Arms Sales


Three lessons to draw from the Saudi arms deal controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Staffing the Foreign Minister’s Office

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Terrorism and Philippines

Sask hostage facing Monday execution deadline

Jason Warick, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Saskatoon StarPhoenix 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Justin Trudeau’s internationalism after six months

What Trudeau needs to do to sustain international momentum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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