Reprinted with permission of Embassy
Review by Mike Iype
Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power through Public Diplomacy
By Evan H. Potter
368 pp. $32.95
There have always been two types of power in international relations, soft and hard. However, it was usually hard power that dominated on the international scene, where military strength translated into the ability to effect change.
As the 20th century progressed, soft power began to play a greater role, and according to Evan Potter, it is most often associated in Canada with Lloyd Axworthy and his tenure as foreign minister from 1996 to 2000. This was the time of the Liberal government’s human security plan, when Canada capitalized on its reputation as a peacekeeper and attempted to change the world as a “middle power.” It is Canada’s reputation, and its attempts to take control of its international image, that is the treatise for Mr. Potter’s new book, Branding Canada: Projecting Canada’s Soft Power through Public Diplomacy.
The book is comprehensive in its analysis of the history, development and creation of Canada’s public diplomacy. It looks at how the Canadian government has used cultural programs, educational exchanges, the international media, foreign trade, and the promotion of Canada both as a tourist destination and investment location.
Mr. Potter, a University of Ottawa professor and the founding editor of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, speaks of how in the modern age, with globalization and the “communications revolutions,” countries need to present a “distinct national voice.” He quotes John Ralston Saul, the renowned Canadian thinker, as saying that if countries disappear from international communications, it is “tantamount to relinquishing sovereignty, and therefore security.” National success, Mr. Potter says, is determined by how well the message is projected.
This becomes the main argument, that Canada has used public diplomacy, defined in the book as an “instrument of statecraft” where countries attempt to “influence foreign public opinion for a diplomatic purpose,” to market the country to the rest of the world. This has defined Canada in the eyes of the world, and is the backdrop on which all international relations are conducted. The book rightly argues that the concept of public diplomacy is not new, but it is the changing nature of communication that has made it so much more influential. He says that modern technologies and the connectivity of the entire world means that a country needs to take control of a message, otherwise somebody else will.
One example that he gives is the decline of Canada’s image by 2003, and its sudden re-emergence after a single magazine cover. He mentions how Andrew Cohen’s bestseller While Canada Slept, which examined the declining role of Canada on the world stage and a Timemagazine cover story that bemoaned Canada’s declining influence were the low point in Canada’s image. But, he says, a single cover of the Economist depicting a moose with sunglasses that declared Canada’s liberal values as cool changed everything. It started a landslide of positive press that was co-opted by the government and used to recreate Canada’s international reputation. The influence of one magazine cover altered the flow of public opinion.
Mr. Potter argues that Canada’s unique positioning gives it the ideal platform from which to use its “soft power” through public diplomacy. It is a way for Canada to exercise its sovereignty after having lost much of its power in relation to many other countries.
The book looks at several instruments that Canada has used in order to project its image to the world. Mr. Potter astutely points out the most important ambassadors that Canada has used to influence international opinion: exchange students, scientists, artists, authors, athletes and even the Canadian tourist (the backpacker with the maple leaf emblazoned on his pack). He argues that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is meant to project Canada to the world, but it is culture that defines Canada in the world. It is Canada’s mosaic of cultures that makes the country an appealing model to others, he says, and it gives Canadian diplomacy a leg-up.
One area that is mentioned, but whose influence should have earned it more space in the book, is the importance of Quebec on Canada’s international image. While Mr. Potter notes that Canada has not defined itself strictly by culture, and points to Quebec’s influence in several areas, Canada’s only francophone province is likely the single greatest exporter of Canada to the world. He fails to point out that its unique position within Canada has not been used to its full effect by the Canadian government.
As an academic and scholar of public diplomacy, Mr. Potter gives well reasoned solutions for the problems he sees in how Canada uses its influence. The advice provided in Branding Canada is important in pointing out that as a country that relies on trade with the rest of the world, projecting a good image is vitally important to maintaining strong positions in trade relations.
Mr. Potter’s comprehensive look at the influence of public diplomacy in Canada is an interesting read that begs the question, has Canada’s branding worked? He points out that the country’s brand of “warm and fuzzy” is known throughout the world, and wonders if that is a good thing. The attempt to create Canada’s image has likely worked, but has it increased Canada’s influence is the question.