phone bills and the cost of a head of lettuce than about the subtle and not-so-subtle geopolitical impacts of shifting alliances in the Middle East, the bear at Europe’s door, or the belts, roads, and sophisticated chess play in the Indo-Pacific.

And who can blame them? The domestic failures of public policy are real. People are hurting, their well-being and ability to make ends meet ought to be what they are consumed with day-to-day. Through it all, our relentless hope for better days ahead is rooted in the mistaken assumption that our physical safety is assured by a world order that serves Canada’s interests. Sadly, if we were to look up from our cell phone long enough to glance over the horizon, we would see that the world has become a scary place – and our complacency is not sitting well with our closest partner.

Speak to any American and they will remind you that “freedom isn’t free.” Defence and security are the foundation of their identity, democracy, and economy. Unlike in past decades, there will be no patience, tolerance, or support south of the border for a country that does not take its own security seriously. That will be true regardless of who will be re-elected.

Between now and the month of November, we are going to be reading more about the United States than we are about Canada. As we obsess over Super Tuesday and speculate about running mates, we should ask ourselves what it will take for Canada to be a credible player in the world being shaped south of the border. If we want our trade relationship to continue unimpeded and maintain the level of industrial and economic integration that we fought so hard to preserve in the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) negotiations, we must be a credible actor in defence and security in the world, and – at a minimum - on our own continent.

The suggestion of spending 2% of GDP on NATO will be bantered about, but that proposal is likely to spill ink everywhere except the pages of the Federal Budget. The federal government has already committed to doubling defence spending and has generally put procurement into a higher gear, something for which they do not seem to have been rewarded politically. There is no groundswell of public support for Canada to be everything to everyone. Fortunately, there is lower, more relevant hanging fruit: NORAD Modernization.

There is no better time than now to come together as a country and show our closest ally - and through them, the world - that we are serious about securing our own backyard. We can no longer rely on the sacrifices and myths of the 20th century to secure our future. This is an existential moment. We cannot complacently rely on the vestiges of a rules-based order that is not long for this world.

In the absence of a comprehensive Defence Policy Update, the Federal Budget must address continental security by providing an update and a plan for Canadian industrial participation in NORAD Modernization. That road map should include a practical defence industrial strategy that brings together the private sector, public sector, academics, policymakers, defence experts, and politicians in a multi-partisan fashion to agree on how we will mobilize to take continental security seriously.

Canada must demonstrate that it understands the threats we face, and that they cannot be ignored. We need to show our allies (and remind ourselves) that a big part of dealing with the future is understanding what tools we have today – including military procurement and robust aerospace, manufacturing, and raw materials sectors – and being willing to implement measures that support domestic industrial resilience and make us a reliable hemispheric defence partner. This cannot be an exercise in appeasement by doing the bare minimum while writing a few cheques and talking a big game. Because, here is a dirty-little-open-secret: The continent will be protected. The Americans will not wait. The only question is whether Canada will be part of the solution as a sovereign country, or whether we will simply be invoiced after the fact.

It is time to wake up.

Daniel Lauzon
is former Chief of Staff to Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Senior Director, Public Affairs and Policy (International) at CAE Inc. The opinions expressed are his own.