The world no longer thinks of Canadians as merely “nice”
By Goldy Hyder, The Ottawa Citizen August 6, 2012
The Olympics are more than an exhibition of excellence in sport. They are also inherently political events where the fortunes and stature of countries are displayed and compared. As such, they offer Canadians a moment when we can take stock — and take pride — in where we stand.
Consider the comment made on the eve of the Olympics by Minister of Sport Bal Gosal, who boldly predicted a Top 12 finish for Canada and added what once would have been considered an “un-Canadian” remark: “We want to have winners.”
Calling for a Top 12 finish may seem a characteristically modest Canadian goal — not No. 1 nor even Top 10 — but it would be our best ever finish for a summer Olympics.
Gosal didn’t go “off message” in a moment of patriotic fervour — his summons to greatness reflects the vision articulated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has challenged Canada “to punch above its weight” in a series of areas outside and beyond the world of sport.
In many corners today, Canada is the envy of the world. We are the “world’s most powerful country brand” according to the global Country Brand Index, and our fiscal position is so strong that some countries are considering adopting the loonie as their benchmark currency. It’s even been rumoured that Britain has aggressively courted Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney to lead its central bank. (Britain’s postal system, the Royal Mail, is already headed by another Canadian, Moya Greene).
Despite the volatility of the global economy, Canada appears to have found the right balance between austerity and growth. This has created a new confidence that has taken on new meaning for Canada and our place in the world.
And just as the world is rediscovering Canada, Canada is rediscovering the world. We are now engaged in bold and ambitious free-trade talks from Europe to India, with the possibility of future agreements with China and Japan, and our coveted membership in the Trans Pacific Partnership.
In the past, Canada’s global brand could be summed up in a single word: “nice.” Not any more. A new Canada is clearly emerging as a bona fide force to be reckoned with. One that is sure of itself and charting a new course.
So how did we go from being a well-liked neighbour to a genuinely respected and admired global power?
It turns out that sticking to fundamentals and working hard is good advice for countries as well as Olympic athletes. Driven by the prime minister’s vision to build Canada into a world energy superpower, aggressive policy decisions have been made to reconcile the need to build appropriate infrastructure to open up markets, attract foreign capital and welcome skilled labour, while actually trying to meet our international commitments to the environment.
We are also acting and asserting ourselves on the international front with more clarity than perhaps ever before. We have even found a bold confidence to tell our neighbour and best friend the United States how we truly feel, whether on foreign policy differences or on bilateral trade disputes, even if we suspect it will hurt their feelings.
For our new-found international stature to be sustainable, it must be built on a foundation of domestic success. And just like the Olympics, doing well abroad in business and trade means training hard at home. Our international performance continues to be hindered by domestic problems such as interprovincial trade barriers, 13 separate securities regulators (when a country the size of India somehow manages with just one), occasional constitutional spats (including on the Northern Gateway pipeline) and cumbersome and duplicative regulations.
This is clearly Canada’s moment. We must seize the opportunity to solidify our current situation so we are not just relatively strong today but a country that must be respected and taken seriously for generations to come.
If history teaches us anything it is that nothing lasts forever. Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of the London Olympic Opening Ceremonies, said the underlying theme was to show Britain as a modest country, yet sure of its place in the world. “We are learning our new place in the world. One hundred years ago we were everything. But there is a change … you have to learn your place in the world and that’s a good thing.”
If Britain has become modest by coming to terms with the fact that its days as a global empire are behind it, Canada has increasingly built on its recent successes to become emboldened by the emerging role we have has assumed on the world stage.
I believe that legacies are clearer when one is actually finished, but it could well be that we are witnessing the makings of Harper’s legacy: leaving behind a much more sustainably confident Canada than the one he inherited.
Goldy Hyder is senior vice-president and Ottawa general manager for global PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies.