There’s too much Canada, not too little 

A kid that already has handfuls of candies wants to take another whack at the piñata before others have had their first turn. That about sums up the foreign minister’s position on Canadian power in international affairs.

Canada needs greater international influence, according to Melanie Joly. While the Foreign Affairs Minister’s recent comment elicited some commentary, no one has mentioned the inegalitarian, even supremacist, nature of her position.

In “‘We need to increase our influence’: Joly wants to increase Canada’s impact on the world stage”, CTV quoted the minister saying, “What we’re seeing is that the world’s power structures are moving, and therefore we need to be there to defend our interests without compromising our values, and we need to increase our influence.”

But, by almost every important measure, Canada has outsized influence over global affairs.

A member of the G7, Canada joined the US and Britain in instigating NATO and the Bretton Woods institutions (International Monetary Fund and World Bank). Eight decades later Canada’s voting share within the multilateral financial institutions is five times its share of the global population and Canada has participated in every major NATO deployment. It currently leads one of four NATO battle groups in eastern Europe on Russia’s doorstep.

According to the Department of National Defence, Canadian troops are deployed on two dozen international missions. Canadian Forces also has bases in Jamaica, Kuwait and Germany, which gives this country more international bases than far larger countries such as China and India.

Canada has long ranked among the world’s top military spenders. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Ottawa spent more on its military than all but 12 countries in 2020. It is one of only five members of NATO, note Royal Military College professors Christian Leuprecht and Joel Sokolsky, with a “full-spectrum military”. Canada far outspends its proportion of the global population. With less than 0.5 percent of the world’s people, Canada is responsible for 1.5% of international military spending.

While a recent Global Affairs report bemoaned that Canada has fewer diplomatic outposts than any other G7 nation, it’s the least populous member of the elite club. Canada, in fact, has more diplomatic missions than 80 percent of the world’s nations. Montréal is one of the United Nations’ eight headquarters cities, home to the International Civil Aviation Organization, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and other UN agencies. Canadians are also over-represented in international institutions such as the UN, World Bank, etc. Due to Ottawa’s large financial contributions to the Francophonie, a Canadian is generally the number two in the 54-nation forum. Canada is also an important player in the Commonwealth. Speaking the world’s two major colonial languages, Canada’s educated population is well placed for diplomatic and intellectual positions.

Canadian companies are global players in various fields. The world’s largest privately held security company, GardaWorld has 100,000 employees operating across the globe while another Montréal-based firm, SNC Lavalin, is among the largest engineering companies with projects in half the countries of the world. Based in the same city, Bombardier and CAE are among the world’s largest aerospace and flight simulation firms. With operations across the globe, Canadian banks are major international players. The five major Canadian banks are all ranked among the world’s top 63.

The mining sector provides the starkest example of Canadian capital’s international prominence. With less than 0.5% of the world’s population, more than half of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada or listed on Canadian stock exchanges. Present in most countries, Canadian corporations operate thousands of mineral projects abroad.

Canada has helped itself to a disproportionate share of humanity’s global carbon budget. Between 1850 and 2021 Canada had the highest per capita GHG emissions in the world, according to Carbon Brief. Today Canada’s per capita emissions are higher than the US and Australia. The emissions intensity of Canada’s buildings, transportation and agriculture are all above the G20 average and Canadians produce nearly three times more GHG per capita than the G20 average. Heavy GHG emitting tar sands production continues to grow and is expected to reach 3.7 million barrels per day by 2030.

In various statements Joly has justified the need to increase Canadian power as a way to counter China’s rise. But that country has 35 times Canada’s population with nowhere near 35 times its international heft. If you believe in equality the most populous countries should be the most powerful. China and India each have more than four times the US population yet far less international influence.

For those arguing Canada should increase its share of international power consider that Canada’s population is less than Uganda’s and not even a quarter of Bangladesh’s.

It may make many in the traditional power centers uncomfortable but countries like Canada need less influence over global affairs.

Everyone deserves to whack the piñata.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.