In The Media

Embassy-sharing agreement ‘anglicizes’ Canada’s image abroad: some experts 

Some foreign policy experts say Canada-U.K. decision to pool diplomatic resources is more about image, but predict a more anglo-centric foreign policy in the works.

by Chris Plecash (feat. JL Granatstein)

The Hill Times Online
October 1, 2012

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird flatly denied the government’s recent announcement that Canada and the U.K. would merge diplomatic resources in certain countries would influence Canadian foreign policy, and while foreign policy observers say the new initiative is more about image, they predict that future foreign policy will be more aligned with Britain and other members of the so-called “anglosphere.”

“We’re not talking about merging foreign policies, but we are talking about merging images once we start putting ourselves together with the British,” retired Canadian diplomat Paul Heinbecker said last week in an interview with The Hill Times. “I think the motivation was to add a little anglicization.”

Mr. Heinbecker, former chief foreign policy adviser to prime minister Brian Mulroney, was critical of Mr. Baird’s (Ottawa West-Nepean, Ont.) announcement last week that Canada and Britain would share diplomatic space in some locations abroad. Mr. Heinbecker, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said that the decision diminishes Canada’s image as a fiscally sound sovereign nation.

“There’s a problem with the branding. We have spent years making ourselves a sovereign, independent country. … The government has been at pains to tell us that we’ve come through the economic crisis better than anyone else has,” Mr. Heinbecker observed. “It seems a bit odd to me that we’re in the process of saving nickels and dimes.”

Mr. Baird and British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the memorandum of understanding to media on Monday, Sept. 24. The two countries will be able to share diplomatic office space in countries where one of the participants has been previously absent. Canada will now be able to base a diplomatic mission out of the British Embassy in Burma, while British diplomats will be able to work out of Canada’s embassy in Haiti.

The MOU, reached by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will enable the two countries to establish “Common Service Organizations,” and details rules around shared resources and services, emergency response, consular cooperation, security, official mail, and information management and technology.

“This arrangement allows us to focus on smart diplomacy and promoting Canada abroad, without spending large amounts of taxpayer dollars on bricks and mortar,” Mr. Baird said in a prepared statement.

Mr. Hague cited shared values in his opening remarks to national media. “For us the relationship with Canada is a friendly one. It’s a relationship that encompasses our common history, so much of our culture,” Mr. Hague stated.

The British Foreign Secretary also highlighted that the agreement would enhance the efficiency and flexibility of both countries’ foreign services.

“It is about speed, flexibility, practicality, and saving the taxpayer money in both countries, but also being able to operate effectively in a network around the world,” said Mr. Hague.

British media have interpreted the agreement as an effort by the British government to respond to the European Union External Access Service, which conducts diplomacy abroad on behalf of the EU.

The Daily Mail tabloid reported last week that similar embassy-sharing arrangements between Britain and Australia and New Zealand were in the works as a response to the EAS, and The Economist suggested that the move was an effort by Britain’s Conservative government to appease “Eurosceptic right-wingers” within the party.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) said the announcement by Mr. Baird and Mr. Hague left many questions unanswered.

“You had Foreign Secretary Hague saying this was about furthering the reach, shared values under one monarch, giving the notion that this was more than just shared services. Then you had Mr. Baird saying this was basically just about shared photocopy,” Mr. Dewar said in a press conference following the announcement. “It sends the message out by way of just having our two flags flying together, that there is a collapsing here of our representation.”

Jack Granatstein, distinguished research fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, also criticized the optics of Canada and Britain sharing diplomatic resources abroad.

“It smacks of reversion to the early days of Canadian nationhood, when we were represented by the British Government abroad. I know that’s not the case, but it sort of smells like it,” said Mr. Granatstein, who described the agreement as the latest effort by the Harper government to create “a different narrative” for Canada.

“It very much looks like a reversion to an older era—a pre-Liberal era, if I might say,” Mr. Granatstein observed. “I think this plays very badly in Quebec, I think this plays very badly with new Canadians, and it sure as hell pisses off people like me who wish we were [out] of the monarchy.”

Canadian foreign policy may not be directly affected by the agreement, but it appears to be the latest push by the Conservative government to re-associate Canada’s national identity with the British Commonwealth.

Last summer the Department of Foreign Affairs ordered all Canadian embassies to permanently display a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and the Department of National Defence restored the ‘Royal’ title to Canada’s Air Force and Navy.

Last week’s announcement by Mr. Baird and Mr. Hague was nearly one year to the day since Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and British Prime Minister David Cameron signed a joint declaration for Canada and Britain to cooperate on science and innovation, commonwealth reform, and military interoperability.

In his address to Canadian Parliament on Sept. 22, 2011, Mr. Cameron referred to Canada as a “vital and influential military partner” before acknowledging the renaming of the Canadian Air Force and Navy with approval.

British Conservatives appear to have a shared desire to strengthen ties with Canada.

In a March, 2012 speech to Canadian conservatives at the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa, British Conservative Member of European Parliament Daniel Hannan, Mr. Hague’s former speechwriter, told an enthusiastic audience of conservative activists that Canada was a model conservative government for English-speaking democracies, which he referred to as the “anglosphere.”

“[A]ll the time when I was growing up, Canada was seen abroad as a kind of outpost of continental Europe in North America,” Mr. Hannan told the conference, which was attended by Conservative MPs and staffers. “You have convincingly rejoined the anglosphere, [Britain] is still wrenched from our natural orbit and attached to the European Union.”

Mr. Heinbecker said that there is support in Canadian foreign policy circles for an “anglosphere” approach to international relations, which asserts that English-speaking democracies form foreign policy alliances based on their shared culture and values.

“This idea has been around and there are a lot of people who would like to see more flesh on those bones, and I would imagine that there are people in the current government who would see it in those terms,” Mr. Heinbecker said. “It’s part of the atmosphere. There’s a kind of anglicization. We have a government that’s comprised of a lot of anglophiles. My problem is the issue of what it says about us to others who are not part of the anglosphere.”

Mr. Granatstein approved of Canada developing stronger ties with other members of the anglosphere. He said that democracies like Canada, Britain, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand needed to work together to challenge China’s dominance in the Pacific.

“An expanded anglosphere is what is going to resist China’s expansion. I think it’s very much part of our [unstated] policy, but it becomes more so as NATO and the attention of the world shifts to the Pacific,” he said.

However, Mr. Granatstein added that the embassy-sharing agreement was not an example of substantive foreign policy.

“I think it was a case of ‘Let’s save $12.’ It’s the kind of penny-ante foreign policy that I find offensive, but I don’t think it’s an indication of where our policy is going,” he said.

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