On May 1, the Harper government quietly announced that it was terminating funding for Understanding Canada, the latest iteration of the Canadian Studies program. The Canadian government’s support for international scholars of Canada, which has lasted for nearly 40 years, has been the key element in Canada’s broader public diplomacy efforts seeking to increase Canada’s “mindspace” in key foreign constituencies (academics, students, government officials, business, and social groups). The idea was that small investments would translate into a greater knowledge of Canada, promoting Canada’s brand in the world and supporting its economic and foreign policy interests.

This program supported research on – and travel to – Canada by foreign professors, researchers and graduate students, and promoted research and teaching links between international and Canadian scholars.1 According to an estimate by Patrick James, President of the International Council for Canadian Studies, the federal government’s $5 million annual investment in the program generates $200 million spending on Canadian Studies globally by roughly 7,000 Canadianists working in 290 Canadian Studies programs researching and offering courses on Canada in 50 countries.2

The announcement took the form of a message that appeared on the program website:

In the current fiscal context, the decision was made to focus our programming on the department’s core mandate first. As a result, we are phasing out the international Canadian studies program, and will be reducing the funding and geographic scope of the International Scholarships Program.

Given the success of the program, the economic benefits and the government’s desire to strengthen Canada’s brand in the world, the question is: Why? How has the “core mandate” changed?

Why eliminate the program?

On its election in 2006, the Harper government began cutting support for public diplomacy. In 2008, the Canadian Studies program was renamed “Understanding Canada,” and its mandate was changed. It would now require applicants to situate their work within public policy priority areas defined by the Canadian government. In the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Inroads I criticized this orientation, writing,

The Harper government may one day realize that it is being “penny wise, pound foolish” in cutting public diplomacy and reorienting the Canadian Studies program … The government’s determination to extract value for money or otherwise cut public diplomacy programs will only hurt the effort to promote Canada abroad, and raises the possibility that some scholars will stop studying Canada altogether.3

So why was the program eliminated? As Paul Martin, former director of Canadian Studies at the University of Vermont, notes, the government must be aware of a study that revealed that Understanding Canada generated significant net economic benefits for Canada, adding $70 million annually to the Canadian economy through spending on research trips to Canada, books, films and music. One would have thought that the net economic benefit to Canada generated by the program reflects – as a Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) representative’s recent statement put it – that “the government of Canada is conscientious is its use of taxpayers’ money and makes every effort to ensure that resources devoted to Canadian diplomatic activities are optimized.”4

Moreover, Canadian universities, supported by the federal government, are aggressively recruiting international students. The August 2012 Report of the Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, noting the great economic and labour market benefits associated with international students, called for increased efforts to brand Canada abroad and make international education more prominent in government of Canada policies.5 Might not the support of foreign scholars doing work on Canada help the federal government and Canadian universities attract such students?

International Canadian Studies also supports broader efforts to brand Canada in the world. Through nation branding, foreign audiences become aware of a country. In a period of an overwhelming number of opportunities and brands, this awareness can increase foreign direct investment, attract skilled labour and enhance a country’s foreign policy influence.

Surely the study of Canada and ultimately spreading knowledge of Canada supports Canada’s Global Commerce Strategy and its branding efforts in areas like energy (a core component of the Conservative economic agenda), tourism (getting more people to Canada) and even food (getting more people to identify food as Canadian in support of the agri-food industry, which faces tough competition from highly productive countries).

Earlier this year, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was complaining that much of the world did not know of Canada’s vast energy resources and its ability to meet much of the world’s increased energy demand: “So when I meet with my counterparts around the world, I consistently build up Canada’s reputation as a resource superpower. Jaws drop when I tell people we have the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world; many don’t know this.”6 If it is important that our trading partners know more about Canada, it does not seem logical to stop support for the teaching and research of Canada abroad. Why terminate a successful program that produces net benefits for Canada and helps the government achieve its policy goals? The answer, I suggest, lies in the Harper government’s narrow vision of foreign policy.

Foreign policy in the Harper era

Cuts in investments in diplomacy (including public diplomacy) signal Canada’s retreat from diplomacy as a means of international engagement. Having announced its intention to sell some ambassadorial residences and to change the terms of foreign service appointments to meet an imposed $170 million cut in DFAIT’s operating budget, the government appears to have little time for the niceties of diplomacy and the cocktail circuit.

Instead, the Harper government has adopted a more muscular tone in the rhetoric, if not always the execution, of Canadian foreign policy and has sought to reshape the Canadian identity to emphasize the country’s military accomplishments, both past and present. The Harper government wants Canada to be seen as a model country that punches above its weight. In contrast, the Conservatives argue, the Liberals talked a good game but often achieved little.

This is audible in Prime Minister Harper’s rhetoric. For example, in supporting the Afghanistan mission in 2006, Harper made the point that “we are taking real casualties,” spoke of losses as “the price of leadership” and said that “cutting and running” is not “the Canadian way.” More recently, in addressing Canadian troops in 2011, he said, “The Gadhafis of this world pay no attention to the force of argument … The only thing they get is the argument of force itself. And that you have delivered in a cause that is good and right.”7

More broadly, this approach to foreign policy fits into the Harper government’s wider political strategy to replace the Liberals as “Canada’s natural governing party.” It appears to have embarked on a mission to reshape the Canadian identity away from values and narratives typically associated with the Liberals (Canada as a peacekeeping country, a redistributive country, a socially progressive country, a middle power that talks a lot) to those associated with the Conservative Party (law and order, a military country, a free enterprise country, a country of action that punches above its weight). Indeed, according to Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, Canada under Stephen Harper has become a “warrior nation.”8

This helps us understand the Harper government’s adoption of a new Canadian citizenship guide that highlights military history and achievements, and its renewed emphasis on symbols of the monarchy. Money is clearly not the key factor, as $50 million was found to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, along with another $800,000 for a Parliament Hill ceremony to celebrate victory in Libya – a celebration planned before the end of hostilities. Clearly, this type of spending helps convey the government’s message to Canadians, whereas spending on international Canadian Studies seemingly does not.

A program with many benefits

Why does this matter? After all, there is a critique of the Canadian Studies program, expressed by Joan Sangster in 2007, to the effect that Canadian scholars who are funded by the program take the occasional “Canadian Studies international junket” to interesting places and then show little interest in Canadian Studies when they return.9 Indeed, in closing the program, the government cited an internal audit that “found the program to be ‘bureaucratic’ and ‘burdensome’ with dubious results, there was limited evidence the program was meeting its objectives or had any verifiable impact … Giving generally small grants to scholars abroad is simply no longer affordable.”10

This critique is not convincing. First of all, the economic spinoffs of the program have already been cited. Second, in the global competition for investment and skilled labour, other countries have been increasing their public diplomacy efforts and, as noted, the government complains that the world does not know enough about Canada, including basic economic strengths. Third, much of the government’s economic agenda is centred on increased international trade away from the United States – which is not only our biggest trading partner but also the country that knows Canada best. This makes increased knowledge of Canada more important than ever but, ironically, the Conservatives have targeted a program that can help them achieve their goals.

Moreover, eliminating the program will have a detrimental impact on the global study of Canada. While there is broad interest abroad, this interest is spread unevenly, and is often vulnerable to budget cuts as a result of changing priorities in the host countries. Without the support of the Canadian government, universities are likely to find it more difficult to offer courses on Canada, and it will be harder to get students interested in studying Canada. Many scholars could be expected to turn their attention elsewhere, to countries more in the news where their scholarship is likely to be better rewarded.

Moreover, international networking, allowing scholars to connect abroad and in Canada, not only increases Canada’s presence in the global mindscape but also produces its own direct economic benefits to Canada. The presence of Canadian scholars, often in conjunction with Canadian embassies, business people, students and expatriates, provides visible and tangible expressions of Canada to foreign audiences.

This is central not only to promoting knowledge of Canada, but also to overcoming misperceptions of Canada and Canadians. As former Liberal Industry Minister John Manley once said, “People like us, they find us nice, peaceful, fun-loving people who produce beer and hockey players.”11 The academic study of Canada can help debunk these stereotypes and promote stronger ties among key decision makers, opinion makers and mobile professionals, key actors central to modern diplomacy.12

It is likely that savvy opposition parties will seize on the idea and goals of international Canadian Studies and, when in a position to do so, will restore the program. However, in the interim much goodwill will have been lost and Canada’s global image will have been tarnished. The Conservatives want the world to see Canada as a model country punching above its weight. But if they keep reducing our ability to conduct public diplomacy, who will notice?

Continue reading “Harper’s axe hits Canadian Studies abroad”

Without concrete action, efforts to portray Canada as a clean energy superpower are likely to fail

In January 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed his fifth environment minister in five years. Peter Kent immediately declared that oil from Alberta’s oil sands was “ethical.” Echoing Ezra Levant’s argument that Canadian oil was ethical because proceeds strengthened Canadian democracy and society and did not support tyranny or injustice,1 Kent vowed to confront “the slander and disinformation of outright lies” about the oil sands.

Barely a month later, political turmoil in oil-producing countries in the Middle East and North Africa provided a boost to Levant’s argument. Defenders of the Canadian oil patch asked if foreign customers should buy oil from unstable countries like Libya with dictators like Muammar Gaddafi.

Yet as I finish this article, President Obama has illustrated the challenge Canada faces in developing and promoting its oil sands. Days after identifying Canada as one of the most important sources of secure and reliable oil (a message promoted by the Canadian government), Obama said that the potentially “destructive” nature of the tar sands (the less friendly descriptor used by environmental critics of the oil sands) had to be addressed before his administration would approve the Keystone XL pipeline to send Canadian crude oil to American refineries. Something is obviously not working as far as Canada’s energy and environmental reputation is concerned.

It’s not for lack of trying. The Conservative government has been trying to rebrand Canada’s image abroad by linking energy supplies and the ongoing extraction of resources to environmentalism and democratic ideals. The effort has been to deflect global attention away from the environmental consequences of oil sands activity in order to promote the development of the oil sands. However, without concrete actions that support the brand message, this is a risky strategy that could very well fail.

The oil sands and Canada’s environmental image

The oil sands account for 95 per cent of Canadian oil reserves, making Canada the second leading source of proven oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. They are expected to add $789 billion to the Canadian economy between 2000 and 2020.2

Not surprisingly, development of the oil sands has been a priority for the federal and Alberta governments. Canada has been pursuing foreign investment in the oil sands while also trying to develop markets by promising – notably to the Americans and the Chinese – that Canada can deliver secure and reliable oil. Describing the oil sands in their natural state as “nature’s biggest unusable oil spill,”3 Prime Minister Harper has compared their development to the building of the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China.

This is not the view generally held, however; indeed, the oil sands have created an image problem for Canada, bringing attention to this country’s poor environmental record. The Conference Board of Canada ranked Canada 15th out of 17 peer countries in its 2009 environmental performance report card, noting particularly poor performances in the areas of climate change, smog and waste generation. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise; by 2007, emissions were 34 per cent higher than Canada’s Kyoto target and 26 per cent higher than 1990 levels (as opposed to the promised 6 per cent decrease).4 With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 2 per cent of global emissions. The accompanying figures summarize Canada’s performance in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

The oil sands contribute to Canada’s worsening emissions record, producing 5 per cent of Canadian carbon emissions, a figure expected to rise to 16 per cent in the next decade. Indeed, according to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), while emissions in other G8 countries fall, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase as a result of “an expanding exploitation of the tar sands.”5

Visual cues have helped environmentalists make their case against the oil sands. The 2008 deaths of 1,600 ducks that landed in oil sands tailing ponds, followed by the deaths of another 200 ducks in 2010, even made Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach speak out in frustration as he worried about the impact of these deaths on Alberta’s image.6

Environmentalists, supported by indigenous peoples and celebrities, have led the charge against the oil sands and Canada’s promotion of the industry. For example, high-profile Inuit leader Mary Simon spoke of “Canada’s shameful inaction on climate change,” setting out the facts and figures as well as the experience of how global warming is affecting her community.7 The networked structure of social movements today has made opposition to Canada’s oil sands policy a global exercise. A global solidarity network has teamed indigenous activists with, among others, British environmentalists, to raise international awareness of how the oil sands are affecting the lives of indigenous people and point out the links between the oil sands and global capital.

One tactic has consisted of targeting companies with investments in the oil sands by working with ethical investment campaigners to persuade shareholders to reconsider investments. Prominent retailers like Whole Foods markets have said that they do not want their suppliers to use energy from the oil sands, and Lush Cosmetics has mounted a major advertising campaign against the oil sands.8

Influential groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Federation draw much attention abroad and have forced Canada onto the defensive. The WWF released a study showing that Canada is doing the least of any G8 country to fight climate change.9 Meanwhile, Greenpeace argues that Canada has become a “global carbon bully.” Driven by its pursuit of revenue from the oil sands and spurred on by lobbyists, Greenpeace maintains, “Canada has actively fought standards to lower the carbon content of fuels, lobbied against U.S. legislation to lower emissions, muzzled federal scientists and obstructed international climate change negotiations.”10

Canada’s image in the global community has been sullied by high-profile critical documentaries with such titles as H2Oil, Dirty Oil and Tar Sands: Canada for Sale. Hollywood celebrities such as Neve Campbell and James Cameron11 and international journalists such as George Monbiot portray the oil sands as “Canada’s dirty secret” and argue that it is “blackening Canada’s name, with an image akin to Japan’s in whaling.”12

Governments have begun to respond to these concerns, and their responses portend serious consequences for the future of the oil sands. In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama continued his push to promote clean energy standards for U.S. electricity, and the state of California has enacted a “Low Carbon Fuel Standard” which could affect the export of oil sands oil. Meanwhile, the European Union is considering applying a “dirty fuel” label to Canadian oil derived from the oil sands.

These image problems have been compounded by the Harper government’s reluctance to commit to the provisions of the Kyoto Accord, a position it has tied to the contention that developing countries and emerging powers should no longer have special treatment under Kyoto. At a 2009 international environmental meeting, its position led to a walkout by the Group of 77 developing nations during a Canadian address.

At the two most recent international discussions of environmental agreements in the post−Kyoto Accord era (Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010), Canada’s record came under much scrutiny, and Canada came to be regarded as an obstacle to greater international collaboration on environmental measures. The “Fossil of the Year” title that environmental groups awarded to Canada four years running (2007−10) bears witness to Canada’s poor international reputation.

Criticism has also come from other governments. For example, the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy criticized Canadian inaction on lowering CO2 emissions, noting that it is difficult to convince Danish companies to accept reduction targets when Canadian competitors are not.13 This is the backdrop to the Canadian government’s effort to convince the global community that Canada is committed to sustainable development and the environmentally responsible exploitation of the oil sands.

The brand challenge

In March 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated, “With great energy power comes great environmental responsibility … Canada must not be merely an energy superpower, but a clean energy superpower.” The Prime Minister’s message aspired to a better harmony between economy and environment. Cabinet ministers − notably the ministers of environment, industry and natural resources − took the cue, emphasizing in their speeches a “balance” between energy, the environment and the economy as they heralded clean energy commitments and technological solutions to emissions problems.

The federal government has promoted this message abroad, emphasizing to American, Chinese and European audiences that the oil sands are being developed responsibly. For example, the Prime Minister told the Canadian-American Business Council in 2009 that Canada needs to work with the Americans to deliver significant and secure energy to the United States in the form of a plan linking Canadian and American programs for emissions reduction and the development of green technologies.

Of major concern for Canada was whether the Obama administration would approve the proposed $13 billion Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude from the oil sands to Texas. Two competing mindsets are influencing this decision (which has been delayed several times and is now only expected by the end of 2011): the Obama administration’s public advocacy of “clean energy” and the highly politicized American discourse on energy security epitomized by the Republican Party’s infamous slogan of “Drill, baby, drill!” President Obama’s identification of Canada in March 2011 as one of the most important, reliable and secure sources of oil for the United States was encouraging to Canada’s hopes.

Consequently, the Harper government has argued that Canadian climate change policy must match that of the United States and has promised that new regulations for more environmentally friendly exploitation of the oil sands will be produced. By emphasizing the need for coherent policy that allows both economies to prosper, the Conservatives are able to align themselves with a popular American president, whom Canadians not only admire but also see as “progressive” on the environment.14

Yet given congressional intransigence, the Canadian government can rest assured that American environmental standards will remain weak compared to those of other industrialized countries. And in reality, Obama has taken a more nuanced position. He has failed to clearly define “clean energy,” and while he has expressed public concern about emissions from the oil sands, he has held out hope for cross-border cooperation that benefits administrations on both sides. As he put it, “I think to the extent that Canada and the United States can collaborate on ways that we can sequester carbon, capture greenhouse gases before they are emitted into the atmosphere, that’s going to be good for everybody.”15

The federal government has relied extensively on this one technological innovation − carbon capture and storage (CCS) − as a sign of its commitment to responsible development of the oil sands. The Prime Minister stated in 2009 that CCS had “the potential to help us balance our need for energy, as our duty to protect the environment.” He even suggested that CCS might be able to eliminate half of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. With this optimistic forecast, the Prime Minister noted that “most of” the billion-dollar Clean Energy Fund would be put into CCS demonstration projects.

This public commitment to clean energy has been accompanied by a joint industry-government public relations campaign against opponents of the oil sands. In 2010, the Alberta government attacked environmental groups for their “propaganda campaigns,” complaining that it is being portrayed as uncaring about the environment. Syncrude Board Chair Marcel Coutu called the oil sands a “national treasure” and argued that Canadians do not show enough pride in the oil sands. Syncrude Board Chair Marcel Coutu called the oil sands a “national treasure” and argued that Canadians do not show enough pride in the oil sands. In response to negative publicity, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has launched a national advertising campaign aimed at countering the claims of environmentalists.16

Undermining the brand

To be successful, brands must live up to their claims. But has the federal government undertaken the actions necessary to live up to its self-described brand as an emerging clean energy superpower? Here the evidence diverges from the rhetoric.

Apart from its retreating from already low targets for greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government also moved responsibility for conducting major environmental reviews away from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the body created to do such reviews, to the National Energy Board, whose mandate is to promote the development of the energy sector. It also gave the environment minister more power to determine the scope of such assessments.

Moreover, the federal government committed only $1 billion over five years to the Clean Energy Fund in its 2009 budget, the bulk of which would go to CCS research. Yet many credible observers debunk the whole idea of CCS. It has been called “sheer folly” − an expensive, unproven technology that would produce as much emissions as it “captures,” undertaken at the expense of cheaper technologies that have less harmful effects on the environment.17

In its budget introduced just before it was defeated in March, the Harper government highlighted “Investing in a Cleaner Energy Economy.” However, the major investment was limited to a two-year, $100 million program for R&D and demonstration projects on clean energy and energy efficiency. Other initiatives included a one-year extension of the EcoEnergy Retrofit program (a popular program the Conservatives had planned to close) and the elimination of some subsidies promoting development of the oil sands. Meanwhile, Canadian investments in clean energy technologies are low, trailing spending in other countries. This translates into a missed opportunity to create up to 150,000 jobs.18

Finally, the federal government has opposed the idea of a carbon tax, which many analysts and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development say is an important measure for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the lead-up to the 2008 federal election, Prime Minister Harper said that the Liberal Party’s proposed carbon tax (the “Green Shift”) was “crazy” and would “screw” the country, and his party ran ads saying it was a “tax on everything.”19 One result was that the Liberals wouldn’t touch the idea in the 2011 election campaign.

Rhetoric and reality

The goal of nation branding is to create an emotional connection between the source country and foreign audiences, making them more willing to invest in the source country. Messages that do not reflect reality are reduced to propaganda, and will not likely succeed.

In its efforts to brand itself to global audiences as a clean energy superpower, Canada has a long way to go. Much tougher environmental standards, combined with long-promised regulations on the oil sands industry, would improve Canada’s reputation, as would greater investment in clean technologies.

Industry and the federal and Alberta governments are losing the public relations battle because we are promised action but are left with little more than rhetoric. Indeed, the president of the Canadian Electricity Association stated, “The Prime Minister and the federal Cabinet have to figure out at some point that they just can’t say ‘clean energy superpower’ without having a series of policies and positions to back that up … So far, they’re not there.”20 And when governments do act, they receive intense criticism from industry, as happened with Alberta’s recent announcement that it would convert 20 per cent of oil sands land into conservation and recreation areas.

It is easier to attack one’s critics. Peter Kent recently complained of “the constant, critical refrain that this government has no environmental plan. Not only do we have one, we are one of the very few that does.” The reality, however, as an Ottawa Citizen editorial recently noted, is that Canada has “a government that talks publicly about the importance of tackling climate change while working feverishly in the background to undermine efforts by other countries,” including encouraging oil companies to lobby American politicians about the negative impact of legislation affecting the oil sands.21

Highlighting the “ethical” nature of Canadian energy may temporarily “change the channel” away from the environmentalists’ critique, but it will raise as many questions as it answers. Canada continues to import energy from countries such as Venezuela, where democratic practices have been questioned. Should this stop? Members of the Harper government once criticized China on human rights grounds, but now Canada is reaching out to China. In October 2010, Prime Minister Harper suggested that Canada could meet China’s growing energy demand. What explains this shift? Canadian corporations have billions of dollars invested in undemocratic countries. Should action be taken to discourage such investment?

In short, nation branding campaigns need to reflect a country’s reality to succeed. Canada may have the potential to become a clean producer of energy, but this would require a retooling of Canada’s policy and regulatory framework. The David Suzuki Foundation argues that if Canada adopted the environmental policies of the top three OECD countries, then Canada would lead the OECD in environmental performance.22 But this would require implementing politically and economically costly programs. Talk is a lot cheaper.

Continue reading “Rebranding the Oil Sands”

A few years ago, when I told my first-year students about two presentations I had just given in the United States, I was greeted with surprise. “Why do you always give talks in exotic places like Washington, D.C., and Buffalo?” a student asked. After all, I teach Canadian Studies. But the fact is that many of my academic presentations have been outside Canada, and there are far more Canadian Studies programs abroad than there are in Canadian universities, where Canadian Studies remains a marginal discipline. All this is largely due to a little-known program housed in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), through which the federal government has been investing in the Canadian Studies program since 1975 – an investment currently worth $5 million annually.1 Now, as a result of a new strategic orientation proposed by the Harper government, the essence of this program is threatened.

The Canadian Studies program is a classic example of public diplomacy, promoting a greater understanding of Canada internationally. It raises awareness and a specialized knowledge of Canada among key opinion makers: academics, students, diplomats, public servants and business people. This helps put Canada “on the radar” and accompanies traditional diplomatic, political and business relations. It provides financial support to international scholars researching Canada and to 26 international associations. Without this support, many of these international scholars would not study Canada, and some of these associations would struggle to survive. The Canadian Studies program promotes exchanges between Canadian and international academics and encourages student mobility. It makes Canadian scholarly works and literature available internationally.

The Canadian Studies program has also been a vital lifeline for the discipline of Canadian Studies domestically. Canada does not have an independent academic Canadian Studies learned society,2 so the academic conferences sponsored by international associations are vital to Canadian academics in the field of Canadian Studies. Those of us in Canada with academic positions in Canadian Studies must rely on activities initiated by the various international Canadian Studies associations if we wish to work in our discipline.3

However, budgetary and administrative measures are altering the federal government’s historic support for promoting knowledge of Canada, both abroad and at home. As part of a major cost-cutting exercise in 2006, the Harper government removed $11 million from the budget for public diplomacy. The pressures for efficiency and returns on investment remain: Ottawa recently announced that DFAIT, with several other departments, would have its spending activities reviewed.

In this environment, DFAIT, as part of a broader review of academic relations programs, is reviewing the Canadian Studies program. In the spring of 2007, DFAIT released a consultation document proposing a new strategic orientation for the program that reflected government policies and priorities.4 Aiming for a “results-oriented” process,” the report states, “The new approach, while continuing to respect academic freedom, should be better targeted to support activities (teaching, conferences, seminars, research, etc.) in areas of policy relevance to Canada and supportive of regional strategies.” These are largely public policy areas such as peace and security, North American relations and the environment. Culture is noticeably absent from the list.

Not surprisingly, the strategic reorientation reflects the broad foreign policy orientations of the Harper government, the two most important of which are security and closer collaboration with the United States and other hemispheric partners.5 It also appears to be a response to pressure exerted by the government to align foreign policy programs with its political priorities. Prime Minister Harper recently complained that DFAIT was not following his priorities, and senior foreign affairs bureaucrats began emphasizing “alignment” with the government, telling its employees that “alignment is about how we undertake service to the government and its priorities … is a goal, in that it shows that the Department is attentive to the Government’s needs and priorities.”6

The strategic reorientation of foreign policy generally, and the Canadian Studies program specifically, are rooted in Ottawa’s ongoing efforts to make government spending more productive and eliminate what it deems to be unnecessary programs. At the same time, however, they could undermine the government’s long-term objective of “branding” Canada internationally to advance its economic and political interests. In short, the branding exercise tries to communicate a national narrative that resonates internationally to attract foreign investment and skilled labour.7 The federal government uses public diplomacy to improve Canada’s image abroad by emphasizing the promotion of Canadian values, culture and academic relations in support of its economic and political objectives. It is a subtle process in that it seeks to raise awareness of Canada in the international “mindspace” rather than bluntly and aggressively promoting the country.

For example, DFAIT provides significant support to the “CONNECT” program, based at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. It has successfully identified a growing number of scholars in the United States interested in Canada, providing support to help them develop courses and research interests.8 Ultimately, this will spread knowledge of Canada to a growing number of American students, with the long-term goal of promoting a better understanding of bilateral issues. This type of project is a useful model, for it supports academic freedom and develops international networks of Canadianists while also helping the federal government achieve its goals.

Adopting a more strategic and political orientation has hurt Canada’s reputation. This was seen clearly in the reaction of international scholars, who see the reorientation as crossing the fine line between academic freedom and government support of academic research.9 They expressed concern that the reorientation could be used to make them agents of Canadian foreign policy. The South African Association of Canadian Studies was most blunt in this regard, noting that the reorientation privileges “Canadian rather than mutual interests.” Rejecting the limited thematic scope of the reorientation, they state, “The detailed policy priorities, as described, would tie us to Canadian foreign policy in a way that would be unacceptable; endanger our position as an independent academic body; and implicitly compel us to adopt priorities which we do not share.” Noted British Canadianist Ged Martin was adamant, stating that he worked “with the Canadian government, not for the Canadian government” (his emphasis).

The international scholars portrayed Canadian Studies as a complex discipline embodying a multidisciplinary network of scholars, and were disturbed by the narrow enumeration of strategic themes highlighted by Ottawa. The Association for Canadian Studies in German-Speaking Countries noted that the themes “should not be the main criteria for the distribution of resources. The existing network is too complex to reduce it to some overarching issues. Our future has a broad, wide, open and interdisciplinary focus, an example we have taken from our Canadian partners” (their emphasis).

Given the small amounts of funds and the relatively small number of scholars involved, we can ask whether the government’s pressure for efficiency will really result in more productive spending. If the federal government truly needs strategic research in its priority areas, it has instruments such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. It can also contract research to obtain any expertise it needs. This is not the role of public diplomacy programs, which are intended to promote goodwill between nations and raise awareness of a country abroad. Trying to steer perceptions and understandings of Canada in the directions favoured by the government of the day, even if “academic freedom” is respected, jeopardizes this goodwill.

Many international Canadianists study Canadian culture, drawn to the field because of Canada’s numerous cultural creators with international reputations. Why alienate this group of scholars? Moreover, Canadian culture, broadly defined, is one of Canada’s major export sectors and a key component of the branding strategy. It is hard to understand how cutting public diplomacy, not emphasizing culture as a strategic orientation and alienating international scholars, all to save a little bit of money, can be seen as “trimming the fat and refocusing spending on the priorities of Canadians,” as Minister John Baird declared on September 25, 2006.

The reorientation is symptomatic of the Harper government’s slow education in foreign policy. Whether it is human rights in China or Canada’s position in the Middle East, the government did not appear to realize the importance of Canada’s nuanced role in global issues. When he has framed his foreign policy in terms of the Canadian identity, Harper has performed better, sometimes brilliantly. Thus, his northern strategy promoting “the True North Strong and Free” addresses concerns that resonate with Canadians: Canadian sovereignty, national identity, global warming and the use of resources to promote Canadian prosperity. Contrast this with Harper’s tough talk on Afghanistan and his infamous comment that Canadians do not “cut and run.” Canadians simply do not see themselves that way, and Harper has had to alter his rhetoric in order to connect with the electorate.

This makes the politicization of Conservative foreign policy more puzzling. Canadians respond to positive contributions internationally, but as former ambassador to the United Nations Paul Heinbecker noted recently, DFAIT has seen its resources shrink in an era of budget surpluses, a trend that will contribute to a more military-dominated foreign policy.10 This is out of touch with Canadian priorities and with strategies used by other countries. For example, the United States continues to promote itself heavily through public diplomacy, and other countries use culture, sports and academic exchanges to increase their profile abroad.

The Harper government may one day realize that it is being “penny wise, pound foolish” in cutting public diplomacy and reorienting the Canadian Studies program. As the Ottawa Citizen noted in an editorial on the Canadian Studies program, “Canada, despite its diminished stature internationally, still has many good ideas to offer the world. Spending a modest amount to spread those ideas not only enhances Canada’s presence in the world, but could even do some good in the world, too.”11 The government’s determination to extract value for money or otherwise cut public diplomacy programs will only hurt the effort to promote Canada abroad, and raises the possibility that some scholars will stop studying Canada altogether. As countries compete for capital and skilled labour, expanded public diplomacy programs based on shared interests are needed, not cuts to public diplomacy or efforts to use foreign scholars to advance domestic interests.

Continue reading “Canadian Studies and the Harper Foreign Policy Agenda”

The brand state and the decline of the Liberal Party

The collapse of the Liberal Party under Paul Martin’s leadership has made the past decade one of the most interesting in modern Canadian political history. When Martin succeeded Jean Chrétien in 2003, all signs suggested that Liberal domination would continue for years. Chrétien had won three consecutive majorities, and Martin was widely seen as a more popular leader. The political Right remained in turmoil, and Canadians were not warming up to Stephen Harper, the leader of the newly formed Conservative Party. Meanwhile, the NDP struggled to articulate a distinctive message that would resonate with voters – a task made more difficult because the Liberals continually crept onto NDP turf, at least rhetorically, to distinguish themselves from the Conservatives.

So what happened? How could the Liberals be reduced to a minority government in 2004 and be defeated in 2006? Many will point to the “civil war” between Chrétien and Martin forces. As Martin supporters see it, the legacy of the federal sponsorship program forced Martin to appoint the Gomery Inquiry. Canadian voters, in this view, punished Martin’s Liberals for “doing the right thing.” Chrétien supporters, on the other hand, point to Martin’s strategic error in distancing himself from the successful Chrétien record (due in no small part to Martin’s actions as Finance Minister) because of “Adscam.” This is reminiscent of how Al Gore kept a still-popular Bill Clinton out of his 2000 American presidential campaign because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

However, the problem lies deeper than the civil war, for that explanation ignores an important reason why Chrétien succeeded: the creation of “Brand Canada,” in which a transformed national narrative was used not only to advance national interests but also to promote the government’s policy agenda. Brand Canada reflects the rise of the “brand state.” Peter van Ham argues that governments are transforming their national narratives to attract capital and skilled labour which, as a result of globalization, can move easily to wherever they desire. There is also a domestic dimension to state branding. Van Ham argues that the state can use these narratives and symbols in a “playful manner,” responding to an increasingly consumer-oriented citizenry.1

However, the strategic and partisan dimensions of domestic brand politics run deeper than van Ham suggests. The case of Canada under Jean Chrétien’s leadership shows that framing public policy in terms of national identity and national values can be used not only to promote international competitiveness or interests of state but also to advance narrow partisan interests. This reflects and reinforces the dominant themes of Canadian elections. Elections were once dominated by economic issues, but now, in the context of a consensus on orthodox fiscal management, they emphasize “Canadian values” and who best represents them.2 Chrétien’s branding strategy, which consciously stoked national pride and linked “Canadian values” to the Liberal Party’s policy agenda, redefined the terrain of political competition. Martin’s team, it appears, did not sufficiently appreciate the importance of domestic political branding, and by emphasizing “Team Martin” in order to present a “new” leader, undermined the success of the Liberal brand.

The collapse of the Liberals’ Brand Canada could lead to a significant political realignment in Canada. While the Chrétien Liberals successfully marginalized the political opposition by rearticulating Canadian values in terms of the Liberal Party, in the Martin era the Conservatives and NDP redefined themselves in terms of a consensus around Canadian values, a process which could lead to the growing marginalization of the Liberals.

This form of “reverse branding” means that discussions of a major political realignment should be taken more seriously than they were in the 1980s, when some NDP partisans mused publicly about the disappearance of the Liberals and the rise of a classic Left-Right battle in Canadian politics. With the NDP and the Conservatives occupying the two ends of the Liberal middle, political competition based on “Canadian values” might leave little room for the Liberals. Alternatively, we may witness an end to the framing of Canadian policy debates in terms of shared values, which imply ideological homogeneity, and see a return to a politics defined by ideological diversity, with Liberalism being dominant but not hegemonic.

Chrétien and the rise of Brand Canada

During his first term, Chrétien struggled to present a distinctive policy agenda. Promoting international trade and getting Canada noticed internationally became central to his economic strategy, for Canada’s share of foreign direct investment was dropping despite efforts to liberalize trade. On one international trade mission, after being confronted by child labour activist Craig Kielburger on the issue of human rights, Chrétien recognized that “the government needed to recast its image in more Liberal terms. From that day forward, human rights, at least rhetorically, returned to the agenda.”3

This contributed to a renewed emphasis on “Canadian values,” an area Chrétien always felt comfortable in during his long political career. Indeed, in his farewell speech to the Liberal Party in 2003, Chrétien observed how Canadians seemed demoralized after a decade of Progressive Conservative rule marked by socioeconomic and constitutional turmoil and political scandals, and he consciously tried to adopt an optimistic political outlook. While his “Vive le Canada” approach was often caricatured as a political shtick, it nevertheless contributed to a growing sense of Canadian pride. In the middle to late 1990s, Chrétien began highlighting “progressive” Canadian values like “caring and sharing” and “compassion,” arguing that Canadian institutions like federalism and programs like medicare embodied these values and were a reflection of “the Canadian Way,” a unique response to the challenges of the Canadian experience.

However, the Chrétien policy record was rather different. Drastic cuts to the state in response to fiscal crisis fundamentally challenged the policy-based nature of the Canadian identity. This shift included, most significantly, the restructuring of fiscal federalism imposed by the Canada Health and Social Transfer. Not only did the CHST help the federal government solve its deficit problem by downloading it to the provinces; it removed billions of dollars from those institutions and programs that were central to Chrétien’s “Canadian Way”: health care, postsecondary education and social assistance.

Chrétien therefore “rearticulated” Canadian values without paying the political price. The ability to implement and sell an economic agenda that was not fundamentally different from the Progressive Conservative agenda (think NAFTA, keeping the GST, ongoing debt reduction and historic levels of tax cuts), defended in the name of the Canadian identity, solidified the Liberal Party’s base and contributed to the ongoing marginalization of the opposition parties. While historically the Liberal Party moved to the Left or Right depending on the source of the primary political opposition at the time, under Chrétien the “Liberal middle” expanded in both directions simultaneously. To use a basketball phrase, the Chrétien Liberals looked Left but moved Right. The introduction of “fiscal sovereignty” as a new core Canadian value, highlighted in Jean Chrétien’s 2000 speech “The Canadian Way in the 21st Century,”was critical. Couched in the language of Canadian pride and sovereignty, it allowed the Liberals to proclaim the necessity of a progressive welfare state, but only in terms of a state that was affordable.4

Thus, the Liberals argued that they alone could embrace fiscal prudence and social progressiveness. By implementing steep cuts to the welfare state even as they were celebrating its merits, they undercut the effectiveness of the Progressive Conservative/Reform/Alliance neoliberal economic critique on the Right. Right-wing critics could be isolated by calling into question their commitment to the social values supported by a majority of Canadians. At the same time, NDP pleas for more progressive social policies were also marginalized, as New Democrats were criticized for their allegedly poor record of fiscal management at the provincial level and characterized as high-tax, high-spending left-wingers.

Somewhat incredibly, the Liberals took a politically unpopular position (cuts to the state accompanied by tax cuts) and still managed to redefine the political terrain on their terms. Chrétien’s political success could be seen in Canadian public opinion polls and analyses, which regularly showed that Canadians embraced both progressive social values and tight fiscal policy. Thus, “Brand Canada” could claim that Canadian values were Liberal Party values and vice versa, relegating the Reform /Canadian Alliance/PCs and the NDP to the margins of political influence. If the opposition parties wanted to compete with the Liberals, they would have to do so on Liberal-defined terrain.

This approach was accompanied by a national unity strategy that saw the Liberals identified as the only federal party that could address Quebec nationalism following the close result of the 1995 sovereignty referendum. After the referendum, prominent public opinion analysts informed Chrétien that while the federalists won the political and economic arguments, they did not create an emotional connection with the Québécois and hence lost the cultural arguments.5 Subsequently, selling Canada to Canadians became central to Chrétien’s unity strategy. As Chrétien noted, “The Parti Québécois did not win, Canada won. We have such a good product that, put it under the proper light, and the people will buy it.” The subsequent strategy, involving Plan A (the soft sell of Canada) and Plan B (the hard-line defence of Canada), sought to celebrate Canada and its values, counter separatist “myths” and make clear the “costs” of secession.

Thus, in the Chrétien era, the political manipulation of the Canadian identity produced a significant congruence between Liberal and Canadian values, to the benefit of the Liberals and the detriment of the opposition. By the year 2000 the Liberals portrayed themselves as the party of Canadian values – fiscal prudence and social progress – and as the only party that could safely ensure the ongoing unity of the country. Flying the flag, an outcome of the federal sponsorship program, was hurting the sovereigntist cause – recall former PQ Premier Bernard Landry’s complaints about the prominence of the Canadian flag across Quebec.

Martin in power: The strategy founders

Hence the apparent durability of Liberal dominance as Martin prepared to ascend the Liberal throne and the opposition remained in relative disarray. However, Martin’s introduction to the public as a potential Prime Minister had him not only fighting the NDP and the Conservatives: he was now also contrasting his vision with the popular legacy of his predecessor. For example, while running for the party leadership in September 2003, Martin rejected Chrétien’s call for Liberals to remain committed activists in social policy, instead emphasizing the need for ongoing tax cuts and debt repayment.

This was the first of many attempts to distinguish Martin’s vision of Canada from Chrétien’s. During his run for the leadership, Martin emphasized improved relationships with the United States and Quebec. He expressed doubts about Canada not joining the coalition invading Iraq. He was worried about the effects of the Kyoto Accord. He did not seem to be a fan of the Clarity Act. Yet once he became leader, and the opposition had largely erased the Liberal lead in the polls in 2004, Martin exploited these very same issues to try to drive a wedge between the Liberals and Conservatives. He argued that Canadian values were reflected in Chrétien’s position on Iraq, support for Kyoto, same-sex marriage (which, like Chrétien, he first opposed and then supported), the Clarity Act and a rejection of continental missile defence. Despite the promise of improved Canada-U.S. relations, Martin’s two election campaigns were marked by crude anti-Americanism as Canadian public opinion became less favourable toward President George W. Bush.

Thus, by the middle of the 2004 election campaign, Martin was presenting a rather mixed message to voters. Having initially distanced himself from Chrétien and emphasized his own vision, he was now being encouraged by worried Liberals to remind voters of his successful run as Finance Minister in the Chrétien government. However, his adoption of much of the rhetoric of Chrétien’s Brand Canada only reinforced the mixed messaging.

The Liberals tried to exploit the Auditor-General’s report on the sponsorship program politically by launching the Gomery Inquiry to show that Martin was an “agent of change.”6 However, the move backfired as attention to the scandal placed the Liberals in political trouble in Quebec, where they lost most of the gains Chrétien had made since 1993. While Martin’s appointment of Bloc Québécois cofounder Jean Lapierre as his Quebec lieutenant was intended to signal his intent to establish a more sophisticated relationship with Québécois, he also suddenly brought hardline federalist Stéphane Dion back into cabinet from political exile after Dion had been able to slightly revive Liberal fortunes in Quebec in the closing days of the 2004 campaign.

Reversals on both Quebec and the United States reflected an overriding concern with political outcomes, suggesting that Martin was engaged in a permanent campaign. Many Canadians never really knew what Martin stood for and could never identify his priorities. Framing his agenda in terms of “making history” and “the politics of achievement,” Martin even claimed that the Liberal defeat of Harper’s nonconfidence motion in the spring of 2005 proved that “Canada was a nation by which others would judge themselves.”

Martin adopted a Chrétien strategy of celebrating Canadian values as a way to distinguish the Liberals from the opposition, with the media labelling him “Captain Canada.” He emphasized the values differences between himself and Harper, claiming that his government reflected progressive values. However, the civil war and the policy fluctuations became fixed in the public domain. The opposition reminded voters that Martin had numerous “top priorities.” The media began to make voters aware of the numerous contradictions, which in an era of high levels of political disengagement and cynicism did not bode well for the Liberals.

For example, the 2004 claim that Conservative tax cut policies would Americanize Canada rang hollow, given Martin’s campaign boast that he produced the largest tax cuts in Canadian history. His claim that only he “knew the books” could not hide the fact that the Conservatives had promised more public funds for medicare in the 2004 election. And his decision to restore corporate tax cuts only days after promising to rescind them in his 2005 budget deal with the NDP revealed a high degree of policy flexibility. While he often spoke of the need to cut spending, his willingness to spend significant public funds just prior to elections reinforced perceptions that Martin’s primary concern was his government’s political survival.

His emphasis on Canadian values also raised contradictions in the public eye, and the opposition pounced on this. While Martin regularly spoke of Canadian values and how his party represented them, what did that say of non-Liberals? Did they not have Canadian values? Harper asked if one could be a Canadian without being a Liberal, and suggested that wanting lower taxes and honesty in government were Canadian values as well. And what of Quebec? Martin claimed that Quebec had to stay in Canada because of shared values, and that all would lose if Quebec left the country. The country needed to stay together, he argued, to compete with the new challenges presented by India and China. Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe identified the flaw in this logic by suggesting that, if that was the case, perhaps Canada should consider joining the United States.

Ultimately, these contradictions reflected a growing gap between the articulation of Canadian values for political purposes and the reality of the evolving Canadian social contract. While social class and ideology may have disappeared from public conversations in the 1990s, they did not disappear from public policy. Despite the record prosperity touted by the Liberals, many Canadians, as numerous studies and reports showed, did not share in or feel that prosperity.

Economic inequality grew during the 1990s. University tuition more than doubled. Billions were removed from health care, social assistance and unemployment insurance. Martin decried “empty moralizing” in foreign policy, yet refused to commit to achieving the UN international development target of 0.7 per cent of GDP – a target Canada created. Given accumulated budgetary surpluses estimated at close to $100 billion, and Canada’s role in stressing the importance of increased international development assistance, Live-8 organizer Bob Geldof observed that “Canada’s weird.” Despite his critique of Harper’s Americanizing tax cuts, Martin’s first foreign trip after the 2004 election was to a meeting of prominent American businesspeople. He asked them to invest in Canada because corporate tax rates were largely lower than they were in the United States.

In short, Martin’s decision to run away from Brand Canada (and his record as Finance Minister under Chrétien) sealed the Liberals’ fate. Chrétien’s Brand Canada allowed the contradictions of the Liberal record to be managed politically. Inconsistently trying to distance himself from the Chrétien record and legacy, Martin allowed the contradictions to be exposed. Mixed messages weakened the Liberal brand, for as any brand specialist will note, two things are central to a brand’s success: a good product and a consistent message. And with many Chrétien loyalists sitting on their hands in the two elections, the Liberals could not withstand the opposition parties’ new strategies that were exploiting the Liberal contradictions and seeking to link their own agendas to a sense of social Canada.

“Reverse branding” and the mainstreaming of the ideological opposition

The experiences of Chrétien and Martin show that the domestic manipulation of national narratives in the era of the brand state is a challenge to Canadian democracy. Branding can harm democracy by reducing political conversations to empty messages, potentially increasing political cynicism.7 However, notwithstanding official concern about a disengaged electorate, domestic political branding continues to inform Canadian politics and will shape the evolution of the political landscape.

The fact that several high-profile candidates dropped out of the current Liberal leadership race suggests that the restructuring process will be a long one for the Liberals and recognizes that the Liberal brand has been tarnished considerably. This could produce a fundamental realignment in the federal political landscape, with the Liberals facing potential long-term marginalization. In this scenario, future national battles will take place between two new coalitions on the political Left and Right.

Three questions emerge. First, how will the Liberal Party respond to the events of the past decade? Second, will Prime Minister Harper transform the Conservatives from an occasional alternative national government that Canadians turn to when they are tired of the Liberals into a viable national force defining Canadian politics? Finally, will the NDP establish itself as the party voters turn to when seeking progressive social policy?

The mainstreaming of both the Conservative and NDP agendas is proof of the success of Brand Canada and poses the greatest threat to the Liberals. This is why the NDP emphasizes progressive values and a commitment to balanced budgets, and why Jack Layton asked disaffected Liberals in 2006 to “lend” their vote to the NDP if they believed in progressive values. While the Liberals concentrate on their leadership contest, there is considerable space for the NDP to assume the mantle of defender of Canada’s social conscience, particularly since suggestions to “unite the Left,”presumably under a Liberal banner, have met with little enthusiasm.

However, the greatest threat to the Liberals remains the reunited Conservative Party. While the Conservatives continue to advocate fiscal orthodoxy, it is significant that policies that historically have hurt the Right (rethinking bilingualism, multiculturalism, abortion and even a commitment to universal medicare) have largely been dropped from Conservative policy discussions. This is not to say that a Conservative government will not make changes in these areas; rather, they are essentially not being discussed publicly, as the government focuses on its five identified priorities (accountability, crime, the GST, daycare, and patient wait times).

The mainstreaming of the Conservatives’ social policy, at least in terms of public discussions, makes them seem less radical, and Canadians appear willing to at least give them a chance. If the Conservatives have learned anything from the experiences of the last 15 years, it is that they will need to have a more moderate social agenda to forge a successful political coalition that is viable across Canada and can bridge western Conservatives with voters in Quebec and Ontario. Moreover, the Liberals showed that articulating values that reflect the Canadian identity is a key to electoral success – perhaps more so than the actual policy record.

The 2006 Conservative election strategy not only laid out clear policy tracks; it also situated the party just to the right of the Liberals.8 As John Ibbitson has demonstrated, this reflects Harper’s belief that the dogma of balanced budgets is broadly accepted by the “Liberal centre-left.” Far from leading a group of radicals in a hurry, Harper is trying to build momentum for a broad-based national conservative alternative. He appears to recognize that this requires an incremental approach that focuses on economic and legal policy before attacking issues favoured by social conservatives. “We must realize that real gains are inevitably incremental,” he has said. “… Conservatives should be satisfied if the agenda is moving in the right direction, even if slowly.”9 Thus, we can better appreciate Harper’s handling of the same-sex marriage file. In a nod to his social conservative base he has said that he would not oppose a free vote on the issue, but it is clearly not one of his government’s five major policy priorities.

The NDP and Conservative leadership seem to recognize that the key to defeating the Liberals’ Brand Canada is to box in the Liberals. Whereas Chrétien marginalized the opposition, the opposition is now trying to marginalize the Liberals. In this scenario, the NDP and Conservatives, connected by a commitment to balanced budgets, represent the two extremes of the “social Canada” once dominated by the Liberals.

Nevertheless, there are potential pitfalls. Jack Layton’s strategy of targeting disaffected Liberals rather than the Conservatives in the 2006 election concerned many on the Left, who saw it as opportunistic. In a similar fashion, a Conservative Party that espouses more socially progressive values in an effort to appeal to central Canadian voters creates anxiety for social conservatives.

Managing this tension will not necessarily be easy for the Conservatives, given the fractious history of the Canadian Right. Harper’s early efforts to present a mainstream Conservative Canadian vision have been controversial. For example, the cabinet appointments of David Emerson and Michel Fortier, tightened controls by the Prime Minister’s Office on media access and allegations that the PMO is restricting the public communications of cabinet ministers have been portrayed either as an abandonment of Conservative principles or as crass opportunism. Moreover, despite the social policy messaging, there remains a considerable gender divide, as an early analysis of the 2006 election suggests that Canadian women might have prevented the Conservatives from achieving a majority.10 The fear of “extremism” will continue to be an issue in future elections, and Harper will seek to avoid it, perhaps to the consternation of his base.

The marginalization of the Liberals is far from a done deal. Tensions within the NDP and the Conservatives as they try to position themselves as viable political coalitions on either end of the Liberal middle will remain something that the Liberals can exploit. Ironically the Liberals, who have benefited the most from Brand Canada, would now benefit from a campaign of ideas that clearly demarcated ideological visions, for historically they have best been able to straddle the ideological divides underpinning the mixed (and increasingly retrenched) Canadian welfare state. However, if they focus simply on reliving the “civil war” and blame that for their misfortunes, just as they underestimated Stephen Harper and his ability to transform the Conservative Party, then times could be tough for Liberal supporters.

The Conservatives and NDP, having learned from experience, recognize that the effort to define Canadian values in terms of their policy platforms can be successful, and they will continue to exploit this strategy. For example, Harper’s speech in Afghanistan declaring that Canadians don’t run away from danger is an example of trying to redefine Canadian values politically. Thus, we can expect that as the major parties jockey in a minority Parliament, the federal political landscape, already complicated by new debates about federal-provincial relations, the fiscal imbalance and the forthcoming Quebec provincial election, will remain unsettled for some time to come.

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