Canada Ready to Reengage on World Stage

“To this country’s friends all around the world… We’re back,” said Justin Trudeau after being elected the country’s new prime minister.

“To this country’s friends all around the world… We’re back,” said Justin Trudeau after being elected the country’s new prime minister.
Photo Credit: CBC

Canada set to re-engage on world stage


Canada’s next prime minister has vowed to resurrect the country’s active role in world affairs.  “Canada, in a sense, left the field,” says Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president of Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Under nine years of Conservative government, Canada engaged in peace and security dossiers in Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine and the fight against ISIS. But it had withdrawn from the softer international initiatives and several United Nations bodies including the General Assembly.

‘We didn’t participate in the same way’

“It has been noticed by other countries that we didn’t participate in the same way in say, disarmament, refugees, migration, even though we held up our migration levels,” he says. “This particularly came to a head more recently with the Syrian and the larger, global migration crisis where we were seen to be less than generous.”


Canada’s CF-18s will be pulled out of the coalition bombing strikes agains ISIS, but the prime minister-designate promises other contributions.

Canada’s CF-18s will be pulled out of the coalition bombing strikes agains ISIS, but the prime minister-designate promises other contributions. © Jason Franson/Canadian Press

‘We’re back,’ says prime minister-designate

The day after he won the federal election, Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau announced that things would change.  “To this country’s friends all around the world — many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years. Well, I have a simple message for you: on behalf of 35 million Canadians: We’re back.

Trudeau promised to resettle 25,000 refugees before the end of this year. He also called a meeting of the premiers of each province to discuss climate change and he invited them to come with him to the UN Summit in Paris in December. He will also have meetings of the G20, APEC, and he has said he wants to examine the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership before agreeing to implement it.

‘Earning our way back into good global citizenship’

Trudeau has vowed to withdraw Canada’s six CF-18 fighter jets active in coalition bombing raids against ISIS. But he would replace that with training or other peacekeeping efforts.

“So it is a fairly busy international schedule with both the classical peace and security issues, as well as trade and economic issues, and humanitarian and people issues on the agenda for Mr. Trudeau,” says Robertson.

“Earning our way back into good global citizenship requires money and time,” wrote Robertson in a recent editorial, adding, the new prime minister will have to decide where Canada wants to play a role in the world, what it wants to achieve and how much it will spend.

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North America: States, Provinces and Territories

Why we shouldn’t put provinces in the corner

Later this week, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will host the first-ever summit of North American governors and premiers in Colorado Springs.

Mexican governors will have the best attendance, reflecting that, for now, Mexico is the most enthusiastic about North American collaboration. Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski and Ambassador Gary Doer will lead the Canadians.

The summit agenda focuses on trade and economics with sessions on innovative infrastructure investment, economic innovation, jobs and investment.

Knowing governors matters. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto previously served as a governor. This year’s American presidential aspirants include Governor John Kasich and former governor Jeb Bush. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all served as governors.

Regional collaboration with governors is well developed. Atlantic premiers have met regularly with their New England counterparts since 1973. The Council of the Great Lakes Region, formed in 2011, focuses on the economy and ecosystem. Western governors and premiers attend each others’ annual meetings. As Manitoba premier, Gary Doer included U.S. and Mexican governors at a 2006 Gimli Western Premiers Conference. They joined in the ultimately successful push to use “smart” drivers’ licences for cross-border travel.

Constitutions vest provinces, states and territories with responsibility for schooling, health care, roads and infrastructure. In Canada, the provinces own their natural resources. They share responsibility for trade and immigration with the national government.

Budgetary pressures oblige innovation by provinces, states and territories. They have become the incubators and outliers on policies and programs, good and bad. Medicare was pioneered in Saskatchewan. Current emissions standards on Canadian and U.S. cars and trucks began in California.

Collaboration in practical environmental management is long-standing. Bombardier “Super Scoopers” are shared during forest fire season. Line workers from state and provincial utilities help each other out when ice storms and hurricanes put out the lights.

During the past decade, most Canadian innovation on climate change occurred at the provincial level. When prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau meets with the premiers, in anticipation of next month’s Paris climate summit, provincial achievements inevitably will form the basis for a constructive Canadian position on carbon pricing and innovation.

British Columbia’s carbon tax, now seven years old, works. Ontario has joined Quebec in a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions which is also aligned with California. Alberta plans to double its current carbon levy. Last year, Saskatchewan launched the first commercial carbon capture-and-storage project at a coal-fired plant in Estevan.

Hydropower utilities in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia provide 63 per cent of Canadian electricity and they are world leaders in this renewable resource. Oil-sands companies now share 814 technologies worth almost $13-billion. Mining companies used 30 per cent less water from the Athabasca River in 2014 compared with 2012. Alberta’s energy regulator is sharing its best practices with Mexico.

During the years when the Harper government put China in the ice-box, the premiers kept alive the vital official ties necessary for Asian business. Jean Chrétien recognized the value of including the premiers in Team Canada trade missions. It’s a practice that Mr. Trudeau should revive, starting with Mexico, our third-largest trading partner.

President Pena Nieto was the first international leader to congratulate Mr. Trudeau, tweeting “let’s start a new chapter.” In June, Mr. Trudeau spoke of Mexico’s “fundamental impact” on Canada-U.S. relations and called for lifting the visa requirement imposed by the Harper government.

Lifting the visa should be Mr. Trudeau’s first initiative. Seeing Mr. Pena Nieto in Mexico City, before meeting President Barack Obama in Washington, will underline Mr. Trudeau’s personal commitment to a “new chapter” with Mexico. Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu is ready to visit Ottawa. Talking about climate and competitiveness will also demonstrate to the White House that Mr. Trudeau appreciates the North American neighbourhood.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership and separate trade deals with the European Union coming together, trilateral co-operation can make North America a competitive platform. The practicalities of getting our goods to market – roads, rail and bridges, ports and terminals, grids and pipelines – must involve premiers and governors. This week’s Colorado Springs meeting can advance this agenda.

The premiers’ and governors’ summit should become a regular event with NASCO, the trilateral network for North American trade competitiveness, as its secretariat.

Provinces, states and territories are often dismissed, inaccurately, as a secondary, inferior level of government. Yet it is their work that most affects the everyday life of citizens.

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Pasloski lone premier to attend North American leaders summit in Colorado What if they held a summit and no one came?

National Governors Association Photo
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski at the Summit of North American Governors and Premiers, Oct. 31.

Peter Mazereeuw
Published: Wednesday, 11/04/2015 12:00 am EST

Canada’s premiers may have missed the memo from incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau about boosting ties with Canada’s southern neighbours.

Just one provincial leader attended the first-ever summit for the premiers and governors of Canada, the United States and Mexico on Oct. 30 and 31.

Six governors from each of Canada’s North American neighbours attended the summit in Colorado Springs, Colorado, according to the National Governors Association, which represents US governors.

The summit was announced in February by the associations representing state and provincial leaders in each country, and was the first designed to include sub-national leaders from across all three countries.

Co-operation on the economy was the official focus of the summit, which did not produce any binding commitments, said Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, the only Canadian premier to attend.

The leaders mostly used the summit—which included breakfasts, lunches, dinners, receptions and a few panel discussions—for networking and sharing ideas, said Mr. Pasloski.

“It was a chance to build relationships amongst the leaders in all three countries,” he said.

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised in his campaign platform to improve relations with Mexico and the United States. That included commitments to work with those countries towards a “continent-wide clean energy and environment agreement,” to host a summit for the three federal leaders and to “work to reduce the barriers that limit trade.”

Liberal Party spokesperson Dan Lauzon declined to comment on the premiers and governors summit, saying in an emailed statement that “our efforts are entirely focused on ensuring an orderly transition and on swearing-in the cabinet on November 4th.”

Yukon premier attends on behalf of Canada

The sub-federal leaders discussed infrastructure, broadband internet access, skills and training and international trade, and took in panel discussions on several of those subjects, said Mr. Pasloski.

The Yukon premier—who is taking over as chair of the Council of the Federation next year—will report on the summit to Canada’s other premiers during a meeting this winter, he said.

“What I heard across the table from everyone is that the number one focus was jobs, in all three countries,” he said.

The leaders who attended the summit in Colorado discussed planning another for 2017, though no details have yet been determined, he said.

The summit came at a difficult time of the year for most premiers, as most provincial legislatures are now in session, Mr. Pasloski said when asked why more premiers didn’t attend.

Canada’s Council of the Federation announced the summit in February alongside the NGA and Mexico’s National Conference of Governors.

The summit’s host, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, likely played a big role in determining the timing of the summit, Mr. Pasloski said.

Mr. Hickenlooper’s staff declined to accept an interview request.

Gary Doer, Canada’s outgoing ambassador to the United States, New Brunswick deputy premier Stephen Horsman and officials from across Canada also attended the governors and premiers summit, said Mr. Pasloski.

No ‘critical mass’ to draw attendance

The summit was a missed opportunity for Canada’s premiers to build upon their relationships with Mexico’s governors, said Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Federal leaders have handled most of the relationship between Canada and Mexico, she said.

“It would have been much better for Canada to have had a strong showing,” she said.

However, Canadian premiers and US governors often meet each other at regional gatherings, she said.

Quebec premier Philippe Couillard hosted a summit of state and provincial leaders from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence area in June, which was also attended by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and governors from eight states.

Ms. Wynne and Mr. Couillard also attended a summit of Great Lakes leaders in April 2014, as did then-federal transport minister Lisa Raitt.

Co-operation between US governors and Canadian premiers will be important as the Liberal government rolls out its infrastructure stimulus plan over the next couple of years, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who served in the United States.

States and provinces need to work together to ensure infrastructure projects designed to boost cross-border trade in Canada and the US complement each other, he said. 

Canada’s relations with Mexico and the United States likely won’t suffer from the poor attendance, said Mr. Robertson. The NGA, Council of the Federation and National Conference of Governors likely made each other aware of the planned attendance well in advance of the summit, avoiding any surprise no-shows that are more damaging to relations, he said.

The Council of the Federation identified Mr. Pasloski as the representative of Canada’s premiers in an Oct. 21 press release.

The relatively poor attendance for the summit was likely a result of failing to achieve a “critical mass” of leaders, said Mr. Robertson. Premiers and governors are more likely to make time for well-attended events where they can hash out issues with many of their counterparts at once, he said.

The governors and premiers may be wise to plan the next summit to coincide with the NGA winter meeting in Washington, which will guarantee attendance by a substantial number of US governors, he said. 

BC premier overseas

BC premier Christy Clark took part in a trade mission to China instead of attending the summit, her office confirmed. The mission was scheduled to run from Oct. 30 until Nov. 7.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis, the current Council of the Federation Chair, did not attend due to the election scheduled in that province at the end of November, council spokesperson Lindsay de Leeuw wrote in an emailed statement.

The Northwest Territories also have an election scheduled later this month.

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna did not attend the summit because the Nunavut legislature is currently in session, and the premier of Nunavut does not travel during that time, said spokesperson Yasmina Pepa.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger did not attend the summit “due to the fact our House is in session and the premier is required to attend Question Period and Estimates,” spokesperson Naline Rampersad wrote in an emailed statement.

Ms. Wynne—perhaps Mr. Trudeau’s closest provincial ally—announced that she planned to attend the summit in a July press release. Ms. Wynne’s office confirmed that she would not be attending in the days before the summit, but did not respond when asked why.

Mr. Couillard did not attend the summit because of a scheduling conflict, wrote spokesperson Harold Fortin in an emailed statement.  The premier’s office declined to say what Mr. Couillard would be doing instead.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil did not attend the summit because of his crowded schedule and preperations for the opening of the legislature next week, spokesperson Laurel Munroe said in an emailed statement.

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Reassessing Canada’s Foreign Affairs Approach

Reassessing Canada’s Foreign Affairs Approach

Canada’s new Liberal government is expected to chart a different foreign policy course. NPR’s Rachel Martin asks Colin Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute what this means for the U.S.


After nearly a decade of conservative governments, the Liberal Party of Canada swept into power this past week. One of the big issues in this past election revolved around one question – what is Canada’s role in the world? Justin Trudeau, the new prime minister-elect, thinks that after years of fighting alongside the U.S. against the Taliban, al-Qaida and most recently, ISIS, it’s time to scale back Canada’s combat missions.

To drive that point home, shortly after the election, Justin Trudeau told President Obama Canada will no longer participate in airstrikes against ISIS. We called up Colin Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute to learn more about the direction the country’s going in.

COLIN ROBERTSON: Well, I think there was a sense in Canada that do we want to be at the sharp end? We have been at the sharp end in Libya and Afghanistan, where Canada took a disproportionate number of casualties. There’s general support for the campaign against ISIL, but how best you do it? And from Mr. Trudeau’s perspective, I think he wants to also signal departure from what they saw as a highly combative, war-like approach of the conservative government.

MARTIN: Robertson says Canadians are also war weary after fighting in Afghanistan.

ROBERTSON: At the outset, we were in for a good reason. This was immediately post-9/11. An ally, the United States, had been attacked. We went in. We took a significant role in Kandahar while the Americans were very active in Iraq at the time. We did not, as you know, go into Iraq, but we were very active in Kandahar. After a decade, there was a sense by the conservative government, shared by the opposition parties, that we had done what we could do there.

MARTIN: When it comes to fighting ISIS, Canada may no longer be flying sorties alongside the Americans. But Robertson says there are other ways the country can play a part.

ROBERTSON: Canada will do its bit to take migrants, refugees, perhaps setting up SWAT teams in Turkey and Jordan and other places to bring people in more quickly. And in terms of the campaign itself, there are other things we can do – lift capacity, helping out on logistics. We have special forces there. He hasn’t commented on that. So we may well still participate in the training. I think so much of this remains to be seen. Remember the new government doesn’t take office until November the 4.

MARTIN: What is clear is that the new Liberal government in Canada is likely to prioritize the environment in a new way. Colin Robertson says, unlike his predecessor, Trudeau wants to work closely with the United States to combat climate change.

ROBERTSON: As we approach the Paris climate conference in December, you will see a significant shift on the part of Canadian government, Mr. Trudeau and indeed most Canadians. Canadians are usually pushing the envelope on environmental issues. And certainly, Mr. Trudeau has indicated he wants to be ahead of this issue. So I think on that one, which is certainly top agenda for President Obama, you’ll see Canada and the United States in closer alignment.

MARTIN: That was Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat. He’s now at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He spoke with us from Ottawa.

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Canada USA Relations: Climate and Defence

CTV Question Period on Canada US relations under PM designate Justin Trudeau with Michael Kergin, Laura Dawson and CTV host Bob Fife

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 12.57.13 PM


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UN at 70

CTV News Omar Sachedina interview on UN at 70

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 8.07.17 AM

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Trade and Canadian Elections

Debating trade during elections is Canadian tradition

The tariff was a staple election issue after Confederation. Confederation itself was in part a defensive reaction to the U.S. abrogation of the Canada-U.S. reciprocity agreement. An integral part of Sir John A. Macdonald’s National Policy was a high tariff to protect Canadian manufacturing interests.

The dispute between Liberal free traders and Conservative protectionists culminated in the 1911 “reciprocity” election. A political cartoon from that era captures the mood. Captioned “The Way He Would Like it – Canada For Sale,” it features a grasping Uncle Sam exchanging a bag of money for a bowed and bound Miss Canada.

The dispute over tariff levels contributed to the rise of Prairie populism and the Progressive movement in the 1920s. Progressives eventually joined the Liberals, Conservatives and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (that, in 1961 morphed into the NDP). The Progressives also gave the Progressive Conservatives their antecedent, the national party name from 1942-2003.

Trade continued to feature in elections after the Second World War. It was the overarching theme of the1988 election. By then, however, party positions were reversed. Liberal Leader John Turner and NDP Leader Ed Broadbent opposed the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) negotiated by Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Mulroney, who had once ridiculed free trade. The impassioned, televised debate between Messieurs Turner and Mulroney is an election classic.

Continental trade was an issue in 1993 when Canadians elected Liberal Jean Chrétien. Subsequent side agreements on labour and the environment secured the North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA). Despite some rocky years of adjustment, the Canadian economy boomed ahead during the nineties on the back of the improved continental access and our integration into global value chains.

The real success of the FTA and NAFTA was the confidence it gave Canadians to compete internationally. If most premiers opposed freer trade in 1988, today it is the premiers who are the most active salesmen and advocates for freer trade.

Always a trading nation, we have become a nation of traders. Canada draws most of its annual income from trade.

Yet fears about trade persist.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s opposition to the TPP is a key theme in his party’s campaign and he has seized on Hillary Clinton’s opposition to bolster his arguments.

Successive U.S. administrations have done a poor job promoting the benefits of trade. While most Americans think the TPP a “good thing”, support is lower than in Canada and Mexico. Having 2016 presidential contender Ms. Clinton, one of the architects of the U.S. pivot to the Pacific, oppose the TPP undermines public confidence in freer trade.

Unifor, the union representing 40,000 Canadian auto workers, claims that the TPP will result in a loss of 20,000 auto jobs.

Similar fears were voiced by unions after the signature of the Auto Pact in 1965 and the FTA. In each case, employment subsequently rose. While employment in the auto sector is down significantly from its post-FTA/NAFTA highs, industry employment has posted small gains in recent years.

Adjustment assistance is essential to assuaging public fears on freer trade. The Harper government has promised funds to the auto and dairy industry in the wake of TPP.

Look to the example of Canada’s vintners. Before the FTA, Canadian Baby Duck was the preferred choice of teeny-boppers and, apocryphally, used to dissolve paint. With adjustment assistance, vines were replaced, equipment modernized and skills and training instituted. Today, Canadian wine is sold to 40 nations.

Governments and business need to do a better job of explaining the benefits of trade. If all politics is local so is trade. Businesses should tell employees how much of their salaries depend on trade.

Stephen Harper points with pride to the agreements concluded since 2006 with 39 countries. The TPP adds or updates 11 more. Meanwhile our market share of global trade continues to decline – “the second largest in the G20” observed the then senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada.

Finding markets for our goods and services is even more important than negotiating the trade deals.

One of the most successful initiatives of the Chrétien government was the series of Team Canada missions that included premiers and the private sector. Governor-General David Johnston markets Canadian services, especially education, during his travels.

Debating trade during elections is a long and honourable Canadian habit, even if party consistency is not. Our next government needs to make explaining trade to Canadians a permanent campaign.

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The CSIS Podcast

Part of the:

CSIS Podcasts

The CSIS Podcast with Colm Quinn

A look at the week’s news in foreign policy through the eyes of the experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted by Colm Quinn. CSIS Scholar Scott Miller speaks on Canadian election results and cites my piece.


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Canada-USA Relations under Justin Trudeau

Trudeau Seeks a Beyond-Keystone Reboot to Canada-U.S. Relations
Danielle Bochove Bloomberg  October 22, 2015

Climate policy seen as most likely area for substantive change
First Trudeau must make himself known on trade and ISIS

“It’s more than Keystone,” could well be Justin Trudeau’s mantra on managing Canada’s vital relationship with the U.S.

Even before formally taking office, Prime Minister-elect Trudeau is racing to build a closer relationship with President Barack Obama. He spoke with Obama by telephone on Tuesday and stressed the need for the two countries to work more closely on environmental cooperation and to broaden a bilateral conversation that, under Stephen Harper, was dominated by the controversial pipeline. One of Trudeau’s first tasks may be to send an envoy to Washington to begin aligning positions on climate change, analysts said.

A more immediately amicable relationship could serve multiple objectives for Trudeau: delivering quickly on a key pledge to shore up the country’s international reputation by establishing a common front with the U.S. ahead of climate change negotiations in Paris, and managing the rejection by Obama of the Keystone XL project, which may be announced soon.

“One of the things that has been a challenge within the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is it has in many cases been focused on a single point of disagreement, a single pipeline,” Trudeau said after the Obama call.

Trudeau has made much over the past year of the need to build a closer and more productive cross-border relationship as part of his overall critique of Harper, whom he handily defeated in Monday night’s Canadian election. He promised to end the “hectoring” tone in the relationship and to set up a special cabinet committee “to oversee and manage” issues between the two countries.

The 43-year-old Trudeau will likely have his first official meeting with Obama at the G20 leaders’ summit in Turkey Nov. 15. There, the migrant crisis and Canada’s pledge to end its participation in the aerial portion of the campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq will be front and center. Trudeau has pledged to take in additional refugees and to increase Canada’s efforts in training local ground forces.

A day later, the new prime minister is expected to attend an Asia Pacific meeting in Manila where trade partners will want him to bring greater clarity to his government’s stand on the Trans Pacific trade partnership.

But it’s the Paris Climate Change Conference in December Trudeau has spoken most about, promising to attend with Canada’s provincial premiers. “I indicated to Mr. Obama that I felt that it was important that Canada demonstrates a level of positive engagement on the environmental file on the international stage,” Trudeau said in his first post-election press conference.

Over the past year, Trudeau’s party repeatedly blamed Harper’s aggressive and single-minded pursuit of a single cross-border energy project for a fractious relationship with the White House.

“For the past couple of years we haven’t heard of Canada in the United States except for Keystone. And in the last year, that all just seemed rather silly, quite frankly,” Stephen Blank, a long-time U.S. scholar on Canada, said in an interview.

The Canadian side of the world’s biggest trading relationship puts great emphasis on the importance of good inter-personal connections at the top. “There’s more than just structural issues involved, there’s personalities,” said Bill Graham, a former Liberal foreign and defense minister. Referring to Harper and Obama, he said: “I don’t think their relationship was in any way either warm or productive and I don’t think that was helpful to Canada.”

It is, of course, always easier for Democrats to get along with Liberals, and Republicans with Conservatives, but Trudeau seems to have taken aboard the advice of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a Conservative, that it is the responsibility of any Canadian leader to develop a good working relationship with whoever is U.S. president.

Trudeau’s first move in that direction should be to initiate a substantive conversation with the White House on environmental policy before Paris, said Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and now vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Given the tight time line, he thinks it likely Trudeau will send a high-level emissary to Washington to begin aligning the country’s positions; senior Trudeau adviser Gerald Butts, the former President of the World Wildlife Federation-Canada, would be the obvious choice, he said.

Disagreement exists as to whether there’s time left to do much business with Obama. Blank feels any progress made on climate will be “toxic” to the next Republican-dominated House and could prove ephemeral. Others, including Christopher Sands, Director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, argue that the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1988, the last year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. “Conventional wisdom for Canadian diplomats is the last year of an administration is not a bad time to push,” Sands said.

Allan Gottlieb, who headed up Canada’s foreign service for the elder Trudeau and then served as U.S. ambassador in Washington under Mulroney, said he came to appreciate the importance of the close personal ties while watching Ronald Reagan cut through blockages at Mulroney’s urging.

For many analysts, Trudeau’s stated intent to expand North American ties, including with Mexico, and develop a continent-wide climate policy has the potential to define his government. Gottlieb is fond of quoting former French president Charles de Gaulle that “to be a great leader, you need only have one idea.” Trudeau’s father’s one great idea, Gottlieb said, was making his vision of a strong federalist nation, thrust upon him by the potential break-up of Canada, a cornerstone of his international relations.

“It’s the times that give the opportunity for greatness to arise,” he said. While it remains to be seen if Justin Trudeau’s “one idea” will emanate from his embrace of environmental concerns, “it would be a great mistake to underestimate him.”

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Reforming Canada’s Foreign Service asked asked seven former Canadian diplomats to name the most important changes or elements for Canada’s foreign policy going forward.

Completely reform Canada’s foreign service (and, here’s how)

Colin Robertson

I wish that the next Government spend money and effort to revive and reform Canada’s Foreign Service. In recent years, Canada’s global engagement — defence, development and diplomacy — has declined.

In the post-war period Canada’s Foreign Service was the best in the world. ‘Pearsonian diplomacy,’ as it came to be known, was creative, flexible and innovative.

Under the direction of successive liberal internationalist governments, Liberal and Progressive Conservative, Canadian diplomacy defined the terms ‘helpful fixer’ and ‘bridge-builder’ first through constructive architecture of institutions — notably the United Nations and its alphabet soup of agencies and the Bretton Woods financial institutions. Housed with the prime minister in East Block until it moved to the Pearson Building (1973) the Foreign Service enjoyed a special relationship with every prime minister but John Diefenbaker and Stephen Harper.

Members of the service were regularly seconded to the Office of the Prime Minister: serving Brian Mulroney as chief of staff (Derek Burney), speechwriter (e.g. Paul Heinbecker), press secretary (Marc Lortie). On major initiatives, notably the human security agenda of Jean Chretien and Lloyd Axworthy, the Foreign Service delivered on the Land Mines Treaty and International Criminal Court.

That the RCMP is now called in to investigate Foreign Affairs over the unprofessional leak—reported on the eve of the recent Munk foreign policy election debate in September—of a classified transition document arguing that Canada’s influence “has declined or is under threat,” is indicative of a relationship between the Harper government and its foreign service that is best characterized as ‘mutual contempt.’

While the Harper government bears most responsibility for this condition, the Foreign Service itself needs both revival and reform.

Looking back nostalgically to the Pearsonian golden years would be a mistake. That era is over. Diplomacy needs to change and adapt.

Our allies, notably New Zealand, are experimenting with different ways to do foreign service using applied technologies, fixed term contracts, single assignments and more partnerships for delivery of services. In an era of wikileaks and distrust of Government, there must be greater emphasis on ‘public diplomacy.’ Let our ambassadors experiment: applying social media and developing best practices.

As for the Foreign Service, start with a look at its terms and conditions — a root and branch examination from recruitment to retirement. The last examination, begun under Prime Minister Joe Clark and implemented by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was conducted during the Cold War. For a model on how to conduct this examination, look to the Task Force on Canada’s role in Afghanistan, chaired by former Foreign Minister John Manley — short, sharp and focused.

A renewed Foreign Service should include continuous training, a balance between generalist and specialist, and the recognition that empathy, adaptability and teamwork are essential traits.

Consider the following:

  • Demands on the foreign service will always outstrip resources and budgets. Events happen and we need to be prepared. We need to prioritize, partner when possible and find our niche.
  • With the return of multi-polarity, international institutions needs re-examination. What memberships work for us? Are we in the ones that count?
  • We depend even more on international trade and recent agreements now need follow-through so that we reap the benefits. Can we more closely integrate the Trade Commissioner Service with, for example, the Export Development Corporation? And how does development assistance fit into the equation?
  • Reflecting our growing pluralism at home through global immigration, the Canadian diaspora has expanded significantly and it should be better utilized to advance Canadian interests abroad.
  • We also need to pay more attention to consular assistance and the implications of dual citizenship, most recently illustrated by the Mohammed Fahmy case.
  • The number of active international players — provinces, business, civil society — has greatly expanded. How can we better market our educational services and shouldn’t we resurrect reciprocal youth leadership programs?
  • So too has the playing field. While issues of peace and security — hostile, failed and failing states — are still vital, we now need applied expertise on mass migration, climate change, terrorism, space and cyber, pandemics and crime, agribusiness and energy, the Arctic. How do we develop and import expertise?
  • We need to do diplomacy differently and adjust according to local conditions. Selling off the official residences — which should be platforms for advancing Canadian interests — should be reconsidered. Presence is important recognizing that one size does not fit all. We need a thousand points of contact: using honorary consuls and mini-posts. We should shift the balance of deployments from headquarters to the field.
  • Within Ottawa the Foreign Service needs to define its role with other government departments and especially with the National Security Advisor and what is becoming a de facto National Security Council. We need to resurrect the cabinet system to give direction and coordinate and manage the intersect between the agencies responsible for diplomacy, defence, and development.
  • Hard and soft power are both essential. Diplomacy is much cheaper than the application of military muscle. While military muscle can stabilize a situation and underlines deterrence, diplomacy is best suited to achieving political solutions and reconciliation.

Canadians’ sense of self draws from what we do and how we are perceived beyond our borders. For the next government there will be many opportunities for re-engagement in responsible global citizenship while at the same time advancing national interests. To do so requires a Foreign Service that is ready and able for action.

Links to the pieces by my former colleagues follow and I especially commend the piece by my friend Jeremy Kinsman with whom I share common cause on North American integration. We both recently spoke on how to go forward at Ryerson University:

Jeremy Kinsman


Anne Leahy


David Wright


Jillian Stirk


Glenn Davidson


Christopher Westdal

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Remembering Ken Taylor

Remembering Ken Taylor: ‘An unconventional diplomat’

Oysters, martinis, and effective diplomacy. A colleague remembers former diplomat Ken Taylor

October 15, 2015

Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador to Iran, briefs a reporter on the current conditions in Iran one week before leaving Iran with six Americans in a 1980 file photo. Taylor, who sheltered six U.S. citizens during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, has died, says a family friend THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Peter BreggPeter Bregg/CP

On news of the death of Ken Taylor, at 81, I called Colin Robertson, another former Canadian diplomat, who served under Taylor in the early 1980s in New York, soon after Taylor became a hero for his role in hiding six Americans in Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. Robertson, who lives in Ottawa now and works with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, spoke about Taylor’s glory days following the “Canadian Caper.”

Q: What were your thoughts on hearing that your old boss had died?

A: Ken was a great Canadian patriot, a hero, but Ken was also really cool. I first met him when I was posted to New York in 1980, and he had of course already performed the great “Canadian Caper” in Tehran, and the government had appointed him our consul general there, partly because of his celebrity, the magnetism Ken had, and the importance of New York to the diplomatic establishment.

Q: So it was a good fit.

A: He took the town by storm. Anywhere he went. Even before he arrived, we saw it. Americans everywhere would thank us for what we’d done. Sending Ken to New York was exactly the right thing. He fit right into that highly cosmopolitan city, but he was still proudly Canadian. We had issues he was able to advance.

Q: What was he like to work under?

A: He was an unconventional diplomat, certainly for that era. First of all, he didn’t wear the classic blue suit; he always was always in a fashionable suit that suited him. Of course, he had that great hair, all the curls, and then the dark glasses that were his signature. Always a smile on his face. He was always approachable and personable. He had no desk in his office. He had a coffee table. You’d sit around it and deal with issues.

Q: He must have made quite an impression on you as a new guy.

A: I traveled with him as a junior officer. In his briefcase, there was always a novel—Bonfire of the Vanities—or a magazine—Sports Illustrated. It wasn’t the heavy-duty stuff. I remember him teasing me. I was traveling with a copy of Foreign Affairs. He said, “Colin, you gotta lighten up.”

There’s one episode that really sticks with me. We were traveling up to Yale, where he had a series of speeches to give. We didn’t take the car. He said, no, let’s take the train, because we could go to the bar car and have a martini. After we’d had oysters at Grand Central Station. And we talked. He pointed out that it was really important to understand the society as a whole if you were going to be a good diplomat. It wasn’t straight politics, or economics, or trade; it was understanding the culture in which you were working and having an empathy for it.

Q: You saw that in his way of doing diplomacy?

A: Ken had empathy for everybody, including the Iranian people. Remember, this was a time where the Iranians were not terribly popular, because of what had happened to the United States. He had a way—his own gentle way—of encouraging Americans that while they might have a disagreement with the Ayatollah and ruling elite in Iran, the Iranian people had great affection for America, and never break those links.

Q: And you feel that was effective, not just a nice way of looking at the world?

A: Ken defied the traditional norms of diplomacy, but he always achieved what we set out to. He was remarkably effective. As a boss, you couldn’t help but like him. He left it to you to get the job done. He wasn’t a micro-manager in any sense. He traveled a great deal because he was in great demand. But when he was there, it was just fun and interesting and you learned the craft. This how he did business. I’ve talked to people who were with him in Tehran, and before, and this is how he was. He created a sense of team around a shared purpose.

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