Political Appointees and Diplomacy

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Trudeau’s penchant for political appointees shows lack of appreciation for ambassadors’ work: former senior diplomat

By NEIL MOSS      
‘[Trudeau] neglects the fact that you need experience and competent people,’ says Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016.
Bob Rae is the second straight political appointee to hold the role of Canada’s ambassador to the UN. He will start his post on Aug. 4. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau selected another political appointee for one of Canada’s most high-profile diplomatic posts, a former senior ambassador says the prime minister fails to understand the importance of career diplomats.

Bob Rae’s appointment as the next Canadian ambassador to the UN is the latest in a series of political appointees taking the most prolific diplomatic posts in the Canadian foreign service. That list includes the appointment of Mr. Rae’s predecessor Marc-André Blanchard, Dominic Barton and former immigration minister John McCallum as ambassadors to China, former privy council clerk Janice Charette as high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Isabelle Hudon as ambassador to France, former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion as ambassador to Germany and envoy to the EU, and David MacNaughton as former ambassador to the U.S.

Former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who, during his time in the foreign service, was responsible for leading the heads of mission nomination process, said the successive selections of political appointees shows that Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) doesn’t understand foreign affairs and he doesn’t understand the importance of diplomacy.

“Diplomacy is not show business,” he said, adding that Mr. Trudeau has had an approach to appoint people who are well known. “He neglects the fact that you need experience and competent people.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques said the selection of political appointees sends a “bad message” to career diplomats, as few of the most high-profile posts can be filled by foreign service officers.

He added there are aspects of diplomacy that political appointees have not been able to do, especially those with less understanding of global governance and the geopolitical reality on the ground. He also said political appointees are unaware of the demands associated with diplomatic posts.

“Political appointees won’t be able to carry these kinds of discussions,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said. “The value of an ambassador is your capacity to network and to be a good networker you have to be knowledgable.”

He said that when picking the replacement for Mr. McCallum, he urged the government to pick a career diplomat for the Beijing post. Mr. McCallum resigned after comments he made that were out of step with the messaging of the Canadian government on the extradition hearing of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Although Mr. Rae has lots of good qualities, Mr. Saint-Jacques said he isn’t trained as a diplomat.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) said Mr. Rae has “dedicated his life to serving Canadians and has done crucial work as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar and Canada’s special envoy on humanitarian and refugee issues.”

Syrine Khoury said Mr. Rae will “continue to strengthen Canada’s presence at the UN and on the world stage,” adding that the selection of ambassadors is based on their “vast and varied experience,” and the political appointees are “highly qualified individuals who bring a unique set of skills and knowledge in line with our foreign policy objectives.”

A Liberal source told The Hill Times on background that it’s important political appointees have a wide-range of experience and skills beyond being diplomats, citing Mr. Blanchard’s work in the private sector being helpful at the UN on developmental funding.

The source said it is important to have vast experience, including backgrounds in politics and business, in order to send countries around the world a message that diplomacy is important to Canada.

The use of political appointees for diplomatic posts has been a tradition in Canadian diplomacy which intensified under former prime minister Brian Mulroney and continued with successive governments. Past prime minister Stephen Harper raised eyebrows for appointing Toronto lawyer Vivian Bercovici as ambassador to Israel, Bruno Saccomani—who previously was the head of his RCMP security detail—as envoy to Jordan, former House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers as ambassador to Ireland, and defeated former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon as envoy to France.

Mr. Trudeau selected Kirsten Hillman, a career diplomat, as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. She is the first career diplomat in the post since Michael Kergin held the role from 2000 to 2005.

Former diplomat Gilles Rivard, president of the Retired Heads of Mission Association, said when a political appointee gets a top job, there is always a question if a career diplomat would be better suited to handle the post.

But in the case of Mr. Rae, he said, he already has some experience on the world stage in his special envoy roles. Mr. Rae was a former NDP premier of Ontario and the interim federal Liberal leader from 2011 to 2013.

Mr. Rivard, a former deputy permanent representative to the UN and ambassador to Haiti, said the danger of selecting political appointees is seen in the case of Mr. McCallum.

He said more and more political appointees will be discouraging for those in the foreign service who want to hold those positions.

“It’s obvious that it affects the morale of people,” he said.

The head of the union representing foreign service officers said there is a recognition that it is the government’s prerogative to appoint the people it wants.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said there is a recognition that there are political appointees that bring a distinct set of skills to some appointments like the ambassador to the U.S. and the UN, noting there is a close co-operation with the foreign service.

Ms. Isfeld said the concern is when political appointees are selected to lead much smaller missions.

“The person then starts to have less of a support staff to help them,” she said, adding that in general the existing professional foreign service should be the “first port of call” when looking to fill diplomatic posts.

The appointment of Mr. Rae, Ms. Isfeld said, carries on the acceptable tradition of political appointees and has a lot of support within PAFSO.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, a past PAFSO president, said there are cases where a political appointee makes the most sense, adding that in Washington, D.C., having a political appointee in the role gave Canada greater access.

Although Mr. Harper appointed career diplomats to the UN post, Mr. Robertson said the appointments of Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Rae shows the added emphasis that Mr. Trudeau places on the UN, adding that sending his Mr. Rae to New York City shows that Canada is still “quite serious” about the UN despite the unsuccessful Security Council election.


Canadian International Council president Ben Rowswell, a former Canadian ambassador to Venezuela, said in email that the disadvantage in appointing career diplomats is that the foreign service generates “uniformity in thinking.”

“The best ambassadors are independent thinkers who can speak directly to a prime minister and influence his decisions,” he said, adding that is why Mr. Rae is the “best person” for the UN job.

“He has more than 20 years of work in international affairs on issues ranging from terrorism, federalism, and human rights—but importantly, he led this work as an independent actor, coming up with his own judgements on the application of Canada’s interests. That makes his perspective even more valuable than someone who has been in the system for decades.”

He added that the foreign service needs a change to reward “innovation and new thinking.”

Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie (Calgary Midnapore, Alta.), who served as Canada’s chargée d’affaires in El Salvador and was a policy adviser to then-minister of state for Foreign Affairs for the Americas Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), said there are “pros and cons” for both the selection of political appointees and career diplomats.

“You can get good people out of both systems, and you can get bad people out of both systems,” she said.

She said while political appointees don’t always know the practices of the foreign service, they do know government policies in depth and know the prime minister and foreign affairs minister.

In her time in the foreign service, Ms. Kusie said she saw the same high-level people being recycled over again for various heads of missions.

“It’s frustrating and demoralizing for lower people that want the opportunity to serve at a higher capacity,” she said, adding that another issue is the tight rules that diplomats are restricted to in creating policy and speaking to the media.

“The golden ticket isn’t always foreign service officers, because in a way it is its own political party, promoting the same people,” Ms. Kusie said. “It’s good to have a healthy mixture of both as long as they are intelligent, [have] good judgement, and are courageous to implement the political ideology, but tactful in doing that.”

Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario), a former career diplomat who served as ambassador to Germany and was Mr. Trudeau’s G7 sherpa, said the selection of political appointees is cyclical.

“If you want to have a head of mission who is plugged in to the centre to the PMO and the PCO, you’ll go with a political appointee if it makes sense to do so,” he said.

He said the Canadian system is nothing compared to the one the U.S. has, where a large number of its ambassadors around the world are large political donors.

Sen. Boehm said Mr. Rae is “cut out” for multilateral work, adding that some on the political side have that capability, comparing him to past UN ambassador and former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis.

USMCA CUSMA comes into effect

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New NAFTA comes into force Canada Day amid tariff threats, COVID-19 uncertainty

by Cormac Macsweeney

Posted Jun 30, 2020 9:17 am MDT

National flags representing Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. are lit by stage lights at the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, renegotiations, in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Marco Ugarte

The USMCA will come into effect on July 1

It comes amid economic turmoil caused by COVID-19

The USMCA is expected to bring modest gains to Canada’s economy, with close to a $7-billion boost in the next five years

OTTAWA – The new NAFTA will come into effect on Wednesday amid the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The negotiations caused months of fear in business and economic circles, with U.S. President Donald Trump threatening to pull out of the trade agreement both our economies and Mexico rely on.

But after ratification earlier this year, the new NAFTA — formally the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — comes into force appropriately on Canada Day, bringing with it protections for the auto parts sector, more American access to our dairy market, stricter labour rules for Mexico, and measures to reduce the prices of pharmaceutical drugs.

Colin Robertson with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says this deal gives businesses confidence that Canada still has privileged access to our largest trading partner, but the COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of questions about the future of our economies.

“What it will depend on will be the growth of both economies’ ends. The pandemic puts the big question mark on recovery and what that means for the future, so that one I can’t answer,” he says.

Meanwhile, Marc Agnew with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce says the COVID-19 pandemic may delay some of the benefits we get from this deal.

“I don’t think the new NAFTA is going to, necessarily, have a chance to really show its true value, probably until two or three, four years down the line,” he explains.

However, Agnew believes this is a vital deal, regardless, because it will give businesses in Canada the security and confidence to plan for the years ahead.

He adds the moment is soured by Trump once again threatening tariffs on Canadian aluminium.

“It runs exactly counter to both the kind of spirit and the intent of what we’re trying to do with this agreement,” Agnew says.

Canada and the U.S. do $2 billion in trade a day. The USMCA is expected to bring modest gains to Canada’s economy, with close to a $7-billion boost in the next five years,

“It’s still the biggest, single bilateral trading relationship in the world,” Robertson notes.


Although most observers agree that the renegotiation process of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was more complicated than it had to be and that the final text is less than perfect, at the end of the day NAFTA’s replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), does represent an important modernization of the framework under which trade will take place in North America in the coming decades. The USMCA enters into force on July 1. Its implementation poses important challenges for corporations, investors and other key actors, who will have to interpret the agreement, wait for rules and regulations to be rolled out, retool their business models to conform to it and understand the new general incentives landscape for trade and investment. This webinar explored the prospects for success and the challenges of implementing the new USMCA through the analysis of experts on commerce and economic integration in North America.

This event was sponsored by the Center for the United States and Mexico. Additional support for this webinar was provided by Transnational Dispute Management. Follow @BakerCtrUSMEX on Twitter and join the conversation online with #BakerMexico.


11:00 a.m. — Presentation
11:30 a.m. — Q&A


C.J. Mahoney, J.D.
Deputy United States Trade Representative for Investment, Services, Labor, Environment, Africa, China, and the Western Hemisphere

Charles “Chip” Roh
Former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for North America; former Deputy Chief Negotiator, North American Free Trade Agreement for the United States; former Associate General Counsel, Office of the United States Trade Representative

Kenneth Smith-Ramos
Partner and International Trade Consultant, Agon International Trade Consultants; former chief negotiator for the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement for Mexico

Colin Robertson
Vice President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute; former member, Deputy Minister of International Trade’s NAFTA Advisory Council and the North American Forum; former member, negotiation team for the Canada-US FTA and NAFTA


Tony Payan, Ph.D.
Françoise and Edward Djerejian Fellow for Mexico Studies, Baker Institute; Director, Center for the United States and Mexico, Baker Institute


David Gantz, J.D.
Will Clayton Fellow in Trade and International Economics, Baker Institute


China and Canada: Kovrig and Spavor

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To break the impasse on the detention of Spavor and Kovrig, Canada has 3 options


Colin Robertson · for CBC News · Posted: Jun 26, 2020

Say a prayer for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Their chances of freedom are remote without collective action by the democracies.

What a mess. Had we known the implications of proceeding with the U.S. extradition request for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018, we might well have shown the “creative incompetence” suggested by former foreign affairs minister John Manley by letting her complete her flight to Mexico.

Now, Messrs. Kovrig and Spavor face decades in Chinese prison. In China, rule of law is what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) decides is in the best interest of the CCP, making them prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner.

According to the Chinese foreign ministry, this case is based on “clear facts and solid evidence,” their stock phrase when results are already decided.

For months now the Canadian government has applied what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes as a “wide range of public and private measures,” Canada having developed a “certain expertise in what has worked to get Canadians home in very difficult circumstances.” Unfortunately, with no consular access for months, Messrs. Spavor and Kovrig are now in even more difficult circumstances.

Getting tough — or giving in

There is no easy way to secure the release of the two Michaels. Going forward, the Trudeau government has three broad options:

First, continue the current approach of responding to Chinese actions while encouraging allies to speak out. Mr. Trudeau has hardened his language, now “deploring” Chinese actions and refuting Chinese claims that Canada is “racist” or employing “double standards” in detaining Meng. But it would be diplomatic self-delusion to think this is having any effect on the Chinese.


Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, was detained in Vancouver in December 2018. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Second, do a swap or release Meng. A swap, as suggested early on by John Manley as well as some diplomats and officials, might have worked in the early stages, especially if the government had employed former prime minister Jean Chretien as envoy. But that time has probably passed.

The release of Meng using the authority of the justice minister — as now suggested by another former minister, a Supreme Court justice and a group of former parliamentarians and diplomats — would represent an about-face by the Canadian government. Having wrapped itself in the cloak of high principle on the “rule of law” and “independence of the judiciary,” such a move would be viewed as appeasement by critics and our allies.

Despite his musings about using Meng to get a better trade deal with China, U.S. President Donald Trump may well decide to take retaliatory action against Canada.

For the Chinese, it would be a vindication of “hostage diplomacy” and bullying. What assurances, moreover, do we have that the Chinese would immediately release the two Michaels?

A more co-ordinated approach

The third option is to show more muscle and respond asymmetrically to Chinese bullying. As a first step, revoke the visas for the children of senior officials studying in Canada and ask our Five Eyes partners to take similar action. The Chinese prize an English-language education. Xi Jinping’s daughter studied at Harvard; Xi himself did work and studied in Iowa.

Canada hosts approximately 140,000 Chinese students — even if they cannot travel to Canada, they will want to continue their education remotely. You can be sure the students’ families would be upset.

We should also raise the stakes by taking the cases of the two Michaels to the International Court of Justice, alleging torture (Kovrig’s wife told CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault that he’s been imprisoned without access to daylight for more than 560 days) and infringement of Mr. Kovrig’s diplomatic privileges (the Chinese interrogated him on his service at our embassy in Beijing, a violation of diplomatic norms).

WATCH | Michael Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, talks about her husband’s detention:

Michael Kovrig’s wife (though separated) Vina Nadjibulla speaks for the first time in an exclusive interview with Adrienne Arsenault about his detention, Canada’s diplomacy and her fears for the future. Nadjibulla also shares letters Kovrig has sent during his 560 days in a Chinese prison. 13:23

We should employ a team of human rights lawyers from NATO countries as well as Commonwealth and Francophonie nations to underline that this is a multilateral effort.

The Chinese may well respond with more sanctions on Canadian trade, in which case we should immediately appeal to the World Trade Organization, arguing that the Chinese are violating their trade obligations.

Holding China to account

China has taken an a la carte approach to the rules-based system, especially in its abuse of trade privileges. We need to hold China to account. In addition to seeking redress through the WTO, we should also initiate an OECD-endorsed code of conduct for state-owned enterprises, modelled after provisions in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership.

The government should be looking at variations on all three options — the pros and cons involved in each — and ask the Canada-China parliamentary committee to canvas for more ideas.


Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson says the world’s democracies need to use their collective weight to hold China and its leader, Xi Jinping, right, to account. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

We have allies and friends. China doesn’t, really — they have clients, like North Korea. The democracies need to use their collective weight to sustain a system that has given the world relative peace and increased prosperity for 75 years .

When Pierre Trudeau established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China 50 years ago, it was an astute recognition that one-fifth of humanity could not be ignored.

No one is ignoring China anymore, but being big does not give China a free pass on human rights and international obligations. Its access to the rules-based global order allowed it to restore itself as the powerful Middle Kingdom. Unless the democracies stand together, China will just keep taking hostages and breaking the norms.

Canada US Relations

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Amid tension at the top, U.S.-Canada ties are tight


Wednesday, July 1, is Canada Day.

It’s also, in effect, North America Day, at least for trade, since it’s the implementation date for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the free-trade pact that replaces NAFTA.

And one could even call it Canada-Minnesota Day, given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of what is today the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, which serves Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas. To mark the anniversary, Global Minnesota will host a webinar on Wednesday to explore various aspects of the Canada-Minnesota relationship.

That includes trade, which is tremendously important for Minnesota. The state exported $4.7 billion of agricultural, mining and manufactured products north of the border last year, nearly twice the $2.5 billion sent to China, the second-biggest market.

“There’s a special connection that forms between Canadians and those that live on the northern border,” said Ariel Delouya, the consul general of Canada in Minneapolis. And even “before there was a border,” added Delouya, referring to indigenous peoples, traders and explorers, among others.

The connections continue, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who is now vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “The relationship is a bit like the Mississippi River: It’s deep, it’s profound and it flows,” Robertson said.

And like a river, at times it’s turbulent. At least at the top, with Washington and Ottawa often at odds despite the steady state of equilibrium and equanimity among everyday people in the two countries.

“There are times when the relationship at the top between the president and the prime minister has been tense,” Robertson said. “But the hidden wiring of the relationship, the people-to-people contact, and the relationship at the official [state-provincial] level, and of course the business connections, remain strong.”

Robertson noted the famously frosty relationship between former President Richard Nixon and former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. And it’s been even icier between Trudeau’s son, Justin, the current prime minister, and President Donald Trump. And a reinforcing cold front — from the south, no less — may soon arrive (potentially on Canada Day), in the reimposition of tariffs on Canadian aluminum.

“Bringing back these tariffs would be like a bad horror movie,” Neil Herrington, senior vice president for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the New York Times.

Or, more diplomatically stated, “Issues keep coming back up again that we used to call the ‘hardy perennials’ at the embassy,” said Sarah Goldfeder, referring to the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, where she served as an envoy before also joining the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, just like Robertson.

While the two former diplomats served different countries, those nations’ mostly convergent views reflect a general U.S.-Canada consensus that belies the Trump-Trudeau tensions.

As a Canadian envoy, Robertson said that was an asset. “While we see ourselves as different, we’re not that different,” Robertson said. “I can tell you as a diplomat, our leverage in the world came from our ability to reach into Washington, because the rest of the world wanted to know what Washington thought. Just as in the same way, Washington wanted to know what Canada’s perception of other countries were, because we understood that frame of reference was so similar that you could put that into an American perspective.”

Sometimes the country people want Canadian insight into is America itself. And beyond asking diplomats, direct questions are posed to the prime minister himself, who Goldfeder said “has been very careful when he speaks publicly about his relationship with President Donald Trump.” (Privately, not so much, as Trudeau found out when a video of him and other Western leaders laughing at the president went viral, leading Trump to call Trudeau “two-faced.”)

That incident may explain the reticence seen in another Trudeau video that went viral. Asked about Trump’s response to the protests roiling America, Trudeau paused a long, drawn-out 21 seconds. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he earnestly answered, “We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States.”

That’s an accurate characterization, said Goldfeder. “Canadians are looking at the United States and saying, ‘We’re worried about our friends and neighbors; we’re worried about you guys,’ ” Goldfeder said. “There’s a bit of pride in the way that they’ve managed their own response to COVID, their own response to race relations, which are far from perfect, and they acknowledge that.”

Not just everyday Canadians acknowledge it, but their prime minister, too, who added after his U.S. analysis that “it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we, too, have our challenges. … There is systemic discrimination in Canada.” (Some will say that includes Trudeau himself, whose progressive image was tarnished when old blackface photographs of him emerged during Canada’s 2019 election.)

Beyond the alacrity of the pandemic and protests, other challenges include China, which on June 20 charged two detained Canadians for espionage in a case widely seen as leverage against Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, on a U.S. warrant. And despite Canada’s — and Trudeau’s — surge on the world stage, the country didn’t win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, losing out to Norway and Ireland in a vote this month.

Such setbacks need not further set back the bilateral relationship. Instead, Washington and Ottawa can and should work closely on these and other diplomatic dilemmas.

That would reflect the “remarkably resilient” relationship, as Delouya describes it. In fact, he added, the countries’ tight ties “are so deep, so multifaceted, they span every sphere of economic and governmental activity you can imagine.”

Including sports. Especially, of course, hockey.

Indeed, while the official Canada Day may be on July 1, an unofficial one may occur on July 10, when NHL training camps hope to open before a postseason that includes a Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks playoff series.

“There have been a lot of issues where the U.S. and Canada haven’t aligned on pandemic response, but the NHL has managed to bridge that,” Goldfeder said. “It’s critically important, and a huge morale boost for both sides of the border.”

To be sure, spirits will be lifted across Canada and at least in the northern U.S. when the puck drops. But not just at the professional level: In Minnesota, youth and amateur teams can start scrimmaging on Wednesday — fittingly, however unwittingly, on Canada Day.

John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.

USMCA, Reopening the Border and Digitization

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When you are in a hole, you must find a way out. For Canada, expanding our trade relationships in order to expand our economy is still the best way to get ourselves out of debt. Our main customer will always be the United States, which is still the world’s biggest market. With our updated trade agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), coming into effect July 1, we need to seize this opportunity.

It starts with reopening the Canada-U.S. border. We applied risk-management principles after 9/11 to provide secure, but efficient, cross-border passage. We must do so again in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recent border shutdown extension, now in effect until July 21, will mark four months of closing to all but essential traffic between Canada and the U.S. This deprives us of trade and investment opportunities. Health considerations must be made, but surely there is room to consider regional openings.

Ours is a long border. The stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific is almost 9,000 kilometres (further than the journey from London to Beijing), while the line dividing Alaska and Yukon is another 2,200 km (equivalent to the distance from Moscow to Berlin). The European Union – which is half the size of Canada – has created travel bubbles. We should do the same.

In managing this pandemic, each province has responded to its own circumstances. Our island provinces and Quebec temporarily closed their borders. The North remains shut. Reopening began in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Ontario, restrictions were first relaxed outside of Toronto. One-size-fits-all has not applied within Canada. Let’s demonstrate the same flexibility in reopening to tourism and commerce.

Why not implement an approach that allows the premiers, in consultation with the federal government, to determine access for outsiders, starting with travellers from the U.S.? Start with pilot projects at our smaller crossings, such as Sweetgrass, Mont., and Coutts, Alta. Let’s move forward with a proposed project by the Future Borders Coalition, wherein travellers from the U.S. could be precleared for entry at Vancouver International Airport. Canada can become a global leader in safe reopening, but it will require innovation and risk management. Alaska has demonstrated leadership in this regard, with clear requirements for passage in and out of the state: All entrants must have a COVID-19 test administered upon entry or show proof of a recent negative test.

The pandemic is accelerating consumer use of digital trade. Fortunately, the USMCA chapter on digital trade is best in class, as it allows for the creation of a digital portal for trade information. As with other parts of the agreement, there is provision for stakeholders to keep the USMCA evergreen and tackle challenges such as the technical barriers to trade. Industry and industry associations were energized by the USMCA. They need to stay vigilant and keep governments focused on expediting cross-border trade.

A key challenge as we work our way out of the pandemic will be to digitize our current paper-dependent supply chains. We must make our North American trade platforms more efficient by increasing our reliance on digital systems and technology. This should include applying digital technology to the rapid delivery of emergency relief supplies and, eventually, an efficient and verifiable global vaccine distribution process. Using artificial intelligence, big data analytics and blockchain technologies, the Swiss-based Global Coalition for Efficient Logistics is doing groundbreaking work on creating platforms for digitizing trade. North America should be the road test for its application. That work, as well as the continuing practical efforts on supply chains and logistics by the North American Strategy for Competitiveness (NASCO), would position North America for more investment.

Digitization is the infrastructure of the future. It’s the kind of big-picture project needed by all three North American federal governments and our 95 states, provinces and territories. Using technology creates greater efficiency and transparency while reducing costs and improving access to finance and insurance. Digitization helps level the playing field for small and medium-sized enterprises, and the U.S. is still the easiest market for these businesses to access. If we get it right in North America, this platform and its standards can have global applications, starting with our transatlantic and transpacific partnerships.

The ride to the USMCA was bumpy. U.S. President Donald Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs reminded us of both the importance of the American market and how vital supply chains are to North American prosperity. The U.S. buys three-quarters of Canada’s exports and remains our biggest investor. As the U.S. decouples from China and supply chains are rerouted to North America, there are opportunities for Canada. It starts with the regional, risk-based reopening of our borders, followed by taking a leadership role in digitized trade.

Michaels Spavor and Kovrig

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Chances of Kovrig and Spavor getting out of China is ‘very slim’: Fmr. Canadian diplomat

BNN June 19 2020: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been formally indicted on spying charges by Chinese authorities. The move comes a year and a half after they were detained in what’s perceived to be retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the behest of U.S. authorities. Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat and current VP and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute joins BNN Bloomberg to weigh in. He says that Canada needs to take more punitive measures against China.

UN Security Council Vote

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Losing Security Council seat might embarrass Trudeau but would signal a bigger problem: experts

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the time of publication, Canada has lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. For more details on the vote, click here.Losing the quest for a seat on the United Nations Security Council might lead to red cheeks for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even if many Canadians aren’t following the race closely, experts say.But a loss would signal a much bigger problem with Canadian foreign policy, they add. 

Canada loses bid for United Nations Security Council seat

Canada loses bid for United Nations Security Council seat

“I don’t think it will have an impact on the next election, but I think it would be personally a bit embarrassing for Trudeau,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

I think there’s a sense that everybody likes Canada, or at least we like to think that.”

READ MORE: How COVID-19 changed Canada’s battle for a UN Security Council seat

Canada will learn either Wednesday or Thursday afternoon whether Trudeau’s multi-year push for one of the two Security Council seats available in the Western Europe and others category is a success.

Two-thirds of the available votes are needed to win on the first ballot on Wednesday afternoon.

If that’s not achieved, voting continues for a second ballot and those results will come out on Thursday.

Trudeau was asked by a journalist on Wednesday whether he believed a defeat would be a personal failing for him, but did not answer. Instead, he characterized the bid for a seat as “just an extra way” for Canada to make its voice heard on the world stage.

“A seat on the United Nations Security Council is not an end in itself. It’s a means to an end.”

Trudeau makes final pitch for UN Security Council seat

Trudeau makes final pitch for UN Security Council seat

Trudeau vowed during the 2015 election campaign to run for one of the rotating seats and made the argument that the former Conservative government’s pivot away from the United Nations and toward institutions like NATO and the G20 hurt Canada’s standing in the world.

But in the years since, critics have frequently argued the government isn’t living up to its support for the United Nations, particularly when it comes to peacekeeping.

Canadian troop deployments to UN missions now stand at a 60-year low despite Trudeau making a commitment to peacekeeping a pillar of his 2015 platform.

READ MORE: Number of Canadian peacekeepers deployed abroad hits 60-year low

Bessma Momani, a professor of international relations at the University of Waterloo and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said another loss for Canada would go beyond just a defeat for Trudeau personally but serve as a broader indictment of Canadian investment in the UN.

“It’s not just about him,” Momani said. “It’s not American Idol.”

If we don’t get it, it’s going to be: Canada, you guys talk a big game, you guys are full of great rhetoric, you look awesome. But, you know, where’s the beef?”

Trudeau may be the amicable poster child of multilateralism and diversity … but at the end of the day, that’s not enough,” Momani continued. “Where’s the dollars? Where’s the troops? Where’s the presence that people expect?”

At the same time, highlighting the value Canada places on things like diversity, inclusion and economic security — as Global Affairs Canada did on Twitter this week — likely does little to set Canada apart.

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“I just am not especially convinced there’s anything that’s particularly Canadian about what he’s proposing,” said David Perry, also a vice president with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Perry said it’s like doing so implicitly implies the Irish or the Norwegians aren’t also supporters of all those things when surely they are.  

ANALYSIS: Trudeau’s personal brand tied to success — or failure — of UN Security Council race

Perry also said a loss would serve as a signal of a bigger issue with Canadian foreign policy.

If we don’t win again, I think that it potentially implies more about some of the structural factors of our foreign policy than we might have thought,” he said.

Momani said she hopes that if Canada loses the seat, the government will use it as a real chance to evaluate where it needs to do better in creating concrete change in its foreign policy.

“If we lose, I think we should take stock,” she said.

“It’s a time for self-reflection and to say: OK, why didn’t we get it? And hopefully, it spurs a conversation about how we are really high on the rhetoric, but not on the substance.”

READ MORE: UN sets new voting rules for Canada’s Security Council campaign amid COVID-19

Robertson added that while a loss would likely fuel criticism from Conservatives around whether the campaign was a waste of time and money, it would be unlikely to have much of an impact at the polls.

“I think it will be a bit deflating for Canadians, who like to think of ourselves as internationalists,” Robertson said. “But does it matter to the average voter? Ultimately, I don’t think a lot.”

A seat at the UN Security Council would be nice. It would be kind of a vindication of Canada as a nice internationalist. But I’m not sure that would rank in the top 10 priorities of most Canadians right now.


Ambassadors have been casting their secret ballots in staggered time slots rather than at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly out of fears about the spread of COVID-19.

Time for Champagne?: Canada awaits UN Security Council vote in New York City

By NEIL MOSS      
Plus, Senator Lillian Dyck calls for the RCMP commissioner’s resignation and Canadians to celebrate Canada Day virtually with Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, and others.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made gaining a seat on the UN Security Council a core

In what could be one of the most important days for the legacy of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s foreign policy, Canada will find out if it will have a spot on the UN Security Council for the first time in 20 years after the UN General Assembly votes on who will win on June 17.

Canada is facing tough competition for two open seats in the Western Europe and Others bloc for the 2021 and 2022 term from Norway and Ireland. It is expected that Norway will win a seat, leaving Canada and Ireland to compete for the second.

Canada joined the campaign late, announcing its bid in 2016. Ireland and Norway started their campaigns in 2005 and 2007, respectively.

The bid is part of Mr. Trudeau’s pledge to re-engage with the UN. The campaign for the Security Council seat was one of the few foreign policy objectives listed in last year’s throne speech.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told The Hill Times that the campaign was a personal mission for Mr. Trudeau.

“It’s the one foreign policy venture that is truly his,” Mr. Robertson said

In the past few weeks, Mr. Trudeau has been making a series of calls to world leaders, some of which have involved Canada’s UN Security Council campaign.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has joined Canada’s UN ambassador, Marc-André Blanchard, in New York City for the final stretch of the campaign.

The Canadian delegation at the United Nations has been tight-lipped on whether they feel they have the necessary votes to win a spot on the Security Council. The last time Canada tried to win a spot on the body in 2010, the Harper government felt it had the votes to win, but in the end the bid fell short. A country needs at least 129 votes to win a spot on the council.

Canada has had a spot on the Security Council in every decade since the UN was formed in the 1940s until its 2010 defeat.


China-India Cpoflict

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China–India deadly border clash: Canadian analysts’ view

A long-standing dispute over the border between China and India has erupted in another violent clash, this time deadly. Initial reports said three Indian soldiers including an officer had been killed but that has now been increased to 20 dead, and possibly some taken prisoner in the high altitude sub zero conditions. It is presumed there were deaths and injuries on the Chinese side although there’s no official word.

Both sides are accusing the other of incursions into their territory and provocations.

There have been a series of small-scale violent physical brawls between the two armies in the past few years but this is the first time in some 45 years that there have been deaths. There was no gunfire and such incidents have typically involved rocks, clubs and fists.

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The ill-defined 3,488 kilometre border through rugged and inhospitable mountainous territory is guarded by troops of both countries on either side of what is called the Line of Actual Control which has been created along both Chinese and Pakistani controlled areas.  Talks to settle the dispute with China have been ongoing for years and the latest incident occurred even as higher level military talks to de-escalate were ongoing.

India’s north borders on both China and Pakistan, and all three countries are extremely protective of their borders, actual or perceived. India has had bitter wars with both.

Indian army soldiers rest next to artillery guns at a makeshift transit camp near Baltal, southeast of Srinagar, before heading to Ladakh on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Christian Leuprecht is a political science analyst at the Royal Military College and at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario. He notes that India and China are rivals for power and influence, and India is also concerned that Pakistan plays a role in China’s strategic and economic ‘belt and road’ initiative and as such feels increased threat on both borders and feels vulnerable.

Leuprecht also says China will seize any opportunity to distract from the coronavirus, “China wants to be seen as strong and it knows India can ill afford to militarize the conflict.  By what appears to be bludgeoning three Indian soldiers to death, China is sending a signal that it will stand its ground.  Such an operation must have been authorized by the Chinese chain of command, likely from Beijing, because it constitutes about as serious an escalation as one can imagine without actually firing shots. But China is clearly looking to put Prime Minister Modi in his place in an attempt to preserve the status quo”.

While the tension has risen, analysts doubt either side wants to escalate to an actual shooting war.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat to China and the U.N. says the incident is nevertheless serious noting any conflict with nuclear powers involved is dangerous .

He says its another signal of Chinese leader Xi’s “pushing the envelope on its territorial claims across the Indo-Pacific in recent weeks”.

Robertson points out the Chinese have sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea, swarmed a Malaysian offshore oil rig, menaced Taiwan and is now tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong.

Shuvaloy Majumdar served as the policy director to successive Canadian foreign ministers, as well as senior policy advisor in international development, He is a Munk Senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute think tank.  He said,  “There is no equivalence between India and China in this dispute. China’s provocative military build up along the border in Ladakh, and recent games testing the limits of Indian sovereignty, have now resulted in the end of 40 years of stability.”

He added, “With twenty members of the Indian Forces who reportedly died defending their territorial integrity, Canadian leaders would be wise to stand alongside their Indian counterparts, condemn China’s aggression, take steps toward deepening cold climate military cooperation, and call upon China to demilitarize and deescalate the situation China created”.

In May, Chinese soldiers reportedly crossed the border at three separate areas in the Ladakh region near Tibet erecting tents and guard posts resulting in a physical confrontation.

The Chinese military says it can deploy thousands of soldiers and weapons from central China to the border with India “within hours”. Only last week the tow countries has said they had reached a consensus following a May incident (Photo: Weibo- via SCMP)

China is also flexing its muscle and pushing its control over the sea, having deployed a network of sensors and communications across the northern portion of the South China Sea.

Called the “Blue Ocean Information Network’ it is labeled by the Chinese as a demonstration system ostensibly for environmental monitoring and communication.

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies notes in a brief by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative that there are several fixed and floating platforms involved in the system which China is planning to expand to the rest of the South China Sea, the East China Sea and “other ocean territories far from Chinese territory”

The brief says of this system, “the military utility of its sensing and communications functions makes its development important to monitor.

Additional information-sources

Boycott the Beijing Olympics?

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Boycott the 2022 China Winter Olympics?

When China was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics back in 2015,  Beijing became the first city to hold both a Summer (2008) and Winter Games.

Since then China has risen in military and economic power, surpassing the U.S. as the world’s leading economy and world’s largest manufacturer.  It also began asserting its muscle both internally, with allegations of human rights violations, and internationally such as with the occupation of the South China Sea.

Any criticism has been met with economic penalties such as banning Norwegian salmon when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to dissident writer Liu Xiaobo. It banned Australian beef and imposed heavy tariffs on barley after Australia called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

Canada has seen reprisals for the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the U.S.  Canadian agricultural exports worth billions of dollars were banned and two Canadians in China arrested in what most see as a reprisal for Meng’s detention in what has been labelled as “hostage democracy”

China is now also moving to pass legislation extending control over Hong Kong that would impose criminal charges against anything China estimates as activities promoting secession, subversion, terrorism, or foreign interference.

Against the backdrop of China’s actions and attitude there are now calls for countries to boycott the 2022 games, which China would promote as a crowning demonstration of its place as a world leader.

Former Canadian diplomat posted to Beijing and later commissioner to Hong Kong, John Higgenbotham says now its time for Canada to go beyond mere words of disapproval. Quoted in the Globe and Mail he said of the 2022 games, “China wants them badly as the latest pageant of national power and prestige”, adding that a boycott could be organised if China doesn’t back down on Hong Kong.

US Senator (Florida) Rick Scott has repeatedly also called on China to improve its human rights record or be stripped of the Games

With measures such as the arrests of Canadians Michael Spavor, and Michael Kovrig, threats against Hong Kong, and other issues, Canadian and world attitudes towards China have declined markedly.

In November 2019, former Canadian ambassador to China, David Mulroney asked how Canada could plan to send athletes to China in light of revelations about mass detentions of China’s Uyghur minority.

Margaret McQuaig-Johnston was a long-time government advisor on science and Chinese affairs, and currently Senior Fellow, Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, at the China Institute at the University of Alberta, and the Asia Pacific Foundation.

In an email to RCI she says Canada should work with other countries if there is to be a ban and a message sent. “There are numerous countries including Canada that would consider a boycott given the issues of Hong Kong and the Uyghurs. In addition, it would be unthinkable to plan on attending a big Olympic celebration in China as they continue to hold our kidnapped and unjustly incarcerated Canadians. In this connection, we should also consider sending home the Chinese athletes who are training here for the Winter Olympics”.

Many think the absence of several countries at the Winter Games would have a more profound affect on demonstrating displeasure with China as there are many fewer countries that compete in these games compared to the Summer Olympics, thus any absences would be more noticeable.

Taking a different view however is another former diplomat with Chinese experience, Colin Robertson says the ‘cost’ of the diplomatic action is really borne by the athletes.

He wrote to RCI saying, “The Olympic movement is designed to create bonds between peoples through sporting excellence. For a boycott to be effective it would have to include a significant group of nations eg G7 + NATO and partners. Did boycotting the Moscow Olympics in 1980 get the Soviets out of Afghanistan? (and it led to the tit-for-tat boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics). Did the boycotts by African nations over South African apartheid speed its demise”?

Chinese reaction to a potential boycott by Canada with or without other countries has so far elicited little concern. One scholar at Peking University said that it wouldn’t have much of an effect on China

In the meantime, the fate of the  two Canadians still detained in what are believed to be deplorable conditions, and the concerns over the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong weigh heavily in any decision.  As for whether a boycott may be decided upon. The Globe and Mail posed the question to the Foreign Ministry which passed it on to Canadian Heritage which in turn said such a decision would lie with the Canadian Olympic Committee which in turn did not respond to the Globe’s request.

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Canada-US Relations

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Look to the new NAFTA for the roadmap to the future of the Canada-U.S. bond

The CUSMA odyssey reminds us that our advocacy with Congress and the states must be a permanent campaign.
Then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend a CUSMA signing ceremony on Nov. 30, 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. White House photograph by Shealah Craighead

Canadian leadership needs to move beyond COVID-19 border controls and turn to implementing the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Free Trade Agreement. In what is already a divisive U.S. election, we must also avoid anything that could be construed as interference.

The Nov. 3 elections will decide not just the presidency, but also, crucially, one-third of the Senate plus all 435 members of the House of Representatives as well as 11 governors, including in five border states—Washington, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

If it’s a referendum on the economy and direction of the country, then change is probable, but as former British prime minister Harold Wilson observed “a week is a long time in politics.” Most Canadians hope for deliverance from the Donald Trump show, but odds-makers still favour the president, so Canadian leaders should keep their thoughts to themselves.

The top table discussions between prime ministers and presidents concentrate on global issues and it’s more complicated with an administration that rejects multilateralism. Our diplomatic game needs to be in top form. Canada is already suffering collateral damage as the Sino-U.S. trade dispute morphs into Cold War territory. There will be more of a requirement for the kind of helpful fixing we are demonstrating through reforming the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement and on Venezuela though the Lima Group.

For most Canadians, what matters is the intermestic connections. These have been brought home with the COVID-imposed border controls. They fit into three broad baskets: trade and economics; climate, energy, and the environment; and security and defence. With three-quarters of our trade headed south, Canadians naturally prioritize trade and economics, but for the Americans, the top item is defence and security.

COVID-19 has fundamentally shocked both our economies. Our approach to relief is different but, with luck, our recoveries will be in tandem. Fortunately, the CUSMA, taking effect on July 1, gives us a mutually agreed set of rules, including provisions for digital trade that have accelerated with COVID.

COVID raised questions about the reliability of North American supply chains. Despite the planning on pandemics negotiated in 2012 by then-U.S. president Barack Obama, then-Mexican president Felipe Calderón, and then-prime minister Stephen Harper, there was limited North American co-ordination. We have got to do better, because the next time is likely to be sooner rather than later. Business has stepped up and governments should look to their call for a “North American Rebound,” especially around designing North American supply chains and creating strategic stockpiles.

With the Trump Administration in denial on climate change, the best Canadian approach is to work with those in Congress, states, and cities who share our approach. If Joe Biden is elected, then Keystone once more will be a flashpoint, but let’s not make it the litmus test of the relationship.

We also need to keep our eyes on the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. Water management is increasingly complex given the interests involved. For now, the complicity between the different levels of government is what we aim for when negotiating with the Americans.

Trump wants the allies to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence. Canada currently spends about 1.3 per cent of GDP. Arguably we are doing our bit: active naval deployments in the Atlantic and Mediterranean; in Latvia where we lead the battle group; in the air with the Trudeau government doubling to 12 our deployable fighter jets.

But the Americans expect more and this won’t change with Biden. We should do more, especially in the Arctic around North American defence. The Russians are testing our defences and the Chinese are already implementing their Arctic strategy. The framework we announced last year is inadequate. We need a detailed strategy with funding for infrastructure and sustained operations. As the Americans remind us: “you claim sovereignty, so exercise it.” It’s also our best “defence against help.”

Then there is the decision on 5G:  do we use Huawei equipment in our next-generation telecommunications platform?  President Trump is clear—use China’s Huawei and Canadian membership in our shared Five Eyes intelligence network with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom will be in jeopardy. Business needs a decision. Punting the decision until after the U.S. election isn’t likely to change U.S. attitudes, as the Democrats are just as adamant about excluding Huawei.

The CUSMA odyssey reminds us that our advocacy with Congress and the states must be a permanent campaign. Close engagement is the responsibility not just of the prime minister and ministers but premiers and provincial legislators, as well as business and labour.

COVID’s social distancing robs us of the regional gatherings of premiers and governors, legislators, and civil society that constitute the hidden wiring of the relationship. In their weekly COVID calls, the prime minister and premiers should identify new opportunities for this vital informal engagement. Our prosperity and sovereignty depend on it.