Each year, at a place called "Magnetic Hill," visitors to Canada by the thousands park their cars at the bottom, place the gearshift in neutral, and sit in delighted astonishment as they glide gradually but inexorably up the hill. The whole exercise is an optical illusion, of course. The cars only seem to be coasting uphill; they are actually going down. The tourists know this, but they come anyway. It's not the feat that is the attraction; it's the illusion.
The hue and cry that arose within Canada following the introduction in 1969 of the government's White Paper on Foreign Policy bears some resemblance to the events at Magnetic Hill. The criticism was directed less at the paper's views of what Canada could and should do in the world than at the illusion cherished by many Canadians that their country's moral influence was unbounded. At a time when the British government was reducing its forces east of Suez and when strong voices were being raised in the United States against that country's worldwide presence, some Canadians were aghast that the Canadian government should refer to Canada as a modest power with limited influence. What of idealism? What of our destined role? "It is ... disconcerting," said one critic, "to find no place for heroes in the future diplomatic adventures of our country."
With heroes or without, a foreign policy is a relatively new acquisition ... for Canada. One hundred years ago a leading Canadian newspaper was able to write: "We could not be freer than we are now, for we have no foreign policy to complicate things, and no army to provide."
The editorialist was not suggesting that Canada had no relations with other countries, only that we had no considered pattern of dealing with them. Perhaps because we had so few options, Canada's foreign policies are in large measure a product of the influence of two states with which it has been intimately related throughout its history: Great Britain and the United States.
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