Foreign Policy and the National Interest: Why Skelton Matters
By: Norman Hillmer
For all of us who are interested in Dr. Skelton, I think it’s important to acknowledge the Skelton family. There are five of them sitting here in the front row and it’s important to know that what we understand about Skelton is the result of their generosity. Because they saw to it that family records made their way into the Library and Archives Canada and Queen’s University archives. So we’re really understanding Skelton now for the first time as a result of these very valuable records – diaries, letters and other documents that were just unknown to us until just a few years ago.
Well, Dr. Skelton. When he took up the John A. MacDonald Chair in political economy at Queen’s University in 1908, he was 30 years old. Contemporaries noted a conscious professorial restraint even at that young age. He had wit followed by a shy smile if he was given a chance but he seemed a man apart, contained, solitary, abrupt even. He moved awkwardly and spoke hesitantly. His teaching was strong on content but hesitating, faltering in delivery.
As middle age approached and he embarked on another career, his youthful clutch of hair, I understand this, his youthful clutch of hair and chiselled face disappeared. His searching, scrutinizing eyes were covered now by ever thicker glasses. He slumped a little in a self deprecating way, making him seem shorter than he was. He loathed fashion and privilege, heaping condescension on the weaknesses of social pretension and human vanity.
His uniform even in the heat of summer was a heavy tweed suit, often with a vest accompanied by a stiff white shirt and dark tie and serviceable shoes. As Canada’s Deputy Foreign Minister, some thought Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister, he blended in with prosaic Ottawa – a gray embryo of national government that still had the look and the smell of the lumber town from which it was emerging.
Yet Skelton’s rumpled, introverted personality masked a missionary impulse that overwhelmed his inhibitions. In the first half of the 20th century when the connection to Great Britain ruled much of the country’s rhetoric and the substance of its political life, he pitched his considerable resources of energy and intellect into the argument for an independent Canada.
From his perch at Queen’s he preached the gospel of a nation that was nothing at all if it was merely the echo of somebody else’s nation. He was a pamphleteer, propelling his cause forward with the drumbeat of his stylish, epigrammatic prose. In his second life at the centre of government, again using his language as a primary weapon, he creatively sought to carve out a foreign policy grounded in priorities that were Canada’s own.
If the country was not to persist as a colony, always looking elsewhere for direction, the national interest had to be calculated ruthlessly and rigorously with Canada coming always first. Skelton’s detractors, and they were many, saw him as a fire eating Separatist and Anglophobe, a hater of the British Empire and all its works, a dangerous man they said.
Vincent Massey, a long time adversary, wrote that he had a strong and lasting suspicion of British policy and an unchanging coldness towards Great Britain. To put it bluntly, he was anti-British. But in fact he was no such thing. He simply thought if the British were smart enough and tough enough to put their interests first, then Canada ought to do the same.
In a similar vein, Skelton was an anti Imperialist, but he was not anti Empire. He described the British Empire as the most wonderful and extraordinary experiment in political organization in all of world history. Absolutely unique, he said. Unparalleled, unprecedented. It served as the liberal cradle of peace, tolerance and liberty in which Canada had been able to grow and develop and from which a superior political culture had been developed. Superior certainly to that of the United States.
In Skelton’s time, and Bob Bothwell and I had some very interesting discussions about this which inspired this paragraph, in Skelton’s time independence was not consistent with the national interest as it was conceived, when it was conceived by the political class or the vast majority of Canadians. How could there be a separate national interest when there was not a separate nation? Canada’s freedoms as part of an emerging nationhood were insisted upon by almost everyone but so too was the crucial importance of the British connection.
Autonomy, not independence but autonomy, was the popular description for the contradictory Canadian condition. Part free, part not. It was used to suggest various degrees of national breathing room while the country remained all the while tucked warmly inside the British womb. The autonomy gambit had all the elasticity in the world and it carried none of the political baggage of a declaration of independence. After all that was how disloyal Americans had begun their revolution against Britain. Canadians were different. They knew instinctively that independence was not right for them. Not yet, perhaps never.
Skelton’s first practical opportunity to advance independence came at the Imperial Conference of 1923 when he served as a special advisor to Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Skelton was a lifelong Liberal and he had been courting King from the moment four years before when King became leader of the Liberal Party. Skelton flattered him. He encouraged him. He counselled him. Now his chance had come, Skelton wrote in his diary, to utilize this study, to apply these ideas at the heart of affairs.
As he explained to his wife Isabelle, “I need hardly say there are few jobs in one’s life equal to this opportunity. If I can be in the midst of great events it will be worth five years of ordinary life”. Skelton expected a decisive conference. Either the nationalist gains of the First World War would be reinforced and consolidated or the country would slip back into the comfortable patterns of the past, with Britain in the lead and Canada implicated in imperial decision making, right or wrong.
Canadians had to make their own diplomacy or Britain would make it for them. And so in an avalanche of memoranda and notes Skelton warned King that the superior folk of the Foreign Office in London were incorrigible imperialists, claiming the right to speak and act for their Dominions around the globe. For them the Empire if it had to be an Empire, if it was going to be an Empire, must be single and single-minded.
For Skelton that made the establishment of a firm control over Canada’s foreign affairs an imperative of nationhood. Imperialists of Canada and Britain saw the enemy coming. A Canadian member of the Empire minded group, The Round Table, warned a well connected counterpart in the United Kingdom that Mackenzie King had chosen as his chief advisor a narrow-minded, extreme autonomist whose time has been spent in hack writing and who is nervously jealous of what he expects is English superiority.
Talk of the dangerous man abounded during the Conference. But that pleased Skelton who wrote home, “I have at times been about as popular with the Imperialists here as a skunk at a tea party”. Skelton’s goal at the Imperial Conference was to stiffen the all too flexible backbone of the Prime Minister and that’s exactly how events played out.
With King off at a dinner with a lord or a lady, or accepting an honorary degree at Oxford University his advisor fought the hard battles. From now on the Conference communiqué acknowledged the former colonies would cooperate where possible and where necessary. But it was up to them to decide the nature and extent of any action they might wish to take.
J.W. Dafoe (ph) of the Manitoba Free Press, an unofficial member of the Canadian delegation, previously a Skelton sceptic, wrote in his diary that the professor obviously had wide knowledge and an alert mind. He was evidently a little quicker on the uptake than his Prime Minister. South African Prime Minister Smuts went much further, telling Skelton, you ought to be satisfied. Certainly this has been Canada’s Conference.
What he meant was that it had been Skelton’s Conference. It was a bit of an exaggeration, but it was only a bit of an exaggeration. After the 1923 Imperial Conference, Skelton wanted more public life and King wanted more of him. Over the next two years, Skelton eased into the public service and eased out was Sir Joseph Pope, the cautious bureaucrat who had headed the Department of External Affairs since its inception in 1909.
Skelton first came to Ottawa temporarily, on leave from his university position and then in March of 1925 he became Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, a post he held as Drew has said for just under 16 years. There was a good deal of swithering, a favourite Skelton word, before the decision was made to leave Queen’s. He loved to teach, to shape minds, and he had deep roots in Kingston and at the university.
He was finally swayed, in his own words, “by the possibility of doing something effective and on a big scale for the country”. O.D. feels a missionary call, his wife said dolefully. She preferred Kingston. Skelton and King modeled themselves on William Ewart Gladstone and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. From Gladstone, the long serving British Prime Minister who was revered throughout the English speaking world as the embodiment of liberal democracy. The two Canadians imbibed notions of self government, freer trade and anti imperialism.
Laurier mentored both King and Skelton more implicitly than explicitly, his gentle politics radiating lessons in the art of the middle way and judicious compromise. Skelton and King fought alongside one another in the great free trade election of 1911 which ended Laurier’s 15 years as Prime Minister. And as King was taking Laurier’s place as Liberal leader, donning the old man’s cloak of national reconciliation after the bitter divides of the First World War, Skelton wrote Sir Wilfrid’s biography, setting the seal on his legacy as a good and great man.
Skelton never thought that King was in Laurier’s class but he did acknowledge King’s superb political skill. They shared a vision of domestic harmony and national unity, keeping the country together so that it and they could prosper. Skelton and King agreed about almost everything but they didn’t agree about the importance of independence or ultimately about the nature of the national interest.
At the 1923 Conference, Skelton drafted King’s major address and the speech was given very much as it had been written, complete with a demand for unfettered self government in foreign policy. The Prime Minister, however, inserted a line of his own about Canada’s duty to Britain should a great international crisis put the homeland of many Canadians at risk. Canada, he declared, would be at Britain’s side because in the final analysis his version of the national interest was interwoven with a sense of obligation to the Mother country.
Skelton took the Prime Minister to task and quickly regretted it. King became agitated and a chastened Skelton backed off, underlining in his diary the major difference between the two men. “I defend ultimate independence. The Prime Minister opposes it.”
King treated Skelton more like an equal than any colleague in government except possibly Ernest LaPointe, the Liberal’s Quebec mainstay from the early 1920’s to the early 1940’s. Skelton was deferential to King, sometimes excessively so but he had a healthy ego that belied his pallid image. Reminiscent of Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes Prime Minister”, O.D. knew that he was the superior being.
During the constitutional crisis of 1926 when King was fighting to stay in power – we all have been thinking about the constitutional crisis of 1926 for the last little while – Skelton provided King with ammunition to fight off his tormentors resulting in a little bit of King flattery. You ought to be Prime Minister, a grateful King told his advisor. Skelton said, no, no, no but he rushed home to record the remark in his diary.
Along with the comment that the Prime Minister was right.
Skelton was prepared to bear any burden to make his leader and his Party a success. He became the government’s intellectual ballast, giving substance and credibility to policy. He could work seven days a week, sixteen hours a day. Often ill, always exhausted, he pushed on assuming arduous responsibilities that put him at the nerve centre of the government.
Foreign policy, yes but also domestic policy. He envied the Prime Minister’s ability to sleep through the night. He wrote in his diary, “The Prime Minister can sleep like a baby. I can’t”. Skelton nibbled away at his independence agenda in the later 1920’s and sometimes it was possible to do a little bit more than nibble. He and LaPointe were the chief Canadian delegates at a 1929 expert conference convened to recommend changes in the British Commonwealth legal system, which had still much of the whiff of Empire about it.
Skelton set out to remove every remaining legal restriction on Canadian self government except for the power of the British Parliament to amend the constitution. He served on the conference’s key committee and drafted much of the final report, along the way displaying an instinct for the compromises that were necessary to ease agreement. The result was a document that formed the basis of the Statue of Westminster of 1931, a British law that gave Canada and the other Dominions their legal freedoms except where they chose otherwise. British politicians again identified Skelton as the villain in chief, the most extreme Dominion nationalist of them all.
Skelton was meanwhile, in the late 1920’s, transforming the Department of External Affairs into an instrument of national independence. He shaped his Department around the career model of the British Foreign Office with young professionals recruited by a competitive process and promoted because of their achievement and not their connections.
Comprehensive examinations for entry into the Department became standard practice shortly after he became Under Secretary, with an emphasis on finding well educated generalists capable of performing in diverse assignments at short notice. Skelton set the papers, marked the results, and usually chaired the Interview Board. That ensured a Department full of young officers who resembled him.
Academically trained, versatile, professional, able to reason and write, rock hard nationalists sceptical of imperial overreach whether it emanated from London or Washington. Among his early recruits were L.B. Pearson, Georges Vanier, Norman Robertson and Jean Dezy (ph). Among his last appointments was Arthur Menzies, his future son-in-law who happily is sitting right where he ought to be in the centre of the audience tonight.
Canadian diplomatic representation abroad was nonexistent when Skelton took over the Department of External Affairs. He believed that independent decisions could not be made at home unless there were diplomats abroad providing intelligence and advice. Not British diplomats in British Embassies around the world, still purporting to represent the whole Empire, but Canadians making provision for the distinct national interests of their own country in foreign capitals.
Diplomatic appointments at the level of Ministers, not yet Ambassadors, were made to Washington, Paris and Tokyo in the late 1920’s but that was all for another decade despite Skelton’s frequent pleas. It was the sheer expense of diplomatic representation which caused political resistance at the time. How much better to let the British represent Canada in Rome or Berlin or Buenos Aires. Skelton responded, I can do diplomacy on the cheap. Diplomats after all, he said, were sent to lie abroad for their country. I guess he’s not the first person to say that. They were sent to lie abroad for their country, not to give others in the same trade and their wives a good time.
It was not some generalized audience that Canada should be trying to impress. Rather the foreign leaders who had the clout and were unlikely to be fooled by gold plate of the kind that was flashed by British Ambassadors. In the final analysis he said it was the man and not his house that counted. Knowledge of human nature or a sense of humour, he wrote, will go farther than tapestry walls and elaborate soirees.
That was, I’m sure the diplomats in the room will agree, a somewhat straitlaced perspective. It revealed how much Skelton hated pomp and extravagance, but also how innocent and insular he could be. He had the North American tendency to distinguish between real people doing constructive business at home and the worrying universe beyond, where wily manipulators twirled their moustaches and got up to mischief.
His better angels though were internationalist. He knew that at worst the world could not be avoided and that at best it offered immense opportunities. At this time in their history, when the country was still developing institutional and psychological cohesion, Canadians had to lay low and protect themselves from dangerous global currents. In the long run, however, the way ahead for the national interest lay in measured international cooperation and engagement.
Skelton built a non partisan Department of External Affairs yet he was a partisan. Not drawing the line between his role as a henchman of the Liberal Party and his responsibilities as a public servant. Think back to the King Byng crisis of 1926 when Skelton advised the Prime Minister on a political level and did his very best to make sure that the Conservatives didn’t find their way into power. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out, but only for the short term.
This liberalism made it awkward when Conservative Prime Ministers as occasionally happened in those days, found their way into office. Awkward but not impossible. Skelton worked together well with Arthur Meighen in 1926 but Meighen’s term was very brief. When R.B. Bennett formed a majority government in 1930 Skelton expected to be fired and that’s what the Prime Minister intended. Skelton began to come late into the office. He began his diary, even though it was August, he began his diary for the year because he had nothing else to do. He spent more time in the garden of his Rockcliffe home, one of the few places where he truly relaxed.
Very quickly, however, the Prime Minister discovered what Mackenzie King knew all along and that was that Skelton was indispensable. “I began to find out that I couldn’t get along without him”, Bennett said. “He knew everything.” Bennett concluded that Skelton was as fine a public servant as could be imagined, to the extent that he regularly employed him as a resource on domestic affairs just as King did.
Despite all that and despite the fact that Bennett was a much more sensitive and less demanding boss than Mackenzie King, Skelton was relieved to see an end to five years of Conservative rule in 1935. Germany, Italy and Japan were on the prowl in what he called the new world of jostling neighbours and deadly weapons that man has made for himself to live in.
King’s grip on foreign policy was steady, while Bennett’s had been erratic. When King replaced Bennett, Ernest LaPointe wanted the External Affairs portfolio. But the Prime Minister kept it for himself, knowing that nothing had the capacity to unsettle Canadians more than foreign policy. King watched international events carefully and put cautious thought behind what he did or did not do. Usually it was the latter, which was fine with Skelton in the combustible circumstances of the late 1930’s.
Geography lay close to the heart of the national interest as Skelton preached it to King. In a phrase that found its way into the Prime Minister’s rhetoric and has been associated with King ever since, Skelton mused that Canadians were fortunate in their neighbour and in their lack of neighbours. Friendly and self absorbed America was no military threat and neither were other nations. Because potential enemies lived too far away and had too many other preoccupations to consider Canada a tempting target.
More than that, Canada had too much geography. The country was vast, as big as the whole continent of Europe, throwing up complexities of communications, socio-economic development, self defence and regional cultural difference. While acknowledging the significance of the historic British connection, Skelton had always insisted that North America was where Canada’s lasting community of interest and its current of destiny resided. He said that Great Britain was cut off from Canada by 3,000 miles of sea and incalculable differences in culture, in problems and outlook. We are British North America. Britain is British West Europe.
Skelton saw North America as a bulwark against and an antidote to alien influences and imperialism that menaced a young country struggling to be free. The Prime Minister on the other hand was decidedly and devotedly tied to the notion of Canada as the Britain of the west, an extension of the values and spirit of the old homeland. Canada and Britain were family, part of one another.
This fundamental disagreement could be papered over for as long as the world remained at peace yet it did not. And as a great war lurched into view, Skelton wondered what had become of the ideal that had animated his life. He had hoped that independence might be just around the corner after the First World War and he presided over steady progress in that direction during his time at External Affairs.
But all of this amounted to nothing by September 1939 as Skelton saw when Canada entered the Second World War automatically and uncritically. Pouring out his anger and his disappointment in a note that remained in his private files, Skelton declared that it was fantastic and insane for Canadians to allow themselves to be manoeuvred and cajoled every quarter century into bleeding and bankrupting this young country because of the age long quarrels of European hotheads and the futility of British statesmen.
The war was not our war but that of solidly entrenched traditionalist Canada, the old, the conservative, the Empire minded and the Prime Minister himself, the manipulator in chief who had done his work masterfully. Parliament was called into special session, as the Prime Minister had always promised it would be, only to be told that there was no option but to go to war at Britain’s side. That from Skelton’s point of view was not what the majority of Canadians thought. Unity had been imposed from the top. It was artificial. It was superficial. It couldn’t last.
Skelton lamented the absence of an examination of the national interest that he believed any serious country must undertake at a time of crisis. He had written bitterly earlier in the year, in January of 1939, “Canada is supposed never to think of her own interests in foreign policy”. And that memorandum did go to the Prime Minister.
He admitted that Canada had interests that might make a major war part of Canada’s business. Fascism was laying siege to liberty and democracy, which were core Canadian values. Canada was a trading nation with vital economic and trade ties that would be destroyed if Europe and Britain fell under the grip of Adolf Hitler and his friends.
Nevertheless, and more important, war would put an intolerable strain on Canada. If the conflict was lengthy, as it was likely to be, there would be death and debt and discontent. Regimentation was certain, perhaps rising to the level of that in totalitarian countries. Quebec would oppose unlimited sacrifice, pushing its Francophones further away from English Canada. And all the country’s other natural divisions would be reinforced and amplified.
And for what? Simply, complained Skelton, so that our overlords in Britain and the dictator thugs could rearrange the map of Europe. So Skelton wasn’t prepared to concede that King had another reading of the national interest that better understood the moment and the menace. The Prime Minister was convinced that Canada’s interests were closely linked to Britain, which was not the same as saying that British and Canadian interests were the same.
The British market was vital to the Canadian economy. The Royal Navy defended the Atlantic sea routes. The British connection was an essential part of Canadian political identity and integrity, a counter weight to the powerful socio-cultural influences that were traveling northwards from the United States. One out of every two Canadians, furthermore, was of British stock and King was certain that they felt the same way as he did about participation in the war.
Britain, he thought, King thought, had given Canada its freedom and Canada had a national responsibility to use that freedom to assist the British family of nations against unprovoked aggression. But Skelton and King were not as far apart as it might seem. The Prime Minister accepted the bulk of the Skelton perspective on international life.
His belief that foreign policy had to have its origin in the country’s domestic unity, his horror at the malevolent forces bred overseas of imperialism and militarism, his resentment at the mistakes of British and European diplomacy, his preference for the apparently genteel Canadian American relationship as practised by peaceable neighbours. And his certainty that the last thing Canada needed was another big war.
Hence the confusion, sometimes deliberate, over Canada and King’s ambivalent public statements before the Second World War, many of which adopted Skelton’s wording wholesale. Hence the King government’s initial policy of limited liability, keeping Canada’s resources as confined to home as possible. Those two versions of the national interest – Skelton’s on the one hand and King’s on the other – merged after the fall of France in the spring of 1940, only months before Skelton’s death.
Both he and the Prime Minister immediately declared their solidarity with Great Britain in a fight to the finish against fascism. Skelton now understood, King remarked, that the real place to defend our land is from across the seas. Skelton was gratified by the Canada U.S. Military Accord reached at Ogdensburg New York in August 1940. Pleased because it bound North America more tightly together, but also because it advanced the wartime cause of all the English speaking peoples.
“It amuses me a little”, King recorded in his diary, “to see how completely some men swing to opposite extremes. No-one could have been more strongly for everything being done for Canada as against Britain than Skelton was up until a very short time ago”.
The national interest – it’s mixed and it’s moveable. The basic ingredients in the equation are clear enough now as then. Territorial security, domestic cohesion, economic prosperity, state autonomy and international partnership and prestige. Each of these elements, however, is a distinct interest in itself as well as a separate goal of public policy. Some interests contradict others and some carry their own contradictions.
All have implications for the short term and all demand the application of long term perspective. Values give coherence to interests and sometimes values are transformed into interests themselves. Politics intervene, concentrating the mind or, as Skelton would have said in September of 1939, distorting it. Interests are ranked and choices get made depending on the character of decision makers or the circumstances of the time.
There is no single national interest and no single interpretation of it. The working out of Canadian foreign policy at the beginning of the Second World War demonstrates the point. In 1939, Skelton saw the British connection as a snare, drawing in unsuspecting Canadians. He put the emphasis on long term impacts of war, on national unity and national independence.
Less than a year later, however, with France utterly defeated and Hitler’s knife at Britain’s throat, Skelton saw only emergency and urgency. Contrary to what King thought, Skelton hadn’t changed. Events had. And with them Skelton’s calculation of the national interest.
Well then, why does this person who I thought was such a remote historical figure when I first encountered him in Charles Stacy’s graduate class in Canadian foreign policy too many years ago for me now to admit? Why does all this matter? Why does this matter to us?
First of all, I think there are three reasons. First of all, Skelton campaigned over his almost two decades in the Department of External Affairs for what he called an objective stock taking of the real interests of one’s own country. He matters not because he was more objective than anybody else. He wasn’t. He’s important because he consistently attacked the edifices of Canadian dependence, concentrating on the national control of foreign policy as the acid test of sovereignty.
He witnessed and participated in the winning of a distinct Canadian treaty making power and the sending of the first Canadian representatives abroad, two of the essential preconditions of self government. He shaped the Department of External Affairs into a serious institution of government. He contributed directly to the Statute of Westminster, which was meant to end colonial subordination once and for all. He sought closer bonds with the United States and to North Americanize Canadian foreign and economic policy in order to immunize Canada from Britain and European imperialism.
At the beginning of the Second World War, Skelton was less angered that the decision to fight went against him than he was by the manner in which King and many Canadians vibrated to a call from far away, in what he interpreted as a reflexive response to outmoded abstractions of tradition and duty. He was wrong about what was at stake in 1939 but he was right in his insistence that international policy ought to result from a systematic assessment of the national interest. That principle remains valid, particularly for a middle sized country like ours, all too apt to be caught up in the enterprises of its historic allies.
Skelton, secondly, was the making of this Department. He erected a meritocracy, reflecting his own democratic ideals. Even if he was too busy and too badly organized to use his staff well, he set an unimpeachable example of integrity, excellence and decency. Accomplished Canadians were attracted to a public service that he personified. Skelton’s Department provided a career for its officers that rewarded their commitment with good pay and good postings.
He would be proud of what this Department has achieved, whether in the multilateral diplomacy of the past 1945 period, the free trade negotiations with the United States in the 1980’s or the post Cold War activism. He would be correspondingly distressed by efforts to marginalize a Department that he placed at the centre of events. Not for him a subscription to the New York Times as the substitute for a store of expertise and experience built up over many years. A strong Foreign Office is indispensable to Canadian self respect and independence.
Third, Skelton’s liberal nationalism passed down through the generations is the dominant tradition in Canadian foreign policy. It begins with national unity as the foundation for political action and ends with pragmatic flexibility in global affairs. Along the way its methodologies are caution, moderation and incrementalism. It lies between narrow nationalism and chest thumping international showmanship and between Canada as a peaceable kingdom and Canada as an ally above all else.
It seeks a balance that Skelton would have said is not always available in a colonial age like his. A balance between bilateralism and internationalism, between the short and the long term, between competing conceptions of the national interest.
After Skelton was gone his heirs, led by Mike Pearson, endorsed an internationalist agenda, which on the surface seemed a complete reversal of Canadian thinking in the inter war years. Yet Pearson and his colleagues were prudent activists, often reluctant ones – less alive to innovation than domestic and international constraints and aware that Canada’s middle power status in the world could only take them so far.
Their internationalism was in no small part generated by the new American muscle in the world. Admitting that it brought them anxiety as well as assurance, they sought multilateral counterweights to the power of the United States. If he had been faced with the Cold War’s bipolarity and nuclear terror, Skelton would have interpreted the national interest in much the same manner that diplomacy makers did after the Second World War. He had always believed that when the time was right and the country had thrown off the vestiges of colonialism, Canada would take its place, but modestly.
And so to conclude, O.D. Skelton’s legacy is a sense of quiet Canadian proportion in human and international affairs. In his 2006 Skelton Memorial Lecture, Dennis Stairs (ph) argued persuasively for the pursuit of direct and material interests in foreign policy and against the notion that Canadians should be trying to shape the world in their image. To that end, he invoked Skelton’s first law – that there were limits to Canada’s influence and resources. Reach must not exceed grasp. Claims must not outstrip accomplishments.
Pearson, the ultimate realist, understood that. Pierre Trudeau, although tempted from time to time by the Quixotic, understood it most of the time. Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien, each in their own way and despite fits of rhetoric that were more than occasional, understood it as well, with the results that their foreign policies were sane and constructive. Although they didn’t know it, they were Skeltonians. Not all of us are but we ought to be. Thank you.
- Date Modified: