Canada is frequently held up as a model liberal democratic state in the light of its freedom, tolerance, civility and openness to the world. It makes sense then for those interested in the fate of liberal democracy to pay serious attention to the Canadian example. This is especially the case for American observers as the kinship between the two North American polities is evident. Hence the variation between the countries in terms of ideology, legal traditions, cultural tendencies and social structures is all the more significant.
The guiding assumption of the Clemson Canada Center is that the study of Canada is philosophically important in itself and as a comparative exercise with respect to the political experience of the United States and other countries. Addressing the North American context, we see that Canada and the United States have in common a heritage of the “classic” values and institutions of liberal democracy. But at the same time these values and institutions have taken on a particular shape and character depending on whether they operate north or south of the 49th parallel. Thus we have on the North American continent two modern political communities comparative analysis of which can be exceedingly enlightening. Against the background of their similarities the political, constitutional and historical differences become all the more instructive.
Canada is very much an “internationalist” country having been involved in world affairs at one level or another throughout its history from the French and Indian Wars to the current conflict in Afghanistan stemming from the events of 9/11. Sir Winston Churchill tried to tap into this aspect of Canadian political life when he described Canada during World War II that it “the linchpin of the English-speaking world.” According to Churchill Canada’s “relations of friendly, affectionate intimacy with the United States” on the one hand and her “unswerving fidelity to the British Commonwealth and the Motherland” on the other makes of her “the link which joins together these great branches of the human family.” This link, he says, spanning the oceans as it does, brings the continents into their “true relation” and may be expected in future generations to prevent any growth of division between the nations of Europe and “the great countries which have come into existence in the New World." (Sir Winston Churchill, “Speech in honor of Prime Minister Mackenzie King,” London, September 4, 1941). In other words, Canada is a kind of political “buckle” in a belt which holds together the New World and the Old. Of course Churchill was wont to think in terms of grand historical themes and strategies, especially at the time of the Second World War. But this statement conveys a sense of Canadian “destiny” which has been very influential over the years. His statement raises the question of the role Canada should play in the context of the world order of the 21st century. How does Canada confront the political, environmental, economic and human problems arising from globalization and world-wide problems such as climate change and nuclear proliferation? How does Canada deal with the question of borders and population movements in the 21st Century? How does Canada see the future changes to liberal democratic governance? Does Canada see military preparedness and involvement as inevitable possibilities in the future? Can Canada export liberal democratic values to other lands?