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About Colin Robertson

A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and hosts its regular Global Exchange podcast.  He is an Executive Fellow at the… Read more »

China Canada Parliamentary Committee

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When the new session begins, Parliamentarians will focus on COVID recovery, but they also need to pay attention to our critical relationship with China. MPs should re-establish the special committee on Canada-China relations that was created in the last session. We need continuing parliamentary oversight of this vital, complex and challenging relationship.

Created last December on a Conservative motion with Bloc Québécois, NDP and Green support, the committee held 12 meetings and the testimony of their 48 witnesses was informative.

The Deputy Minister of Global Affairs Canada, Marta Morgan, affirmed that Canada’s “absolute priority” with China is freeing Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, detained since December, 2018, and securing clemency for Robert Schellenberg. A thousand diplomatic meetings later, the U.S. has been the most supportive. But only 13 other friends and allies have voiced public support. Where are the others? Mr. Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, is right when she says that “words are no longer enough.”

Our China policy, said Ms. Morgan, is one of “comprehensive engagement.” But since December, 2018, only International Trade Minister Mary Ng has visited China. Now Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne acknowledges there is no prospect of freer trade.

Our current policy is neither comprehensive nor engaged. Parliament needs to weigh in. A special committee will help keep focus on our China relationship and, hopefully, come up with a strategy enjoying broad party support.

Witnesses in the last session came mostly from the civil service, scholarly and human rights communities. We need to hear from the business community as we rethink trade and investment. What do security experts think about disinformation, “wolf warriors” and Chinese military activity? And what about Hong Kong, home to at least 300,000 Canadians? Have we done an analysis of the new national security law? What can we do to reinforce “one country, two systems”?

Our allies are re-examining their China relationships. Despite its hawkish title – Communist China and the Free World’s Future – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently laid out a policy based on reciprocity and transparency that also called for collective action by democracies.

Like Canada, the Australians are enduring Chinese “coercive diplomacy”: hostages, trade sanctions, subversion and cyberintrusions. Their government and public policy institutions are looking at everything from technology to the subversive activities of Chinese networks. Australia led the Five Eyes intelligence partners in banning Huawei and ZTE from their 5G networks. Both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne have called out Chinese disinformation and cyberintrusions.

A 2019 British Foreign Affairs committee report has trenchant recommendations on China’s Belt and Road initiative; freedom of navigation in the South China Sea; and Chinese interference in U.K. affairs. Former British diplomat Charles Parton’s perceptive report for The Policy Institute describes the dilemma facing Western policy-makers: how both to co-operate with and to resist an authoritarian power with great economic and rising technological power. For Mr. Parton it comes down to four words: “Understand, Prepare, Resource, Unite.” The like-minded democracies, he argues, must act in concert. Former Australian diplomat Peter Varghese advocates an “engage and constrain” strategy to create a new equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific. Scholar-diplomat Christopher Bishop looks at case studies, including Chinese detention of the Garratts, and suggests negotiations with China will be long and difficult.

We need a China policy based on realism, one that is neither complacent nor paranoid. China is our second-largest trading partner. It is our second-largest source of foreign students. Nearly two million Canadians claim Chinese descent. A systemic examination of the relationship involving independent research will complement the work of Parliamentarians.

With freer trade now ditched and “comprehensive engagement” a joke, Mr. Champagne needs to speak on the China relationship. We need the same blunt language that then-foreign minister Chrystia Freeland employed when she addressed Parliamentarians on Canada’s foreign policy priorities in June, 2017.

Parliamentary committees get little attention but they are work horses of good government. In gathering information from ministers, civil servants, experts and stakeholders, committee hearings provide a vital public education role. Even with the inevitable venting and pontificating, their scrutiny results in better legislation and insightful reports.

When Parliament resumes, it should quickly reinstitute the special committee on Canada-China relations. And then as the late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong observed, “let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend.”

Throne Speech and Foreign Policy

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Foreign policy focus in new session should be on China, U.S., and human rights, say Parliamentarians

By NEIL MOSS      
‘The No. 1 [foreign policy] priority is our relationship with the United States,’ says Independent Senator Peter Boehm as the U.S. presidential election quickly approaches.
f Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

As Parliament returns for another session, MPs and Senators say they want to see a foreign policy focus on Canada’s fraught relationship with China, the ever-important relationship with the U.S., and the declining human rights situation around the world.

“It is time for Canada to assume—or reassume—its leadership role in the world,” said Liberal MP Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, B.C.), who served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the last parliamentary session.

She said more has to be done to fight authoritarianism around the world and protect human rights, including by strengthening multilateral institutions.

“You are seeing what is happening with Belarus. You are seeing what is happening with Hong Kong. You’ve seen what is happening in other parts of the world. And Canada needs to do more, I think, than saying, ‘Oh, that’s terrible. We don’t agree with it.’ We need to actually be looking at what steps we can take with other countries to put an end to it and to ensure that human rights and safety of those who are victims now of the kind of new world changes that are occurring,” Ms. Fry said.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee could bring together experts and analyze how Canada can meet the global challenges, she said.

“We need to show that we don’t just talk the talk, but we walk the walk,” she said. “This is urgent. We’re talking about urgency right now. You just have to look around the world and see what’s going on.”

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) has condemned human rights violations in Belarus, as well as the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Canada is working with members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to investigate human rights violations in Belarus.

Ms. Fry said more has to be done to protect those being subject to human rights abuses while migrating throughout the world.

“We need to stop looking at ourselves and our vested self interest, because our vested self interest lies in the global self interest.”

Former Canadian ambassador Gilles Rivard, president of the Retired Heads of Mission Association, said Canada needs to take care of multilateral institutions.

“We are in quite a dramatic period,” said Mr. Rivard, who served as Canada’s deputy permanent representative at the UN from 2010 to 2013. “We seem to forget that we have these multilateral institutions because everyone is looking into their own courts to fix the solution.”

He said Canada needs to rebuild its “credibility and leadership” in strengthening multilateral organizations, Mr. Rivard said, especially if it wants to win a seat on the UN Security Council in the future.

Restarting the Canada-China Relations Committee

NDP MP Jack Harris (St. John’s East, N.L.), his party’s foreign policy critic, said his top priority is on restarting the Special House Committee on Canada-China Relations.

“We need the Canada-China Committee to be reinstated as a special committee and able to carry on its work, and include the evidence that has already been heard,” said Mr. Harris, adding that the committee has to be able to meet virtually.

Mr. Harris said the Canadian government should be open to receiving migrants from Hong Kong and broaden family reunification. He also said Canada needs to work with other countries to put pressure on China through Magnitsky sanctions.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said Ottawa needs a new policy on China that both the Liberals and Conservatives can get behind. He said it should be based on “realism,” and avoid “paranoia or complacency.” He added that it is his hope to see the Canada-China Committee restarted.

Former Canadian ambassador Jeremy Kinsman, who served as Canada’s envoy to Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, said while Canada does not want a new Cold War with China, it needs to be communicating with concerned partners “about how to ensure China and others play by universally agreed rules.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) has taken a tougher stance on China, which includes pitching a divestment from the Chinese economy and pushing to expel Chinese officials who “intimidate Canadians.”

New Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) wasn’t available for an interview last week.

Before the prorogation of Parliament, the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights heard testimony about China’s Uyghur minority, a large part of which has been incarcerated by the Chinese government. The committee was set to release a statement on the testimony it heard when Parliament was prorogued.

At the time, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta), his party’s human rights critic, said the subcommittee heard “clear-cut” evidence of genocide taking place.

NDP MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.), her party’s representative on the subcommittee, said it is “pretty universally agreed upon” that more needs to be done.

Activists and human rights experts encouraged Parliament to recognize the persecution of the Uyghurs by Chinese authorities as a genocide.

Canada-U.S. relationship remains No. 1 priority: Sen. Boehm

As the U.S. presidential election approaches on Nov. 3, Canada’s relationship with the United States will still be of central concern, despite the removal of U.S. national security tariffs on Canada aluminum exports and the new North American trade pact being in force, said Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario), a former career diplomat.

“The No. 1 [foreign policy] priority is our relationship with the United States—it’s always our No. 1 priority—but as we get closer to the U.S. election, there will be the to and fro of the campaign and how we figure in that,” he said.

The top issues between the two countries will be the Canada-U.S. border and everything related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the Canadian and American economies, he said, and the movement of goods and services across the border.

“The government is going to have to watch that very closely, and as committees are struck and reconstituted this will be a subject of some analysis, I would expect,” Sen. Boehm said.

If the Nov. 3 election produces a new administration, Sen. Boehm said the two countries will continue to have disputes over international trade.

Mr. Rivard echoed Sen. Boehm, agreeing that the Canada-U.S. relationship is the most important priority.

“There are so many issues that [the relationship] has be our [first] priority,” he said, noting the economy, the pandemic, and the border as examples.

Canada US relations

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Qu’adviendra-t-il des relations canado-américaines après le 3 novembre?

Les relations Canada-États-Unis ont rarement atteint un niveau aussi bas depuis que Donald Trump est au pouvoir. Mais qu’il obtienne ou non un deuxième mandat à la Maison-Blanche, la suite ne se passera pas sans heurts pour le pays. Et Ottawa doit s’y préparer.

Des drapeaux canadien et américain endommagés flottent dans la municipalité riveraine de Morrisburg, en Ontario

Marc Godbout (accéder à la page de l’auteur)

À la hauteur de Morrisburg sur la berge ontarienne, l’État de New York est facilement visible tellement la Voie maritime du Saint-Laurent y est étroite.

Tout près de la marina flottent deux drapeaux fatigués. L’unifolié est déchiré, celui des États-Unis effiloché. La tentation est forte d’y voir l’image de l’état d’une relation entre deux voisins.

Nous sommes si près. Et pourtant avec Trump et la pandémie, j’ai l’impression que nous sommes maintenant si loin , raconte Ann Rodney.

Cette grand-mère venue profiter du paysage, le temps d’un après-midi, est préoccupée. Je crains que nos relations ne reviennent jamais à ce qu’elles étaient avant. J’espère que je me trompe.

Une femme regarde de l’autre côté de la Voie maritime du Saint-Laurent où se trouve l’État de New York.


Il reste une cinquantaine de jours à la campagne. Autant de jours pendant lesquels le gouvernement Trudeau doit s’imposer une discipline de fer. L’ex-diplomate canadien Colin Robertson insiste sur la nécessité pour Ottawa de marcher sur la pointe des pieds jusqu’à la fin de la campagne présidentielle.

Il est primordial que le gouvernement canadien garde un profil très bas, car toute perception d’une intervention en faveur des démocrates va se retourner contre lui. Trump n’hésitera pas à s’en prendre au Canada. 

Ottawa doit donc éviter à tout prix le genre d’incident survenu avant l’élection présidentielle de 2000.

Les remarques faites à l’époque par l’ancien ambassadeur canadien à Washington, Raymond Chrétien, avaient contribué à miner le terrain des relations avec l’administration Bush.

Raymond Chrétien avait exprimé sa préférence pour Al Gore, le candidat démocrate. Or c’est George W. Bush qui l’avait emporté.

Notre jeu diplomatique devra être au sommet de sa forme comme jamais auparavant , avertit Colin Robertson. Et cela ne vaut pas juste pour cette campagne: Nous devrions nous préparer dès maintenant à un avenir beaucoup plus complexe, et ne pas attendre de voir qui gagnera en novembre. 

Une affiche située près de Cornwall en Ontario indique la direction à prendre pour se rendre aux États-Unis.


America First  aura défini la dynamique canado-américaine depuis bientôt quatre ans.

Le Canada a fait de grands efforts pour contrarier le moins possible le président Trump et pour éviter d’en faire un conflit personnel alors que l’avenir de l’ALENA se retrouvait en jeu.

Il va de soi que certaines politiques de Joe Biden s’alignent sur celles des libéraux de Justin Trudeau en matière de changement climatique notamment. Contrairement à Donald Trump, le Canada y trouverait aussi un promoteur du multilatéralisme.

Même si, aux yeux de plusieurs, une nouvelle administration à Washington représenterait une bouffée d’air frais à Ottawa, l’élection de Joe Biden aurait aussi des conséquences pour le Canada.

Le contexte de la pandémie est venu amplifier la défense des intérêts économiques américains en pleine élection présidentielle.

Si les approches de Donald Trump et de Joe Biden sont clairement différentes, tous deux promettent des politiques protectionnistes aux électeurs américains nostalgiques d’une économie qui n’existe plus.

Sur le plan du commerce, il n’y a pas de différence de fond , souligne l’avocat Peter Clark.

Joe Biden permettrait de rétablir la civilité et la stabilité dans les relations canado-américaines. Mais au-delà de cela, on ne doit pas se faire d’illusion et placer trop d’espoirs , considère ce négociateur commercial chevronné.

Nous aurons droit à la même pression sous une administration démocrate. Il ne faut pas s’attendre à un assouplissement parce que le portrait de l’emploi aux États-Unis ne va pas se redresser, du moins à court terme.

Peter Clark, négociateur commercial

L’histoire a maintes fois démontré que le Parti démocrate donne davantage dans le protectionnisme que le Parti républicain.

Made in All America, le plan démocrate, prévoit 400 milliards de dollars supplémentaires sur quatre ans pour l’achat de biens et services produits aux États-Unis. Priorité à la production nationale avec pour objectif la création de cinq millions de nouveaux emplois.

Relocalisations, protection contre les pratiques commerciales injustes, le candidat démocrate reprend certains des arguments économiques sur lesquels Donald Trump avait bâti sa victoire en 2016.

La campagne démocrate n’épargne pas le Canada. Joe Biden fait déjà la promotion de cette idée : Nous travaillerons avec les ports américains et les syndicats pour faire en sorte que les cargaisons à destination des États-Unis soient déchargées aux États-Unis et non dans les ports canadiens afin d’éviter les taxes portuaires. 

À Morrisburg, le passage des cargos et vraquiers sur la Voie maritime rappelle l’importance de ce maillon pour l’économie des deux pays.

Mais sur le quai, Jennifer Schearer fait part de sa perception face à la relation actuelle. J’ai l’impression qu’il y a un mur. On dirait que c’est de plus en plus pour soi d’abord chez ces deux voisins .

Elle se questionne en notant que le nouvel ALENA n’a ni empêché General Motors de fermer son usine d’Oshawa ni le président Trump de réimposer des tarifs punitifs sur les importations d’aluminium canadien. Alors à quoi sert cette relation? 

Relation spéciale?

Le spécialiste des affaires internationales David Carment y va de cette lecture : la suggestion que le Canada et les États-Unis ont toujours cette relation spéciale semble dépassée, voire naïve .

À son avis, les années Trump ont provoqué une transformation qui va persister  alors que la pandémie a démontré la nécessité pour le Canada d’entreprendre une sérieuse réflexion sur ses perspectives économiques et géopolitiques .

David Carment croit fermement qu’Ottawa doit revoir son approche vieille de trois décennies et apprendre à mieux naviguer dans une économie politique internationale instable, sans dépendre autant des États-Unis qui sont imprévisibles et peu fiables .

Sans aller aussi loin, l’ex-diplomate Colin Robertson prévoit qu’Ottawa sera bientôt confronté à des choix difficiles, même avec un nouveau gouvernement à Washington.

Pour les Américains, le point le plus important reste la défense et la sécurité. Ils s’attendent à beaucoup plus du Canada.

Colin Roberston, Institut canadien des affaires mondiales

Colin Robertson, qui a passé une bonne partie de sa carrière aux États-Unis, prévient que ces attentes ne changeront pas sous une présidence Biden. Il sera tout aussi déterminé à faire pression sur le Canada pour qu’il dépense davantage.

Cela ne peut faire autrement que d’exposer les lacunes canadiennes dans la défense du continent alors que des milliards sont nécessaires pour des infrastructures. Par exemple, le Système d’alerte du Nord doit être modernisé assez rapidement. Et en tardant à investir, Ottawa court le danger d’exaspérer Washington.

Les Russes testent notre défense et la Chine met déjà en oeuvre sa stratégie dans l’Arctique . Selon Colin Robertson, la stratégie de défense du gouvernement Trudeau de 2017 est déjà dépassée et sa politique pour l’Arctique annoncée l’an dernier est grandement inadéquate. Il n’est pas le seul à le croire.

Une des stations radars du Système d’alerte du nord dans l’Arctique canadien.


Le pays est-il prêt à l’issue du vote de novembre? Il dispose au moins de l’expérience des quatre dernières années.

Elles ont amené le gouvernement Trudeau, les provinces et différents acteurs à déployer des efforts colossaux pour préserver les liens entre le Canada et les États-Unis, en contournant la Maison-Blanche.

Quatre années supplémentaires de Donald Trump laisseraient des relations instables et incertaines.

Une victoire de Biden ne garantit pas pour autant le retour des beaux jours de cette relation, dans le contexte d’une Amérique divisée et d’un monde fort différent.

Trudeau Reset and Freeland as Finance Minister

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Freeland expected to keep playing big role on U.S. file despite move to financeThe Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to continue playing a key role in managing Canada’s relationship with the United States as the two countries look to restart their pandemic-ravaged economies.

The Liberal government isn’t saying whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will officially direct Freeland, who is also deputy prime minister, to continue serving as Canada’s point person with the U.S., a role she has held for more than three years.

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The prime minister first tapped Freeland to lead the federal government’s efforts in his mandate letter to her when she became foreign affairs minister in February 2017, and again when she was named deputy prime minister last fall. She had also been involved in that file when she was international trade minister, her first cabinet role.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne this week suggested other federal cabinet ministers will shoulder more of the burden as Freeland assumes her new duties, but added the final decision rests with Trudeau.

“We work as a whole of government to make sure that we best position Canada in that crucial relationship between Canada and the United States,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview.

“We will continue as we were doing and then the particular allocation, obviously that’s the prerogative of the prime minister. But I would say more generally, I think each and every one of us has a role to play in that very important relationship.”

Senior government sources would not speak on the record this week when asked whether Freeland will continue to be front and centre or whether other ministers — notably Champagne and International Trade Minister Mary Ng — will manage the file.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, those sources offered mixed messages.

Freeland’s appointment as lead minister coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for a new North American free trade deal, which finally came into effect on July 1 following more than a year of tense, and sometimes acrimonious, negotiations.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said Freeland’s many contacts in the U.S., understanding of the American culture after having lived there as a journalist for years and her ability to make friends out of enemies served Canada well on the file.

It also helped shield Trudeau from Trump’s wrath when Ottawa wanted to push back on an issue, Robertson said, noting how Freeland only earlier this month blasted the White House’s decision to impose new aluminum tariffs on Canada.

“She was very sharp,” said Robertson, who is now vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “And I thought: ‘This is right. It’s exactly the right tone. But you don’t want the prime minister to do it because Trump is going to take offence.'”

Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian-American Business Council, nonetheless suggested there is some sense in reverting to the more traditional approach where no single minister is in charge now that the free trade talks are over.

“Because the relationship is so big and multifaceted, lots of people end up interacting with the U.S.,” Greenwood said.

“People were probably just sort of going through her or co-ordinating so nothing could inadvertently mess up the negotiation. But the negotiation is done.”

Whether Freeland remains the lead minister or not, both Greenwood and Robertson believed she will continue to play a big role in her new position, which will include leading the restart of Canada’s pandemic-ravaged economy.

They say that is because the Liberals’ plan for restarting the Canadian economy — including a heavy emphasis on tackling inequality and climate change — will require close co-ordination with the U.S., given the integrated nature of the two economies.

“The biggest bilateral task is going to be the economic rebound,” said Greenwood. “So she will play an important role.”

Robertson echoed that assessment, saying: “Based on what the prime minister, in terms of his reset and his green shift and ‘build back better,’ none of this will work unless we do this in tandem with the U.S.”

This report by The Canadian P

Border Reopening

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Easing of restrictions to non-U.S. travellers into Canada unlikely to be met with Trump backlash, could pave way for reopening of 49th parallel, say experts

By Neil Moss      
‘The core operating ideal within … Ottawa is evidence-based policymaking and there are clearly other jurisdictions out there besides the U.S. that have done a better job in containing [the virus],’ says Eric Miller.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair wouldn’t say if the government is exploring easing restrictions to non-U.S. travellers to Canada before the Canada-U.S. border is reopened to normal operations. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

With no progress towards reopening the Canada-U.S. border as the United States continues to be overwhelmed by COVID-19, experts say easing restrictions to allow non-U.S. foreign nationals to travel to Canada could be the first step in a phased reopening of the 49th parallel.

Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s forceful defence of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, former diplomats told The Hill Times that a reopening with non-U.S. countries could take place without an Oval Office backlash as the restrictive immigration policies of the Trump administration favours a closed Canada-U.S. border.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of countries—particularly Europe and parts of East Asia—that Canada is going to open to far before they open to the U.S.,” said trade consultant Eric Miller, president of Rideau Potomac Strategy Group who worked on the Beyond the Border Action Plan, which sought to make Canada-U.S. border crossings more efficient.

Canada has been closed to non-U.S. nationals since mid-March due to the pandemic. An order was extended until Aug. 31 preventing non-American international travellers from coming to Canada. The restrictions aren’t a blanket ban, as some international travellers are allowed to enter Canada as long as they have a quarantine plan.

Mr. Miller said the Trump administration is unlikely to make a big deal of a Canadian reopening with Europe or East Asia because they don’t see having restrictions on the 49th parallel as a bad thing.

The Canadian government has restricted travel from non-U.S. countries since mid-March. Photograph courtesy of Flickr/Dan Zen

“If Canada lets in French and German and other EU citizens or lets Japanese citizens in, then that’s considered Canada’s business and it’s not something that I think the White House is going to react very negatively to,” said Mr. Miller, a former senior policy adviser at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

“The Trump administration sees a narrow path to victory [in the Nov. 3 presidential election] by doubling down on their core messages and part of doubling down on the core messages … is that [they] have the borders under control,” he said.

Despite some pressure from U.S. lawmakers who represent border regions, there hasn’t been a great push to allow Canadians and Americans to freely cross the border, with Canadian public opinion siding strongly against a return to normalcy as COVID-19 cases in the United States top five million with more than 160,000 deaths.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential crossers by joint agreement between the two governments since March 21. The initial agreement closed the border for 30 days, but the closure has been extended every month since, with the current closure ending on Aug. 21 if there isn’t another extension.

“The core operating ideal within the civil service in Ottawa is evidence-based policymaking and there are clearly other jurisdictions out there besides the U.S. that have done a better job in containing [the virus],” Mr. Miller said.

He said an easing of restrictions could be done based on the performance of individual countries in addressing COVID-19, which Canadian embassies around the world can help monitor on the ground.

He added that a potential reopening with some European countries could begin the conversation on how Canada can reopen its borders to the international community to establish the principles needed and work through the unresolved issues that will be helpful when it becomes a possibility to have a reopening of the Canada-U.S. border.

“If we wait for this to magically happen on its own or to go away, we’re going to be waiting a long time,” Mr. Miller said.

Experts say U.S. President Donald Trump’s reaction to a potential easing of Canadian restrictions to non-U.S. restrictions will be muted as his administration is in favour of border restrictions. White House photograph by Andrea Hanks

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.) wouldn’t say if the federal government would consider easing restrictions on non-U.S. nationals entering Canada before reopening the Canada-U.S. border.

“We brought forward significant restrictions at our borders to keep Canadians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. We all have a shared responsibility to flatten the curve, and our government continues to advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada and avoid all cruise ship travel. We will continue to do what is necessary to keep Canadians safe and will base our decisions on the best public health evidence available,” press secretary Mary-Liz Power said in an email.

Canada is one of 14 countries that have been allowed to travel to the EU since the beginning of July.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president at Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said it is possible that Canada could open up to some European countries that Canada feels has control over the pandemic.

“We’ll probably open up to some countries, but not all,” said Mr. Robertson, adding that it would make sense to open the Canada-U.S. border in a similar fashion with different regions reopening at different times.

“I think we are more likely to open to other countries before we open to the United States’ full border,” he said, noting that won’t happen for some time yet.

Mr. Robertson said the constant communication between Canadian and American officials allows for neither side to be surprised by developments in the other country.

In those conversations, Mr. Robertson said Canadian officials would be briefing their American counterparts on Canada’s thinking on easing restrictions to non-U.S. travellers and they would give advance notice if Canada made the decision to reopen travel with a country before the restrictions were loosened with the U.S.

Christopher Sands, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., said if Canada does ease restrictions for non-U.S. countries, there would be an understanding by American officials that a land border and an air border are two distinct considerations.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson says Canadian officials are likely having frequent conversations with their American counterparts and would give them advance notice if restrictions are eased. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

“Other borders are just so qualitatively different that the U.S. doesn’t see it in the same category [as the Canada-U.S. border],” Mr. Sands noted, although he said there could be a negative reaction from American officials if Canada eases restrictions on a country that is handling the pandemic worse than the United States.

Mr. Sands said there is a medical advantage for the closure of the Canada-U.S. border to prevent Americans without health coverage crossing into Canada in large numbers or Canadians crossing into the United States en masse if the U.S. develops a vaccine before they do.

But he said there should be clearer signs of how the two governments plan to have a phased reopening for the Canada-U.S. border.

He said a loosening of restrictions between Canada and a non-U.S. country could be used to influence how Canada and the United States move forward, adding that a a previously tested solution will be more palatable for Americans to accept amid the hyper-partisan reaction to the handling of the pandemic by the Trump administration and the fast-approaching U.S. presidential election.

Aluminum Tariffs and 2020 Election

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If all politics in the United States is local, so is all trade. The pernicious renewal of tariffs on Canadian aluminum by President Donald Trump needs to be seen in this context: It’s less about Canada than it is about the approaching U.S. election.

Canadian aluminum provided a handy target for Mr. Trump to renew his “America First” pledge while visiting a Whirlpool plant in Clyde, Ohio, on Aug. 6. The Buckeye State is vital to his re-election.

For Mr. Trump, putting “American workers first” will mean reshoring supply chains in critical sectors, including electronics, machine tools, shipping, aerospace, automotives, iron and steel. Mr. Trump wants the U.S. to turn into the “premier medical manufacturer, pharmacy and drugstore of the world.” He promised to remedy every perceived trade violation, starting with placing aluminum tariffs on Canada for “taking advantage of us, as usual.” He forgets that our aluminum is helping American manufacturers recover from the COVID-19 shutdown.

Like other democracies, politics in the U.S. depends on assuaging local interests. Unlike other democracies, with strict curbs on election financing, the American system thrives on special interests, their lobbyists and their campaign contributions. When those interests coincide with those of a senior legislator, the system responds. One U.S. aluminum producer that had lobbied for the reinstatement of tariffs (Century Aluminum) has two smelting operations in Kentucky, the home state of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. For Mr. McConnell, who is facing a tough re-election task, the tariffs are a slam dunk.

The tariffs underline, yet again, that our two-way trade relationship with the United States is asymmetrical: Three-quarters of our exports go to the U.S., but we account for only 18 per cent of U.S. export purchases. Mr. Trump understands and applies this leverage. (Mexico shares a similar asymmetry, another reason for Canada and Mexico to stick together.)

Canada’s “dollar-for-dollar” countermeasures are still to be defined. While they will undermine continental competitiveness and raise consumers’ costs, experience tells us they are necessary to galvanize the American counter-chorus to fight the Trump tariffs. That’s how the system works.

That we were able to negotiate a new continental accord is a testimony to a national effort involving premiers, legislators, business leaders and labour representatives. They were able to persuade U.S. stakeholders – including workers and consumers, and Democratic and Republican leaders at the state and national levels – that trade with Canada is mutually beneficial.

Our continuing trade advocacy must be a permanent Team Canada effort and applied consistently no matter which party leads our government. Our playbook must be pro-active as well as defensive.

Our renewed trade accord gives us a North American platform for resilient and dependable supply chains as well as a secure supply of energy, labour and innovation. We need to look to shared projects, starting with better infrastructure, to help reboot our economies. We also need better North America-wide preparation for the next catastrophe, whether caused by a pandemic, the climate, technology or terrorism

We can hope for relief in November from the Trumpocalypse, to borrow the snappy title of David Frum’s new book. A Biden administration is likely to be more multilateralist. It would likely return to the Paris climate accord, resurrect arms control and be more sensible and considered in alliance management. Joe Biden intuitively understands that the U.S.-led collective alliance system is democracy’s greatest strategic asset.

Some things wouldn’t change under Mr. Biden, including the morphing Sino-U.S. “cold war.” Nor should we expect any endorsement of trade liberalization, although the United States may join the Trans-Pacific Partnership in an effort to constrain China.

If he loses the election, Mr. Trump’s bullying tone will go with him, but Mr. Biden will be just as determined in pressuring Canada to spend more for defence and security. The Trudeau government’s 2017 defence strategy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged,” is outdated. The Australians are revising and bolstering their security. So should we. This will mean more capability in the Arctic and more maritime capacity in the Indo-Pacific, where our efforts at trade diversification require freedom of navigation.

The world is meaner and messier. If we have learned anything from the Trump experience, it is that the U.S. is no longer prepared to, as John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address, “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Liberty matters just as much as when Mr. Kennedy made this promise. Liberty’s defence must now be a collective effort. And by standing up for ourvalues, we are also providing insurance for our interests.

Arctic and China

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China’s effort to buy an Arctic gold mine raises many concerns

Currently under review by the federal government, the $207.4 million dollar offer raises concerns not only  over China’s increasing control over the precious metal and other strategic resources but also concerns of sovereignty and of potential security in the Arctic.

Chinese companies have been acquiring other gold producers around the world, and the state owned Shandong Gold Group is part of a national effort to stockpile gold as a hedge against economic volatility.

China has also been engaged in an effort to control rare earth minerals and already owns copper and zinc assets in Canada’s Nunavut territory. Zinc is an important element in the making of galvanized steel as well as use in computers, mobile phones and other electronic equipment, and in batteries.

In an email to RCI, former Canadian diplomat to Hong Kong and the U.N, Colin Robertson noted that Canada should be asking of this latest potential purchase:

  • Is this is a state-owned enterprise enjoying benefits not available to other companies?
  •  Is this a strategic commodity?
  • What are the net benefits to Canada- local employment, trade, infrastructure, regional and local development et al
  • Would Canadian companies be able to buy a similar Chinese company ie reciprocal treatment

Robertson then suggested, “I am not sure it would pass these tests, especially the last one”.

While gold is not currently considered a strategic resource mineral requiring regulation, some experts are saying it should be added to the list

Quoted in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence service, Richard Fadden, noted that China was quietly acquiring assets just below the threshold for regulatory intervention. “There was a worry that the Chinese seemed to be very knowledgeable about regulatory thresholds and were coming just underneath them and, as is well known, Chinese corporations abroad are required to comply with Chinese government directives. If you had enough of these, either beneath regulatory thresholds or small investments, they would eventually be consolidated and there would not be very much anyone could do about it”.

Beyond strategic resources-military and sovereignty concerns

China has been proclaiming itself to be a ‘near Arctic country” with implications as to rights in the polar region. Such a claim was made in the Chinese supported Global Times news outlet in December 2019 when it said in a headline that the U.S was ‘trying to obstruct Chinese rights in the Arctic”

Along with that statement, there are concerns about military and sovereignty issues.

Rob Huebert, senior research fellow with the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, has noted the potential military implications of a presence in the Arctic suggesting that the new Arctic capable icebreaker Xuelong and others could be used for map submarine routes. He also suggested that it would be easy for China to hide the fact they are creating Arctic capable submarines.

In an email to RCI he noted that the intended purchase was carefully selected as a project that would face limited opposition in that gold “is a non strategic resource in a region that is suffering from both the impacts of the COVID pandemic and a set of federal government policies that have discouraged resource projects and would provide much needed employment in the region”. Huebert says while in the short term in looks like a positive for Canada, the longer term is more problematic

Huebert writes, “The Chinese are currently also embarking on their Silk Road initiative by which they hope to expand Chinese control over a world-wide network of maritime trading locations. History has shown that this is how maritime powers such the UK and US have been able to establish themselves as world powers. In the long term, Canadian officials will need to watch if the Gold Mine leads to new infrastructure that leads to a port that will then be serviced by Chinese commercial traffic. This is where it then become complicated for Canada. How would you say no then? If the mine and new infrastructure have come to provide for prosperity for the region, what Canadian Government would be willing to put on restrictions?  And what would the requirements of Chinese vessels coming to service the region and to carry out production be? What would Canada then need to do to maintain Canadian Arctic Sovereignty over the NWP?  These are over the horizon issues that need to be thought of now”.

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa, a long time advisor to government on science and technology, and member of the China Canada Joint Committee on S&T.

In an email to RCI she wrote “ China has indicated in documents such as its Arctic Policy (Jan 2018) that it sees resource exploration and exploitation throughout the Arctic (not just the Cdn Arctic) as its right under international law.  (Keep in mind that China is not an Arctic nation.)  It has given priority to deals like this one in order to establish its geopolitical presence in the Arctic”.

The sovereignty issue was also emphasised in an additional comment , “This growing interest by China in the Arctic poses a challenge for Canada in protecting its jurisdiction over the Northwest Passage.  To date, Chinese ships going through the Passage have asked permission.  However, we’ve seen elsewhere such as the South China Sea and Hong Kong that China ignores international law when it is in its interest to do so.  Indeed, sending ships through without asking permission would reinforce China’s insistence on open navigation in other straits with jurisdictional claims such as Hormuz and Malacca.  The Canadian Government will need to be prepared for the day that China starts to send its ships through without permission”.

The Washington-based Jamestown Foundation policy think tank has indicated that China has clear plans to incorporate Arctic ambitions into its naval strategy. Chinese ships and icebreakers could be used to this end to survey submarine routes and critical acoustic studies needed for submarine operation and perhaps perform other military services while transporting ore and materiel to the Arctic site.

Citing  statements not intended for foreign consumption, the Foundation notes that Chinese naval policy now includes “expansion into the two poles”.  while another document cites the need for Chinese submarines to operate in all oceans including the Arctic.

The Foundation also quotes from another 2018 document from China’s  National Defence University stating, “As the world becomes hotter, the Arctic passages will increasingly become important areas for the operations of China’s maritime forces. Once [Chinese] forces normalize their presence in this region, they will not only be able to effectively pin down great powers like the U.S. and Russia; they will greatly reduce pressure from primary opponents in our other strategic directions”.

Protecting Chinese interests in the Arctic could mean demanding access to mineral resources but also to fish and other marine stocks. How an additional military presence might affect such activities cannot be known.

Many experts are advising against approval of the deal which is among the first to be examined since the federal government announced increased scrutiny for foreign acquisitions as the economic downturn from COVID-19 has driven down the value of Canadian companies.

The review under the Canada Investment Act will examine if the deal represents a net benefit to Canada, This would be in terms of revenue, and affect on indigenous communities, and jobs, along with a further possible investigation if there is a finding that the deal may represent potential harm to national security.

Parliament and Trade Scrutiny

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Feds have yet to make agreed-upon changes giving Parliament greater oversight over trade deals

By NEIL MOSS      
Though still not made official, the government says it will comply with new trade policy provisions, including in trade talks with the United Kingdom, which began before the guidelines were agreed to in February.
A spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng, pictured, says ‘preparations for negotiation of any new agreement with the U.K. would be in accordance with recent commitments to inform Parliament ahead of their launch.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Despite saying it would abide by agreed-upon provisions to give Parliamentarians more oversight on trade deals, the Liberal government has yet to amend its official policy on tabling trade bills in Parliament.

Those provisions include tabling notice of the government’s intent to enter into free trade negotiations in the House of Commons 90 days before those talks begin; tabling its objectives for those negotiations 30 days prior to their start; and tabling an economic impact assessment of the trade deal at the same time a implementation bill is introduced in the House for a new trade pact. The government’s notice of intent and objectives would be referred to the House Committee on International Trade after they are tabled.

The new provisions were agreed to between the Liberals and the NDP in February, with the government agreeing in order to cement NDP support for its effort to accelerate the House International Trade Committee’s study of the implementation bill for the new NAFTA. At the time, Canada was the lone country of the pact not to have implemented the trade bill.

That agreement, which was confirmed in a Feb. 19 letter from Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) to NDP MP Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood-Transcona, Man.), his party’s international trade critic, noted the government “will revise” the Policy on Tabling Treaties in Parliament. Five months later, it has yet to do so.

The new framework is intended to give Parliamentarians move oversight over trade negotiations, which are controlled by the executive.

A Global Affairs spokesperson confirmed with The Hill Times that the changes to the Policy on Tabling Treaties in Parliament have yet to be made, citing delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This change will soon be implemented and will apply to all future trade agreements,” Sylvain Leclerc said in a statement.

The government has promised to comply with the provisions in future trade negotiations with the United Kingdom.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland reached a deal with the NDP on the new trade oversight provisions to accelerate the passage of the new NAFTA implementation bill. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Canada has already begun preliminary talks with the U.K. government for a potential new trade deal, but have not begun formal negotiations.

To date, no notice of intent, objectives, or economic impact assessment for a U.K. trade deal have been tabled.

Ryan Nearing, a spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.), said “preparations for negotiation of any new agreement with the U.K. would be in accordance with recent commitments to inform Parliament ahead of their launch.”

Canada’s top trade negotiating official, Steve Verheul, said during a July 9 meeting of the House Committee on International Trade that an agreement between Canada and the U.K. was “very close … early last year” before the U.K. released its plans for “most favoured nation” tariffs in May, which eliminates tariffs on about half of the exports to the United Kingdom.

Some trade experts said it is better for Canada to wait to see how Britain’s policy on tariffs evolves before agreeing to a free trade deal, which they expect will involve Canada having to make concessions.

Canada and U.K. trade is currently covered under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), but the U.K. will no longer be party to the pact after the Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year.

Asked by Conservative MP Michael Kram (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) about when the 90-day notification for Canada-U.K. trade negotiations would be tabled, Mr. Verhuel said the government will “clearly abide by the commitments made under that understanding [between the Liberals and NDP].”

“We’ll move forward on that basis,” he said, adding that, when it comes to the provision for tabling the objectives of the negotiations, the government’s objectives are already “very clear,” but have yet not been “set out in a formal document as of yet, but that is something that could be clearly be done very quickly.”

Asked by The Hill Times what those objectives are, Global Affairs did not answer, referring to Mr. Nearing’s response.

Mr. Nearing said Canada and the U.K. continue to work together “to build on our strong trading relationship to grow our economies and benefit our people.”

“Over the past few years in preparation for Brexit, our government has actively worked with U.K. ministers and government officials to ensure a solid path forward to our two countries. Continuing our trade relationship with the U.K. remains a key priority for our government so that we preserve critical market access for Canadian businesses, producers, and exporters,” he said.

Canada is also in the midst of trade talks with Mercosur members (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) and Pacific Alliance nations (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru).

Conservative MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, Sask.), his party’s international trade critic, said he is skeptical that the Liberals will table a notice of intent to enter into formal negotiations with the United Kingdom.

“They should be honouring their agreement with the NDP, but I am not expecting them to honour it,” he said. “If they haven’t given us notice now, what makes you think they ever will give us notice?”

“Unless its embedded in legislation they can just ignore it, and it looks like that’s exactly what they are going to do,” Mr. Hoback said.

Trade official Steve Verheul said the government will comply with ‘recent commitments to inform Parliament’ before the start of trade negotiations with the United Kingdom. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

He said if the government does intend to provide notice, timing now means it likely won’t be entering into negotiations until 2021, a year after many other countries have started trade talks with the U.K.

“Instead of staying active in proceeding with negotiations when they first started and to keep those talks moving forward, now we’re at the bottom of the list and we’re waiting and waiting for everybody else to be completed before the U.K. has capacity to deal with us,” Mr Hoback said. “That’s disappointing”

He added that when the government tables its objectives, it should include which sectors are going to gain market access, as well as an assurance that the government is going to protect supply management.

Bloc Québécois MP Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay (Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, Que.), his party’s international trade critic, questioned whether the new provisions will be “fully useful.”

“Because, if the negotiations [with Britain have] started, how come we know so little about it and how come the Parliament—as during the new NAFTA—will surely be called to rubber-stamp the deal and not to study it and to modify it,” Mr. Savard-Tremblay said.

More parliamentary transparency for trade deals needed, says Bloc MP

After experiencing the way the government pushed the new NAFTA implementation bill through Parliament and the International Trade Committee, Mr. Savard-Tremblay told The Hill Times he thinks there should be a larger role for Parliamentarians in the trade negotiation process.

Conservative MP Randy Hoback says he doesn’t expect the Liberals to honour the guidelines agreed to with the NDP. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

He said, unlike U.S. lawmakers, Canadian Parliamentarians weren’t given any ability to influence the final new NAFTA.

“We are elected by the people. We have democratic legitimacy. We should have something to say,” Mr. Savard-Tremblay said.

He said both Parliamentarians and the provinces should be more involved in trade talks, adding that jurisdictional control can be modified. He said that there should be “a lot more consultation” with MPs, civil society, and business groups before Parliamentarians are asked to approve a trade deal.

Former trade negotiator Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the new provisions will bring Canada closer in line with the United States.

“It’s very much mirrored after what the USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] has to do with Congress,” Mr. Robertson said.

“This makes sense for whatever government is in power to do so, because inevitably they are going to have to provide that kind of information anyways. This way there are no surprises and there is now some rigour,” he said, adding it is particularly important for the bureaucracy so it knows what to prepare for.

International trade strategist Peter Clark, president of Grey, Clark, Shih and Associates, said Canada has a “long way to go” to match the U.S. system when it comes to trade deals, which involves calling for public submissions from stakeholders and other non-governmental groups.

In the American system, Mr. Clark said there is a far better understanding of what the issues are in a trade negotiation.

“In Canada, we’re overly secretive about these things.”

He said it is “essential” to have the government table an economic assessment at the same time it tables a trade deal’s implementation bill, saying “otherwise, the opposition is buying a pig in a poke.”

US Election

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U.S. presidential campaign likely to be ‘ugly or uglier than last time,’ and of ‘deep concern’ to Canadians, say politicos

Former Liberal foreign affairs minister and deputy prime minister John Manley says the U.S. election campaign ‘is going to be a very touchy thing for Canadian politicians to handle.’
U.S. President Donald J. Trump, pictured on July 14, 2020, at a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House. Pollster Nik Nanos says the presidential campaign will be ‘as ugly or uglier than last time because of Donald Trump’s survival instinct.’ Photograph courtesy of the White House Flickr account

With skyrocketing deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States, cases on the rise in that country, and the extension of the Canada-U.S. border closure until Aug. 21, Canadians are paying very close attention to the U.S. political situation as the presidential election campaign heats up, which some pollsters expect to be “uglier than the last time because of Donald Trump’s survival instinct.”

Pollster and president of Ekos Research Frank Graves told The Hill Times that Canadians are extremely tuned in to what’s going on down south, and that the presidential election is “an area of deep concern.”

“It seems to be definitely affecting how we’re looking at things within our own borders, but there’s a high level of anxiety of what’s going on to the south,” said Mr. Graves. “I’ve never seen Canadians so alarmed about what’s going on with our neighbours to the south, and this includes things like the Iraq War, George W. Bush, but nothing even close to the levels of concern that we see right now.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, pictured on July 15, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. Photograph courtesy of the White House Flickr 

Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau once characterized the relationship between Canada and the United States as “sleeping next to an elephant.”

“It appears that the elephant now has rabies, and that does not make a comfortable bedfellow,” said Mr. Graves. “What to do about it? It really is hard to say—I don’t think most Canadians have any confidence that Donald Trump is going to turn things around,” said Mr. Graves.

“They’re, I think, hoping and waiting for a change in government in November.”

Mr. Nanos of Nanos Research told The Hill Times that the first inclination for Canadian politicians and policy-makers should be to “stay clear” of U.S. politics.

“Right now, we’re in a very volatile situation in the United States because of the rising number of cases, the perceived lack of coordination in the response, the potential recurrence or emergence of a second wave, and from a political perspective, the best thing Canada can do is to stay clear of all of that because you don’t want Canada to be part of the narrative.”

“The best case scenario for Canada is when Americans don’t pay attention to us because that just means everything is working well,” said Mr. Nanos. “To enter into a scrap over the border, for example, basically immerses us into a hyper-partisan context in the United States where people are exceptionally polarized.”

Mr. Nanos said from a political establishment perspective, our federal party leaders should govern themselves in a way for us to stay out of the debate that’s happening in the United States—and “to not get immersed in what’s going to be a very turbulent fall for the presidential election.”

Mr. Nanos said that the presidential campaign will be “as ugly or uglier than last time because of Donald Trump’s survival instinct.”

“We have to realize that the Trump strategy has never been to get people to like him or to be popular,” said Mr. Nanos. “The Trump strategy has always been to suppress voter turnout for his opponents.”

“I don’t think that he’s going to attack Biden four months before election day—he’s going to look to smear and question the integrity of Biden in the fall,” said Mr. Nanos, who added that polling leading up to an election is a tricky time for campaigns.

“If you’re so far ahead, when the technical correction comes to your true level of support, it’s going to look like your losing support and that your opponents have momentum, when the reality is you’re just artificially ahead right now.”

The worst thing for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is to show a massive lead against Trump, because the reality is, that’s probably not his true level of support, said Mr. Nanos.

“It just happens to be how people feel today on Donald Trump,” said Mr. Nanos. “If Biden has a 10-point lead, and then the next month he has a seven point lead, and the month after that he has a five-point lead, and there will be a narrative that he is losing support.”

Social media will play a bigger role in this campaign compared to 2016, says Senator Boehm

Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario) said “in Canada, we are always very avid observers of what is happening in the U.S. electoral cycle, whether it’s midterm elections or the big one that’s coming up in November,” said Sen. Boehm.

“When I was posted in Washington, during the Gore versus Bush election, the one that was won by the hanging chad and eventually went to the Supreme Court, there’s always drama in U.S. elections in a way that we don’t seem to have by comparison,” said Sen Boehm. “There will be a lot of observation, and I think at the political level, a lot of attention not to be seen as favouring one candidate over another, just like the last time,” said Sen. Boehm.

Sen. Boehm also said he thinks social media, which Mr. Trump makes considerable use of, will play a bigger role in the campaign than it did in 2016.

“It was prevalent in 2016, and Twitter is obviously a tool that President Trump uses, and uses to his advantage, but I would say there’s always nastiness in political campaigns, but I would say that the real nastiness will be seen on social media,” said Sen. Boehm. “That’s, frankly, where it could get dangerous because you have an unprecedented situation with the pandemic, you have the racism issue which is significant, and you have some global geopolitical issues that are more prevalent than they were before—I’m speaking obviously of China, in this instance.”

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, with more than 30 years in Canada’s foreign service, told The Hill Times “we’ve never had a president like him.”

“And that’s acknowledged globally, and in normal circumstances, our entrée into the United States system is through the office of the presidency and administration,” said Mr. Robertson.

“With Trump, we’ve had to work around dealing as best as we can with secretaries, who come and go with remarkable rapidity, but that has proven to be useful and necessary, particularly during the negotiation of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreement,” said Mr. Robertson.

President Donald J. Trump boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday, July 15, 2020, to begin his trip to Atlanta. Photograph courtesy: Official White House photo by Tia Dufour

Former Liberal foreign affairs minister and deputy prime minister John Manley said the U.S. election campaign “is going to be a very touchy thing for Canadian politicians to handle.”

“There’s always a balance that you need to project on the Canada-U.S. file—on the one hand, historically, it’s always been important not to be seen to be too close to the United States. On the other hand, Canadians intuitively know they have important interests tied up, especially economic interests, many family ties, they like traveling there and going there freely,” said Mr. Manley.

When asked to predict the tenor of Mr. Trump’s campaign against Democratic nominee and former vice-president Mr. Biden, Mr. Manley said he “doesn’t think a leopard changes its spots.”

“I look at him as somebody who is incapable what’s true and what isn’t,” said Mr. Manley. “He just makes stuff up, and he defines a reality according to his own purposes, so I think he’ll continue to do that.”

“The way I see the election playing out, is that I don’t think he wins over anybody to his side that isn’t already with him, so I think it all becomes a question of who shows up to vote,” said Mr. Manley. “For the Democrats, the good thing is that Donald Trump really motivates their base.”

Political Appointees and Diplomacy

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Trudeau’s penchant for political appointees shows lack of appreciation for ambassadors’ work: former senior diplomat

By NEIL MOSS      
‘[Trudeau] neglects the fact that you need experience and competent people,’ says Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016.
Bob Rae is the second straight political appointee to hold the role of Canada’s ambassador to the UN. He will start his post on Aug. 4. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau selected another political appointee for one of Canada’s most high-profile diplomatic posts, a former senior ambassador says the prime minister fails to understand the importance of career diplomats.

Bob Rae’s appointment as the next Canadian ambassador to the UN is the latest in a series of political appointees taking the most prolific diplomatic posts in the Canadian foreign service. That list includes the appointment of Mr. Rae’s predecessor Marc-André Blanchard, Dominic Barton and former immigration minister John McCallum as ambassadors to China, former privy council clerk Janice Charette as high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Isabelle Hudon as ambassador to France, former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion as ambassador to Germany and envoy to the EU, and David MacNaughton as former ambassador to the U.S.

Former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who, during his time in the foreign service, was responsible for leading the heads of mission nomination process, said the successive selections of political appointees shows that Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) doesn’t understand foreign affairs and he doesn’t understand the importance of diplomacy.

“Diplomacy is not show business,” he said, adding that Mr. Trudeau has had an approach to appoint people who are well known. “He neglects the fact that you need experience and competent people.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques said the selection of political appointees sends a “bad message” to career diplomats, as few of the most high-profile posts can be filled by foreign service officers.

He added there are aspects of diplomacy that political appointees have not been able to do, especially those with less understanding of global governance and the geopolitical reality on the ground. He also said political appointees are unaware of the demands associated with diplomatic posts.

“Political appointees won’t be able to carry these kinds of discussions,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said. “The value of an ambassador is your capacity to network and to be a good networker you have to be knowledgable.”

He said that when picking the replacement for Mr. McCallum, he urged the government to pick a career diplomat for the Beijing post. Mr. McCallum resigned after comments he made that were out of step with the messaging of the Canadian government on the extradition hearing of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Although Mr. Rae has lots of good qualities, Mr. Saint-Jacques said he isn’t trained as a diplomat.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) said Mr. Rae has “dedicated his life to serving Canadians and has done crucial work as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar and Canada’s special envoy on humanitarian and refugee issues.”

Syrine Khoury said Mr. Rae will “continue to strengthen Canada’s presence at the UN and on the world stage,” adding that the selection of ambassadors is based on their “vast and varied experience,” and the political appointees are “highly qualified individuals who bring a unique set of skills and knowledge in line with our foreign policy objectives.”

A Liberal source told The Hill Times on background that it’s important political appointees have a wide-range of experience and skills beyond being diplomats, citing Mr. Blanchard’s work in the private sector being helpful at the UN on developmental funding.

The source said it is important to have vast experience, including backgrounds in politics and business, in order to send countries around the world a message that diplomacy is important to Canada.

The use of political appointees for diplomatic posts has been a tradition in Canadian diplomacy which intensified under former prime minister Brian Mulroney and continued with successive governments. Past prime minister Stephen Harper raised eyebrows for appointing Toronto lawyer Vivian Bercovici as ambassador to Israel, Bruno Saccomani—who previously was the head of his RCMP security detail—as envoy to Jordan, former House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers as ambassador to Ireland, and defeated former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon as envoy to France.

Mr. Trudeau selected Kirsten Hillman, a career diplomat, as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. She is the first career diplomat in the post since Michael Kergin held the role from 2000 to 2005.

Former diplomat Gilles Rivard, president of the Retired Heads of Mission Association, said when a political appointee gets a top job, there is always a question if a career diplomat would be better suited to handle the post.

But in the case of Mr. Rae, he said, he already has some experience on the world stage in his special envoy roles. Mr. Rae was a former NDP premier of Ontario and the interim federal Liberal leader from 2011 to 2013.

Mr. Rivard, a former deputy permanent representative to the UN and ambassador to Haiti, said the danger of selecting political appointees is seen in the case of Mr. McCallum.

He said more and more political appointees will be discouraging for those in the foreign service who want to hold those positions.

“It’s obvious that it affects the morale of people,” he said.

The head of the union representing foreign service officers said there is a recognition that it is the government’s prerogative to appoint the people it wants.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said there is a recognition that there are political appointees that bring a distinct set of skills to some appointments like the ambassador to the U.S. and the UN, noting there is a close co-operation with the foreign service.

Ms. Isfeld said the concern is when political appointees are selected to lead much smaller missions.

“The person then starts to have less of a support staff to help them,” she said, adding that in general the existing professional foreign service should be the “first port of call” when looking to fill diplomatic posts.

The appointment of Mr. Rae, Ms. Isfeld said, carries on the acceptable tradition of political appointees and has a lot of support within PAFSO.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, a past PAFSO president, said there are cases where a political appointee makes the most sense, adding that in Washington, D.C., having a political appointee in the role gave Canada greater access.

Although Mr. Harper appointed career diplomats to the UN post, Mr. Robertson said the appointments of Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Rae shows the added emphasis that Mr. Trudeau places on the UN, adding that sending his Mr. Rae to New York City shows that Canada is still “quite serious” about the UN despite the unsuccessful Security Council election.


Canadian International Council president Ben Rowswell, a former Canadian ambassador to Venezuela, said in email that the disadvantage in appointing career diplomats is that the foreign service generates “uniformity in thinking.”

“The best ambassadors are independent thinkers who can speak directly to a prime minister and influence his decisions,” he said, adding that is why Mr. Rae is the “best person” for the UN job.

“He has more than 20 years of work in international affairs on issues ranging from terrorism, federalism, and human rights—but importantly, he led this work as an independent actor, coming up with his own judgements on the application of Canada’s interests. That makes his perspective even more valuable than someone who has been in the system for decades.”

He added that the foreign service needs a change to reward “innovation and new thinking.”

Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie (Calgary Midnapore, Alta.), who served as Canada’s chargée d’affaires in El Salvador and was a policy adviser to then-minister of state for Foreign Affairs for the Americas Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), said there are “pros and cons” for both the selection of political appointees and career diplomats.

“You can get good people out of both systems, and you can get bad people out of both systems,” she said.

She said while political appointees don’t always know the practices of the foreign service, they do know government policies in depth and know the prime minister and foreign affairs minister.

In her time in the foreign service, Ms. Kusie said she saw the same high-level people being recycled over again for various heads of missions.

“It’s frustrating and demoralizing for lower people that want the opportunity to serve at a higher capacity,” she said, adding that another issue is the tight rules that diplomats are restricted to in creating policy and speaking to the media.

“The golden ticket isn’t always foreign service officers, because in a way it is its own political party, promoting the same people,” Ms. Kusie said. “It’s good to have a healthy mixture of both as long as they are intelligent, [have] good judgement, and are courageous to implement the political ideology, but tactful in doing that.”

Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario), a former career diplomat who served as ambassador to Germany and was Mr. Trudeau’s G7 sherpa, said the selection of political appointees is cyclical.

“If you want to have a head of mission who is plugged in to the centre to the PMO and the PCO, you’ll go with a political appointee if it makes sense to do so,” he said.

He said the Canadian system is nothing compared to the one the U.S. has, where a large number of its ambassadors around the world are large political donors.

Sen. Boehm said Mr. Rae is “cut out” for multilateral work, adding that some on the political side have that capability, comparing him to past UN ambassador and former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis.