AMONG the constellation of Western democracies now dominated by the populist flamboyance of US President Donald Trump and Britain’s Boris Johnson, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands out as a rather lonely leader of progressive rationality.
This speaks to the sad dearth of respected leaders of global stature today.
Canada, after all, though a continent-sized country, has a population not much bigger than Malaysia’s and is a middle power at best.
There are hardly any comparable countries that Malaysia can model itself against but Canada definitely stands out.
As Canadian High Commissioner Julia Bentley told this writer, both are ‘parliamentary democracies distinguished by our demographic diversity’.
Within living memory, Canada was battling armed separatists.
Quebec separatism today is thankfully just a manageable political challenge.
Our two countries, above all else, as Bentley noted, ‘are ideas: that diverse groups of people can live peacefully together, grow strong and prosper - not despite our differences, but because of them’.
But for Quebec, Canada will not be struggling to be officially bilingual, with the strained give-and-take that requires of all Canadians.
The turbaned Sikh national leader of the New Democratic Party was identified as the cause for his party nearly halving its previous seats tally in the just- ended national elections, a victim, primarily in Quebec, of identity politics, pronounced The Economist.
Nevertheless, Canada under Trudeau shone a beacon for having accepted proportionately larger numbers of immigrants,primarily from the Middle East.
It was a brave and principled policy that has held up well in general Canadian voter estimation. All the more remarkable given the overall ‘refugee fatigue’, particularly of Muslim refugees, that made Western politics so toxic nowadays.
Such a policy tied in well with Canada’s self-proclaimed narrative as a ‘nation of immigrants’ even as its native population - collectively recognised as the country’s ‘first nations’ - is accorded due status and protection. Malaysia can learn much from Canada’s self-identification as a ‘nation of immigrants’ anchored on two founding ‘nations’ of Anglophone and Francophone Canada.
Indeed, this writer’s formative years spent in that country were shaped by the answer my Canadian social-science professor, Judith Nagata, who authored Malaysian Mosaic: Perspectives from a Poly-ethnic Society, gave when queried if Malays were indeed our very own ‘first nation’.
Her answer was that it is largely immaterial given that not unlike Anglo- and French-Canadians, the Malay sultanates provided the founding markers for eventual national sovereignty.
The endless debate about who is and who isn’t an immigrant in Malaysia - we probably all are at some point or other - is, therefore, sterile and any stigma attached to the immigrant label wholly unnecessary.
Can we not start here in reviewing our own national narrative to make it more inclusive and remove an ever-present irritant in our nation-building project?
In another area, Malaysians should have little difficulty identifying with Canadians’ struggle to forge political unity.
The latest Canadian elections revived a sense of political alienation felt by the Western provinces.
The re-elected national government is shorn of any elected representative from the resource and agriculture-driven provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, re-fuelling the latter’s resentment about how major national policies are largely decided in and for the most populous provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
The independence movement in Alberta may resurrect as Ottawa seeks to marry policies to mitigate climate change with efforts to mollify the demands of Alberta’s polluting main industry.
On a more positive note, Calgary, the Alberta city that is now the business capital of Canada’s oil-and-gas sector, was this year voted the most liveable city in North America - the prairie city thus outranks metropolitan stalwarts, Toronto and Montreal, and even the coastal city of Vancouver.
Calgary’s remarkable achievement offers plausible lessons for Sarawak to turn Kuching, for example,into a major oil-and-gas-related business and financial centre to complement Kuala Lumpur as the nation’s undisputed commercial hub.
Geographic distance has made Canada less attractive today as a destination for Malaysian students, which is really a shame.
Still, as Bentley observed:‘There is much for Canada and Malaysia to share in terms of governance, education and parliamentary exchanges, trade and investment, to name just a few.’
Security, defence and police cooperation are an important pillar of bilateral cooperation, with Canadian courses regularly offered at the Malaysian Peacekeeping Centre and the Royal Malaysia Police College.
Petronas’ investment in the LNG Canada Terminal is part of the largest private foreign investment in Canadian history, and Canadian companies have been thriving in sectors such as transportation infrastructure, manufacturing and financial services.
The writer views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak