The U.S. president called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “two-faced,” but traditional diplomacy has always been two-faced. A discussion with David Frum and Colin Robertson
Trump’s Syria policy now appears to be — quite literally — ‘blood for oil’
Can allies trust an administration that boasts of using military power to pillage other nations’ resources?
It was perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment in Donald Trump’s impromptu, marathon news conference — an event which, along with the NATO leaders summit that provided the occasion, was already crowded with jaw-dropping moments.
“Right now, the only soldiers we have in that area are essentially the soldiers that are keeping the oil,” the U.S. president said of the redefined role of American troops in eastern Syria. “So we have the oil. And we can do with the oil what we want.”
In that infamous hot-mic video of the reception for NATO leaders at Buckingham Palace, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was caught gossiping with other world leaders about watching the jaws of Trump’s staffers “hit the floor” upon hearing him announce that the next G-7 meeting would be held at Camp David.
Trudeau also was a witness to Trump’s tirade over the Syrian oil fields in that same “unscheduled” (the prime minister’s word for it) media event.
The U.S. president has, for over a month, railed on about securing control of Syria’s oil resources to America’s benefit — partly as a way to save face over his sudden abandonment of Kurdish allies in the face of a Turkish incursion into northern Syria, partly to paper over the broken promise to withdraw U.S troops from the country entirely.
Piracy as policy
What made this performance especially jaw-dropping was his suggestion that America should have — and by extension could have — pillaged the oil resources of other nations.
“We’ve taken the oil. I’ve taken the oil. We should have done it in other locations where we were. I can name four of them right now,” said Trump. (He did not name the other countries.)
It might have been the random musings of a stressed-out president facing impeachment. That might be too generous an interpretation, however, given Trump’s bottom-line approach to alliances — where cash transactions in exchange for Washington’s support rule the day.
It all leaves allies pondering some uncomfortable questions. What does this mean for the future? And how willing should any country be to support an America that muses openly — perhaps illegitimately — about stealing the resources of other nations?
At the very least, Trump’s repeated comments have given fresh ammunition to critics who’ve long claimed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is more about controlling the oil than supporting freedom and democracy.
Stuart Hendin, a University of Ottawa expert on the laws of armed conflict, said if U.S. allies — Canada included — weren’t paying attention, they should have been.
Trump’s remarks present a conundrum for U.S. allies in that they call into question U.S. policy aims and intentions.
“Why would one partner want to be with a force when you really never know [what] the political whims are going to be?” Hendin asked.
“What [the remarks] create is a fear and a potential lack of respect. The military ethos is that you have to have the respect and absolute trust of the people you’re in the field with.”
Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser, provided a somewhat more rational policy explanation for holding the eastern Syria oil fields during the recent Halifax International Security Forum. He said the resources had been a revenue source for the Islamic State and keeping them out of the hands of newly rejuvenated extremists was a U.S. priority.
“It is totally consistent with our campaign to defeat to Daesh, to defeat ISIS, and we’re going to hold on to those oil fields as long as necessary to make sure ISIS doesn’t reconstitute,” he said.”The added benefit is that the Kurds can use some of that oil to pay for refugees, to guard the camps where ISIS prisoners are being held.”
A revenue source for Assad?
Many of those oilfields are in disastrous shape and in need of overhaul after eight years of civil war.
But who’s buying the oil from Syria’s Hasakah province? Do those customers include the rogue regime of President Bashar al-Assad?
O’Brien’s answer was astonishing.
“Some of the oil may be going to the Assad regime, some of the oil may be going to Turkey, some of the oil may be going to the Kurds in Erbil,” he said.
“I think the oil from those fields is going to be a number of different places. The main point is that the revenue from that oil is not going to ISIS.”
- Tensions at NATO summit are what ‘you might hear in a playground,’ says historian Margaret MacMillan
Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said Trump’s Syria decisions may have been knee-jerk, maybe even a strategic blunder, but allies can still have faith in the U.S. institutions that have been trying to hold America’s foreign policy and interests together in the face of a willful president.
“Certainly Trump is unpredictable,” he said, adding that “in the military establishment, certainly on the uniform side” there is a respect both for democratic institutions and international law.
He may have a point. It’s worth remembering that one of the key witnesses in the impeachment drama to date — one of the few people at the centre of U.S. power who have stood up to Trump — is a serving member of the military: Lt.-Col. Alexander Vindman.
ANALYSIS: Trump will remember Trudeau’s NATO snickers — so may Canadian voters
But the bully’s response was surprisingly charitable. He only called Trudeau “two-faced” before shrugging Trudeau off as “a very nice guy” who was hurt after Trump correctly called him and Canada out for being lightweights when it comes to defence spending.
And as both leaders jetted back to their respective national capitals Wednesday, the chattering classes in Washington and Ottawa got down to figuring out how this would affect a Canada-U.S. relationship that was already a little more than slightly chilled.
“This is not good for their personal relationship, but the machinery of government will continue to handle most issues on the bilateral agenda for now, so there will not be an explicit price for Canada to pay now. But as we have seen with Mitt Romney and others, Trump has a long memory for slights and I expect there will be consequences down the line.”
Trudeau addresses candid comment seemingly made about Trump at NATO summit
Indeed, even though the Trudeau-Trump relationship might remain unchanged — for now — it may make things more difficult for those working on Canada’s behalf in Washington. On social media and the cable news networks, Republicans reminded anyone who would listen that, when he’s travelling outside the United States, Trump represents all America and that America’s allies at least ought to have a little respect for the office. That was a point made on Twitter by a Democratic representative — who is no fan of Trump — on Twitter.
In any event, to the extent that one believes that Trump is a strategic thinker when it comes to politics — and that’s obviously a highly debatable point — Trump has bigger problems than catty comments by Trudeau, Macron or Johnson.
For example, Trump needs to get the new NAFTA through Congress, where it’s known as the United States-Canada-Mexico agreement. As he enters his re-election year, Trump needs a foreign policy win.
“Trump needs NAFTA more than anyone else does,” said Kim Richard Nossal, a professor of political studies at Queen’s University and a longtime student of Canada-U.S. relations. “Trump’s got nothing to show for his three years. Everything he’s touched in global affairs has turned to dust.”
If Trudeau can push the USMCA over the finish line, Trump may more quickly forget the NATO snickers.
Colin Robertson, a veteran Canadian diplomat who is now a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, noted that, so far as the NATO summit was concerned, Trudeau’s “unforced error” is not the most significant issue. Trump, Robertson said, has a problem with the Pentagon. His generals are suspicious and annoyed at Trump for the way he has destabilized the NATO alliance. Trump needs to patch that relationship up and he got a start in London by seeming to be a defender of the kind of NATO-bashing that Macron engaged in.
And Robertson agrees with Sands that Trump’s ‘two-faced’ comment is not a big deal, as he has said worse about Trudeau in the past.
“I think this will pass.”
Singh comments on Trudeau ‘mocking’ Trump at NATO reception, says other things to criticize about
But Trudeau has given Canadian voters yet another reason to think that he is not a serious player on the international stage.
Indeed, during the just-concluded election campaign, it was easy to find Liberal partisans at Trudeau rallies who, though they certainly planned to vote for him again, thought his conduct on the foreign affairs file in his first mandate was disappointing, mostly because of that ill-fated trip to India.
But most polls over the last few years have, by and large, shown that Canadians generally approved of the tone and approach that Trudeau took when dealing with the combustible American president. Trudeau was respectful but not deferential; firm but not aggressive. His approach yielded a new NAFTA that could have been much worse and ensured that the illegal and damaging steel and aluminum tariffs levied on Canadian firms last for as short a period as possible.
Trudeau’s handling of his Washington neighbour — a neighbour polls have shown that very few Canadians like — may have helped Trudeau in the election.
And though it may be two or three years before voters are asked to render their second verdict on Trudeau’s time as prime minister, they, like Trump, may have long memories for slights.
NATO at 70: leaders meet in London today
Most alliances historically don’t last more than a couple of decades, but the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance is 70 this year, and has grown over that time to its now 29 members.
Originally formed as a protection against the Soviets, new and much different types of threats lurk, and there are divisions in the organisation.
Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and a Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. discusses the issues.
ListenU.S. President Donald Trump has been forcefully scolding many members of the Alliance for not living up to defence spending. In 2018, the Alliance widened the rules as to what counts as defence spending. Canada is among several members, including France and Germany, not living up to the commitment to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence.
This now includes for example, pensions paid to former soldiers. The Liberal government has been meticulously searching for any expense that might be counted as defence spending including RCMP expenses for members involved in peacekeeping, costs for Canada’s spy agency-the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and even death benefits for veteran’s survivors. Canada now spends about 1.27 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product on defence.
Robertson notes that the Alliance is burdened with disagreements, but that this is not unusual in NATO’s history.
It now faces new and much different threats from the more simpler Cold War period, such as new state actor threats, social but somewhat fluid and unorganised threats like piracy and mass migration, and non-state actors like Al Queda and DAESH, and a move by Russia and China to militarise space. While it has its hurdles to overcome, Robertson feels the Alliance will remain strong coming out of this week’s meetings.
- CBC: M. Brewster: Dec 2/19: NATO summit expected to put Canada under pressure on multiple fronts
- CBC: M. Brewster: Dec 3/19: How NATO’s defence spending benchmark turned into an international PR exercise
- BBC: J. Marcus: Dec 3/19: Nato summit: Divisions exposed ahead of meeting
- CNN: C. Brown: Mar 14/19: NATO report says only 7 members are meeting defense spending targets
If we thought passage of the new North American free-trade agreement would get Donald Trump off our back, think again. We’ve been served notice that Canada has got to pony up more on defence and security. We should do so, not because the U.S. wants us to, but because it serves Canadian interests, especially in exercising Canadian sovereignty in our North.
The Trump administration is close to a deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on congressional ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade. The possible changes to the agreement signed last November will not trouble Canada. Tougher labour and environmental standards enforcement – “trust but verify” – are aimed at Mexico. Another change would shorten the patent-protection period for new pharmaceutical drugs.
The USMCA could pass through Congress before Christmas. But even if the deal gets stuck, Mr. Trump’s threat to rescind NAFTA is increasingly remote. The more Americans learned about NAFTA, the more they liked it, especially in the farming community and Mr. Trump needs their votes if he is to be re-elected next year.
A new trade agreement does not mean complacency about trade.
We’re still paying tariffs on our lumber exports. Protectionism, especially in procurement, is endemic. We need to sustain the Team Canada effort with Congress, governors and state legislators. Rather than blame Ottawa, provincial premiers need to remind their neighbouring states why trade and investment is mutually beneficial. Premiers and governors should strive for a reciprocity agreement on procurement.
But if our trading relationship is shifting out of crisis mode, defence and security will take that space. Continued free riding by the allies, as the Trump administration sees it, is not an option.
With the end of the Cold War, Canada took the peace dividend and then coasted in our defence spending. But today’s world is meaner with a rising China and revanchist Russia.
The Trudeau Government thought its defence policy – titled Strong, Secure, Engaged – and its promise of new warships, fighter jets and active missions in Latvia and Iraq, would suffice. Wrong. For Mr. Trump, the bottom line is the 2014 commitment by the governments of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member-countries to achieve spending of 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence by 2024. Canadian spending, according to NATO, is currently 1.27 per cent. It is scheduled to rise to around 1.4 per cent by 2026-27, well short of the allies’ pledge.
If we are going to spend more, then let’s invest in northern sovereignty
Brian Mulroney persuaded Ronald Reagan to tacitly acknowledge Canadian sovereignty through Arctic waters. Since then, the Americans have pressed us to exercise that sovereignty. Stephen Harper instituted Operation Nanook and he made annual summer visits to the North. But the promised Arctic base in Nanisivik, Nunavut, has never materialized. The promised icebreakers are still to be built.
The Americans want us to collaborate in updating the postwar North Warning System. Jointly managed as part of our NORAD alliance, its replacement will be expensive. But it’s also an opportunity for us to lead in the development of innovative space and underwater applications that would buttress our Arctic sovereignty. We can take inspiration from HMCS Harry DeWolf, the first of our offshore patrol ships. The largest Canadian warship built in 50 years, it is now afloat in Halifax harbour.
We are also an Indo-Pacific country. The almost year-old Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) gives us first-mover advantage over the U.S. in places such as Japan. But our Pacific partners expect us to demonstrate greater commitment to their security. This means more navy and air reach. Is our Pacific posture adequate? Does our capability, including our bases, meet the new threat assessments?
Managing the trade relationship with the Trump administration is hard. David McNaughton was the right ambassador for the Trudeau government’s first term and its focus on trade. Mr. MacNaughton’s outreach strategy needs to become a permanent campaign.
Our next ambassador will need demonstrated security chops in addition to political savvy. Handling defence and security is going to be really hard. But as a friendly ambassador, whose country faces the same challenge, observed at the recent Halifax International Security Forum, we Canadians are going to have to toughen up.
With pro-democracy protests still ongoing, albeit, slightly calmed, the elections for the lower echelon of government, the regional councils, were held on Sunday.
Pro-democracy candidates won almost all positions and now 17 of the 18 regional councils are dominated by pro-democracy members.
Colin Robertson gives an analysis of the implications, and Canada’s position. He is Vice-President at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, an independent, non-partisan research institute related to foreign policy and a former Canadian consul in Hong Kong
The message that Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam had been promoting to the press and apparently to Beijing is that a silent majority in Hong Kong were fed up with the protests and wanted authorities to firmly end them. The massive public turnout and vote in favour or pro-democracy candidates has clearly shown that not to be the case.
Robertson notes that Beijing’s reaction has once again been a firm warning of the west not to meddle in China’s affairs which include Hong Kong. He suggests that these results may calm the demonstrations now that the pro-democracy movement has at least a small voice in politics.
Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that virtually all coverage of the pro-democracy result has been downplayed by China, with some news stories claiming tampering in the results.
Robertson notes that with recent trade actions by China against Canada, concerns about human rights treatment of China’s minority groups and dissidents, and potential security issues, Canadians are starting to become more wary of China. It is unclear how this may play out in terms of Canadian policy at this point. While other members of the so-called “Five Eyes” countries have banned Huawei from developing a 5G network in their countries, Canada has yet to decide whether to deny or allow the Chinese electronics giant to participate in Canada.
- Thomson Reuters (via CBC): Nov 26/19: Humiliated at polls, Hong Kong’s leader acknowledges discontent with government
- BBC: Nov 26/19: Hong Kong elections: Chinese media attempt to downplay results
- PostMedia: Nov 25/19: Pro-democracy activists urge Trudeau to show some ‘guts’ dealing with China
- Guardian (UK): E Graham-Harrison: Nov 25/19: China issues warning over Hong Kong after election blow
- South China Morning Post: Nov 25/19: Hong Kong election results giving opposition camp huge win boost Hang Seng, as hopes rise violent protests may subside
Champagne, then Canada’s trade minister in December 2017, was left behind for what would be two days of intense closed-door meetings in the Chinese capital while Trudeau and his entourage decamped to their next destination.
For the next two days, Champagne was thrown into an intense set of talks, in an attempt to find some sort of way forward on a free-trade negotiation with China — an effort that ultimately failed.
Now, the unflappable and unfailingly upbeat Champagne is headed back into the thick of Canada’s thorny international relations as one of Canada’s faces to the world, second only to the prime minister.
Champagne, 49, may not have the name recognition that his predecessor Chrystia Freeland brought to the post as an author and ex-journalist in London, Moscow and New York, but his easygoing manner belies his own ambitious rise in business and international-trade law, which earned him a “Young Global Leader” award from the World Economic Forum.
Champagne has held the Quebec riding of Saint-Maurice-Champlain since 2015. It includes the city of Shawinigan, whose famous son, former prime minister Jean Chretien, is a personal hero of Champagne’s.
Champagne has also publicly and privately hinted he might one day aspire to the same job Chretien once held.
In January 2017, Champagne took over from Freeland in the trade portfolio, tasked with delivering a massive trade deal among Pacific Rim countries known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“Champagne’s experience with the skirmishes over TPP and Canada’s first ill-fated venture into trade talks with the Chinese is good experience for some of the continuing battles he will be facing — especially when it comes to the Chinese,” said Fen Hampson, of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.
Shortly after, Trudeau shuffled his cabinet again and put Champagne in charge of infrastructure spending.
In an interview after the shuffle, Champagne joked about how he had banned the word “spend” at Infrastructure Canada, because money it deploys is an investment, and talked about a need for the government to “move from numbers to impact.”
And then a short while later, he also showed he can be blunt. “It’s about doing things better and smarter,” he said about getting infrastructure dollars out the door. “I know that may sound very logical, but trust me, it might not always have been the case.”
Champagne often held roundtable meetings with local officials during his countrywide travels, and rarely missed a gathering of Federation of Canadian Municipalities officials. FCM president Bill Karsten said Champagne’s ability to build relationships with big-city mayors and rural reeves was evident.
“He put a lot of focus and his trademark energy into consistent, direct federal-municipal communication and partnership, including giving out his own cell phone number, which undoubtedly caused some anxiety for staff on both sides,” Karsten said.
“No matter how difficult it might be to meet in person or how complicated the logistics were, he (was) willing to do whatever it took to make a conversation happen.”
Now, those skills will be put to a new test as Canada’s place in the world has never been quite so precarious, from its relations with China to unprecedented threats facing the world’s institutions and traditional alliances — from NATO to the World Bank to the European Union.
Roland Paris, Trudeau’s first foreign-policy adviser, called Champagne “smart and dynamic,” adding the new foreign minister will need every ounce of those capacities to meet the significant challenges that await him.
“He will need to deal with the situation with China, clarify and co-ordinate Canada’s broader Asia strategy, work with the trade minister to diversify and expand Canada’s trade,” said Paris, of the University of Ottawa.
Canada also faces an uphill battle for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, a vote for which will take place in June for a term that would begin in 2021. Canada faces stiff competition for the two available seats.
Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat and foreign-affairs analyst, said Champagne will have to “run very hard and with a strategy and a campaign plan” if he hopes to land the seat and make up Norway’s and Ireland’s head starts.
Many of the several hundred students barricaded at Hong Kong University have surrendered to police early this morning. However, it seems unlikely that the protests, now several months old, will abate anytime soon.
Colin Robertson, is Vice-President at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, an independent, non-partisan research institute related to foreign policy a former diplomat, as Canadian Consul in Hong Kong,
Former Canadian diplomat in Hong Kong gives his analysis of protest situation there
Reports this morning say only a handful of student protesters remain in the university, but without food or water so that situation is likely over.
As Robertson says however, with about 2 million supporters of the movement, the overall protest situation will likely continue. He also suggests that with such strong support the legitimacy of the Beijing supported Carrie Lam government is in serious doubt.
While there has been some suggestion that China could send in the military, Robertson thinks that unlikely at this point, if for no other reason than the international optics that would represent.
It also appears unlikely that neither the Hong Kong government or China will relax their positions, in light of protesters demands for democratic guarantees or reforms.
Fears of a mass exodus of ex-pats with Canadian, British, U.S. and other citizenship seems not on the immediate horizon.
Nonetheless, Hong Kong’s status as entry point into the vast Chinese and wider Asian market, and an exit point for those same countries is weakening, as Robertson says, due to the uncertainties and disruptions of the protest movement, and in the shadow of the U.S-China trade dispute. This is says is not good for Hong Kong, for China, for Canada-because of a long trade relationship, as well as for other countries with similar trade and business ties with Hong Kong.
- CBC News report Nov 18/19
- Canadian Press (via CP24) Nov 18/19: Canadian universities encourage exchange students in Hong Kong to head home
The University of British Columbia says 32 of its students on exchange in Hong Kong have either left the city or confirmed they are safe after the school urged them to leave the area for their own well-being.
Hong Kong has been roiled by six months of anti-government protests. The once peaceful demonstrations have steadily intensified, and are now punctuated by shootings and violent clashes between protesters and police.
UBC administration said Friday that staff had reached out to exchange students advising them to leave their schools. An email from university officials Monday confirmed 11 students have left Hong Kong, while the remaining 21 “are safe and accounted for.”
The email said the school is helping students with travel plans. Any student who is choosing to stay in Hong Kong has been asked to watch for directives from their host university and monitor International SOS for updates and guidance on how to stay safe.
Simon Fraser University says it has 17 students on exchange there and they have all confirmed they are safe. The university says it is working with each student on their return to Canada.
Montreal’s McGill University, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and the University of Toronto are also urging all their students to head home.
Universities have become the latest battleground for protesters, who used gasoline bombs and bows and arrows in their fight to keep riot police off of two campuses in the past week.
Police backed by armoured cars and water cannon tightened their siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) Monday, where hundreds of protesters remained trapped in a sign of a fresh escalation for the movement.
Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and a former Canadian consul in Hong Kong, expressed sympathy for the students locked inside who are protesting for freedoms many in Canada take for granted.
He says the protests have taken a worrying turn.
“When you look at the pictures today, and you know this has gone on for six months, it’s hard to be optimistic about what might happen,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong.”
Protests raged across other parts of the city, fuelled by public anger over the police blockade of the school and the desire to help the students stuck inside.
The UBC students had been studying at four different schools — Chinese University of Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Hong Kong University — and not the polytechnic university, the Canadian school said.
The protests started peacefully in early June, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland. By the time the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened and broadened into a resistance movement against the territory’s government and Beijing.
Jane Li, a born-and-raised Hong Konger who now lives in Vancouver, is a spokesperson for the group Vancouver Hong Kong Political Activists.
Li says the protest movement has reached a tipping point.
“This morning I got on the phone with a friend and she said, ‘I don’t know if there’s going to be a tomorrow.’ That really hit me,” Li said.
“It seems like for both sides, it’s going to be a really violent ending.”
Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to a new cabinet post on Wednesday, Chrystia Freeland’s imprint on Canada’s foreign policy will remain visible for some time to come, analysts suggest.
That will be especially true in how Canada pushes forward with its top priority: getting the new North American trade deal ratified and reinforcing the crucial economic bond with its key ally, the United States.
But her decision to position Canada as a leader on a crisis in Canada’s greater neighbourhood, the meltdown of Venezuela, may be Freeland’s most influential move as the country’s top diplomat.
Freeland was appointed foreign-affairs minister in January 2017 with one very important marching order: deal with the newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump and keep the North American Free Trade Agreement, and Canada’s economy, from being trashed.
Freeland largely accomplished that, even though NAFTA’s replacement has yet to be ratified. But behind the headline-grabbing fight to save a trade deal that was crucial to Canada’s economic survival, a debate simmered within Canada’s foreign ministry over how to address the very real economic and political implosion that was underway in another nearby country: Venezuela.
According to Ben Rowswell, Canada’s then-ambassador to Venezuela, the internal division at Global Affairs Canada boiled down to this: should the problem be left to its Latin American neighbours, or should Canada step up to help?
Three years later, Canada is a key member of the Lima Group, a bloc of about a dozen countries in the Americas, minus the United States, that has made a concerted, if not successful, effort to promote democracy in Venezuela and stanch its epic flow of refugees.“One of the reasons why Canada is at the centre of regional and international discussions of Venezuela is very much due to the personal initiative of Minister Freeland,” said Rowswell, the president of the Canadian International Council.
“There was a real internal debate inside Global Affairs Canada that was resolved when Minister Freeland made this a signature issue of Canadian foreign policy in the Trudeau years.”
Which raises the question: how indispensable does that make Freeland?
Though she represents a downtown Toronto riding, Freeland is fond of her Alberta roots — she was born in Peace River — and that connection could be of some use to a governing party with no seats there or in Saskatchewan.
Having faced unpredictable negotiating partners abroad, Freeland might appeal to Trudeau as a domestic intergovernmental-affairs minister, or in some other capacity where contending with fractious premiers would be a big part of the job.
As a journalist, she reported on finance and particularly economic inequality, one of the Liberal government’s policy preoccupations.
“If a new minister is appointed, there will be quite a lot of relationships to be built that she’s already established through the very significant support she’s shown to the people of Venezuela over the last few years,” said Rowswell.
“She’s a household name in Venezuela because of her leadership of the Lima Group.”
As effective as she was, especially in dealing with the Trump administration on NAFTA, no minister in any portfolio is indispensable, said Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat with extensive experience in Washington and across the United States.
“I think she’s done a superb job as foreign minister. But I don’t think she has to have that job,” said Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Freeland’s approach to widening Canada’s approach to relations with the U.S. beyond the White House and the Capitol will be her greatest policy legacy, and one that any successor will have to carry forward, he said.
With NAFTA under threat, and Trump so unpredictable, Freeland presided over a charm offensive that targeted key Congressional leaders, as well as state governors and business leaders in key states that had strong economic ties with its partner to the north. Canada’s then-ambassador David MacNaugton quarterbacked the effort on the ground and it also involved the outreach of about a dozen cabinet ministers.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna were among them, and both have the bona fides to take over where Freeland left off, Robertson argues.
Garneau chaired the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations and was the Liberal foreign-affairs critic in opposition prior to the party’s 2015 ascent to power. McKenna has travelled widely as the international face of Canada’s climate-change policy — a bruising fight that has made her a lightning rod for online trolls and real-world haters.
Even if she’s shuffled, Freeland would still have an influence on foreign policy during confidential cabinet discussions because she has a proven track record, and Trudeau is known to allow such cross-pollination, Robertson said.
“Freeland is always going to speak out. You don’t lose anything. She will still be in cabinet. She still has all that experience.”
But in an uncertain world, and with a minority government facing an uncertain lifespan, some argue it would be inadvisable to remove Freeland now.
Bessma Momani, a senior fellow the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., said there isn’t a deep pool of options from which Trudeau could draw a replacement.
“It’s not an easy file,” she said.
“These are important bilateral personal relationships that are built. In a minority parliament, this might not last very long. You don’t want to put someone in there for two years, at most, where they don’t really get a chance to grasp the characters and personalities.”
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Trade diversification – meaning looking beyond the U.S. and China – should be the top priority for the new minority Trudeau government.
Selling the Canadian brand and our goods and services requires effort at every level of government. Success will generate jobs and income, build trust and bolster national unity.
Seventy-five per cent of our exports go to the United States. We receive about 18 per cent of their exports, meaning that we rely more on the U.S. than they rely on us. It’s a dependence that U.S. President Donald Trump exploits. We don’t get the world price for our oil and gas because without pipelines to tidewater, we really only have one buyer. Passage of the new North American free trade agreement won’t change this over-dependence. NAFTA gives us a partial shield, but U.S. protectionism is as old as the Republic. And Mr. Trump loves tariffs.
China is lifting the curbs on our beef and pork exports. It’s a good start for new ambassador Dominic Barton, but it likely had as much to do with the Chinese government’s need to make up the shortfall caused by Asian swine flu. Our canola remains embargoed, and the detention of the two Michaels and China’s human-rights record have significantly soured Canadian attitudes toward China, according to recent polling by Pew Research Center and the University of British Columbia.
For both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr. Trump, trade is a geopolitical weapon based on a “reciprocity” that will always tilt in their favour. Canada needs to look at other markets. We should start by better utilizing our free-trade partnerships.
We have bilateral deals with countries such as South Korea and Israel, as well as big multilateral deals – the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union – negotiated by both the Harper and Trudeau governments with deep provincial involvement. This should make it easier for Mr. Trudeau to persuade Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and the provincial premiers to participate in what needs to be regular visits to our free-trade partners.
Official visits are especially important in the Asian market to open doors and close deals. In the past, minority governments went years without seeing ministers. This leaves an impression of inconsistency and uncertainty about what the next change in government means. Liberals and Conservatives agree on the importance of trade. So do provincial premiers, regardless of their political stripe.
The leaders’ first visit should start in Tokyo, with side trips to Seoul and Ho Chi Minh City, and then to Brussels, with side trips to London, Paris and Berlin. It will deliver a message that Canadians are united when it comes to open trade and investment. Mr. Trudeau also needs to re-visit Delhi with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe to market our agri-food, including canola, and smart-energy technology.
Canadians are blessed. We have abundant resources and a diverse, well-educated work force constantly renewed through smart immigration. Our trade commissioner service is good and we’re improving our export financing services
But Canada is falling behind in global competitiveness. We have a poor record in utilizing our trade deals. We continue to slip down the ladder, according to the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness index.
Once in the top 10, Canada is now ranked 14th, burdened by too much red tape (we rank 38th), a complicated legal system (we rank 24th) and a tax system needing reform (we rank 45th). Our transportation infrastructure needs work (we rank 32nd).
A recent Brookings report concluded that our advanced industries lag significantly behind those of the U.S. Nor is it just a matter of keeping up with Uncle Sam. It’s keeping up with the rest of the world. We claim to be open for business, but as the Public Policy Forum points out, foreign investment has grown by just 2 per cent a year, compared with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 7 per cent.
Canada can compete, but we need our political leaders working together, not bickering. Advancing shared trade goals is the place to begin.