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Celebrating the hope \'option\': Canada and Bangladesh

Imtiaz A. Hussain | Published: July 06, 2017 20:04:52 | Updated: October 23, 2017 08:17:20


Canada's 150th anniversary was more than an occasion for Bangladesh. Exposing many of the traits tallying with our own hopes, it was, indeed, special. When we were born as an independent country in 1971, Canada had just announced itself as the world's first multicultural country (a far more meaningful concept than 'melting pot' as far as the migration tapestry goes). In spite of the growing number of false claimants, it still remains so: the Multicultural Act set the framework to institutionalise more foreign practices in one fell swoop than any other assimilation-based legislations the world over. That it requires all citizens to learn the languages of two historically feuding peoples, the English and French, helps substantiate and symbolise Canada's pre-eminence elsewhere, for example, U.N. peace-keeping leadership, that too amid the thick of the Cold War. Its 1969 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) disengagement raised eyebrows, as did the simultaneous hobnobbing with an outcast China.
All these took place on Pierre Trudeau's watch, from 1968 to 1984. Voted the most pre-eminent Canadian politician of the 20th Century, he actually was to some the most important 20th Century Canadian. Period. 
On the back of Canada's largest election victory margin (of 34 seats), in 2014, his son, Justin (also born when we were, in 1971), lifted multiculturalism even higher: his cabinet is the world's most multicultural and he has become a firmament in women empowerment (in a country with more inherent freedoms for women than many, many others).
These should be but pulsating news for Bangladesh. Jostled badly by Cold War politics, Bangladesh needed more conducive entry-points into that viciously embattled comity in 1972. Canada was there. Just as Pierre's recognition of the fledgling country in February supplied us the much-needed breakthrough, Justin's leadership of a badly frayed global democratic camp today supplies just the type of an anchor that newly democratising countries must have, not the least to prevent being gobbled up by the huge populist tidal-wave currently underway.
So fractious was the world in 1971, many newly baptised countries, like Bangladesh, needed a 'third' way out of the mess. Politically, it was anathema to have to swing either to the United States or the Soviet Union to be seen, heard, or even matter; so too culturally, tossing, as we did, between sturdy nationalism and a desperately needed international embrace, that too, when multilateralism was being crippled by the abandonment of the gold standard, the breakdown of the Bretton Woods institutions, and the value-eroding civil wars in so many countries; and even environmentally, gasping, as we were, while Mother Nature was being marauded virtually unchallenged. 
Pierre Trudeau's 'third' way out of these stark choices was the beacon of hope: he challenged the arms-race, signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1969, went on to propose a 'strategy of suffocation' nine years later to halt nuclear build-up, and personally befriended China even before Henry Kissinger's ping-pong diplomacy got off first-base in 1971 (albeit, Trudeau's first official visit was only in 1973, that is, after Kissinger's). He gave the United Nations more than a shot in the arm by extending and consolidating Canada's peace-keeping presence, a dedication not only being matched by Bangladesh today: we have also displaced Canada as the peacekeeping leader in a contest, not of force, but to enhance collective welfare. 
Any reference to 'today', of course, cannot avoid the climate change ghosts haunting the world. One would think Pierre anticipated this when his country established the Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency during his tenure. To a confused 'Third World', Trudeau's 'third' way was more than a ray of hope: they were, in retrospect, life-saving initiatives that countries, like Bangladesh, engaged in peacekeeping and located in climate-change's Ground Zero must look back to with gratification and for inspiration.
Ironically, that is also what Justin's tenure is emitting today with democracy. Facing a threat from within, called populism, much like it faced threats during his father's time from external forces, such as dictatorships and communism, democracy urgently needs champions today: under stress in veteran practising countries, it needs newly-blooded countries like Bangladesh for fresh stimulation. Justin's most important contribution to Canada's 150-year history should also inspire us: he plucked his country out of a populist pathway being paved by Stephen Harper, and though it was a much more cultivated version, it was still set to restructure Canada's bedrock institutions: multicultural growth/consolidation faced an Anglo-Saxon backlash and U.N. peacekeeping was displaced by self-chosen combat responsibilities. From coast to coast, the electorate voted for the youthful Trudeau to restore the country's well-established reputation. History had last noted such youthful energy and a promising future peek in 1968, when Pierre first, at age 49, entered the Prime Minister's Office at 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa.
Bangladesh has reasons to be joyous on this occasion, as it must on every occasion when democracy gains, and cultural nuances set the future tone rather than be swamped by past rigidities. As we interpret and reinterpret our 1947-71 existence, shifting from the short-end of global salience towards the deep-end can profit by examining Canada's 100-year evolution from a similarly unenviable plight.
Those hopes must remain the unalienable symbols of our bilateral relations. If those relations have expanded, as indicators suggest, then symbol-construction must also be enhanced. Our imports, for example, from Canada have almost doubled over the past half-a-dozen years or so, while our exports have also inched upwards simultaneously: almost half of our exports help Canadians stay warm or draped in fashionably comfortable apparel, just as almost half of our imports keep us well fed. Our annual net trade balances also fluctuate between surplus and deficit, rather than getting stuck in one. Above all, doubling current trade volumes and values to US$ 5.0 by 2020 would further reaffirm the progresses being made.
We also have a growing and more vocal community across Canada which must be tapped to strengthen bilateral ties. With many expatriates belonging to one profession or another, we have a different ball-game than the typical expatriates to the Middle East: rather than remittances, the channels for professional flows must now proliferate. Dhaka, and particularly Gulshan, may have a Canada educational institute or two, but there is a lot more that can be done to promote joint research projects (in agriculture, over factory safety, women empowerment, and so forth), and educational exchanges (of students, teachers, researchers, fellowships, and so forth). With economic relations towering over so many other types of inter-country exchanges and security considerations weighing heavily upon commercial transactions, quid pro quo professional relations could easily represent, and be consistent with, the hallmark feature of the two Trudeaus: a 'third', and more stable, relational flank, avoiding the perks and jerks of the other two.
When we look at where we are today against the hindsight of 1971, there are not too many countries, if any at all, serving as a sustained 'hope' springboard as Canada. Surely if a pot of gold awaits both countries at the end of our hope rainbow, we must nurture it constantly.
 

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.
imtiaz.hussain@iub.edu.bd

 

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