Globe and Mail Debate on Canada-US Relations


Read and vote: Have Canada-U.S. relations hit a low point?

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Friday, Feb. 27 2015, 12:21 PM EST

Four former Canadian diplomats in the U.S. weigh in on the state of affairs between Canada and the United States

The Debate

Have relations between the governments of Canada and the United States ever been this unfriendly? If so, is the chilling of relations Ottawa’s or Washington’s fault? This became a heated topic of diplomatic debate after Allan Gotlieb, Canada’s former ambassador to the United States, declared in an interview this week that “I think the relationship is as cool as I ever remember.” Given that the 86-year-old ambassador’s career spans six decades, this suggests that the Harper and Obama administrations have damaged a historically strong relationship. We’ve assembled a group of diplomatic experts, including Mr. Gotleib, to debate the implications; vote for the one you most agree with.

The Debaters

Debate contributor
Michael KerginAmbassador to the U.S. from 2000-2005
Crisis in communications at the heart of poor relations
Debate contributor
Derek BurneyAmbassador to the U.S. from 1989-1993
Blame the White House for poor relations
Debate contributor
Colin RobertsonFormer Canadian diplomat in the United States
It’s up to Canada to build and maintain the relationship
Debate contributor
Allan GotliebAmbassador to the U.S. from 1981 to 1989
A ‘striking lack of sensitivity’ by the Obama administration

The Discussion

Debate contributor

Michael Kergin : Stability in Canada and U.S. relations are often about contact and communication – at the highest level.

Sure, foreign relations, as Talleyrand famously said, are based on interests, not friendships. But interests must be furthered by access achieved through communication and dialogue. Our leaders don’t need to be friends. But they do need to talk, and regularly.

When the Prime Minister and President can easily pick up the phone misunderstandings can be cleared, bureaucrats energized and collaboration constructed in confronting common challenges. After all, which President, during this time of terrorism, would not have a moment for the leader of the country which shares the longest border with his country, or the trading partner which provides his largest export market?.

Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan had their differences over acid rain; Jean Chrétien and Bill Clinton over Alaska’s poaching Pacific Salmon and Helms Burton regarding the extraterritorial application of U.S. law; as did Mr. Chrétien and George W. Bush on softwood lumber and the overly protracted closing of the U.S. border to Canadian beef from the BSE scare.

Yet, even when Mr. Chrétien refused to join the coalition of the willing in Iraq, the phone lines stayed open. (The leaders did have serious issues to discuss, such as Canadian troops, replacing American forces, battling the Taliban). Sometimes the tone of their conversations became a touch testy, but they did talk.

Now, however, our two countries seem to be in an almost unprecedented situation of non communication at the level of their leaders. Aside from the occasional”pull asides” (diplo-speak for brief casual encounters at multilateral leaders’ meetings), there is little evidence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper or President Barack Obama speaking directly with each other.

A recent dramatic example was the recent postponement of a scheduled North American Summit meeting to be held in Canada by the Prime Minister. Reneging on hosting the President of the United States must be a first in the Canada-U.S. relationship. It is singular evidence of the current crisis of communications between the two leaders.

The dean of Canada’s Ambassadors to the United States, Allan Gotlieb, speaks of”coolness” and”distance” now afflicting Canada-US relations. These are excellent diplomatic terms covering what I assess to be a breakdown in dialogue between Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama.

Without good communication that enables access at the highest level, differences can become irritants, compounding the difficulty leaders have in resolving bilateral problems, even between countries as close as Canada and the United States. The Keystone XL pipeline is emblematic of a difference which has morphed into serious irritant.

The crisis of communication between Mr Harper and Mr. Obama, which to the outsider appears personal, has exacerbated some of these differences, rendering their resolution more complicated.

The good news is that the relationship between Canada is far greater than a pipeline, a bridge, or differences on how to deal with Israel and the U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations. And the strength of the relationship will endure well beyond any coolness and distance between Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama.

Debate contributor

Derek Burney : Alan Gotlieb is essentially correct in his assessment that relations between Canada and the US are cool.”Cool” is of course diplomatic understatement. They are more like an Ottawa winter -in the deep freeze. And a thaw will only come when there is a change of administration following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Whether the new president is a Democrat or Republican, there is nowhere to go but up.

Mr. Gotlieb is also correct that we should not blame Canada. The fault lies with the White House, its indifference towards the interests of its key allies and neighbors, and its toxic relationship with Congress, which has caught Canada in the down draft on many issues, including the Keystone XL pipeline or our attempts to forge a common climate change strategy for North America. Mr. Obama has only spent nine hours in Canada during his six years in office.

But we are not alone. Our Mexican friends are deeply frustrated with Washington on immigration and the management of their border. America’s European and Asian allies have been wringing their hands in despair over Washington’s lack of leadership as they contend with Vladimir Putin’s”New Russia,” the worsening crisis in Ukraine, and China’s rise and assertions of territorial sovereignty in the South and East China Sea.

Benign neglect is one thing, as is indifference but, when the actions of the Administration are punitive to Canadian interests without cause, that is malign arrogance unworthy of a neighbour and ally‎.

Debate contributor

Colin Robertson : In the conduct of Canada-US relations, Allan Gotlieb is the Obi-Wan Kenobi. Mr. Gotlieb, who turns 87 on Saturday, transformed Canadian diplomatic practice toward the U.S. in the wake of the Carter administration’s failure to ratify the East Coast Fisheries Agreement.

Rather than get mad, Mr. Gotlieb got smart. He ramped up our congressional relations efforts in Washington, recognizing that we could not count on the executive branch to deliver for us. Given our interests, we would have to do it ourselves and learn to play by Washington rules: drawing on lobbyists and lawyers to advance our interests. With the ambassador as quarterback we’d use all our assets, including our consulate network in the U.S., recognizing U.S. speaker Tip O’Neill’s dictum that”all politics is local.”

Junior officers sent to our consulates now included congressional relations in their portfolio. I was one of those young officers, going to New York City and serving under Ken Taylor (whose heroism in Tehran made him a U.S. celebrity that Mr. Taylor subsequently used to advance our interests).

As our ambassador in Washington from 1981-89, Allan and his wife, Sondra, revolutionized how we did business. Mr. Gotlieb’s lessons are contained in I’ll Be With You in a Minute, Mr. Ambassador. I kept a copy on my desk when posted to Washington to head the new Advocacy Secretariat in 2004.

At its heart, the Gotlieb approach is activist problem-solving. First, you need to understand the United States. It’s more than a country – it’s a civilization. Second, advancing our interests means engagement at every level.

The Gotlieb approach uses all our tools – political, defence and security, commercial-economic and cultural. Management of efforts is less by control, than co-ordination, mindful that the complexity of the relationship means it is like a chess game conducted on various levels: international issues of peace, security and economics; national issues of border, trade, energy and the environment; and regional and local issues involving the provinces and states and cities.

The bumps today are at the national level and responsibility is shared.

Stephen Harper’s relationship with Barack Obama is correct, but they do not appear to be confidants. Brian Mulroney argued that there is no more important relationship for Canadian prime ministers than that with the U.S. president.

Mr. Harper made the Keystone XL permit our overriding objective, seemingly on a take it or leave it basis. Unfortunately, of modern presidents, Barack Obama appears to have the least appreciation of the strategic importance of Canada to the U.S. He has not put the necessary effort into the neighbourhood, including Mexico, that it deserves. But as Alan Gotlieb understood and practised, like it or not, the initiative (in this case, action on climate) must come from Canada.

Debate contributor

Allan Gotlieb : The Canada-U.S. relationship in the Obama era is different from what it was in the past. In earlier years, strains in the relationship arose as a result of Canadian policies or positions that the U.S. challenged or opposed as contrary to their interests. These could be bilateral in nature (energy and investment policies under Trudeau, nuclear and defence issues under Diefenbaker) or multilateral (Lester Pearson’s criticism of U.S. bombing of Vietnam, Pierre Trudeau’s allegations of”moral equivalency” between the U.S. and USSR during the Cold War). Given the extraordinary size and depth of the relationship, it is not surprising that the”irritants” often gave rise to serious tensions.

But they were usually resolved, thanks to the special relationship that existed between the two countries during the postwar era. This led to such agreements as the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement, the Auto Pact, major joint undertakings in continental defence, and ambitious nation-building projects such as the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Relations between the Obama Administration and Canada have, for the most part, been temperate and calm and relatively free of new”irritants”. Canada has been strongly supportive of U.S. strategies on a global scale.

As a result, it can be said that in the Obama Era the relationship has been largely co-operative, cordial and correct. Nevertheless, something has been seriously missing that has led to a coolness and a sense of distance not characteristic of our relationship in earlier years. Notwithstanding the depth of our economic relations, the vast trade flows, the wide areas of cooperation and the management of our borders and security interests, what is missing during the Obama era is any sense that Canada occupies a special space in the foreign policy of the United States. History shows that in the time of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, and George Bush, Sr. there was a sensibility in the White House that the rules, as they related to the two countries, needed to be applied with particular regard to the affinity between our two nations arising from our common values.

With the possible exception of the free-trade agreement, no bilateral issue in the history of Canada-U.S. relations has exceeded in importance the building of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to U.S. markets. Certainly none have ever occupied a larger place in the U.S. political process. It is remarkable that in dealing with this issue, the President has allowed the process of approval to extend over half a decade without results. It is even more remarkable that, in its various utterances, the White House has not demonstrated any recognition of the impact of their position on our historic joint energy relationship, our joint economic security interests and the uniquely integrated economic ties with the country with which they share a continent. This striking lack of sensitivity may or may not change under future Presidents. In all probability, the current state of distance in our relationship will come to be seen as anomalous. But, the implications for Canadian foreign policy are clear. In our trade and economic relations, Canada must diversify, diversify and diversify.

Comments Off on Globe and Mail Debate on Canada-US Relations

Roz Wolfe retires from Los Angeles Consulate General

LA consulate’s culture guru bowing out

Roz Wolfe is retiring after 33 and a half years of talking up Canada in Tinseltown.

Roz Wolfe Photo
Roz Wolfe says coming to work at the consulate in 1981 was “the best decision I ever made.”

Kristen Shane
Published: Wednesday, 02/18/2015 12:00 am EST

So many Canadian diplomats toil in obscurity at Fort Pearson. Roz Wolfe is not one of them.

After 33 and a half years working for Canada’s consulate general in Los Angeles, California, she has made a bit of a name for herself in media and film circles. She’s known to help reporters when they come to Tinseltown. And she’s developed relationships with Canadian talent like David Steinberg and Norman Jewison—not to mention some of the famous faces that have come through the consulate’s door as consuls general over the years. She’s served 10, including former prime minister Kim Campbell and Colin Robertson.

Effervescent and enthusiastic about Canadian culture, she’s perhaps the perfect fit in her job as senior communications and advocacy officer at the consulate general. There will be big shoes to fill when she retires at the end of this month.

Ms. Wolfe, 61, still remembers the day she started: Sept. 23, 1981.

Having graduated from Concordia University in her hometown of Montreal and pursuing further studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, she and her husband decided to skip the sub-zero life for palm trees in California. She taught at Pepperdine University and later worked as a legislative analyst for then-LA mayor Tom Bradley and city council.

She was late to discover the vacant job in the consulate and officials were ready to give it to someone else. Deciding to work there, she said in a phone interview last week, was “the best decision I ever made.” Although she is Canadian, she is not a foreign service officer who rotates from post to post. She works as a locally engaged staff member of the consulate, which has a staff of about 62.

She started primarily as a media relations officer, trying to get Canada on the front page of the LA Times (for good things, of course). That part of the job has put her in close contact with Canadian bureau chiefs in the region and reporters passing through, journalists like Martin Knelman with the Toronto Star and Keith Boag with CBC TV.

Her job evolved into more cultural industry work, including revamping a talent directory that listed more than 2,000 Canadian actors, actresses, producers and others working in Hollywood. She realized an updated online version was needed when studios kept calling her and sending someone to fetch her Xerox copy from 1984.

Mr. Robertson, consul general from 2000 to 2004, said the talent guide, which was meant to match Canadians to productions in Canada, was a great success.

She also waged a victorious campaign (and campaign it was, Mr. Robertson recalled) to win Quebec’s Denys Arcand Canada’s first best-foreign-language Oscar in 2004 for his film, Barbarian Invasions.

Ms. Wolfe said half the job is getting the film in the can, and the other half is getting the word out: having screenings, getting the foreign-language committee members to see it, doing interviews and influencing potential voters.

“[Roz] has the best network of any diplomatic officer I have met, and to know her is to admire her for her energy and enthusiasm and ability to get it done,” wrote Mr. Robertson in an emailed statement last week. “She sets the standard for locally engaged officers around the world without whom no [foreign service officer] will be successful. And she is one of the most decent and giving human beings it has been my pleasure to meet.”

She’s also had to stick-handle some thorny issues over time, including that of “runaway productions,” in which films intended for first release or broadcast in the United States were being filmed in Canada, lured in by what critics said were cheaper, subsidized production costs. Some blamed a drop in LA productions on Canada.

Film is not just a day-job issue for Ms. Wolfe. She’s also a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. She spends her spare time watching foreign films (the German film Downfall is one of her favourites).

In her retirement, she said she hopes to work on more film award campaigns and on work with veterans and their families, such as through Wounded Warriors Canada, a non-profit that helps Canadian Armed Forces members who have been injured on the job.

She’s even toying with writing a book, which she’s already titled Locally Engaged, about her experiences in the diplomatic bubble.

After 33 years in the game, she has built up a bit of advice for the newbie diplomat: “Through relationships, everything else comes.”

Diplomacy is about getting to know people, what makes them tick, what makes them happy, asking about their spouses and knowing them meaningfully on a personal level. That kind of trust helps build networks that can be called upon when needed.

One well-known relationship Ms. Wolfe helped spark is between Ms. Campbell, the former PM, and her now-husband Hershey Felder. Ms. Wolfe doesn’t take credit as matchmaker, but she played a small role in bringing the two together while Ms. Campbell was consul general.

Mr. Felder, a musician and actor, was doing a play in LA’s west side and called up the consulate to let them know. He and Ms. Wolfe bonded over their commonalities (they’re both from Montreal’s Jewish community). She invited him to meet Ms. Campbell. The two met at her residence in the mid-1990s. Ms. Wolfe wasn’t there, but “apparently there were lightning bolts” because the two hit it off.

See also CBC documentary about the campaign for Denys Arcand’s Oscar

It’s Hollywood’s biggest night. The Academy Awards are the most important awards in the entertainment industry and one of the biggest TV events in the world. The stars strut down the red carpet in their finest in anticipation of seeing who’ll take home the coveted golden statuette — the Oscar. Since the awards were first handed out in 1929, Canada has enjoyed an impressive track record. CBC Archives pays tribute to a handful of Canadians whose Oscar recognition reverberated back home.

Medium: Television
Program: The National Magazine
Broadcast Date: Feb. 27, 2004
Guest(s): Denys Arcand, Norman Jewison, Richard Stursberg, Roz Wolfe, Colin Robertson
Reporter: Sandra Abma
Duration: 16:33
Credit: Barbarian Invasions: Cinémaginaire Inc.
Nomination footage: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Comments Off on Roz Wolfe retires from Los Angeles Consulate General

Arms for Ukraine

Why the West should listen to Merkel on Ukraine

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Feb. 17 2015

Do we arm Ukraine? Economic sanctions have not dissuaded President Vladimir Putin from continuing Russian aggression.

At the Brisbane G20 summit in November, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Mr. Putin to “get out of Ukraine.” For Western leaders, the question is what do they do next.

How long will the new ceasefire endure? Few put much credence in Russian assurances. An earlier ceasefire unravelled as Mr. Putin’s “little green men” pushed forward.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko wants Western help, specifically lethal arms. Brandishing captured Russian military IDs at the recent Munich Security Conference, Mr. Poroshenko asked what further evidence is required of Russian aggression.

The UN estimates the conflict has killed more than 5,000 and displaced a million. Mr. Putin has the escalatory advantage and he ruminates about the use of nuclear arms.

For Mr. Putin, the campaign is a “holy war’ protecting the Russian diaspora, as well as a development that rights the 1989 dismemberment of greater Mother Russia. While there have been some Russian protests over Ukraine, anti-Western attitudes there are at a 25-year high.

A recent report, authored by members of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, argues that the West’s strategy to restrain Mr. Putin has failed. They recommend significant military assistance: radar, drones and short range anti-armor weaponry to enable Ukraine to counter the Russian offensive.

They argue that “to deter and defend” will raise the cost of aggression and bring Mr. Putin back to the bargaining table. If Russia is not stopped now, they argue that the Kremlin will believe it can get away with this form of hybrid warfare. The next Russian intervention could be in Estonia or Latvia – NATO members with security guarantees.

NATO’s top commander is calling for the use of “all tools” and, at his recent confirmation hearing, U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter favoured arms for Ukraine. Non-intervention by the West during the Spanish Civil War, evocatively captured in Alan Furst’s novel Midnight in Europe, only advantaged Franco’s fascists.

But providing arms bring multiple challenges. It takes time to transport equipment and even more time to train Ukrainians in its use. There is the risk of escalation. Surveys in the United States are consistent: There is no appetite for American boots on the ground.

For now, the West negotiates. U.S. President Barack Obama preaches “strategic patience and persistence” in the newly updated U.S. National Security Strategy, but it is German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is demonstrating both qualities.

Ms. Merkel, who hosts the G7 summit in June, is leading the negotiations with Mr. Putin. Ms. Merkel has Mr. Putin’s number. Her leadership underlines Germany’s geopolitical re-emergence, the only silver lining in this crisis.

Ms. Merkel argues for continued engagement and, for now, she is against arms for Ukraine. This was her message at the recent Munich security conference and in meetings last week with Mr. Obama and Mr. Harper. Ms. Merkel deserves our continuing support.

Providing arms raises many questions:

  • How do we control for their distribution?
  • Who will be in charge of then?
  • Who will train the Ukrainians?
  • What and where are the firebreaks?
  • Will arms increase casualties and risk a proxy war?

Economic sanctions and the drop in oil revenues have been brutal on Russia; its GDP may fall 5 per cent this year. At some point the bite of sanctions will have to diminish Mr. Putin’s appeal to Russian patriotism.

Like it or not, Ukraine is not a NATO member and the reasons why we did not militarily intervene in Mr. Putin’s Crimean conquest still apply. We are already engaged in a widening conflict with the Islamist militants of ISIL. This week, world leaders convene for a White House summit on counterterrorism. Meanwhile, there are the negotiations with Iran, with Mr. Obama declaring that there must be a nuclear deal by the end of March.

Preserving Western consensus, within the European Union and between the EU and United States, is always difficult. But if Washington presses ahead with lethal arms, the Western consensus will crumble.

For now the West’s best choices are threefold:

  • With Ukraine: more economic support conditional on the country improving its governance. Ukraine is worse than Russia in Transparency International’s’ corruption index. As a start why not advise on Canadian-style federalism and language rights?
  • With Russia: continuing engagement with biting sanctions. As costs rise, Mr. Putin’s calculus of actions without consequences will change.
  • Within NATO: Honour the pledges made at the Wales summit to reverse defence cuts and make the alliance fitter, faster and more flexible.

Whatever the West does, we need to do it collectively, or Mr. Putin wins. Before adding more arms to the Ukraine crisis, trust Chancellor Merkel and double down on patience and diplomatic engagement.

More Related to this Story


Video: ‘Glimmer of hope’ for Ukraine after deal at Minsk peace summit


Video: Putin and Poroshenko shake on ceasefire


Video: Ukraine peace talks overshadowed by fighting


Video: Ukraine launches counter-offensive ahead of peace summit


Video: Obama, Merkel meet to discuss Ukraine crisis

Comments Off on Arms for Ukraine

Assessment of John Baird: Universtiy of Ottawa panel and Canadian Press

CPAC John Baird’s Legacy Participants assess John Baird’s tenure as foreign affairs minister and discuss whether or not his achievements have positioned Canada to better pursue its foreign policy objectives. The panellists are Peter Jones and David Petrasek (University of Ottawa) and former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson. John Baird served as foreign affairs minister since in 2011. In February 2015, Baird announced he was stepping down from his position as foreign minister and would not run in the next general election. (February 10, 2015)

Diplomatica: Panel gives John Baird’s foreign affairs performance mixed reviews

Published on: February 17, 2015

It used to be, back when David Petrasek was working in human rights and conflict resolution for the United Nations in Geneva, that Canadians would explain Americans to Europeans.

“Now, I think Americans have been explaining Canadians. The Americans understand that the roles have changed.”

Petrasek, who is now an associate professor in the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, recently joined colleague Peter Jones and retired diplomat Colin Robertson on a University of Ottawa panel discussing former foreign minister John Baird’s legacy.

Baird’s “values-driven” agenda was a focus of the discussion.

“The idea that Mr. Baird can say he ran a values-driven foreign policy is problematic in that he did so selectively,” Jones said. “If one is going to make values the basis of one’s approach, one has to implement them across the board or at least be seen as trying to.”

He said Baird’s “unequivocal support for Israel’s right wing” played well with the Conservative voter base back here in Canada, “but I’m not sure (it) was playing well in terms of Canada’s broader interests, nor in Canada’s role in the region.”

He even went so far as to say that “to the extent that these terrorists really do want to attack Canada, I think his rhetoric probably moved us up a notch or two on (the terrorists’) list.” He also noted that Canada’s “uncritical support of Israel”  was not appreciated in Washington.

And, he said, Baird “openly castigated, if not dismissed,” Canada’s traditional role of trying to foster dialogue between the parties in the region.

Petrasek centred his comments on Baird’s human rights record.

“After four years, he left Canada in a weaker position on human rights,” Petrasek said. Proponents argue it was principled policy in defence of human rights, that he effectively advanced new initiatives.

But Petrasek said that as a principled human rights defender, you speak out, regardless of the victim and perpetrator. He noted that Baird never spoke publicly about the records of certain Middle Eastern countries.

“He might have done so in private, but his public statements emphasized security and stability, which played to the anti-democratic nature of those regimes,” he said.

Petrasek said he couldn’t find any public declaration that Israeli settlements are illegal, which is official Canadian policy. “Those settlements are the source of so many human rights abuses. He never spoke clearly on that.”

Baird also established the office of religious freedom, took a stand against child marriages and forced marriages and spoke out on LGBT rights.

“These were new initiatives and good initiatives, but they were pursued in a partisan manner,” Petrasek said.

Finally, he said, Baird was hostile towards the UN. “If you want to advance issues like child marriage, you  have to work with these multilateral institutions that are far from perfect. But the point is that you sit down and try to make them better, to reform them. He completely ignored them.”

Robertson was more complimentary, giving Baird credit for his dignity agenda and lauding his commitment to Israel as “genuine and heartfelt.” He had two virtues of any good foreign minister, Robertson said: “He had a strong constitution and he loved to travel.” Baird is said to have visited more than 90 countries.

“On the UN, he came with all the prejudices shared by Stephen Harper, but over time, I think he began to see (its) value.”

Baird says Canada’s international stature is growing—is that accurate?

Baird says Canada more respected internationallyJohn Baird speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Baird surprised many with his sudden resignation last week from federal politics, which also called an abrupt halt to nearly four years as Canada’s top diplomat. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, February 13, 2015 8:28AM EST

OTTAWA — “I have seen the stature of our country grow, in the eyes of the world … Today, Canada stands tall in the world.” — Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in his resignation speech in the House of Commons, Feb. 3.

John Baird surprised many with his sudden resignation last week from federal politics, which also called an abrupt halt to nearly four years as Canada’s top diplomat.

As he was saying his goodbyes in the House of Commons, Baird called the country more respected internationally, citing Canada’s fight against terrorism, standing “side by side” with Israel, having “strong partners” in the Arab world and opposing the “militaristic expansionism” of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Ukraine — all while promoting trade, especially in Asia.

But the sight of Baird’s motorcade being pelted with eggs and shoes last month in the West Bank capital of Ramallah reminded many of the government’s controversial pro-Israeli policy, which has sparked heated criticism.

And what about Canada’s historic loss of a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2010 — a first in six decades — to tiny, economically battered Portugal?

Does Canada actually have more stature than it did before 2011, when Baird arrived at Foreign Affairs? Or since 2006, when the Conservatives came to power?

Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).

Baird’s claim that Canada’s international stature has grown contains “some baloney.” Here’s why:

The facts

Canada has long scored well in an annual poll of global attitudes by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 2014, the BBC World Service and GlobeScan/Pipa poll asked 24,500 international respondents whether they viewed 17 specific countries positively or negatively. Canada came second, behind Germany. Iran was last.

The United Nations Human Development Index is another indicator that many rely on to measure one country’s standing with another. The HDI combines data on health, education and gross national income to come up with a ranking among more than 190 countries that the UN says “can stimulate debate about government policy priorities.”

In the 1990s, Canada was No. 1 for several years. Then Norway came along. Canada’s been slipping ever since, dropping to 11th in 2013, compared to sixth in 2006.

International spending also provides a barometer of global standing. Canada’s defence spending is down to about one per cent of gross domestic product from 1.3 per cent in 2009, while foreign aid has gone from 0.34 of GDP in 2010-11 to 0.27 per cent in 2013-14, says the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which measures growth and progress among 34 leading countries.

What the experts say

By any measure, Canada’s standing in the world has fallen, said retired UN ambassador Paul Heinbecker, a former adviser to then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Heinbecker cited a “truculent” attitude towards the UN, on which the Harper government has repeatedly turned its back. Canada is the only NATO country not to sign the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty and the only country in world to withdraw from its Convention to Combat Desertification.

“Mr. Baird’s assessment reads like George Orwell meets Lewis Carroll; ‘1984’ as seen by Humpty Dumpty,” said Heinbecker, now a senior fellow at the Centre for Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ont.

On the other hand, Fen Hampson, head of CIGI’s global security program, cited the BBC’s annual country survey as a good indicator of global attitudes towards any country, including Canada.

“You can pick any elite diplomat you want to make a case for or against the government,” said Hampson.

“If you want real metrics, that’s one of the few real metrics out there. When it comes to popularity, how we’re seen in the world, as a country in the world, in terms of our reputation, it’s still high.”

Retired diplomat Colin Robertson, the vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, said Canada may not “have the same weight in the United Nations … because we haven’t put the same weight in the United Nations under this government.”

But the BBC poll is a strong indicator that Canada’s “brand” has not suffered under the Conservatives, Robertson said, contradicting anecdotal feelings of slippage that might be harboured by some.

Canada has fallen on a number of fronts, said David Biette, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Biette cited the fact that it has not emerged as the “energy superpower” Stephen Harper predicted in 2006, its “blind support” of Israel and its “botched” attempt to secure a coveted seat on the UN Security Council in 2010.

That said, Canada’s international reputation might be intact simply because a lot people don’t pay attention to the country from abroad, he added.

“Has Canada changed? I can say (yes),” Biette said. “But (ask) an informed public, ‘Has Canada changed?’ I don’t know.”

The verdict

Taking all of that into account, Baird’s claim that Canada’s international stature has grown and that the country stands tall in the world contains “some baloney.”


The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:

No baloney – the statement is completely accurate

A little baloney – the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required

Some baloney – the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing

A lot of baloney – the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth

Full of baloney – the statement is completely inaccurate

Read more:

Comments Off on Assessment of John Baird: Universtiy of Ottawa panel and Canadian Press

ON the appointment of Hon. Rob Nicholson as Minsiter of Foreign Affairs

CTV Interview February 9 2014 on the appointment of Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson

Comments Off on ON the appointment of Hon. Rob Nicholson as Minsiter of Foreign Affairs

On the Visit of Chancellor Merkel and the Ukraine situation

CTV News Channel: Will Putin change tactics?

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson explains whether Putin will agree to anything and stick to a plan or push further into Ukraine.

Comments Off on On the Visit of Chancellor Merkel and the Ukraine situation

Assessing John Baaird as Foreign Minsiter

Baird Improved Over Time, But Ultimately Fell Short

Posted on February 8, 2015 by admin

By Colin Robertson

John Baird arrived at the Pearson Building in May 2011 as an experienced minister and accomplished, if partisan, parliamentarian.

Naturally curious and personally affable, as Canada’s Foreign Minister, Baird reserved his ‘pit bull’ persona for bureaucrats, the media and legislative debate. He charmed his way through the diplomatic circuit and fully engaged both Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry (with whom he waged and lost a case of Canadian after the USA beat Canada in the Women’s World Championship).

With his energy and force of personality, John Baird could have been the Conservatives’ equivalent of Lloyd Axworthy.

In his essential profile of John Baird, the Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark observed of Baird, “his penchant for bold steps and embracing strong leaders, his confidence in his own political compass, and the willingness he has displayed ever since high school to shrug off ridicule rather than abandon the task at hand make him the dynamic foreign minister Mr. Harper has long lacked.”

Words became Baird’s diplomatic sword. As Baird told the Foreign Affairs Committee: “Our government wants Canada’s voice to be heard, for it to be clear and for it to be unambiguously free of moral relativism.”

Baird’s support for Israel was unequivocal: “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.” On Iran, he warned, “Kind words, a smile and a charm offensive are not a substitute for real action.”

Shortly after he became minister, he framed his ‘dignity agenda’ with its message that people deserve the “dignity to live in freedom, in peace and to provide for one’s family”.

The dignity agenda embraced women, children and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people. It condemned child, early and forced marriages. These themes, especially his leadership on ‘girls not brides’ were his constant refrain.

Canada’s Sharpest International Affairs Commentary
Don’t miss future posts on the CIPS Blog. Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Baird’s personal leadership was instrumental in the passage of UN resolutions on child, early and forced marriages, Iran and terrorism. He pioneered in the use of digital diplomacy to “give a voice to the voiceless”.

Baird’s was not the conventional Canadian approach to the United Nations. In his first speech to the UN General Assembly Baird announced “Canada does not just “go along” in order to “get along”. He quoted Margaret Thatcher’s famous phrase that “collective action does not mean uniformity”. For Baird, the “greatest enemies of the United Nations are those who quietly undermine its principles and, even worse, by those who sit idly, watching its slow decline.”

Baird’s tenure coincided with a strike of foreign service officers, unprecedented in length and scope, picketing at headquarters and abroad.

The Harper government’s relationship with the foreign service can be characterized as one of mutual contempt. Notwithstanding the growing concentration of policy-making within central agencies (Privy Council Office and National Security Offices elsewhere in the anglosphere), an effective G7 government needs to trust and enable its foreign service.

For some in the foreign service, Baird was minister as tourist. Selling off our historic residences is a mistake. When used–if the incumbents won’t, then replace them – they are platforms for marketing Canada. As Jean Chretien observed, “you don’t do diplomacy from your basement”.

While most remain for sale, Baird listened to a former consul general and his spouse make the case for the value of Los Angeles as a platform for marketing Canadian entertainment. The residence was taken off the market (leading one to wonder how hard the bureaucrats defended the value of our residences).

To his critics he was a diplomatic dilettante, who provoked but who failed to deliver. Baird was proud of comparisons to his hero, John Diefenbaker, an earlier renegade in power who railed against the ‘pearsonalities’ in External Affairs. Baird renamed the building next door to the Pearson Building after Diefenbaker.

See also:

A more generous perspective came from NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar in his parliamentary remarks on Baird’s resignation. Dewar observed that despite disagreements, Baird listened and “asked for our advice and actually followed up on some of the issues we were advocating for” notably “women, peace, and security and the whole issue of sexual violence.”

With his energy and force of personality, John Baird could have been the Conservatives’ equivalent of Lloyd Axworthy. Baird’s dignity agenda should have matched the accomplishments of Axworthy’s human security agenda.

But Baird too often lacked discipline and focus. He delighted in being the bull in the diplomatic china shop breaking, usually with intent, established norms and conventions. Sometimes this served the national interest but too often it left unfinished business. A trusted foreign service could have helped him, especially with the dignity agenda.

John Baird got better as he matured. He advanced the cause of human rights in a fashion consistent with Canadian values and traditions.

So what to make of John Baird as foreign minister: ‘high potential but achievements are incomplete’.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

– See more at:

Comments Off on Assessing John Baaird as Foreign Minsiter

John Baird legacy

CBC Power and Politics | Feb 3, 2015 | 6:04 Evan Solomon

John Baird steps down

What does MP’s departure mean for Canadian foreign affairs? Coin Robertson and Fen Hampson

Comments Off on John Baird legacy

Security vs Liberty

Balance between liberty and security is crucial, even as governments press for wider surveillance to fight terror

Colin Robertson   Globe and Mail Tuesday, Feb. 03 2015

Liberty and security: we want both. But at what price? The federal government’s proposed legislation to bolster our defences against terrorist threats raises, again, the see-saw debate between rights and responsibilities and the state’s obligation to preserve order.

Governments, whether right, left or centre, naturally want to cover all contingencies – what is more basic than protection of the state and its citizens. The natural tendency to overreach follows from this.

braham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the American Civil War. When Pierre Trudeau was asked how far he’d go to preserve order against bandits and blackmail during the FLQ crisis, the then-prime minister, and later father of our Charter of Rights, famously responded, “Just watch me.”

Hastily enacted and liberally applied wartime measures – alien and sedition laws and internments – are usually the subject of second thoughts and retrospective regrets.

The best counterweights to abuse are threefold: continuing oversight by elected representatives coupled with sunset provisions within the legislation; a vigilant media; and the courts with their judicial override in protection of our liberties.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper argues that because the international jihadist movement has declared war on Canada and its allies, the proposed measures – additional security powers; restrictions on suspected jihadists’ mobility and propaganda – are necessary and in line with those of our allies.

Announcement of the new measures coincides with the third-reading debate on legislation introduced after the October assassinations of two members of the Canadian military in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. The Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act is necessary, said Tory MP LaVar Payne, to “degrade and destroy” the terrorists before they bring their “barbaric, violent ideology to our shores.”

The opposition asks appropriate questions about the constitutionality, scope and extent of the legislation and wonders about the roots of jihadism. Justin Trudeau was mocked when he raised this question but it is pertinent.

Preventing radicalization confronts and frustrates all Western governments. Good intelligence and law enforcement can contain the threat but blocking the road to radicalization obliges the active involvement of family, community and schools.

Islamic religious leadership also needs to step up. The divide between church and state that the Reformation established for Christianity is much more tentative for Islam.

It’s not easy, as the British government discovered when it was accused of Islamaphobia after writing to more than 1,000 imams to ask them to explain how Islam can be “part of British identity.” The government argued that it had a duty to fight extremism.

Canadians are justly proud of our pluralism. That our identity derives from two official languages, our First Nations and the people of many different cultures and countries is cause for celebration. We continue to encourage nation-building through an active immigration policy and generous refugee resettlement.

It’s not without challenges but, comparatively, it works and continues to enjoy broad public support.

To its credit, the Harper government has sustained, even increased immigration, while remedying abuse and putting the emphasis on the responsibilities that come with citizenship.

The defence of liberty, especially individual liberty, is integral to being Canadian. But liberty, as the British philosopher Isaiah Berlin explored, is often in contradiction with other values, like equality.

At its root, jihadism is an idea, like communism and fascism, that promises a new utopia. Mr. Berlin observed of utopias that “nothing so wonderfully expands the imaginative horizons of human potentialities – but as guides to conduct they can prove literally fatal.”

We witness the spread of jihad abroad and worry about its attraction at home. Laws, law enforcement and our armed forces play a vital role but they are only a piece of the solution. This is why Islamic leadership, especially the imams, have a responsibility to get actively involved.

Writing in Two Concepts of Liberty, Mr. Berlin warned that “when ideas are neglected by those who ought to attend to them – that is to say, those who have been trained to think critically about ideas – they often acquire an unchecked momentum and an irresistible power over multitudes of men that may grow too violent to be affected by rational criticism.”

Preserving liberty is often about making choices that temporarily curb our liberties. We must ensure any abridgment is accountable and truly temporary.

The current and impending anti-terrorist measures alone will not end jihadism. This requires an attitudinal shift, especially amongst those best placed to stop those attracted to the call of jihad.

Inscribed on the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67 was the phrase: “Rights are the rewards of responsibility.” Good enough for our centennial year, it has equal application for our approaching sesquicentennial.

More Related to this Story

The prime minister has introduced anti-terrorism legislation that would give Canada's spy agency more power. Stephen Harper says the rights of Canadians would be still be protected if the bill passes, but the NDP is skeptical.

Video: Politicians debate the link between security, civil liberties in light of new anti-terrorism legislation
Violent extremists may cite Islam as a justification, but the West should be careful about calling them Islamic radicals, Secretary of State John Kerry told an audience of opinion leaders Friday at the World Economic Forum. (Jan. 23)

Video: John Kerry: Violent extremism is not Islamic
Video obtained by Reuters shows Cherif and Said Kouachi firing at police after their attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices. Rough Cut (no reporter narration)

Video: New footage shows Charlie Hebdo shooters in gunfight with Paris police
More than 1,500 people attend a funeral in the French overseas territory of Martinique, for policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe who was killed in Paris during a recent wave of violence. Jillian Kitchener reports.

Video: Somber funeral for policewoman killed in Paris
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has offered condolences to France for last week's Paris attacks, following an admission by the White House that it should have sent a senior official to last Sunday's solidarity march through the French capital. Mana Rabiee reports.

Video: John Kerry pays respects to France, after criticism of Paris attack response

Comments Off on Security vs Liberty