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Pariahship and bluffmanship

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted December 7, 2009

More than a week ago, three groups floated the idea that Canada be suspended from the Commonwealth for not meeting Kyoto targets. The inflammatory nature of the proponents' rhetoric should be an indication of their influence.

However, stranger things have happened. Groups that have advocated the ban of DDT – which has cost the lives of many in the Third World - are credibly presenting themselves as advocates for the Third World. In this strange world, it's not impossible for Canada to be suspended.

As a threat, though, it's largely empty. Even if Canada were to be suspended, it would make little difference to us Canadians.

The Aim Of Expulsion Is To Lobby America

Even though four countries have been suspended from the Commonwealth, the only nation that easily comes to mind is South Africa. Interestingly enough, South Africa was never suspended. Until 2007, as the Wikipedia article on the subject explains, a nation was automatically expelled from the Commonwealth when it became a Republic. South Africa did so in 1961. In order to re-join, it had to re-apply. South Africa's application was blocked, so it stayed expelled. The four that have been suspended are Pakistan, the Fiji Islands, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Two were suspended for coup d'états. One was suspended for electoral irregularities. One, then a military dictatorship, was suspended for execution of an opposition leader. A year after its suspension, the Mugabe government pulled Zimbabwe out entirely.

Comparing Canada to any of those four countries will only make the comparer look ridiculous, at the very least in the eyes of Americans with common sense. Thanks to free trade and largely Internet-based exchanges, Americans now know a fair bit about Canada. They won't be fooled by lumping Canada in with three then-extant military dictatorships and Zimbabwe. Most likely, the attempt will become material for jokes – largely at the Commonwealth's expense.

The fond hope that Canada will be compared to South Africa is even more implausible. Canada was the final destination for the Underground Railroad. Many an escaped slave found a new life as a free subject in Canada. More than a few blacks became loyalists during America's Revolution because institutionalized discrimination against blacks was not part of the Canadian political fabric. There are eighth-generation African-Canadians living in New Brunswick and elsewhere.

The only historically semi-accurate comparison involving South Africa matches Canada to Mozambique, or to another country that provided refuge to blacks. Comparing the United States to South Africa is a slur. Equating Canada to South Africa can only be pegged as a dissemble. Too many Americans, knowing Canada as a haven for escaped slaves, will see through it. There will not be any real anti-Canadianism in America as a result. Any attempt is too easily satirized by the American conservative movement: "Divest From Canada's Socialized Medicine! Divest Now!" "Divest From High Taxes! Divest From Canada!" [etc.] Any greenies who try to lean on Canada will likely end up jokes, or embarrassments. Too many conservative Americans would see Canada's suspension as caused by the current Canadian government refusing to be conned…and too many liberal Americans see Canada as a role model for good social policy. (Remember Michael Moore's Canadian cousin?) If Canada's in the bad books, where are they going to point to with regard to government-owned health care? Britain's NHS? 

The Firecracker Won't Just Fizzle Out…

Although the position does not automatically come with being Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II is Head of the Commonwealth. Although not automatically his by right, it's widely expected that Prince Charles will become Head of the Commonwealth once he succeeds to the throne. Although he would not be responsible for a possible suspension of Canada from the Commonwealth, it's likely he'd be blamed for it here. There are too many Canadians who would like to see Prince Charles as Canada's last Sovereign, for that blame not to be put at his feet. He is a known environmentalist; that fact might make such attempts plausible.

I'm not one of those who see a republic as a real boon for Canada, but there are those who do. They may well be made quiescent by monarchists making it clear that Prince Charles isn't legally responsible for any suspension. On the other hand, it may become a flash point.

There is a valid precedent in this regard, of a nation that was suspended and later pulled out. That nation is Zimbabwe, one born in rebellion against the institutionalized racism of Rhodesia. Enough Canadians may take the hint and Canada might end up pulling out of the Commonwealth entirely – and pulling out of the monarchy too. If the issue's successfully cast as Canada's Parliament standing up for Canadians, Canada will win respect even in the U.K. for doing so. If the choice is between risking the "Wild Wild North" and knuckling under to foreign governments, we Canadians may hazard the former. It can even be spun as "Canada's Glorious Revolution."


The possibility of Canada being brought to its knees, through suspension from the Commonwealth, is close to zero. Doing so would merely make the greenie movement share the fate of Pyrrhus. The hoped-for pressure from America will not erupt; it's far more likely that the greenies will turn into jokes (and be regarded as "spoiled and selfish" by the Democratic political Establishment.) Canada's early heritage, let alone its postwar heritage, is too well known to make Canada credibly seem a rogue nation. The threat to suspend Canada due to missed Kyoto targets isn't brinksmanship; it's bluffmanship.

The most razzing we Canadians would endure would be for signing on to the Kyoto Protocol in the first place. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is currently watching The Gold Bubble.


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