Foreign Policy Blogs

Canadian Moment

In spite of President Obama’s popularity in Europe, there is a relatively wide gap between the U.S. and Europe on several of the issues tackled at the recent G20 meeting held in Toronto on June 26-27.  This phenomenon creates an opportunity for countries to attempt to bridge the divide between the two sides – a difficult, but potentially rewarding, challenge.  The main contender for that role right now is Canada.

The United Kingdom is the original bridge country between Europe and North America and has been with varying degrees of success since the end of World War II.  What the recent G20 meeting demonstrated is that the political tectonics of the transatlantic relationship have shifted somewhat, and we are in a moment where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is even more able to position his government as the bridge by allying with similarly conservative governments in Europe.

Of course, Canada makes for a very different bridge than the UK.  The UK is a member of the European Union, which comes with a certain amount of institutional influence that provided the U.S. with a window into the EU on issues where there was Anglo-American accord.  Canada’s influence isn’t based upon any institutional affiliation but rather its robust economic strength and deep ties with the U.S.  Its movement toward the European position is mostly one of momentary common cause, and its new posture is more likely to advantage its allies to the east rather than the south.

(Courtesy: Google Images)

(Courtesy: Google Images)

The U.S.-Canadian relationship is, by the U.S. State Department’s own reckoning, “the closest and most extensive in the world” with an unprecedented level of symbiosis.  However, the recent economic crisis has put European governments in a mood of fiscal austerity; this is something of a contrast to Obama’s emphasis on continued economic stimulus.  With a more healthy economy, Harper is more inclined toward the Europeans.  An economist by trade, he demonstrated his influence as a diplomat at the G20 (if not so much as a host) by helping block an international bank tax and winning agreement for debt and deficit reductions in spite of American reluctance.

The disagreements mentioned here are not huge; they were small enough that, in the end, all parties were able to spin the final agreement as a victory for their side.  But they do reflect some interesting political shifts (for the moment) that have been amplified by the global recession.  Incidentally, Canada isn’t only winning friends in Europe: while American liberals have long admired Canada’s universal health care system, American conservatives are increasingly pointing to Canada as a fiscal role model.  Couple this new-found popularity abroad with its recent success in hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, and it perhaps becomes fair to say that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was right: this is the “Year of Canada”.



Ryan Haddad

Ryan Haddad is the Senior Blogger for U.S. Foreign Policy at FPA. A foreign affairs and national security analyst based in Washington, D.C., he worked in European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Bush Administration and is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Providence College. He can be followed on Twitter at @RIHaddad.