Stephen Harper and foreign policy

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By jennifer campbell, Ottawa Citizen December 10, 2013

Does Prime Minister Stephen Harper have a foreign policy? Former diplomat Colin Robertson says he does indeed.

“It’s brash, it is bold, it is ideological and in some ways, it’s a departure from (traditional) Canadian foreign policy,” Robertson said, naming departures from old practices that include sticking with traditional allies, adhering to rules-based institutions and committing to the United Nations and the Commonwealth. A major thrust of his foreign policy, Robertson said, is driven by his desire to see Canada do well economically.

Robertson was speaking as part of the Canadian International Council’s National Capital Branch program titled Making Sense of Harper’s Foreign Policy. Also discussing the issue was Roland Paris, director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Paris, who worked in the Privy Council Office for a time, called Harper’s foreign policy more incoherent than ideologically based. “With the exception of a few areas and a few relationships and a couple of issues, it’s been more defined by neglect and a lack of attention to how the little pieces the government is focussed on fit together,” Paris said.

Paris garnered a round of applause from the audience when he talked about how the Harper government hasn’t used its diplomats to full advantage.

“I think the prime minister has a bit of idée fixe, to his own detriment, about diplomats and diplomacy as being kind of unnecessary luxuries,” Paris said. “I don’t think he’s serving his own interests or our nation’s interests by downgrading diplomacy in this way.”

Commenting on the trade file, Paris said Canadian trade policy has to be about two things: getting the Canada-U.S. relationship right and taking advantage of rapid growth in the Asia-Pacific area.

“To my knowledge, the government has not concluded a single free-trade agreement with an Asia-Pacific country yet,” Paris said. “Secondly, the core economic priority between Canada and the United States — the border. There were initial gains, but things have really stalled on Beyond the Border, and third, there’s failure on the Keystone Pipeline. If (the prime minister) fancies himself a CEO, that would be a firing offence for a company. CETA is lovely and important, but will the European area grow at 10 per cent per year? No.”