About Colin Robertson

A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is a Senior Advisor to Dentons LLP living in Ottawa, Canada and working with the Business Council of Canada. He is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Executive Fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. He is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. He is chair of the board of Canada World Youth. He is a member of the board of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute and the advisory board of the North  American Research Partnership. He is a past president of the National Capital Branch of the Canadian International Council. He is an Honorary Captain (Royal Canadian Navy) assigned to the Strategic Communications Directorate. He writes a column every two weeks on foreign affairs for  the Globe and Mail and he is a regular contributor to other media.

Colin can be reached by email at cr@colinrobertson.ca

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Rethinking International Assistance


How Canada should rethink international assistance

The Globe and Mail Thursday, May 26, 2016

As the federal government rethinks its international assistance policies, it should heed the call from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for transformative change to global humanitarian relief.

This week’s Istanbul humanitarian conference has put the spotlight on the current state of the global relief system and the effort to reform how the world responds to humanitarian crises.

Disasters, natural or man-made, are increasing. So is the number of conflicts as well as failed and failing states. And the current system of international aid is underfunded and overstretched. The UN estimates that 125 million people need humanitarian relief. The need for smarter relief and development assistance is urgent and immediate. Rethinking our international assistance is timely and sensible.

Officials at the Istanbul conference pointed to the breakdown of international norms on asylum, the need to localize aid and frictions between those who provide relief and those who do not. The conference will provide some much-needed context for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Group of Seven leaders, who are looking at aid accountability as part of their broader summit discussions this week in Ise-Shima, Japan.

While the UN is often criticized as nothing more than a talk shop, in recent months it has concluded a global climate accord and set new sustainable development goals – all of which will factor into Canada’s assistance review. The review, running from May to July, promises broad consultation with planned events around governance, pluralism, diversity and human rights as well as peace and security.

The future direction of Canadian assistance is clearly stated in the government’s discussion guide. International assistance is to advance the UN 2030 Sustainable Development agenda while applying “a feminist lens” to help “the poorest and most vulnerable people.” But to expect more money would be “unrealistic … in the current fiscal context.”

While the overall direction has yet to be determined, the differences between the previous Conservative government’s approach – an emphasis on environmental sustainability, gender equality and governance – are likely to be more tonal than substantive.

Nor is former prime minister Stephen Harper’s framework – with its emphasis on untied aid and a selective country focus – likely to change. The Liberal government has also decided, wisely, to maintain the consolidation of diplomacy, trade and development.

Much of Mr. Harper’s signature program, to improve maternal, newborn and child health, also fits into the Liberal paradigm. The government will continue supporting this initiative, but with more support for family planning and greater attention to the root causes of maternal and child mortality.

The success of the government’s development review will hinge on a number of factors.

First, investing more money. Canada currently sits in the bottom half of the members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development when it comes to development assistance. While the Liberal government is right to oppose “throwing buckets of money indiscriminately,” more money, well-spent, makes more impact.

As a recent report assessing Canada’s engagement gap put it, we meet the definition of “free riders” when it comes to development and defence. If Britain can devote 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product to development assistance and 2 per cent to defence (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization standard), shouldn’t we at least aspire to this goal?

Second, Mr. Harper was right when he underlined the importance of accountability in development. But let’s do it with a lighter touch, practise risk management and recognize that civil society organizations (CSOs) need multiyear commitments to demonstrate results. Governments insist that CSOs bring their overhead down, yet they drown them in paperwork.

Third, we can’t boil the ocean so we need to focus. Our projects will always reflect our values, but there is nothing wrong with choosing those that also complement our trade and investment interests. In Africa, for example, our development assistance should work in tandem with our resource industries’ investment to demonstrate best-in-class corporate social responsibility.

Fourth, we need to improve and develop Canadian expertise by investing in Canadian CSOs and in youth exchanges. Programs like Canada World Youth gave generations of Canadians their first international experience while giving their foreign counterparts an appreciation of Canada that has opened doors in diplomacy, trade, education and migration.

Finally, donors – especially in the West – are fatigued and skeptical about aid’s effectiveness. The Liberal government should use these consultations to reassure Canadians about the efficacy of development assistance.

On Ambassador Kevin Vickers ‘unorthodox’ intervention

CTV National interview with Omar Sachedina


Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 11.20.56 AM

G7 in Japan

Canada and Japan talk trade in lead up to G7 summit


The Globe and Mail  Sunday, May 22, 2016 10:05PM EDT

Justin Trudeau arrives in Japan on Monday for a week of talks ending in a G7 summit that is darkened by stalled trade agreements, a rising tide of insurgent populism and the possibility that a President Donald J. Trump could attend next year.

The ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement may not make it through the U.S. Congress; both Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump, the likely Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, spout protectionist rhetoric; Britain votes June 23 in a referendum on whether to leave the European Union (called “Brexit”); and political turmoil in Europe threatens the future of the EU itself.

“The returns on trade have not been translated onto the dining room table,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Coupled with the uncertain recovery from the financial crisis of 2008-09, this has led, he believes, to a growing mood in both the United States and Europe that’s “anti-trade, anti-immigration, anti-big business, anti-establishment.”

Despite this, both Canada and Japan would like to reinvigorate their flagging trading relationship. Japan, once Canada’s second-largest trading partner, is now fifth. The two countries began free-trade negotiations in 2012, but put those talks on hold when they joined the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership talks that included the United States and a raft of Pacific nations.

Now all parties are holding their breath to see whether the U.S. Congress will ratify the TPP, as it’s known, since both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump say they oppose it. At the same time, populist politicians in both the United States (Mr. Trump on the right and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the left) and in Europe threaten the existing order.

In Austria’s presidential election on Sunday, the candidate supported by the Greens and the candidate of the extreme right-wing Freedom Party each took half the vote, with no clear winner apparent. Nativist, nationalist, populist parties are on the rise from Poland to France.

“You’ve got an awful lot of unhappy, angry people out there,” noted John Manley, head of the Business Council of Canada. “All they know is that things haven’t gotten better for them and they’re not sure why, but trade is a pretty convenient target.”

Against this backdrop, Mr. Trudeau will be offering a message of hope at the G7: that sustained government spending, such as the Liberals’ 10-year, $120-billion infrastructure plan, can revive both growth and confidence. It’s a 180-degree turn from what Canada was saying under the austerity-minded leadership of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

“I don’t think anything has changed to make the Canadian voice any more or less powerful today,” said Rohinton Medhora, president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont. “What matters is what the Germans think in Europe, what the Americans think about these issues.”

But if Canada does not have much influence in the global debate over trade, it does have an enormous stake in the outcome. The Canadian economy depends on trade, so any reversal of the decades-old trend toward ever-freer trade puts Canadian jobs and Canadian prosperity at risk.

Mr. Manley said he believes there could also be opportunities. If the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement fails to be ratified, he is urging Mr. Trudeau to renew trade talks with Japan. “Canada has a rather unique opportunity to be a hub, rather than just one of the spokes,” he said, able to market itself as a conduit to both American and European markets.

All the more reason, Mr. Robertson urges, for Mr. Trudeau and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland to hie themselves to Europe sooner rather than later to nail down ratification of the Canada-EU free-trade agreement.

G7 leaders are painfully aware that, should Donald Trump become U.S. president, the global order would be under enormous strain. Not only is Mr. Trump vehemently opposed to the TPP (and to the North American free-trade agreement), he is threatening to launch a trade war with China and has mooted withdrawing the American security umbrella protecting Japan and South Korea.

But Mr. Medhora remains hopeful. If the British vote to stay in Europe and the Americans elect Hillary Clinton, he observes, then the established order will remain largely intact. “A lot depends on what happens with Brexit and the U.S. elections.”

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On Deputy Minister Daniel Jean

Global Affairs DM to bring expertise to national security

Daniel Jean with former foreign affairs minister John Baird, as he oversaw the merger of DFATD in 2013. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia


PUBLISHED : Wednesday, May 11, 2016 12:00 AM

Last week’s shuffle of deputy ministers included some “very rare” moves, say insiders.

Spurred by the retirement announcement of National Security Adviser Richard Fadden in late March, deputy ministers in several departments were moved around to fill the space, including Foreign Affairs DM Daniel Jean moving to fill Fadden’s role, and Ian Shugart, current DM of employment and social development, to fill Mr. Jean’s shoes.

The prime minister’s recent shuffle of deputy ministers could suggest an emphasis on international affairs when it comes to national security.

When asked if he thought moving Mr. Jean to national security was indicative of the government’s emphasis on national security threats abroad, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said, “you could say that,” before stressing that Global Affairs also deals with national security.

Mr. Dion said Mr. Jean had been responsible for the fusion of departments at Global Affairs. “It was a huge task,” he said. “He’s a great manager, as it should be.”

In 2013, the Conservative government merged the Canadian International Development Agency with the foreign affairs department, which then became known as DFATD. Mr. Jean was brought on as DM in November 2013, months after the announcement was made that the foreign ministry would absorb CIDA.

Andrew Caddell, a senior policy adviser at Global Affairs, told The Hill Times that Mr. Jean is a meticulous and friendly manager, who is hugely invested in the skills of his team.

“Daniel Jean was one of the few deputies who really did identify with the regular foreign service officers and a lot of that was because he’d been on a few postings himself,” said Mr. Caddell.

He described Mr. Jean as a personable leader, who would often hold meetings over coffee, and be very prompt in getting back to people.

“He was the type of guy who’d go down to the cafeteria when he first started and I think subsequently too, and he would just go and sit at a table and chat with people.”

Calling Mr. Jean a reliable listener and a straightforward person, Mr. Caddell had nothing but good things to say about the future national security adviser.

“He was very, very frank about what the situation with the department was, what his objectives were, what his priorities were, and he’s a very, very good listener and took notes and was very quick to respond, and I think that was a sign of his sort of leadership.”

Mr. Dion said he’s not surprised that the prime minister wants Mr. Jean close by. He also stressed that Mr. Jean had gained valuable experience in security during his time at Global Affairs.

“At Foreign Affairs, we have a lot of responsibilities regarding security. A lot of the information received is completely secret and very touchy and we work very closely with the PCO and with [Public Safety Minister Ralph] Goodale’s office and department, and in defence. So the years that he has been in foreign affairs, he has [this expertise],” Mr. Dion told reporters after a committee meeting last week.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and current fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, wrote in an email that Mr. Jean is “a very experienced public servant who has never lost a sense of proportion.”

The two served together in Hong Kong during what was “a very intense time” Mr. Robertson said. The pair were so close that Mr. Jean even taught Mr. Robertson’s daughter how to swim. “He is a very good sportsman,” Mr. Robertson said.

At the time, Mr. Jean was responsible for directing the entrepreneurial immigration program. Mr. Robertson said he was “renowned” for getting to work at six in the morning in order to be able to leave in time for dinner with his family.

Mr. Robertson said that “despite the pressures” of their time in Hong Kong, “the program got high marks for its efficiency, satisfied clients and the good morale of those who worked with him.”

Mr. Caddell said “it’s very rare for a deputy of foreign affairs to become the head [national security adviser].”

The last person to do so was Marie-Lucie Morin, who served as associate deputy minister of foreign affairs from 2003 to 2006, then deputy minister of international trade from 2006 to 2008, before being appointed national security adviser to the PM in November, 2008.

“I think that’s a sign of how much the prime minister values his advice, and how he’s perceived at PMO and PCO for him to make that kind of a leap,” Mr. Caddell said.

Mr. Fadden told The Globe and Mail in a Q&A last month that he thinks Mr. Trudeau “comes to office with a very strongly-held view that national security is a core responsibility of the prime minister.”

Mr. Shugart, who will be taking Mr. Jean’s place, has a varied background that appears to be based largely in health. In the mid-90’s, Mr. Shugart was the executive director of the Medical Research Council, now called the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In the early 2000s, he served as assistant deputy minister in the health policy branch of Health Canada. After that, his focus shifted to have an emphasis on the environment, as he served as the associate deputy minister and then the deputy minister at Environment Canada.

His current position, which he has held since 2010, is deputy minister of employment and social development.

Mr. Dion said he does not know Mr. Shugart, but has been assured by Mr. Jean and Mr. Shugart’s current minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, that he will make a great replacement.

“I have heard only positive things. And perhaps it will not [do to] give one of the most demanding jobs you could imagine to someone who they would not have full confidence. It’s a recommendation of the clerk. The clerk knows that his reputation is directly linked to the quality of the person he will appoint at Foreign Affairs, at Global Affairs. It’s the deputy not only for me, but it’s the top deputy of Global Affairs. For Madame [Chrystia] Freeland and Madame [Marie-Claude] Bibeau as well,” he said, referring to the ministers of international trade and international development, respectively.
The changes go into effect on May 16.

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Brexit and Federalism


It’s time Canada spoke out to help save Europe’s grand federalism experiment


The Globe and Mail Tuesday, May 10, 2016

As friends, allies and fellow federalists, Canada has a vested interest in the continued success of the European experiment in integration.

Aside from our deep European roots – our people and inherited institutions – we have our own interests in ensuring the European Union remains strong and united.

More than a third of Canadians claim origins from the British Isles. Then there are the more than 100,000 Canadians who died in Europe during two world wars so that that continent would be free. The EU is our second-largest trading partner and we are closing with them on the most advanced trade deal of our time.

But Europe’s grand experiment in democratic federalism is facing multiple crises – a profound cross-cutting of divisions splitting north and south, east and west. These forces are the result of what former Canadian diplomat Jeremy Kinsman has described as the “perfect storm.”

The catalogue of woes is many. There is the ongoing euro-crisis as Greece approaches yet another inflection point; there is Russian revanchism (Will the Europeans hang tough, and together, in their Minsk II sanctions regime?); there is the refugee influx and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deal with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan. (Critics, unfairly, say it gives visa-free access to 75 million Turks in exchange for hosting a million Syrian refugees.)

Even the Canada-Europe free-trade deal is under threat, battered by European critics who want to scuttle it as the surrogate for the EU-U.S. trade negotiations. It’s clear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should lead a Team Canada mission, along with Canadian premiers, to Europe to make the political case for the deal.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the Brexit vote – the June 23 referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union.

Those who back the status quo say the debate is already hurting the British economy, while those who would leave argue that the country’s economy is being held back by the overly bureaucratic EU. What’s clear is that a British departure from the EU is sure to spur another, likely successful, Scottish separatist vote. It would also embolden Euro-skeptic voices on the continent.

For Canadian leadership to watch this European storm in silence and equanimity is both foolish and mistaken.

During his recent visit to Europe, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke out vigorously in defence of European integration, telling Britons: “[A]s your friend, let me say that the EU makes Britain even greater.” Mr. Obama also warned Britons that dreams of a transatlantic trade deal with the United States to compensate for Brexit was “not going to happen any time soon.”

To the outrage of the Brexiters, Mr. Obama’s outspoken visit had the desired impact, with betting on Brexit dropping 10 points.

Now it’s our turn. It is time for Canadian friends of the United Kingdom within the European Union to speak out. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should share the Canadian experience with federalism.

He can start with Pierre Trudeau’s collected works. Trudeau the elder famously defined federalism this way: “Federalism has all along been a product of reason in politics … it is an attempt to find a rational compromise between the divergent interest-groups which history has thrown together; but it is a compromise based on the will of the people.”

In one of his first speeches, to mark the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion spoke eloquently and without notes on federalism. That speech should be reprised.

Mr. Trudeau could also draw from a speech by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, given at the encouragement of then-prime minister Jean Chrétien, at Mont Tremblant in October, 1999. Mr. Clinton cast aside his prepared notes, telling his audience that “without pretending we can cut all the cords that bind us to the rest of humanity, I think more and more and more people will say, you know, this federalism, it’s not such a bad idea.”

Canadian federalism is in perpetual evolution. Our provinces serve as incubators of variations on medicare and now carbon pricing, while the federal government stays focused on big national projects such as cross-Canada rail, roads and soon, we hope, new pipelines that will also supply energy to Europe.

There is a malaise across the Western world of which the current European storms are one manifestation. There is a doubting of political representation (especially traditional political elites) and a reshuffling of political systems. Our interdependence is amplifying that anxiety.

Western liberalism, of which federalism is an increasingly core component, is a powerful and hardy model. But it needs regularly to be renewed and reformed with fresh ideas. Canadian leadership must not be shy about speaking to our experience and continuing faith in federalism.

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Three Amigos Summit

Justin Trudeau rolling out the Liberal red carpet for Mexico and U.S. presidents

Barack Obama will address Parliament, Enrique Pena Nieto gets state dinner with Mexican art

By Chris Hall, CBC News Posted: May 05, 2016 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: May 05, 2016 12:28 PM ET

U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, left, will attend the so-called Three Amigos summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa at the end of June.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, left, will attend the so-called Three Amigos summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa at the end of June. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

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Justin Trudeau came to office promising to restore Canada’s relations with its North American neighbours. If dinner and speaking invitations are your measure well, then he’s off to a great start.

Trudeau will play host in the final week of June to U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto at the first gathering of the so-called Three Amigos to be held in Canada in nearly a decade.

This shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s Canada’s turn after all.

But the leaders were supposed to have gathered here last year. Instead, former prime minister Stephen Harper postponed the summit amid disputes with the U.S. over the now-rejected Keystone XL pipeline, and with Mexico over his government’s decision to require all Mexicans to have a visa to travel to Canada.

Harper knew there was no recipe for success if the summit went ahead.

Pena Nieto, in particular, already cancelled a 2015 visit with a delegation of business leaders in protest against the visa requirement. It was unlikely he would even have come if invited. But he is now, in large part because Trudeau has promised to lift the requirement.

Dinner and a speech

And the summit isn’t really the main political event when the three leaders arrive in Ottawa next month.

The prime minister has also invited Obama to address Parliament, an invitation he extended when the president feted him in Washington two months ago.

And, not to play favorites, Pena Nieto will be in Ottawa ahead of the summit for a state visit of his own. It includes a formal dinner hosted by the prime minister at the National Gallery of Canada where a special exhibit of Mexican art is planned.

So. A summit. An address to Parliament. A gala dinner.  Amigos de nuevo. Friends again. Even if friendship only goes so far in politics.

‘Dirty words’

The real measure of the relationship, as always, is what gets done.

“I think they need to make a new commitment to North America,”  Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, DC, said Wednesday on the podcast edition of CBC Radio’s The House.

“If you listen to any of the U.S. election coverage right now: North American trade. Immigration. Canada. Mexico. These are all dirty words in the campaign.”

Just listen to Donald Trump. He’ll build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and make the Mexicans pay for it if elected president. He’ll rip up NAFTA.

It’s the kind of rhetoric that grabs headlines and dominates political talk shows. Breaking through with discussions of harmonizing regulations or reducing trade barriers are hardly the tools to do it.

Midweek pod: return of the Three Amigos


A legacy address

“Trump is going to be the elephant in the room,” says former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson.

“Part of what this exercise is going to be about at the end of June, is to shore up and provide insulation for both the Canadians and Mexicans against what might come, and to take full advantage of Obama’s desire for a legacy which includes North America.”

Obama US Canada

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Prime Minister Justin shake hands following the conclusion of a joint news conference March 10 at the White House. The two leaders asked officials to report back within 100 days on how to address the softwood lumber issue. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Obama, no doubt, will say all the right things in his Parliamentary address about Trudeau’s shared commitment to address climate change. He’ll pledge to continue to work cooperatively on border security and harmonizing government regulations. But there’s no escaping that his time in office is rapidly running out. His ability to get any new initiatives through Congress, may already have.

For example, softwood lumber. Obama and Trudeau gave their senior trade officials until June 12 to work out a way to prevent another trade war over softwood lumber. Sources say a solution is unlikely.

Ditto on efforts to update NAFTA to reflect new trading realities.

Mexican travellers looking for reprieve

Trudeau takes a sunnier view.

“One of the things any U.S. president and Canadian PM will always agree on is the need to create economic growth and prosperity for our citizens,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “We all know that trade is an important part of creating that.”

Fair enough, but both Robertson and Dawson believe the real opportunities in June rest with Mexico, at least in the short-term as Americans choose a new president.

The first step is to address the visa requirement imposed in 2009 by the Harper government after a spike in refugee claimants arriving from Mexico.

That will take time. As an interim, Dawson expects Canada to accept Mexican travellers who hold a U.S. visa, and for Canada to include Mexico among the first countries to qualify for the Electronic Travel Authorization introduced in March for visa-exempt travellers arriving in Canada.

But Robertson says there’s much more that can be done without the U.S..

“We should go and recruit 500,000 Mexican students to Canadian universities. Mexico has a middle-class population of 40 million. They’ve got students looking for places. Why not bring them to Canada? We’ve got university capacity. That would make a profound difference in the Canada/Mexico relationship.”

It’s one of a number of measures where progress can be made in the North American relationship, especially when the biggest of the Three Amigos is pre-occupied at home.

Wednesday May 04, 2016

Return of the Three Amigo

Then, after more than two and a half years, the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico will convene next month in Ottawa for a summit.

So what does the return of the Three Amigos mean for the state of the North American relationship?

“It’s tremendously significant,” says Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

“I think this is a new commitment from Canada to the whole North American project.”

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson agrees, telling Chris Hall the upcoming summit is a signal that Canada is back in the game in North America.

“We’ve been a dog in the manger on the North American side — it’s been really Mexico and the United States, and we’ve been sor tof an unwilling partner,” Robertson says.

“Certainly the Mexicans see in Mr. Trudeau someone who understands the broad concept of the Americas, but now we have to deliver and that’s what [the meeting] is all about.”

Both Dawson and Robertson share their insights into the trilateral relationship and their hopes for what the summit will achieve, including a North American climate framework and a boost to Canada-Mexico relations — no matter who occupies the Oval Office after the U.S. presidential election.

“We need to encourage Canada and Mexico to align together on many, many more issues,” Dawson says. “Canada and Mexico have not had a united front. Canadians and Mexicans need to speak much more about what their common objectives are in North America.”

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Arms Sales


Three lessons to draw from the Saudi arms deal controversy

The Globe and Mail, Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

All arms sales are controversial, but when the buyer is a country with a human-rights record like Saudi Arabia’s and the deal is worth billions, the public scrutiny rightfully reaches a new level.

Such is the case for the Trudeau government, where critics have openly questioned the morality of Canada’s $15-billion deal to sell light armoured vehicles, known as LAVs, to Saudi Arabia.

The respective handling of the deal by the Harper and Trudeau governments illustrates their differences in governing style – and sheds considerable light on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s reintroduction of ministerial accountability in government.

While Mr. Trudeau has fielded questions publicly, the file clearly belongs to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion. In contrast, during the 2015 federal election, Stephen Harper characterized the deal as a sale of “transport vehicles” and the file was handled largely through his office.

When it comes to global arms sales, Canada is not a big player. That status goes to the United States, Russia, Germany, China and France. These countries accounted for most of the estimated $400-billion (U.S) in global arms sales in 2014. In terms of company sales, the leaders are U.S.-based Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. Both companies supply and source from Canada, underlining the deeply integrated supply chain nature of Canada’s defence industries.

Canada sold just more than $12.5-billion (U.S.) in arms worldwide since 1950. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, after the United States, our next biggest customers are, in U.S. dollars: Saudi Arabia ($740-million); Botswana ($555-million); Turkey ($482-million); Belgium ($386-million) and Australia ($332-million).

But the $15-billion deal with Saudi Arabia represents Canada’s biggest arms sale ever – and it is the Trudeau government’s first real brush with a foreign-policy controversy.

The bumpy ride has left a few bruises, but there are also some cogent lessons to draw from the controversy.

First, include an examination of arms-sales policies in the current defence review. These policies need to be scrutinized to restore public confidence.

Second, move on the promised signature of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. This will oblige regular arms-sale reporting. The last of the three Harper government reviews covered the years 2012-13.

Third, publish the human-rights reviews of all countries Canada is currently selling arms to. The U.S. State Department uses their reports to encourage better global governance. We should do the same.

Democracies around the world have developed elaborate procedures for arms sales including restrictions on the transfer of technology and re-sales, as well as considerations around the human-rights record of the buying nation. Saudi Arabia is regularly ranked among the worst of the worst in terms of human rights by Freedom House.

Canada first instituted arms-sales permit policies during the Spanish Civil War. The last major review of this policy took place in 1986 during the Mulroney government. It instituted a country control list and regular reporting on arms sales. In 1997, The Chrétien government reinforced the permit process by requiring a “rigorous analysis” of security and human-rights criteria.

In a statement justifying the Saudi deal, Mr. Dion describes Riyadh as a “strategic partner” and says Canadian credibility is at stake. So are the jobs of 70,000 Canadians, including veterans, employed in our arms industry. The better levers to mitigate human rights in Saudi Arabia, argues Mr. Dion, include the experience of the 16,000 Saudi students in Canadian universities.

The Saudi deal is an early illustration of what Mr. Dion calls “responsible conviction,” the principle that will guide his foreign-affairs stewardship. The awkwardly wonky phrase, drawing from German sociologist Max Weber, is authentically Dion. In terms of applied foreign-policy direction, Mr. Dion says this includes action on climate change; clemency on capital punishment; and advocacy for human rights, including sexual and reproductive health rights.

The Saudi deal reflects the pragmatism of responsible conviction. We would like to live in a world without weapons, argues Mr. Dion, but we do not. The sale of these armoured vehicles means jobs for Canadians and, for Mr. Dion, that’s responsible decision-making.

It’s also a useful reminder that, in foreign policy, the choices are not black and white, but shades of grey.

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Staffing the Foreign Minister’s Office

The people behind foreign policy: A look inside the foreign minister’s office
Former diplomat says ‘first-rate people’ are working for Stéphane Dion.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion walks down to the House of Commons chamber with his press secretary, Chantal Gagnon, on budget day, March 22. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright


PUBLISHED : Wednesday, April 27, 2016 12:00 AM

Political staffers, no matter their ambition, don’t always get a chance to shape events outside the walls of Parliament.

In the case of those hand-picked to work for Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent, Que.) that’s exactly what they’ve been hired to do. A new government invariably wants to project a new image of Canada to the world. Not just anyone can—or should—be trusted to paint that picture.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, personally knows a few of the people working in Mr. Dion’s office, including Christopher Berzins, director of policy, and Jocelyn Coulon, senior policy adviser.

Mr. Robertson said he’s impressed with how the new Liberal government has been hiring “first-rate people.”

“They’ve recruited people based on subject matter expertise and ability to get on,” he said. Getting along is important when you’re working with an administration that touts government by cabinet, he said. Inter-departmental relations are important, but so are a ministerial office’s relationships with civil servants—the people actually implementing the policies government decides on.

“One thing this government, I think, does want to do differently is I think they want to work well with the civil service,” Mr. Robertson said. The ministerial mandate letters handed out by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted ministers—including Mr. Dion—should engage in “meaningful engagement” with public servants, something they accused the previous Conservative government of doing poorly.

Mr. Dion was named a cabinet minister right off the bat when he became an MP in 1996, serving as intergovernmental affairs minister under Jean Chrétien and later as environment minister under Paul Martin, before his stint as Liberal Party leader from 2006 to 2008. Ergo: he is no stranger to staffing offices on the Hill. He seems to be hiring from a more pragmatic standpoint, Mr. Robertson said, something that could be attributed to his previous academic background.

“The people I have met have been hired probably less for their political conviction than for their policy smarts. Which I think is a good thing. In that sense I think this will be a much less ideological government than the last one.”

Take Julian Ovens, for instance, Mr. Dion’s chief of staff.

Mr. Ovens comes from a mining background, having spent 14 years in the industry. He worked for Canadian mining company Alcan before moving to BHP Billiton, where he stayed until November 2015 before moving into the minister’s office, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mr. Robertson said that experience is relevant for the business side of foreign affairs. “I think that probably gives him a highly practical sense of ultimately one of the goals of foreign policy, which is to protect Canadians and advance the national interest. You advance the national interest by generating opportunities for us to do business,” he said.

Canadian mining and international business go hand in hand, of course. Mr. Ovens previously told The Hill Times that he had travelled to more than 60 countries in his life. His work in the mining industry took him abroad to Paris, London, and Singapore, as well as all over Canada.

Mr. Dion has also recruited several serious academics to work with him in advancing Canada’s international agenda.

Pascale Massot, for instance, is a policy adviser who recently completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia in comparative politics and international relations, with a focus on political economy and Chinese politics. Her supervisor, Yves Tiberghien, had nothing but glowing things to say about her, raving that she was “really the complete deal.” He said she’s a “very thoughtful, deep thinker,” good at rationally assessing situations and “very savvy in terms of human relations, social issues, and policy issues.”

Mr. Tiberghien said he’s not surprised in the slightest that she was recruited by the minister’s office because she really has the eye and the interest for policy.

“Pascale is not at all your typical academic,” he said.

Mr. Robertson said as much about Mr. Dion himself. “I remember briefing him and he was extremely rigorous. He came in looking like a bit of a student, he had his backpack on and the rest, but when we sat down it was like doing the defence of your thesis.”

Jocelyn Coulon, Dion’s senior policy adviser, was recruited with a specific emphasis on peace operations—“which is of course one of the things that the new government wants Canada to get back involved in,” Mr. Robertson said. Mr. Coulon also served on Mr. Trudeau’s International Council of Advisors, set up in December 2014 ahead of last year’s federal election campaign.

Mr. Coulon was in the media recently for penning an op-ed in La Presse about the government’s controversial arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

“Let’s not be naive. The Saudi and Iranian regimes are two dictatorships—the first decapitates women accused of murder and the other stones them for adultery,” he wrote in a column published Jan. 10.

Six weeks after that, Mr. Coulon was hired to the department. Despite Mr. Coulon’s previously-stated opinions, it wasn’t long after that that Mr. Dion took essential steps in finalizing the deal.

In April, Mr. Dion signed permits allowing $15 billion in light armoured vehicles to be exported to Saudi Arabia. Though the contract itself was signed by the previous government, Mr. Dion’s office came under criticism for implying there was no turning back—and for only releasing the export permits publicly when a lawsuit required the department to do so.

Mr. Robertson said, “Anybody who joins government knows that, ultimately, government is about compromise. And if you’re that uncomfortable, then you resign or you don’t take the job.”

Other policy advisers in Mr. Dion’s office include Jean Boutet, who was with Mr. Dion when he was environment minister. After the 2006 election bumped the Liberals into opposition status, Mr. Boutet worked at the environment department before returning to Mr. Dion’s office.

Joseph Pickerill is Mr. Dion’s director of communications. Most recently, he worked as communications director for the Centre for International Governance Innovation. He was only there for about three months before being approached by the minister’s office. Tammy Bender worked under him at CIGI, and said he was an admirable leader and an “extremely effective communicator.” He was incredibly well-liked there and they were sad to see him go, she said.

Dahlia Stein is Mr. Dion’s director of operations and also comes from an academic background. From Calgary, Alta., she used to work as a senior policy adviser for Health Canada. According to her Facebook profile, she studied the economics of climate change at the University of Cambridge.

Rounding out the top staffers in the office, Jamie Innes is Mr. Dion’s director of parliamentary affairs, and is the only one in the office with a strictly political background, having made his way up through the Liberal Party of Canada.

Chantal Gagnon serves as Mr. Dion’s press secretary.

Mr. Robertson told The Hill Times that Global Affairs Canada has approached him for advice on staffers who might have good expertise on both the Americas and the Middle East, as they are still looking.

The Hill Times
Canada welcomes new top diplomats; Dion hiring

Governor General David Johnston receives a letter of credence from High Commissioner Clarissa Sabita Riehl of Guyana. Rideau Hall photograph by Vincent Carbonneau


PUBLISHED : Wednesday, May 4, 2016 12:00 AM

Canada welcomed three new heads of mission on April 26 when they formally presented their letters of credence to Governor General David Johnston.

Clarissa Sabita Riehl, the new high commissioner for the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, succeeded Harry Narine Nawbatt.

Ms. Riehl was the one of the first female military officers in Guyana when she joined in 1966, the same year Guyana achieved independence. She eventually entered the political world in 1992, when she was became a member of the People’s National Congress, and also served as deputy speaker for 14 years.

The other two heads of mission are posted in the United States, but will serve Canada from there. Hassana Alidou will be the new ambassador of the Republic of Niger. She presented her credentials to U.S. President Barack Obama on Feb. 23. Her background is in education, with a specific emphasis on educating African children in their native language rather than colonial English or French.

The third head of mission, Elisenda Vives Balmaῆa, is the new ambassador of Andorra. She holds six degrees, including two postgraduate degrees in law and comparative politics and a PhD in history and a master’s in gender differences. She speaks four languages: Catalan, Spanish, English and French. Previously, she was posted to UNESCO as the president of the Andorran National Commission and as the permanent representative of Andorra to the United Nations. She is posted to New York, N.Y.
Dion looking for new policy adviser

Minister Stéphane Dion’s office is apparently looking for a new policy adviser.

Former Canadian diplomat and current Global Affairs Institute fellow Colin Robertson told The Hill Times that he was approached by director of policy Christopher Berzins about possible suggestions for people who might be knowledgeable about the Middle East and/or the Americas.

“Because we have extensive networks through our fellows, and they’re looking for someone with specific research skills, so that’s why…They just asked if I knew anybody,” he said.

He said he thinks they’re looking for “various positions,” and that the areas they inquired about included Latin America and the Middle East.

He said he just spoke to the policy director as recently as two weeks ago.

Joseph Pickerill, Mr. Dion’s communications director, said in an email, “All I can say at this point is that we’re always looking for good people to cover policy in both geographic and thematic areas but we do not elaborate further on human resource decisions.”

Currently, the office has two policy advisers in addition to three senior positions. Julian Ovens, the minister’s chief of staff, has extensive experience working in the mining industry. Christopher Berzins, director of policy, is well-versed in Europe and the United States, having spent the past two and a half years at the Canadian embassy in Washington, and was the deputy director for North and South Europe at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, which has since been renamed Global Affairs Canada.

Jocelyn Coulon is the senior policy adviser, and according to Mr. Robertson, was brought on for his expertise in peacekeeping. He is a former journalist and was on the board of governors for the International Development Research Centre, and has written several books on peacekeeping.

The remaining two policy advisers have expertise in China and the environment. Pascale Massot has a PhD specializing in the political economy of China, and Jean Boutet worked in the public service at the environment department.

Carlo Dade, director for the Canada West Foundation’s Centre for Trade and Investment Policy, said if Dion’s office was looking, Mr. Robertson is who they should go to.

“Colin’s an old hand. He’s kind of the dean on North American issues, foreign policy issues…He’s more of an insider,” he said.

Asked whether or not six months into its mandate was a long time for Mr. Dion’s office to still be looking for policy advisers, Mr. Dade said he “wouldn’t read too much into it.”

He said that while the Conservatives may have had trouble finding self-identified Conservative experts in foreign policy, he’s “not too worried that [the Liberals] haven’t had access to people who have some background.”

However, he said that when it comes to policy on Latin America, he could see the Liberals having trouble finding someone who is moderate enough.

“A lot of the Latin Amerincanists are left of centre, to be blunt about it,” he told The Hill Times. “This government is centrist. I don’t think they’re going to want someone who’s said that NAFTA’s been terrible and that trade agreements are terrible,” he said.

This future policy adviser, whether it’s one person or more, has potential to shape Canada’s foreign policy in these regions.

“Trudeau appears to be letting his ministers have free rein,” Mr. Dade said. “So this person could actually have some influence rather than just executing.”

A former adviser to multiple Conservative ministers, who spoke under the condition of anonymity due to his current political position, said that political staff can develop the ability to influence what a minister might decide to do because they “know where the minister’s head is.”

While a junior policy adviser might not have that much influence, having the minister’s trust can mean you develop some influence, he said.

He also said that when it comes to the different file assignments, “you don’t always have to have a neat, cookie-cutter approach to ‘this is what this person is doing.’ That works in the civil service, but in the political world, it’s more fluid than that.”

If Dion is looking for one person to fill both files, it’s likely because all the other files have already been spoken for, said Dade. That specific combination of regions would be hard to find in one person in academia, though would be more common in someone with a background in the foreign service, he said.

“Stéphane Dion kind of knows his way around internationally, and he has some very strong opinions. So it will be interesting,” Mr. Dade said.

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Terrorism and Philippines

Sask hostage facing Monday execution deadline

Jason Warick, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Saskatoon StarPhoenix 

Two men with Saskatchewan roots are at the centre of a hostage crisis in the Philippines.

One of the four hostages facing Monday’s execution deadline, John Ridsdel, grew up in Yorkton and worked for a period in Regina. Canada’s ambassador to the Philippines, Melfort native Neil Reeder, is seeking his release.

Reeder and other officials are likely working around the clock through formal and informal channels to evaluate all options, said Colin Robertson, a retired Canadian diplomat and former colleague of Reeder.

“He’s a good guy, an experienced hand,” Robertson said of Reeder, who represented Canada in far-flung postings including Costa Rica, Morocco and Brunei before he was named Philippines ambassador in 2013.

“The ultimate concern is the lives of these hostages.”

The four were taken hostage by armed gunmen near a resort several months ago in the southern Philippines, one of the world’s most volatile, dangerous regions. In a video posted online last week, hostage takers vowed to execute one of them on Monday if the ransom of 300 million pesos ($8 million CND) was not paid.

As of Friday evening, there had been no change in their status.

Robertson, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said Reeder and the other embassy staff are probably in close contact with their Filipino counterparts. Robertson is not involved in Ridsdel’s case, but outlined the likely scenarios facing everyone involved.

Robertson, who lived for several years near Moosomin and represented Canada in various countries and the United Nations, said the U.S. government and military are likely being consulted as well due to their global reach, particularly with a strong ally such as the Philippines.

The safety of the hostages is paramount, but there are multiple other considerations, Robertson said. How do the affected families feel? Should there be a rescue mission? Should the ransom be paid? How will any actions affect relations between countries? What message will any action send to future kidnappers?

Robertson said Canada has made it clear publicly that it doesn’t pay ransoms. However, there can be distinctions between official statements and what’s happening behind the scenes, he said.

“There may be informal channels,” Robertson said. “It’s a delicate balancing act.”

An online campaign started by a Saskatoon man, Don Kossick, urges the Canadian government to do everything possible to secure the hostages’ release. Reeder did not respond to an email interview request on Friday.

According to reports, the other three hostages are fellow Canadian Robert Hall, Filipino Marites Flor and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad.

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Justin Trudeau’s internationalism after six months

What Trudeau needs to do to sustain international momentum

In most countries, a shift from the right to a centre-left government would mean significant policy change.

But this is Canada, a place where the political spectrum runs from F to M as opposed to A to Z, as a former U.S. ambassador once observed.

This is especially true in the broad arena of international policy, where the biggest change wrought by the Liberal majority victory has largely been in style and personality – from the dour and secretive Stephen Harper to the optimistic and open Justin Trudeau.

Actual policy – whether foreign, defence, trade or immigration – is mostly unchanged. The shifts, especially on climate and in the embrace of the 25,000 Syrian refugees, represent more of a restoration of traditional Canadian policies than real policy change, including a return to cabinet government and first ministers’ meetings.

There is also the promise of re-engagement with China – and the likelihood of a free trade agreement there – as well as re-establishing relations with Russia – beginning with our shared interests in the Arctic. It is clear that this government is progressive but pragmatic – as witnessed by its willingness to forge ahead with the $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Mr. Trudeau, more so than Mr. Harper, will be constantly gauging the public mood and appetite for change.

More than most nations, the Canadian sense of self depends on what we do and how we are seen to do internationally. About to mark six months since its election, the Trudeau government and its “sunny ways” enjoys broad support partly because of its visibly activist multilateralism.

But sustaining this momentum will require three things: care, commitment and cash.

The “bromance” with U.S. President Barack Obama should yield dividends on climate, border access and regulatory collaboration and, hopefully, a resolution on softwood lumber. But the Trudeau team’s outreach to congressional leadership must continue if we are to deflect the rising voices of protectionism.

Restoring a dialogue with Canada’s premiers should help advance our trade and climate goals. But deepening North American integration increasingly depends on initiative from state and provincial governments. Mr. Trudeau should invite premiers and governors to the upcoming North American leaders’ summit to showcase his commitment to both trade and climate change.

Before the summit can take place, the government has to deliver on its promise to lift visa requirements for Mexicans or President Enrique Peña Nieto will not come.

Similarly, international agenda overload is also a significant risk. Recognizing that what brings accolades internationally does not necessarily serve Canadian interests requires tough-minded decision-making. And then there is the ambitious domestic agenda: electoral reform, reconciliation with our indigenous peoples and, eventually, balancing the budget.

Getting this done will require considerable discipline and a senior civil service that is innovative and results-oriented. While there was no love lost between the Harper government and senior officials (mutual contempt best describes the relationship with the foreign service) there was comfort in compliance. Mr. Trudeau should not hesitate to make changes if he is to deliver on his agenda.

Finally, the Pearsonian internationalist reputation Mr. Trudeau aspires to restore depends on investments in hard power as well as soft power. We have yet to live down the reputation, as former foreign minister John Manley observed, of excusing ourselves to go to the washroom when the bill arrives.

For a new government, things have gone very well on the international circuit.

As a public relations device, Mr. Trudeau’s post-election message to the world that Canada is back as a “compassionate and constructive voice in the world” was catchy and clever. It clearly differentiated him from Mr. Harper’s mantra, that Canada would no longer “go along and get along with everyone else’s agenda.”

Mr. Trudeau’s multilateral meetings – G20, APEC, the Commonwealth, and then COP21 – went well, and the reviews from foreign chanceries were good, particularly for Canada’s “helpful fixing” during the Paris climate negotiations. At Davos, Mr. Trudeau impressed the plutocrats with his energy and his artful remarks about wanting Canadians to be known as much for our “resourcefulness” as our resources, although it is our resources that pay the bills.

From flattering profiles in Vogue and on 60 Minutes to the accolade of APEC “hottie,” no Canadian leader has enjoyed this kind of attention since Pierre Trudeau.

Justin Trudeau’s celebrity status will fade. If he wants to leave a legacy, he needs creative initiatives buttressed by solid investments in defence, development and diplomacy. As his friend Barack Obama will tell him, the sands of time run quickly.

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