Canada and the OAS: From Dilettante to Full Partner


276 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-88629-258-1
DDC 327.7108




Reviewed by D.M.L. Farr

D.M.L. Farr is professor emeritus of history at Carleton University in
Ottawa and the editor of Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.


In recent years enterprising political scientists, perhaps in an effort
to become more comprehensible, have become historians. Such a scholar is
Peter McKenna, a young faculty member at St. Mary’s University in
Halifax, who has written this record of Canada’s involvement in the
“inter-American system.” The book fills a real need. Not since
1942’s The Inter-American System (John T.P. Humphrey) has there been a
comprehensive study of Canada’s relationship with the organizations
and agencies that attempt to deal with Latin America’s concerns. These
have been around for a long time: the Pan-American Union since 1889; the
Organization of American States since 1948. For a century Canada
fluttered at the margins of the network, reluctant to participate in
what it saw as ineffective institutions operating in the United
States’ “sphere of interest.”

Then in 1990 the Mulroney government, aware of Latin America’s
movement toward democracy and economic liberalization, and anxious to
expand linkages, took the plunge and joined the OAS. It was, the author
asserts, more of “an ending than a beginning,” for Canada had been
edging toward membership for some time. NAFTA followed the 1990 decision
and now Canada is negotiating free trade with Chile and sharing in the
establishment of democratic government in Haiti. The author sees Canada
employing the machinery of the OAS for dealing with what are called
“low politics”: the protection of the environment, the curtailment
of drug-trafficking, the promotion of human rights. The organization
will never have a high priority in Canada’s foreign-policy interests.

McKenna’s book carefully catalogues every possible aspect of
Canada’s involvement with Latin America’s interstate organizations.
The treatment is exhaustive, and at times exhausting. The documentation
supporting the text alone takes up 54 pages; the bibliography consumes
another 19. The book has been attractively produced by Carleton
University Press, but it would have been a better publication if someone
had taken a blue pencil to the author’s over-abundant prose. A
valuable reference source for anyone interested in Canada and Latin
America during the last 100 years.


McKenna, Peter., “Canada and the OAS: From Dilettante to Full Partner,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,