Canada is Not Facing Its Most Difficult Moment, Not Even Close

Canadian dead in Europe.jpg

In a feature article for the Walrus, former NDP premier of Ontario and latter-day Liberal Bob Rae has declared that the Trump presidency represents "as difficult a moment as we have ever faced as a country."

He's mistaken. It doesn't. Not even close.

It has become well-nigh impossible by now to challenge Canada's standing army of anti-Trump editorialists without sounding like a Trump apologist. But it has to be done. And it has to start at the top, among distinguished Canadian taste-makers who should know better.

Here's what Rae wrote about World War II, presumably in anticipation of the criticism that Canada's decision to stand with the British in 1939 and fight Nazism in Europe was perhaps a more "difficult moment" for the country than we face at present:

In the 1920s and 1930s, both Canadian and US governments tried to avoid another European conflagration, but the outbreak of the Second World War produced the realization that our shared security, as well as economic interests, would require a closer co-operation than we’d ever shared. This not only meant intensifying the bilateral relationship, it meant working together on a new international architecture that would ensure more open trade, shared approaches to security, and a commitment to building stronger global institutions.

This is a rose-coloured ode to the sort of cooperative internationalism Mr. Rae believes President Trump is intent on destroying. But what really happened in the 1920s, 1930s and especially the early 1940s? Here's a short summary. The U.S., having refused to join the League of Nations after the Great War, embarked on an isolationist path that prevented it from acting directly against the Axis powers until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—more than two years after the Nazi invasion of Poland, more than a year-and-a-half after Hitler's conquest of western Europe. The "closer cooperation" between Canada and the U.S. invoked by Mr. Rae took the form mainly of arms-production sharing agreements negotiated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King—agreements that persisted into the Cold War period and fueled charges from both the NDP left and Red-Tory conservatives that they had set Canada on a path of continental integration and vanquished the dream of Canadian sovereignty. The "new international architecture" Rae describes was not built prior to or during World War II, but in its aftermath. A strong argument can be made that Canada's postwar leaders came out squarely in favour of this architecture precisely because multilateralism provided counterweight to continentalism. But this does not change the fact that more than 45,000 Canadians died fighting the Nazis, and that the domestic conscription crisis that arose out of King's lonely commitment to British PM Neville Chamberlain in 1939 very nearly sundered Canada.

Mr. Rae has emerged in recent years as the éminence grise of Canada's humanitarian left—most recently as PM Trudeau's point-person on the plight of the Rohingya and as a spokesperson for indigenous rights. His life-long service to Canada is not in question. It may be impossible for him to temper his antipathy for Donald Trump. Fair enough. But distorting the past to darken the present is an unworthy pursuit from a Canadian of his stature.

Happy Canada Day.