Canada’s global identity is in danger

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Under the Harper government, Canada’s position on the global stage has changed dramatically.  Cuts to foreign aid and a strained relationship with the United Nations (UN)have the international community struggling to understand Canada’s new national identity.

The evolution of Canada’s international role was cemented in 2010, when it was rejected in its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Instead, Germany and Portugal were awarded seats. For many, the overwhelming loss represented international resentment for Canadian foreign policy.

African nations were angered by a reduction of foreign aid in both amount and focus, and Arab and Muslim nations resented Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s staunch support of Israel. Unfortunately for Canada, that resentment was reflected in votes. Recently, Canada withdrew from the United Nations Convention on Desertification due to concerns over how Canadian funds were being used. The withdrawal further legitimizes two dangerous assumptions about the Harper government.

First, it looks as though Canada is apathetic about climate change.  Second, it appears that Canada is losing interest in helping African nations as the severity of droughts in Africa is devastating. Departmental restructuring is not the only development at CIDA, as international assistance will be cut by well over $377 million by 2014-15. Of this reduction, $314 million will be cut directly from CIDA.

The Harper government claims these cuts will increase accountability and efficiency. While this may be true, the move is garnering serious concern from the international community.
We have not been a peacekeeping nation for some time, but Canada remained a nation defined by its willingness to help. With Canada seemingly disinterested in multilateralism and focused on reducing its foreign aid budget to under 0.3 percent of the GDP, Canada’s image may have suffered long term damage.

As Canadians, many of us see ourselves as the neighbourly patron of the Western world. With so much of the world changing their perception of Canada, the gap is growing between how we see ourselves and how others see us. If we are no longer the peacekeeper, developer or donor, what are we?

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