Canada, Mexico and NAFTA

Canada needs to lift visa requirement for Mexicans

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Oct. 28 2014

When it comes to statecraft, there is no better place to show the flag than the deck of a warship. This past week, HMCS Athabaskan moored at the Mexican port of Veracruz to help celebrate 70 years of Canada-Mexico diplomatic relations and 20 years of economic integration through NAFTA.

Canadians love Mexico – close to two million of us will visit this year making it our most popular foreign destination after the United States.

We do not reciprocate the Mexican welcome mat.

A visa requirement – imposed pre-emptively in the summer of 2009 after a surge in Mexican refugee claimants – remains in place. The Mexicans have since cracked down on the nefarious operators at their end, while the Harper government reformed our once-lax refugee system.

Lifting our visa requirement, or at least identifying a path to resolution, continues to be Mexico’s main “ask” of Canada.

For the Mexicans, the lack of progress on the visa situation is frustrating and poisons the relationship. It sticks in their craw the same way that the Obama administration’s rag-the-puck approach on the Keystone XL permit frustrates us.

Potential insult on injury lies ahead if Mexico is not included in the electronic travel authorization system that the Harper government will roll out in the coming months.

We need to find a way to include Mexico or to have a specific road map, resolving the visa issue, before the next North American Leaders’ summit, scheduled for Canada in the early spring.

Beyond its effect on official relations, the visa situation deters Mexicans from visiting, studying and doing business in Canada.

In 2008, the year before the visa requirement, Mexicans were our sixth source country for tourism, spending an estimated $364-million. They have since fallen to tenth place and their spending has halved. Mexican investment in Canada ($22-million) is dwarfed by Canadian investment in Mexico ($12-billion).

This hassle over getting to Canada is the biggest deterrent and led to the cancellation earlier this year of a buying mission to have been led by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. With the passage of its energy reforms opening doors to foreign investment and partnership, Mexico is actively looking for the kind of energy and engineering skills that Canada has developed.

The provinces get it and they are taking the initiative to work with Mexican states and its national government. In June, Alberta’s Energy Regulator signed an agreement to work collaboratively on best practices in hydrocarbon development with its Mexican counterpart

The conditions for North American integration have never been better even if the personal chemistry between the three leaders – Stephen Harper, Enrique Pena Nieto and Barack Obama – is such that their meetings do not require air conditioning.

Commerce has expanded significantly since NAFTA took effect 20 years ago. The goal over the next decade should be to double the current trillion dollars plus in annual continental trade.

It’s doable if we can get our act together. Together, we have a market of 500 million with the resources, thanks to technology, to fuel a new manufacturing revolution revitalizing North America’s industrial base.

Later this week, the three trade ministers – Canada’s Ed Fast, Mexico’s Ildefonso Guajardo and Penny Pritzker of the U.S. – meet in Toronto. Their meetings with the business community and beyond are designed to advance North American competitiveness discussions, begun last October in San Diego, from “vision to action.”

They should start by looking at North American auto production. Last week’s decision by Ford to site their new engine production plant in Mexico rather than Windsor is a reminder that supply-chain dynamics have long outpaced the 50-year-old Canada-U.S. Auto Pact.

The ministers should prioritize developing a North American Auto Pact and position the countries, not as competitors, but collaborators in regional and bilateral trade deals.

It is estimated that 25 per cent of the content of goods Canada exports to the United States originated in the U.S. For Mexican exports to the United States, the U.S.-originated content is 40 per cent (contrasted with China, Brazil and India at 4 per cent, 3 per cent and 2 per cent respectively).

A beggar-thy-neighbour approach will only diminish our collective economies. We have evolved from the classic trade in goods to making things together.

All three nations have a vested interest to ensure that there is convergence in the rules-of-origin in the new trading pacts in which we are involved together – like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or independently.

NAFTA worked. It’s now time to move forward with a new regime that acknowledges the realities of North American economic integration and the benefits of “Made in North America.”

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New Zealand and Security Council Campaign

Canada backs New Zealand’s bid for UN Security Council temporary seat

Kim Mackrael

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Oct. 15 2014, 3:00 AM EDT

The Canadian government is backing New Zealand’s bid for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, throwing its support behind a long-time ally that’s promising a stronger voice for less-influential countries if it’s elected.

Ottawa lost its own bid for a Security Council seat in 2010, an embarrassing defeat that was followed by several years of cool relations between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the multilateral body. New Zealand is vying this year for one of two seats set to open up in the Western Europe and Other category, but faces stiff competition in rivals Turkey and Spain.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the government would not disclose its voting intentions because the election takes place by secret ballot. But a source familiar with the New Zealand campaign said Canada is supportive of that country’s bid, and internal records show Ottawa was prepared to dispense advice and advocate on New Zealand’s behalf.

China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States have permanent status on the 15-member Security Council and the power to veto proposed resolutions, and the remaining seats are filled through regular elections, with each member serving a two-year term. A total of five temporary seats are on the line in this year’s election, which is scheduled for Oct. 16.

Three of those seats should be decided easily: Angola, Venezuela and Malaysia are all running unopposed in their regional groups. The remaining two, which are reserved for countries in the UN’s Western European and Other grouping, are being contested by Spain, Turkey and New Zealand.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian envoy to Washington, said New Zealand enters the race at a disadvantage, particularly compared with Spain, which can expect the support of other European Union members who tend to vote as a group. Turkey may also have an advantage in the election as an influential country with a growing role in global security issues.

“New Zealand is hoping to win just on merit,” Mr. Robertson said, noting the country has long been an active and steadfast supporter of the UN. “But it’s uphill for them compared with Spain or Turkey.”

A booklet on New Zealand’s candidacy emphasizes a commitment to multilateralism and the government’s interest in bringing the voices of smaller states to the Security Council table. Last week, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister told The Wall Street Journal that, if elected, his government’s priorities would include containing Islamic State militants and finding a solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

Internal records obtained through Access to Information laws show the Canadian government expressed support for New Zealand’s bid and may have lobbied Caribbean countries on New Zealand’s behalf. “Canada is actively supporting New Zealand’s bid for election to the United Nations Security Council for 2015-16, particularly among Caribbean nations,” says a memo for the Prime Minister, dated April 12, 2013.

A second document, prepared for a meeting between Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and then-New Zealand justice minister Judith Collins in July, 2013, said Canada supports New Zealand’s bid and “is happy to share lessons learned from our previous campaign for a [UN Security Council] seat.”

A source familiar with New Zealand’s campaign confirmed Canada has offered advice and support. There were “plenty of conversations” between officials from both countries over the course of New Zealand’s bid, the source said, including talks about that country’s candidacy and its efforts to secure votes. New Zealand has also discussed its candidacy with a number of other countries, the source said.

Adam Chapnick, a foreign policy expert at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, said Canada, Australia and New Zealand have a long-standing, unwritten agreement to back each others’ candidacies at the Security Council, in part because all three are outsiders in the Western European and Others regional grouping. The countries are also long-standing allies and are part of an intelligence-sharing relationship along with Britain and the United States.

Mr. Robertson added that he thinks the Canadian government was unfairly criticized for losing its 2010 bid, because it was already at a disadvantage as a non-EU candidate in a regional grouping dominated by Western European countries. There were other “mitigating” circumstances, he said, but “it’s always going to be tough for Canada to get in because we work in a bloc that works to our disadvantage. And this holds true for the New Zealanders and Australia as well.”

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Hong Kong and Liberty

Hong Kong cries for liberty, and Canada should answer

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Oct. 14 2014

The demonstrations in Hong Kong over representative government are a reminder that Hong Kong continues to be, in the oft-recalled words of novelist Han Suyin, a “borrowed place on borrowed time.”

Canada has significant interests in Hong Kong. It is our best entryway into Asia, especially China. For more than a century Hong Kong – its Chinese translation is “fragrant harbour” – has been the entrepôt and Asian headquarters for Canadian business. An estimated 300,000 Canadians, many of them Hong Kong-born, live and work in the Special Administrative Region.

While our economic links are important, Canadian leaders have a duty to tell the Chinese leaders that we value not just economic liberties but political ones as well.

Two dimensions of the Hong Kong demonstrations to secure the right to choose their next chief executive stand out.

First, there is the crisis of legitimacy around the current Hong Kong government and ITS future governance.

The current arrangements are based on the Sino-British Joint Declaration, agreed in 1984 by Deng Xiaoping with Margaret Thatcher, that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy – “one country, two systems”– and basic liberties for 50 years. The Basic Law of 1990 defined the nuts and bolts of those liberties, including the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a free press.

The last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, who held the post from 1992 until the handover in 1997, made valiant efforts to improve those liberties. The now-Lord Patten faced open opposition from Beijing (including unflattering epithets like “a sinner of the millennium”); fragging from the powerful business interests in Hong Kong and in London; and criticism from those within the British Foreign Office who put the China relationship ahead of any obligation to Hong Kong.

By his own admission, Lord Patten mostly failed. Hong Kong became the only example of a decolonization deliberately accompanied by less democracy and weaker protection of civil liberties. “This,” writes Lord Patten in his splendid memoir East and West, “was a cause for profound regret.”

Chinese rule has been better than its critics feared. The city is cleaner (SARS changed the hawking habit), greener (a generational shift), and richer (as a bolt-hole for mainland money) with property values amongst the highest in the world.

Until now, the liberties negotiated for Hong Kong have been mostly respected by China. Efforts in recent years to define subversion and include China-approved curriculum in schools were withdrawn after public protest. But now, as Lord Patten observes, Iran appears to be the “democratic model” on which China will run Hong Kong.

The second dimension to the demonstrations is the challenge to China.

China’s Communist leadership traditionally viewed Hong Kong as a nest of spies and troublemakers, and what some called “a pimple on the ass of China.” Until the handover, the British colony was a constant reminder of the hundred years of humiliation that China suffered after the Opium Wars (from 1839-42 and from 1856-60).

For China’s President Xi Jinping, the recent student demonstrations are an unhelpful diversion from his main objectives: underlining his primacy as China’s paramount leader and, at the same time, asserting China’s place as a global great power. Mr. Xi also contends with a slowing economy and debilitating environmental degradation on the mainland.

Mr. Xi has consolidated his authority through an anti-corruption campaign against the “flies and tigers” (who, not coincidentally, are also potential political rivals) and a firm hand with dissidents, especially amongst China’s minorities. As some Chinese say, Mr. Xi talks like Mr. Deng but hits like Mao.

The Chinese government would prefer that the West butt out of Hong Kong affairs, arguing that it is its internal affair. We should focus instead on getting rich together, argued China’s new ambassador to Canada, Luo Zhaohui, in a recent speech.

Ambassador Luo called for improving bilateral energy corridors and reiterated his predecessor’s suggestion of a Canada-China free trade pact. In an oblique reference to the Hong Kong situation, he observed that “for our deepening economic reform, stability is a must.”

Improving Canada-China economic collaboration is important and advancing economic ties are important components of the upcoming China mission of the premiers and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit around November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Beijing.

But neither the premiers nor the Prime Minister should shy away from discussing with Chinese leadership the linkage between economic and political liberties. The economic miracle that is Hong Kong – Milton Friedman described it as the living demonstration of “market economics” – depends on both economic and political liberties.

Liberty is our response to living in a world of uncertainty. We need to remind ourselves – and those who do not share our beliefs – the value of liberty. Do it quietly and politely, but do it. Leave stridency and megaphones to the students but be clear that we share their belief in liberty.

The elementary desire for freedom is the force driving all liberties, old and new. And, once again, liberty needs champions.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson served as Canadian Consul in Hong Kong. Vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, he is a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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Canada and the World

Just how seriously is Canada’s voice taken now?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a much weaker record on foreign policy than he would have Canadians believe

John Geddes Macleans

October 9, 2014

It was a moment made-to-order for Stephen Harper’s dark way of talking about the world. Going back to the 2011 election, the Prime Minister has often portrayed Canada as an island of safety in a global sea of dangers. Sometimes that imagery comes off as alarmist, but the rhetoric works when the topic at hand is the rise of Islamic State extremism in Syria and Iraq. So, when Harper rose in the House of Commons last week to make his case for joining U.S. President Barack Obama’s air campaign against the terrorists, he sounded very much himself in framing the disturbing new threat. He also said that deploying CF-18 fighter jets was necessary to maintain Canada’s international standing. “If Canada wants to keep its voice in the world—and we should, since so many of our challenges are global—being a free rider means you are not taken seriously,” Harper said.

Perhaps inadvertently, though, Harper suggested a question: Just how seriously is Canada’s voice taken now? Conservatives’ claims about having restored Canada’s clout on the world stage have always rested heavily on their reinvestment in the military. But Harper’s early defence-spending hikes turned to cuts after the 2009 recession, while he staged a tactical retreat from his high-profile pledge to buy F-35 jets to replace the aging CF-18s—eroding his image as an unwavering builder of the Canadian Forces’ might. After more than eight years of his rule, does Canada’s military reputation really rank noticeably higher? As Obama assembled his coalition to bomb Islamic State (also know as ISIS), the U.S. signed up a raft of other allies days, or even weeks, before Canada, including bigger military powers such as France and Britain, but also the likes of Australia, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Of course, standing on defence isn’t the only measure of Harper’s strength or weakness in the world. Back before his 2006 election win, he set Canada-U.S. relations as the litmus test. As Opposition leader in 2002, Harper delivered a tough attack in the House on then-prime minister Jean Chrétien’s “consistent and complete inability” to bolster Canadian economic interests in the U.S. As PM, however, Harper hasn’t fared better. American border restrictions remain a serious Canadian government frustration. The low point came in early 2012, when Obama told Harper there would be no quick approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to siphon Alberta crude to U.S. refineries. A wounded Harper sent out Joe Oliver, then his natural resources minister, to tell reporters the “decision by the Obama administration underlines the importance of diversifying and expanding our markets, including the growing Asian market.”

For those who remember Harper’s opposition days, that message delivered by Oliver, now Harper’s finance minister, had an ironic ring to it. Back in his 2002 assault on Liberal foreign policy, Harper had derided Chrétien’s attempts at diversifying Canada’s trade beyond the U.S. as an unrealistic echo of the so-called “third option” pursued by Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s, “which did not work then and is not working now.” Harper learned the hard way that there was something to the old Liberal position that Washington’s intransigence leaves Canada no choice but to cultivate trade options overseas. Still, Conservative fans of his no-nonsense style can at least take solace in the way Harper has ditched the old soft-power Liberal brand of multilateralism—the ethos behind former preoccupations such as creating the International Criminal Court, or a treaty to ban land mines—for much sterner stuff.

Or has he? In the days leading up to a key Harper speech at the United Nations late last month, advance stories were full of confident predictions about which world issues he would tackle. After snubbing the General Assembly for three years—ever since his government’s embarrassing failure to win a UN vote for a temporary seat on its Security Council in 2010—the PM had to be returning to blast Russia for incursions into Ukraine and to denounce Islamic State outrages in Iraq. Or so it was assumed. As it turned out, he spoke almost entirely about an aid initiative to improve the health of mothers and newborns. Alluding only vaguely to border tensions in Eastern Europe and bloodshed in the Middle East, he urged UN members to look past violent conflicts to “the long-term opportunities and efforts that can truly transform our world.”

It was a classically Canadian internationalist plea, issued in the New York temple to multilateralism held sacred by Harper’s most bitter critics. Was this really the same Harper who had so often scoffed at Canada’s historic approach to the UN as a matter of  “going along to get along”? Even more scornfully, he once summed up his foreign-policy philosophy this way: “It is no longer to please every dictator with a vote at the United Nations.” But, with the maternal and child health initiative, a growing preoccupation of Harper’s for several years now, he is clearly trying to put his stamp on what looks like the sort of UN-focused project his Conservatives used to mock Liberals for championing.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on September 25, 2014. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on September 25, 2014. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

It would be an absurd stretch to suggest that the Harper who championed the Forces, was suspicious of the UN, and assigned enormous importance to Canada-U.S. economic relations, has disappeared. But he has found those pillars too unsteady to bear the full weight of his foreign policy. It’s been a steep learning curve. Before he won power in 2006, he had barely travelled outside Canada and had focused almost exclusively on domestic issues, mostly economic and constitutional. “Since coming to office,” he told Maclean’s in a 2011 interview, “the thing that’s probably struck me the most in terms of my previous expectations—I don’t even know what my expectations were—is not just how important foreign affairs/foreign relations is, but, in fact, that it’s become almost everything.”

Harper inherited the most challenging overseas file in a generation: Afghanistan. Five weeks after being sworn in as Prime Minister on Feb. 6, 2006, he was on a Kandahar airfield telling the assembled troops, “You can’t lead from the bleachers; I want Canada to be a leader.” His Conservatives backed that up by boosting annual defence spending from about $15 billion the year before they took power to closer to $20 billion. Impressive as that top-line figure is, though, it hardly tells the whole story.

David Perry, a senior analyst at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute in Ottawa, offers perhaps the most fine-grained analysis of Canada’s military budget available, outside of classified documents. Perry says defence spending, adjusted for inflation, is actually lower today than it was in 2007. He points to four consecutive years of shrinking outlays on new military hardware, a trend he now calls “seemingly irreversible.”

Perry even argues that there never was any sharp divide on defence between Liberal and Conservative times. The real watershed came in 2005, he contends, when the Liberals, flush with surpluses after slaying the deficit, reinvested heavily in the Department of National Defence. Taking over the following year, Harper built on that new spending policy, to be sure, but only until the 2009 recession. Since then, according to Perry’s analysis, spending restraint has again been the order of the day, with defence absorbing fully a quarter of all federal spending cuts in last spring’s budget.

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Translating budget numbers into a real understanding of military readiness is notoriously difficult. Senior officers are reticent to speak out. Back in 2012, however, Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, then commander of the army, surprised a Senate committee by disclosing that his land force’s operating budget had been slashed by 22 per cent. Devlin retired last year to become president of Fanshawe College in London, Ont. In a recent interview, he said cuts shrunk battalions, which are supposed to be made up of about 800 troops, to 500, and those diminished infantry units are getting “dramatically less” training in the field. “That’s what affects operational readiness,” Devlin said.

If Harper wants to keep making overseas commitments, Perry adds, spending will have to be increased again. He pointed to stepped-up NATO activity in Europe, reacting to Russia’s menacing posture along Ukraine’s border, and the six-month Iraq deployment, which could be prolonged. Successive years of belt-tightening have reduced the Forces’ flexibility to take on such new missions. “Relative to three years ago,” Perry says, “there’s much less ability to absorb incremental costs having to do with operational activity.”

More obvious than operational strains are problems in wrapping up major procurements. The lifespans of the CF-18s—on average nearly three decades old—are being extended at great cost, as a result of long-running indecision over their replacement. After announcing their intention to acquire 65 of the still-in-development F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in 2010, the Conservatives were pummelled for hiding the true cost, likely $45 billion, and for failing to make the case for the cutting-edge F-35s over jets already in production. As well, two Aurora surveillance planes that will be accompanying the CF-18s to Iraq are also about 30 years old, part of a fleet slated for replacement by the Tories early on, until that plan was abandoned as too costly. One can only imagine the ridicule Conservatives, in their opposition days, would have heaped on the Liberals for such handling of major Air Force procurements.

So the military rebirth touted by Tories as Canada’s new calling card abroad is under strain. The Ottawa-Washington relationship—flagged by Harper, before he got the job, as any PM’s top foreign-policy priority—is stressed. Harper’s rapport with other world leaders hardly makes up for these gaps. He’s chummiest with like-minded conservatives—such as Australia’s Tony Abbott and, more controversial, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu—from countries that don’t rank as top trading partners or first-tier powers. That leaves pursuing trade deals, such as those hammered out with South Korea and the European Union, as the acknowledged strongest element of Harper’s international efforts. “This government has, from the very beginning, emphasized the substance of a trade agenda,” says Roland Paris, director of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, otherwise a forceful Harper critic.

But trade alone isn’t typically enough to cement a leader’s reputation as an accomplished global player. If Harper’s recent UN speech was any indication, he’s staking a different sort of claim. Spotlighting his leadership on the UN Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, which he co-chairs with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, takes Harper far outside the bounds of familiar Conservative emphasis on “interests” (typically trade and investment) or “convictions” (notably, backing embattled countries such as Israel and Ukraine). It takes him to the UN.

It’s the same UN that runs the climate-change negotiations where Harper’s delegations—defending Canada’s oil sector—are widely regarded as obstructionists. It’s the UN that John Baird, Harper’s foreign minister, once accused of indulging a “preoccupation with procedure and process” so stultifying, he swore off any future Canadian involvement in “how the UN arranges its affairs.” And it’s the UN where criticisms of Israel frequently arise, which the Harper government unfailing decries—as it did last summer when then-UN high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, called for a ceasefire after Israel’s bombing of Gaza caused many civilian casualties, prompting Baird to scold Pillay for being neither “helpful nor reflective of the reality of this crisis.”

What a strange turn it will be if Harper’s signature foreign-policy achievement ends up being a UN-based project. Perhaps the maternal and child health initiative represents a sort of reconciliation, on his own terms, with the multilateralism long associated with the loathed Liberals. And, on other fronts, fresh chances for him to buff up his international credentials may be emerging. This fall’s economic update is expected to herald a return to balanced federal books, perhaps allowing Defence an injection of new money, or, at least, relief from further restraint. In responding to the Islamic State crisis, Harper has been unstintingly outspoken in crediting Obama’s leadership, along with sending the CF-18s, which can’t hurt bilateral relations.

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Canadian soldiers from 4th platoon, bulldog company 1st Battalion, 22nd royal regiment walk during a patrol in the village of Sarah in Panjwai district of Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, in 2011. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)Canadian soldiers from 4th platoon, bulldog company 1st Battalion, 22nd royal regiment walk during a patrol in the village of Sarah in Panjwai district of Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, in 2011. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Not surprisingly, Harper’s sharpest critics doubt his capacity to convert opportunities into a new sophistication. Roland Paris detects no sign of Harper “paying attention to the context of foreign affairs.” Even some of the Prime Minister’s avowed admirers see plenty of room for improvement. Derek Burney, a top architect of Brian Mulroney’s Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, now a senior adviser at the international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, often leaps to Harper’s defence. Yet he regards this PM’s top priorities, such as his rock-ribbed support for Israel, as too often detached from any strategic framing of Canadian interests. “What we’ve had is rather spasmodic foreign policy based on conviction or principle—very stout,” Burney says. “I like the conviction, but I’d like to see more strategy on places like China.”

Among foreign-policy experts, geopolitical strategy is much in the air again. Once overshadowed by investment and trade, during the optimistic end-of-history era after the collapse of the Soviet Union, deep thinking about intractable problems has returned, especially in the wake of troubling developments in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and, lately, Hong Kong. All serve as reminders that convictions are no substitute, in an often bewildering world, for elite expertise. To obtain that rarefied commodity, argues Colin Robertson, a veteran former diplomat, whose postings included Washington and the UN, “you need hard-core, classic diplomatic skills.” After eight years of skeptical Conservative oversight, however, he doubts a demoralized foreign service is working seamlessly with Harper and his senior political aides. “If you beat a dog all the time, then the dog isn’t going to do what you like,” says Robertson, now vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

But Burney counters that Harper’s detractors are delusional if they imagine Canadian foreign policy should return to some bygone Liberal brand of diplomat-driven multilateralism. “Let’s not luxuriate in the myth of how wonderful it used to be,” he says. In fact, there was a good, strong whiff of that sort of nostalgia in the air on Parliament Hill during the debate over the Iraq air-strikes deployment. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau played to the notion of a special Canadian vocation for peaceful contributions such as medical aid or refugee airlifts. “We can be resourceful, and there are significant, substantial, non-combat roles that Canada can play,” Trudeau said, “and some we can play better than many, or perhaps any, of our allies.” NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said, “Canada’s first contribution should be to use every diplomatic, humanitarian and financial resource at our disposal.”

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The stark contrast exposed by the partisan clash over the air strikes might play to Harper’s advantage. Last month, the Ottawa polling firm Abacus Data asked Canadians about sending fighter jets against Islamic State in Iraq, and 57 per cent supported the plan, against just 34 per cent who opposed it, with 14 per cent who were not sure. That suggests Harper can expect far stronger approval of this decision than he enjoys overall on foreign policy; the same Abacus poll said 28 per cent favour his foreign-policy approach over Trudeau’s, not much better than the 23 per cent who think they’d prefer Trudeau’s if he became prime minister, over Harper’s. (Twenty-six per cent had no preference.)
Harper’s record on repositioning Canada in the world is uneven. But the urgent question of this moment isn’t about how well he works with the White House on economic matters, or if he has equipped and funded the military quite so generously as he lets on, or even if his approach to UN-based multilateralism is consistent. The immediate concern is about Canada’s contribution to a global coalition to stop Islamic State terrorism from spreading. Policy debate is abstract. Military action is tangible.

The test, at least in the coming weeks, will likely have less to do with the Prime Minister’s foreign-policy acumen than with the accuracy of CF-18 strikes somewhere in Iraq, or perhaps Syria. Sorting out how this changes the wider view of foreign affairs under Harper will have to wait until sometime after the smoke clears.

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