Ever since Goldman Sach's coined the term BRICS to describe the rising economic power of Brazil, Russia, India and China, it has been clear that the twenty-first century will see a radical redistribution of power from the West to the rest of the world, who are not only catching up in terms of development, but may well soon overtake the West. This economic growth seen in the BRIC nations led the analyst Fareed Zakaria to argue in 2008 that the twenty-first century will be the dawn of the 'post-American world' and he argued that 'we are living through the third great power shift in modern history' as the rest of the world develops economically it will create a seismic shift in power and attitudes. (1) But economic growth is dependent on resources, and in a world of finite resources countries that are rich in natural resources will benefit from the growth of developing economies. The challenge will be how resource rich countries deal with this issue. Poor countries that have large deposits of natural resources are likely to be exploited with land grabs, whilst rich countries however will find that they will have an increasing amount of political leverage as the demand for supplies of natural resources grows.
Canada as one of the world's richest countries in terms of natural resources has been benefiting from the "rise of the rest". Prime Minister Stephen Harper on a recent trip to China declared that 'Canada has "abundant supplies of virtually every form of energy" and will sell to whoever wants to buy'. (2) Recognising that the developing world and the insatiable growth of China will need resources, Prime Minister Harper stated that Canada would no doubt be a future 'energy superpower'. (3) Rather than being the unassuming neighbour of the United States the hunger of the world's economy for resources may mean that Canada will increasingly have political leverage and influence.
It is no wonder then, that with Canada reaping the benefits of its natural resources that current debates in Canada have focussed on its national identity. Whether Canada should be represented as the humble, industrious beaver or the polar bear, a ruthless, powerful, predator. (4) The recognition of the beaver in Canada's national identity shows the link between Canada and its colonial past. The link between the polar bear and Canada's identity however shows the Canada of the future, a powerful nation who can be influential in world politics. But like the polar bear Canada will also be faced with increasing environmental threats. There is no doubt that the twenty-first century will be dominated by the question of resources. What Canada does with its natural resources will be an ever-increasing question as the human population grows and resources come under strain. In a world of seven billion people that is expected to grow to over nine billion by 2050 it is important to remember that we live on a finite planet. The implicit understanding in our economic models is that not only is infinite growth possible, but also vital for the sake of development and with ever-growing demand for resources Canada will need to have serious debates on how to use its natural wealth.
Whilst the US has recently announced its policy to pivot its focus onto Asia and begin shoring up its dominance in the pacific region, Canada will also be likely to focus more attention on the pacific region in the future. Unlike the US however Canada's concern will be primarily economic as it intends to take advantage of the huge demand for resources from the Asian region. The new Enbridge project to transport oil from tankers in British Columbia to Asia will be just one of many projects in the future for Canada to take advantage of resource demands. Projects like these will play a key role in boosting the Canadian economy when its neighbour the United States is struggling to generate economic growth.
One thing that is clear from the financial crisis and that is Canada is not in a fiscally bad position; it has no need to desperately sell its assets. What Canada will need to decide is whether the nation is prepared to sell its resources to whoever has the money to buy? Or whether Canada should be placing political stipulations to major trade deals. This could be done by offering resources in exchange for concessions on human rights, or seeking Chinese reassurances on copyright protection, or even fairer trading laws for Canadian firms in China. One thing is for certain with Europe and the United States struggling to stimulate growth Canada's trade with Asian nations will intensify over the coming years, but whether strong leadership can turn Canada's natural resources into political leverage it yet to be seen.
(1) Fareed Zakaria, 'The rise of the rest', Newsweek, May 3, 2008
(2) The Associated Press, 'Canada PM: Will sell oil to China, raise human rights issues', USA TODAY, Feb 2, 2012
(3) Mark Mackinnon, 'Harper wades into Chinese human rights- but who's listening?', The Globe and Mail, Feb 10, 2012,
(4) Lorraine Mallinder, 'Beaver or bear? Fur flies over Canadian sense of identity', BBC, Dec 17, 2011