While clearly a selfie-inducing natural celebrity in ways that Stephen Harper can only imagine, our new PM has taken pains to distance himself even further from his predecessor in the more compelling area of actual policy, telling the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, “my predecessor wanted you to know Canada for its resources. I want you to know Canadians for our resourcefulness.” This is a nice piece of word play–a cleverly crafted sound-bite. Well done Liberal speech writers. So what exactly does this mean?
It appears to mean that, in stark contrast to his father, Trudeau-the-younger no longer regards Canada’s natural resources as the most vital part of its economy. Unlike his father, whose National Energy Policy put indigenizing Canada’s oil industry at the very heart of a larger nationalist vision, Justin seems inclined to regard natural resources and the ecological price inextricably linked to their development as passé . But this is more than just a son’s a coming-of-age defiance of his father. From Confederation onward, Canadian’s of every political persuasion have thought of their economy almost exclusively in terms of oil, logs, potash, iron-ore, coal, natural gas, uranium, and so forth. There have always been vigorous and sectarian debates about ownership and control of these resources, but nobody ever really disputed their seemingly eternal connection to Canada’s prosperity, even its nationhood.
As Peter Evans (1997) suggests (in “The Eclipse of the State? Reflections on Stateness in the Era of Globalization,” World Politics, 50) the future prospects of the territorially-grounded, extractive state remain unclear, even in an era of unprecedented globalization. He also reminds us that the realities of world politics are never entirely divorced from politics, and that the ideological pendulum now swinging away from the notion that states can be effective instruments for the achievement of collective goals may one day swing in the opposite direction.
It’s only right that a young leader endorse the resourcefulness of a young nation, and express confidence in the intellectual power of his generation. Knowledge is a growing and vital part of a wider sharing-economy, and as FDI diversifies Canadians ought not to rest unduly on their somewhat unflattering traditional role as one of the world’s “hewers of wood, and drawers of water.” (The origins of this phrase, after all, resides in the Bible’s depiction of a curse pronounced against the descendants of Canaan!) But it would be wise to remember that natural resource wealth has always been a core part of Canada’s economy regardless of party platforms and, that if Canada is losing interest in its resources, others are not. China’s state-owned companies, for example, are in the midst of an investment spree designed to secure mines, cropland, and raw materials, something that a weak Canadian dollar will surely help to facilitate. For now at least, there is far more interest in our uranium than our cranium (e.g. see http://www.mining.com/china-eyes-canadian-uranium-miners-report/).