The “Boomerang Generation” refers to young adults that are moving back in with their parents after having gone to college/university, or after having already spent some time as independent adults. Although the Boomerang Generation continues to act mostly independently, parents tend to cut them a break while they’re back home. The Harper Government’s recent decision to return to the skirts of Britain’s embassies and consulates somewhat resembles that phenomena. For an announcement Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird claims is “mostly administrative,”(1) the high-profile nature of the announcement raises a great many questions.
Baird’s announcement on Monday that Canada would operate its diplomatic missions out of British Consulates & Embassies where no Canadian Consulate or Embassy exists, and vice-versa, has been hailed by some in the business community as being an excellent way to trim the costs of foreign affairs. Ottawa needs to slash $170 million from foreign affairs this year, while London needs to trim $160 million(2). By moving in together in these locations, Canada and Britain would be able to share the costs associated with the physical infrastructure and other overhead expenses. Both Canada and Britain insist that both countries will maintain separate foreign policies in those regions, with independent representatives within the consulates and embassies.
As an administrative move, the agreement is nothing new, spectacular, or worthy of a major press conference and announcement. As both countries have referenced, Canada currently uses British, Australian, and now Italian embassies/consulates, and other countries occassionally utilize ours. However, the degree to which those locations handle the affairs of other countries is often extremely limited in nature. For example, the Italian Foreign Ministry will provide some emergency consular services to Canadians in Iran, but direct more routine matters to the Canadian Embassy in neighbouring Ankara(3).
There are two major problems with signing an on-going agreement to share consulates & embassies. The first is a matter of image. As a former colonial power, Britain does not make a particularly positive impression on formerly subjugated countries, or areas where they once harvested populations for slavery. Given that past, hiding behind the British Flag is not even remotely beneficial. The imagery evoked by Canada’s reputation, as a sovereign country that has left the British Empire and succeeds on its own, makes independent Canadian consulates and embassies much more appealing in those areas.
The second problem is a matter of the option of severing ties. If one country, say Britain, chooses to pull their consulate from another, it immediately forces Canada to be seen to follow in-suit as we would no longer have any presence. This forces an unintentional twinning of foreign affairs policies. Where they share a consulate or embassy, if one pulls out, the other is also pulled out. Additionally, if Britain releases a derogatory Mohammad cartoon, a shared Canada-Britain Consulate would be the victim of a mob in the Middle East, as opposed to just the British Consulate. Although becoming consulate-mates may sound like a great way to save money, what effects one country will immediately affect the other. Currently there is a buffer, as evidenced by the destruction at US consulates in the Middle East while neighbouring Canadian consulates remain untouched. Despite the expenses, the buffer is a very important safety measure for those working in potentially volatile areas.
Although Canada’s effort to cut back on expenses is laudable, the drawbacks to intertwining consulates and embassies with Britain are daunting. By moving back in with our colonial father, not only does it provide fodder for Quebec to continue to push for their soveriegnty, it projects a parallel of foreign affairs policies between two countries that have generally moved in different directions. The foreign policy of Canada is not that of Britain, nor is the reverse true. Although on occassion we may agree on certain aspects of foreign policy, it should never appear as though we operate as a single unit. By amalgamating consulates under the same roof, it creates the appearance of amalgamation of foreign policy, and thus should be avoided.
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The image problem could have been easily avoided had their been one or two more parties involved in the deal. I’m not sure the embassy pullout is a valid concern as I don’t see one party saying the other has to get out of the building while they are gone and besides, embassy pullouts are fairly rare.
My own opinion is that those who think Canada is surrendering soveignty or becoming a colony are living in the past. If Canada was really grown up we would be able to look at the issue objectively and stop careing so much about what others think of us. Judging from the comments I’ve seen on the CBC and elsewhere, we’re not there yet.
As a side note, in two instances you refered to this as Canada moving back in with our parent. It could just as easily be seen as Canada taking care of an aged relative. But both views are condescending, this is an agreement between equals.
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