The biggest political upheavals in Western politics in recent years is Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump. While there are many people who would like to pretend these disruptors never occurred, magically wish them away, or simply go back to their idea of “normal” once they have passed, that’s not going to happen. Things have changed, permanently. 

The biggest change is that a key assumption that long went unchallenged by liberal voices is now falling apart. It’s a hard assumption to sum up in one word or even one sentence. But I’ll give the latter a shot: It’s the idea that the nations of the world can come together ever closer via international institutions and agree upon the same objectives for the future of humanity and accomplish them together.

It would be a nice idea were it true. 

There’s quite a pleasant kumbaya element to it. It’s proving to be more difficult than first thought though. Now that countries guided by entirely different systems of government, political ideologies, leadership figures and dominant religions are getting a closer look at each other, they’re diverging on some major issues.

There are issues rising to the fore in this new paradigm that matter more than others, they’re ones that a country needs to have staked out clear terrain on and knows where it wants to go.

Foreign affairs is the big picture one. You need to know who you are, what your place is in the world and what you want from other countries. It seems simple at first. But is it? 

Canadians are terrible at defining themselves and what makes their country unique. They usually reflexively reach for something like “diversity is our strength”. That won’t suffice for much longer.

Defence policy is a huge matter. We nod in agreement that Canada should contribute 2% of its GDP towards defence – something all NATO members are supposed to do – but then we never actually do it and along the way we find we’re having trouble keeping our enrolment numbers up in the Force, we have pilot retention problems and we’re way behind when it comes to shipbuilding.

Immigration, as I’ve written before, is a serious issue. As travel becomes cheaper and more accessible, more people will attempt to migrate – whether by showing up at our border and making refugee claims or as economic migrants. We need to have a proper national conversation without weaponizing the issue by calling people racist and other cheap shots. How many people do we want to admit? What parts of the world, if any, should we prioritize? How will we improve immigration? Should our rules become stricter or, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done, looser?

The value of international institutions is also something that needs to be discussed. Canadians increasing view the United Nations with skepticism. Do we want to place great weight in a body that puts Saudi Arabia on the human rights council? Whatever we think of climate change, do we want to throw hundreds of millions of our money into this “green climate fund”? Do we believe that we can turn international gabfests into anything other than the triumph of the lowest common denominator?

These are some of the big issues that are in flux in today’s changing world. You wouldn’t know it though. Not here in Canada. 

We’re a full week into the federal election campaign and, at the time of writing, the issues discussed have been little more than “gotcha” attacks. It’s time for some real issues and big picture thinking.

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