A weekend 'Globe and Mail' account of the Government's decision to restore the "Royal" prefix to the Navy and the Air Force describes the move as just one part of Prime Minister Harper's (grand) legacy plan to "create a new frame" for Canada. Patrick Muttart now a Chicago businessman and a former Deputy Chief of Staff to Harper says it's..."the emergence of a new alternative to the established Liberal narrative about Canada."
Much of the 40 (or so) year-old narrative Mr. Muttart describes is in the post 1967 Centennial legacy beget by the Trudeau Government and embraced across both sides of the political spectrum by the Governments of Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.
Prime Minister Harper is just returned from a week-long mission to boost ties with Latin America. But the biggest failure of the government's efforts to reinforce Canada's place amongst the countries of the lower Americas has been to imitate the failed United States approach in our relations with the island nation and the people of Cuba.
Since he took over from his brother Fidel, President Raul Castro has been deliberately nudging Cuba towards a freer market economy and slowly allowing more personal liberties. It's not perfect: Repressions, strict limits on speech, and human-right abuses still exist as they do in Columbia where Mr. Harper was last week to proclaim Canada's new Free Trade Accord with the government in Bogota. As they do in Honduras where, in addition to Costa Rica, Mr. Harper spent a couple of days promoting business and trade with Canadians.
This grand scheme in whichever manifestation by the Harper Government to re-frame Canadian history and derive an alternative to the last 40 years of Liberal narrative may risk jeopardizing our long-standing goodwill, economic, and tourism advantages with the people of Cuba. Canada earned Cuban respect and gratitude by being one of just two countries in the western world not to break diplomatic relations following the revolution in the 1960's. Fidel Castro acknowledged this historic bond by attending Pierre Trudeau's state funeral in Montreal on October 3, 2000.
One of a series of "secret" U.S. cables released by the infamous WikiLeaks last spring suggests that the Harper government's diplomatic posturing in central and south America is designed to gain influence and favour with the United-States. But, as the co-author of - "Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbour Policy" (Peter McKenna) points out: "The Canadian government's approach to Cuba is out of sync...all at a time when the Obama presidency is looking to change the tenor of U.S. - Cuba relations."
For example, President Obama in 2009 removed the restrictions on the travel of American Cuban exiles imposed by President George W. Bush that limited Cuban-Americans to one trip home every three years. Now they can go as often as they want to visit family members. An estimated 400,000 took U.S. charter flights to Cuba last year. To digress: (I've posted about this before) - Cuban authorities charge a 25% import duty on each gift brought into the country by the visiting Cuban-Americans. (See: "FELIZ NAVIDAD" Dec. 19, 2010)
It's almost too late to act before the Canadian government's regressive diplomatic policies towards the island nation of Cuba are outstripped by the Obama administration's desire and efforts to tap the enormous trade and economic potential which exists just off the North American coast. In spite of the roughly 900,000 Canadian tourists who visit Cuba each year, Mr. Harper's diplomatic holding pattern has Canada gambling our goodwill and storied relationship with the Cubans.