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About Colin Robertson

A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and hosts its regular Global Exchange podcast.  He is an Executive Fellow at the… Read more »

NATO Climate and Security Center

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Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue – it’s also a national security threat. Canada has offered to create a NATO centre of excellence on climate and security, which the alliance should move on with alacrity.

Describing climate change as “one of the defining challenges of our times,” NATO leaders at their June summit endorsed a Climate Change and Security Action Plan. It aimed to incorporate climate change considerations into defence planning, training and exercises, disaster response, and its procurement practices.

The plan intended to develop a “mapping and analytical methodology” for greenhouse gas emissions from military activities and installations. Data on energy demand and consumption would be used to inform operational planning, investment decisions and to implement innovative energy efficient technologies. NATO agreed to increase climate awareness among its members, do an annual climate change and security impact assessment, and collaborate with international and regional organizations such as the United Nations and European Union.

In support of the initiative, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told fellow leaders in June that Canada is ready to establish the NATO Centre of Excellence on Climate and Security to pool the alliance’s knowledge, initiate research and develop practical applications for climate mitigation.

The alliance members are rallying to the idea. Following Mr. Trudeau’s recent speech to the Netherlands parliament, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte agreed that “Canada would be the perfect home for this platform,” given its commitment to the issue.

The NATO Centres of Excellence (CoE) grew out of the recognition in 2002 that the alliance needed new civil-military mechanisms – a combination of think tank and an applied technology centre – as it adapts to new threats and challenges. The first NATO CoE, on air power, began its work in 2005. Today, its 27 CoEs cover a range of threats, including cyber defence, strategic communications, naval mine warfare, terrorism and cold weather operations. Recognized for their technical expertise, they constitute a network of transformational support for the alliance.

With buy-in from alliance members, which means money and expertise, the Canadian-based climate and security CoE could be up and running by 2023.

American participation will be critical. The Pentagon, which is the world’s largest single energy consumer, invests billions to reduce its carbon footprint and prepare facilities against the effects of climate change. The Pentagon wants all non-combat vehicles to be electric by 2030. Renewable sources, mostly solar and wind, currently generate two-thirds of the energy powering U.S. naval bases. As the internet has proven, where the military goes, the civilian world often follows.

As a model for industry participation that will be vital to the success of the new CoE, we should look at Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. Since its launch in 2012, with its focus on greenhouse gases, land, water and tailings, this remarkable collaboration of companies has shared best practices and intellectual property to significantly reduce their carbon footprint and water use.

The location of the CoE will be a political call, but Winnipeg has a central location and anyone who has experienced its winters has certainly spent some time pondering climate. Importantly, Winnipeg is the Canadian home for NORAD, the Canada-U.S. continental alliance. Winnipeg also hosts the International Institute for Sustainable Development, has three universities and is home to the University of Manitoba’s excellent Centre for Defence and Security Studies.

In their June communiqué, NATO leaders described climate change as a “threat multiplier.” Droughts and floods in conflict-prone regions exacerbate water and food shortages, contributing to the displacement of peoples that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now estimates is at 82.4 million. Rising sea levels threaten hundreds of millions of people globally. Melting arctic ice opens new avenues to potential conflict.

There are no easy answers to these problems, but our citizens expect action. Pew surveys of advanced economies put climate change as one of the top international threats. The challenge for the CoE will be focus. Rather than boil the ocean, as they say, it should concentrate on coming up with practices and innovations enabling NATO forces to mitigate their carbon footprints and adapt to our changing climate. Mitigate climate change and you mitigate the threat of conflict.

Melanie Joly named Foreign MInister

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Justin Trudeau drops Marc Garneau from cabinet, but won’t say why

OTTAWA—He is a former astronaut and naval officer with high schools named after him, a front-line government minister who was just re-elected by the people of Notre-Dame-de-Grace—Westmount.

And now he’s out of a cabinet job.

On Tuesday morning, as a parade of Liberal MPs strode through the pounding rain to get sworn in as cabinet ministers at Rideau Hall, Marc Garneau was nowhere to be found.

After just nine months on the job, Garneau was replaced as Canada’s foreign affairs minister by Mélanie Joly, a fellow Montreal MP who took over the role in a major political promotion.

Garneau, 72, is one of three ministers who were re-elected in last month’s federal election but not named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the new cabinet that will lead his government in its third mandate in Parliament since the Liberals came to power in 2015. The others — Waterloo MP Bardish Chagger and Manitoba’s Jim Carr — held relatively junior portfolios.

But Garneau was Canada’s minister of Global Affairs, a front-bench role at the heart of cabinet from which he directed the country’s foreign policy and relations with other countries.

Trudeau dodged the question when he was asked Tuesday why he’d excluded Garneau from his new cabinet, instead thanking Garneau and saying he is happy that Garneau is still a Liberal MP. But he added that he is glad to showcase new cabinet members who can tackle the challenges Canada faces.

“It’s never easy to assemble the right cabinet for the moment, but I find the team that is around me today is the right one for the situation and for the years to come,” Trudeau said in French.

In a written statement to the Star, Garneau said it was “an honour and a privilege to serve my country” as a cabinet minister since 2015, and thanked his Liberal colleagues, staff and public servants who worked with him, family and the constituents in his Montreal riding.

One senior government official, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, said Trudeau’s decision to remove Garneau must have been “tough” because he did an “unbelievable job” as foreign minister. Garneau was credited with helping secure the release of the two Canadians imprisoned in China after the arrest in Vancouver of Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, and quarterbacked an international declaration against arbitrary detentions that was signed by more than 60 countries.

He also had a “smooth” relationship with the Prime Minister’s Office, the official said.

“I don’t see it as a knock on his performance or anything,” the official said. “I know he was great at his job.”

Before he entered politics, Garneau had a distinguished and high-profile career that saw him become the first Canadian in space when he was selected to join a crew of the U.S. space shuttle in 1984. He later became an astronaut training specialist for NASA and went back to space in 1996 and 2000.

Garneau was first elected as a Liberal MP in 2008, when the party was in opposition. He ran against Trudeau for the Liberal leadership but dropped out of the race a month before it ended in the spring of 2013, calling it a “fait accompli” that his main rival would win.

When Trudeau became prime minister two years later, he named Garneau to his first cabinet as transport minister, a role he remained in until January 2021, when he was shuffled to foreign affairs.

Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said it makes sense to replace Garneau with Joly, who he described as a “new face” who can take a fresh crack at fulfilling Trudeau’s vision for Canada to play a larger role on the world stage.

Robertson also noted that Garneau is from a different generation than Trudeau, while Joly might have skills that mesh more with the direction the prime minister wants to take on major international issues.

“I think Trudeau wanted somebody who’s more reflective of how he sees Canada in the world,” Robertson said. “The prime minister has to be comfortable with his ministers.”

Yet Joly becomes Trudeau’s fifth foreign minister in just six years, which is “an issue” for a cabinet position that benefits from continuity and deep knowledge of complex global issues, said Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Trudeau and professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa.

“Canada faces very significant and complicated challenges,” Paris said, “and the leadership of that department needs to have a firm hand on the tiller. And it is a complex set of issues that takes a while to absorb.”

Both Paris and Robertson noted that Joly will quickly face key challenges in the job, including navigating a dispute with the U.S. state of Michigan over the threatened closure of Line 5, a vital oil pipeline that supplies central Canada, as well as crafting a new strategy to deal with China and other countries in the Pacific region.

G20 Rome summit

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from Policy Magazine  

The Rome G20: Multilateral Stress Test or Last Call at the Star Wars Cantina?

Colin Robertson

October 26, 2021

This weekend’s G20 summit in Rome is important on a number of counts: as part of the international community’s ongoing pandemic and economic recovery response; in setting the tone for the COP26 Glasgow climate summit that immediately follows it; as well as for the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial in Geneva at the end of November. More important, Rome is a stress test of multilateralism. Amid levels of geopolitical tension not seen in half a century, can diverse nations act on behalf of the common good?

It does not help that key players including China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Japan’s Fumio Kishida and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will not be there.

Nor that the extraordinary G20 summit on Afghanistan earlier this month failed to meet expectations. It could not even come up with a communiqué. Instead, thechair’s summary said safe passage should be given to those Afghans who wished to leave the country, that future humanitarian programs should focus on women and girls and the Taliban should contain militant groups operating out of the country. Neither Xi nor Putin dialed into the call.

Rome is about getting straight answers to two key questions.

On COVID, how soon will the world be sufficiently vaccinated? Vaccine production has increased but distribution remains a problem, especially in Africa. Will we learn the lessons from COVID to be prepared for the next pandemic?

In terms of economic recovery, can the G20 nations nurture and support economic growth while avoiding inflationary pressures? Can the developing nations cope with debt and the social pressures created by COVID? Importantly, will the rich help the poor?

With the Glasgow climate summit just days away, Rome will also give a sense of the answer to a third question. Will leaders make the required national commitments and will developed nations come up with the funding to mitigate climate change for developing nations?

As to climate, Queen Elizabeth put it best when she was picked up by a hot mic saying of COP and political rhetoric that it is “irritating” when “they talk, but they don’t do.” Bookend the 95 year-old monarch’s icy assessment with that of 18-year-old Greta Thunberg’s excoriating world leaders for their “blah, blah, blah” and you get a sense of intergenerational frustration over the existential threat of climate change. G20 nations account for almost three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In his remarks at the UN General Assembly in September, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is “on the edge of an abyss and moving in the wrong direction.” Can the leading nations come together to deal with the pressing issues of our time: the pandemic and getting the world vaccinated; setting a course for sustainable economic recovery that also addresses inequality at home and internationally.

For Guterres, Rome will be the latest in a continuing series of tests of the current multilateral system: “On the one hand, we see the vaccines developed in record time — a victory of science and human ingenuity. On the other hand, we see that triumph undone by the tragedy of a lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust… This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity. We passed the science test. But we are getting an F in ethics.” Guterres concluded, “The problems we have created are problems we can solve.”

To meet the World Health Organization (WHO) goal of fully vaccinating at least 40 per cent of the population in every country by year’s end and 70 per cent by mid-2022, high-income countries need to fulfill existing vaccine dose donation pledges, coordinate with manufacturers to prioritize deliveries to COVAX in the near-term and remove trade restrictions on the flow of vaccines and their inputs.

For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau it will be his first chance for face-to-face meetings with his fellow leaders since the September 20 election. He has now won three elections and with the impending retirement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he becomes the senior member of the G7. This gives him place and standing. His father, Pierre Trudeau, put a lot of effort into bridge-building between North and South and then into the East-West divide, culminating in his farewell peace initiative. What will Justin Trudeau leave as his global legacy?

In Rome, we can expect Trudeau to support the global tax reform package generated by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and her counterparts. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that when implemented, the reforms have the potential to yield around $150 billion in additional global tax revenues annually. But national governments must now pass implementing legislation and, given the polarized US Congress, passage is no sure thing.

Trudeau will also press his fellow leaders to contribute to the annual $100 billion finance mitigation fund for developing nations, a process led by Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and his German counterpart, State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth, in advance of COP.

It’s hard to imagine a more disparate set of leaders — with the authoritarians now outnumbering the liberal internationalists around the table. It includes flakes and gangsters reminiscent of the original Star Wars scene when Han Solo is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina.

It was financial crises – the Asian and dot.com crashes at the turn of the millennium – that gave the G20 its birth. Its architects, Canadian Paul Martin and American Larry Sommers, designed it to be the financial fire brigade: bringing together the leading economies’ finance ministers and central bankers and, since the 2008 crisis, heads of government. Through 2008-09, the empowered G20 acted as the global economic management board to address what we now call the Great Recession. The G20 was to be the catalyst to better incorporating China and the big developing economies into the IMF and WTO and while also driving the IMF and OECD agendas to revive trade negotiations and stimulate global tax reform. The G20 of 2008-09 got things done and coordinated global economic recovery.

Since then, China’s “peaceful rise” has given way to a more aggressive push for superpower status. But with power comes responsibility. As then-US deputy secretary of state, later World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned in his 2005 speech to the National Committee on US-China Relations, China needs to assume “a responsibility to strengthen the international system that has enabled its success.” This includes working constructively on non-proliferation, pandemics, trade and technology, as well as climate.

Today, the G20 is more a caucus than a cabinet. There is always a tendency for communiqués to resort to bromides and weasel words to camouflage their inability to agree. It’s hard to imagine a more disparate set of leaders — with the authoritarians now outnumbering the liberal internationalists around the table. It includes flakes and gangsters reminiscent of the original Star Wars scene when Han Solo is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina. In that sense the G20 reflects the realities of contemporary world geo-economic politics. It’s a meaner and messier world made more complicated by existential challenges like pandemics and climate change.

The world is beset by labour and supply chain problems, and there are already fears that there will be fewer presents under the tree this Christmas because the goods are still sitting in a ship somewhere. With the US looking to ‘decouple’ from China and China pursuing ‘dual circulation’, globalization as we knew it is entering a new phase where the emphasis will be on secure and resilient supply chains that protect production and transportation with ‘trusted’ partners.

Then there are worries about rising inflation. The assumption that we could all borrow trillions of dollars in newly printed cash was premised on a quick bounce-back and only a short burst of inflation. Now bankers and finance ministers are trying to figure out if we all borrowed too much and if so what to do about it.

Debt relief for emerging economies is essential. Many of their citizens remain unvaccinated and the IMF estimates 65–75 million more people will fall into poverty. Borrowing costs are increasing, and their central banks are raising interest rates to stave off inflation. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) assesses that the damage from the pandemic has exceeded that of the Great Recession in most parts of the global economy, but has been particularly draining on the developing world.

The G20 should lead. The recent issue of US$456 billion of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to IMF member countries, creating additional international reserve assets, is a first step that should be followed by the developed economies and China passing their new SDRs to the world’s poorest countries.

While protectionism prevailed across the board with the onset of the pandemic, the WTO’s June Trade Monitoring Report says trade policy restraint by G20 economies prevented a destructive acceleration of protectionist trade measures that would have further hurt the world economy.

It’s a start but much more needs to be done.

It’s been 20 years since the current round of global trade negotiations began at Doha in November, 2001. The United States continues to block the appointment of new judges on WTO panels despite efforts by Canada and like-minded nations. The WTO’s dispute-settlement process is now stalled.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai spoke recently in Geneva, reaffirming US support for the WTO without identifying what changes Washington wants. In a recent Foreign Affairs piece, Peterson Institute CEO Adam Posen says the inward trade policy practiced by recent administrations is doing immense harm to American workers and the American economy.  But the world does not stop and wait for the US to get its house in order.

For Canada and its kindred democracies, multilateralism is an article of faith and a cornerstone of our respective foreign policies that has helped preserve peace and create a prosperity our ancestors could only dream about. Failure to act multilaterally will make for a meaner, poorer and more dangerous world. Our children and grandchildren will wonder how we could so blow it.

For more on G20 see  this G20 PRIMER


Table of Contents

Recognize the Taliban

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The federal government should recognize the Taliban as the new government in Afghanistan while making safe passage out for those we left behind a part of the deal.

Shunning the Taliban as retribution for the West’s defeat would be a mistake. That the Taliban include drug-dealing, misogynist killers as members is beside the point. Diplomatic recognition should not be considered a seal of approval, but rather as the means by which a given country represents and advances the interests of its citizens.

That’s why, despite the blood of millions on Mao Zedong’s hands, we recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1970; Pierre Trudeau recognized that we could not be a responsible player in global affairs if we ignored one-quarter of the global community.

That’s why a group that was once deemed a terrorist organization – Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress – became the government in South Africa. The steadfast support from the governments of Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien is still remembered, although these days, we don’t pay enough attention to the continent.

That’s why Canada keeps an embassy in Havana, which has helped our relations with Washington, as they rely on our reports.

While Canada’s evacuation from Kabul airport has officially ended, we still have both history and vital interests in Afghanistan. More than 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan, with 158 killed between 2001 and 2014. Since 2001, Canada has provided more than $3.6-billion in international assistance for security, education, health and the rights of women and girls. Even if half of Canadians think we’ve done enough, we need to look after the Canadians left behind, the Afghans who helped us when we were there, those with family ties to Canada, and those with a well-founded fear of persecution from the Taliban.

International support, mostly from the West, sustained Afghanistan for the last 20 years, and while Russia or China will want to fill this void, it comes with a price (as Russia will well remember). Humanitarian assistance – Canada pledged $50-million through the United Nations and Red Cross last week – gives us leverage that Western governments should apply collectively to ensure the Taliban follow through on “assurances” that those who want out will “be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner.” In mid-August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to resettle 20,000 Afghans in addition to the government’s prior commitment to those who helped Canada. Those numbers will likely increase, as we saw when Ottawa made a similar promise to Syrians; whichever party forms the next government should also encourage private sponsorships.

That’s a start, but defending democracy is going to require once-complacent U.S. allies to step up and share the burden in terms of defence and security, diplomacy and development. China may be pressing its alternative to our liberal rules-based system, but the West’s real challenge is less about constraining China than preventing the U.S. from slipping further into isolationism. As we learned during the Trump administration, the system of liberal democracy withers without U.S. leadership and participation.

Middle powers such as Canada must step into the breach, starting with the reform of our creaky multilateral institutions. Our allies, including Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany, have produced thoughtful research on how to achieve it, and Canada’s next government should do the same. Canadians pride ourselves on being helpful fixers, but in reality we fall short in our capacity to even punch our weight; as scholar Adam Chapnick writes, the catchphrase “Canada is back” is humbug

A global Canada is more than a choice: It’s a necessity. Trade generates more than 60 per cent of our GDP. One in five Canadians was born abroad. Immigration accounts for about two-thirds of Canada’s population growth. In an election campaign called on the day that Kabul fell to the Taliban, our party leaders should be debating how they will reinvest in our diplomatic service, our armed forces and development, and recommit to the understanding that doing diplomacy means “being there,” no matter how unpleasant.

If we are to bring a Canadian perspective to the world stage, we need a presence on the ground to appreciate histories, geographies and cultures, and to gain insights into other governments. Indeed, recognizing the Taliban in Afghanistan should be followed by reopening our embassy in Iran and re-establishing a diplomatic presence in Pyongyang.

The world is a messy place, and it’s only getting messier. To help fix it, we need to be actively engaged with our allies – and, yes, with those we don’t like or trust. After all, that’s what diplomacy is all about: We practise it not just for the collective good, but because it is how we advance Canadian interests.

Carter Malkasian: American War in Afghanistan

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What Happened in Afghanistan and What Does it Mean for Canada?

Colin Robertson

August 25, 2021

On the advice of an American friend – one of the many American foreign service officers who had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan – I’d started reading Carter Malkasian’s The American War in Afghanistan: A History. It was early July and President Joe Biden had just given a news conference at the White House saying, “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build. It’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”

No one thought then that by mid-August the Taliban would be in Kabul. For Malkasian, however, the war was already lost long ago. Having travelled the country in 2009, Malkasian saw that in “battle after battle, numerically superior and better-supplied soldiers and police were being defeated by poorly resourced and unexceptionally led Taliban.” That America could not have done much more, writes Malkasian, than “muddle along for years in the face of a relentless enemy is the unsatisfying, sometimes frustrating coda to our longest war.”

A Taliban religious scholar told Malkasian “The Taliban fight for belief, for janat (heaven) and ghazi (killing infidels). … The army and police fight for money…The Taliban are willing to lose their head to fight. … How can the army and police compete.” Besides, writes Malkasian, “the police and soldiers did not want to put their lives on the line for a government that was corrupt and prone to neglect them.” Even the better-trained Afghan special forces, “still had great difficulty fighting without U.S. air support and advisers.” So, while the world was shocked at the suddenness of the Afghan forces’ retreat, that they folded was not a surprise.

The Taliban’s ability to link their cause to the very meaning of being Afghan, writes Malkasian, was a crucial factor in America’s defeat. For Afghans, jihad, better translated as “resistance” or “struggle”, has historically been a means of defense against oppression by outsiders, part of their endurance against invader after invader since the time of Alexander the Great. In more recent times, they have first exhausted, then repelled the British, the Soviets and now the Americans.

Malkasian writes as a scholar having done his doctorate at Oxford in military history and then taught. He is also a practitioner, having served as a civilian advisor in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Later he was the senior advisor to General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from 2015 to 2019.

The American War in Afghanistan is Malkasian’s third book. It builds on his War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (2013), and Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State (2017). As source material for this big book, Malkasian draws from the documents collected by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. He also interviewed Taliban leadership and digested Taliban texts in Pashto.

Afghanistan has spawned a cottage industry of narratives and memoirs and Malkasian’s book deserves a place alongside the Sarah Chayes classic The Punishment of Virtue (2006), Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War (2008), Sebastian Junger’s War (2010) and General Stanley McCrystal’s My Share of the Task (2013).

Malkasian begins his story in a rural village surrounded by mounds of gray rocks each planted with a flag — “a strip of cloth tied to a long bamboo pole.” It is illustrative of Malkasian’s fluidly readable prose, essential because the book, like the war itself, is long: 21 chapters at 577 pages. It begins with a sketch of Afghanistan geography and demography, culture and society, then moves to the US invasion and the early years of Hamid Karzai and the Bush administration. Then comes the fighting, including the Canadian experience in Kandahar (2007-9), followed by the surge (2009-11) and the height of the American military experience. The latter third looks at the American efforts at drawdown and the on-again, off- again negotiations with the rotating Taliban and Afghan leadership, and the unity government of 2014. It concludes with the Trump administration, why the US failed, what opportunities existed for a better ending, and why America “never just got out.”

Afghanistan, as President Biden put it recently, has earned the sobriquet ‘the graveyard of empires’, sadly proving ‘that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, and secure Afghanistan’.

Some good, Malkasian acknowledges, came from the American occupation: better infrastructure, women’s rights and freedom of the press. How much of that will endure? The last time the Taliban ruled, extremism spread, the Islamic State appeared and, writes Malkasian, “Sacrifice, suicide, revenge, and killing ascended as values. Violence begat violence… Worst of all, the war twisted the Afghan people.”

In 1990, as the Soviets were pulling out of Afghanistan, I travelled up the Khyber Pass with a friend serving at our Embassy in Islamabad. Our escort in the jeep that took us through the mountainous pass was a member of the Khyber Rifles, whose fame dated back to Kipling’s time. He wore running shoes and carried a Lee-Enfield rifle but his talisman against harm and our real protection was his Khyber Rifles beret that could easily be seen by those in the Pass. It was a hot, bleak and happily uneventful trip with the only distraction the crests of British regiments that had once served on the frontier. We got to Landi Kotal and then Michni, close to the Afghan border. In the distance, what I thought were clouds was the smoke from the Mujahadeen shelling the retreating Soviets. We stopped at a refugee camp and watched a buzkashi game — a kind of polo but played with a goat’s head or when played across the border, as I was told by one participant, with the head of a Soviet “invader”. We bought tribal prayer rugs decorated with Kalashnikovs and the spiked grenades that the Afghans hated because they had maimed too many of their children.

Afghanistan, as President Biden put it recently, has earned the sobriquet ‘the graveyard of empires’, sadly proving “that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, and secure Afghanistan.”

The ‘forever war’ for Americans was also a long war for Canadians. Nick Burns, then the US ambassador to NATO (and now President Biden’s nominee to go to Beijing) told me on several occasions that the NATO decision to invoke, for the first time, the collective security provisions of Article Five — that an attack on one is an attack on all — was the initiative of our then-NATO ambassador David Wright. That decision launched the US-led NATO intervention that is only now concluding.

More than 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan with 158 killed between 2001 and 2014, including my foreign service colleague Glyn Berry (2006). More came home injured or psychologically wounded, and the Canadian Armed Forces report that 191 veterans have taken their own lives since 2011.

John Manley captured the dilemma for Canadians in the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan report (2008) prepared for then-prime minister Stephen Harper. Manley wrote, “If I learned one thing from this enquiry, it is that there is no obvious answer to the question of Canada’s future role in Afghanistan. But our presence in that distant land does matter… because it concerns global and Canadian security, Canada’s international reputation, and the well-being of some of the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable people.” Our commitment is important, continued Manley, “because it has already involved the sacrifice of Canadian lives.” The report concluded with a prescient warning: “The war in Afghanistan is complicated. The future there is dangerous and can frustrate the most confident plan or prediction.”

Stephen Harper concluded that to suggest victory was the complete defeat of the insurgency and the replacement of a failed state in Afghanistan with a modern liberal democracy was not realistic: “I think what we should be aiming for in Afghanistan is a viable state that respects…some democratic norms, but I think ultimately the insurgency will last a long time. Afghanistan, through most of its history, has been an untamed country…the idea we’re going to wipe out an insurgency is completely unrealistic.”

For Canada, the Maple Leaf in Kandahar came down in 2011.

In a recent CGAI essay on the lessons of Afghanistan, longtime World Bank official and former North-Institute President Joe Ingram concludes that international support going forward needs to help “internal actors build a core set of governance institutions and systems that would be able to mobilize and effectively spend state revenue in accordance with accountability systems and transparency requirements, thereby reducing corruption and state capture while diminishing the state’s reliance on foreign aid.”

The Afghan experience is a cautionary tale for future international interventions. The defeat has created a palpable fatigue with nation-building. How will this square with Joe Biden’s determination to promote and support democracy, especially as the divide between open and closed systems widens?

The US is the one nation with the capacity and capability to truly make a difference. No American ally can take comfort in what happened in Afghanistan. American presidents and their Congress will be chary about any sort of security assistance, especially when it requires boots on the ground. The US will also expect more of the allies. Even then, when push comes to shove, can the allies depend on the US?

The western experience in Afghanistan obliges policy-makers to think hard about future interventions. “We believed things were possible in Afghanistan” observes Malkasian, “defeat of the Taliban or enabling the Afghan government to stand on its own — that probably were not.” Without an appreciation of the history, culture, geography and local politics, we may win battles but we lose the war.

2021 Election Primer

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What Diplomats Need to Know about Canadian Elections


Image credit: Elections Canada


In partnership with


Colin Robertson, CGAI Vice-President, and
Maureen Boyd, Chair, Parliamentary Centre and CGAI Fellow
August 2021


Table of Contents


August 2021 – In response to requests by foreign diplomats to explain our election process, we have revised this primer, written originally in 2019.  It tries to explain the process of our elections and forming a new government. We consulted stakeholders from the different parties as well as experts on Canadian politics, polling and our elections in putting this piece together. This primer does not analyze the parties’ policies and politicking – these are available daily from the news media and we point to those we follow in the “Further Sources” section. CGAI will also be publishing a series of prescriptive pieces on global affairs issues to help the next government in its global policy development. The Parliamentary Centre will be offering an Election Primer for Diplomats, September 8 at 10 a.m. – more info at parlcent.org.


Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul. Source: CBC

Election 2019 Results



The Mechanics of Elections

On August 15, 2021 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked with his family the short distance from Rideau Cottage to Rideau Hall to ask the new Governor General, Mary Simon, to dissolve the 44th parliament and call an election for Monday, September 20, 2021 – a shortest possible 36-day campaign.

General elections in Canada are called when the Governor General dissolves Parliament on the advice of the prime minister. The Governor General issues a Proclamation for the issuance of writs of election and an Order in Council is addressed to the Chief Electoral Officer requesting the issuance of separate writs of election to the returning officers for each of the 338 electoral districts. Three weeks before the election, each candidate must file with the returning officer several documents, including the nomination paper. The federal election is under non-partisan control of Elections Canada and its chief electoral officer.

In seeking the dissolution of Parliament, the prime minister also recommends the election date. The Canada Elections Act now specifies that the election period must last a minimum of 36 days and a maximum of 51 days: in 2015, the election period was unusually long – 78 days – while the 2019 election period was 40 days. In an Abacus survey taken just before the election call, 77 per cent said that they intend to vote.

Unlike Australia and certain other countries, Canada does not have mandatory voting. Voter turnout in national elections is usually around two-thirds of eligible voters – it was 67 per cent in 2019, 68.5 per cent in 2015 and 61 per cent in 2011.

Elections in Canada’s 338 electoral districts (aka constituencies or ridings) are decided by the first-past-the-post system, i.e., whoever gets the most votes wins the election, even though “most votes” rarely translates into the majority of votes.

For most of our history, the race to govern has been essentially between the Conservatives and Liberals. They are our oldest parties, dating back to Confederation. The Tories, as the Conservatives are often called, governed for most of the period after Confederation in 1867 until just before the turn of the century when the Liberals took power and then governed for most of the 20th century. So far, this century has been a split between the Liberals and Conservatives. The NDP grew out of the early 20th century progressive movement of farmers and labour and while they have formed government in the provinces, they have only enjoyed one spell as Official Opposition (2011-2015). The Bloc Québécois was formed in the early 1990s to defend Quebec’s interests leading to independence. They formed the Official Opposition (1993-97), and held the most seats in Quebec until 2011. The Greens were formed in the early 1980s and won their first seat in 2011. Other parties, such as the current People’s Party and Maverick Party, come and go but rarely win seats.

In the 2019 election, the Conservatives won more votes than the Liberals. The New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party (Greens) favour proportional representation and, in the 2015 campaign, Trudeau promised electoral reform that many interpreted as favouring proportional representation. It has not happened at either the national or provincial level. Indeed, when put to a vote, proportional representation has been defeated in provincial referendums in British Columbia (B.C.), Ontario and Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.).

The first-past-the-post system means that, based on previous elections, a party can win the majority of the seats in the House of Commons with around 38 per cent of the votes. Only two governments in recent history have won more than 50 per cent of the vote:  John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives in 1958 and Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives in 1984.


The Constitution Act defines how many seats are accorded to each province. Unlike partisan gerrymandering in the United States, the formula is adjusted based on population after each decennial census in an independent non-partisan process with independent commissions working separately in each province. The Constitution guarantees both Quebec and Prince Edward Island a minimum number of seats. This creates major discrepancies in the population of constituencies. For example, there are an average of 36,500 voters in each of the four constituencies in P.E.I., Canada’s smallest province, while each of Alberta’s 34 constituencies has 111,000 voters. The current 338 electoral districts break down by province as follows: Ontario, 121; Quebec, 78; B.C., 42; Alberta, 34; Manitoba, 14; Saskatchewan, 14; Nova Scotia, 11; New Brunswick, 10; Newfoundland and Labrador, 7; P.E.I., 4; Northwest Territories, 1; Yukon, 1; and Nunavut, 1. In terms of geography, Nunavut is the largest at 2,093,190 square kilometres (almost four times the size of Germany) while the smallest is Toronto Centre at 5.84 square kilometres.

The parties all handle candidate selection slightly differently, with different discretion afforded the leader to “parachute” candidates into a riding or to screen out really bad candidates. Every party candidate needs to have the leader sign the nomination form. But by international standards, the candidate selection process in Canada is remarkably decentralized.


Election Spending

By U.S. standards, Canadian elections are not just shorter, but also much cheaper to administer. There are also much stricter rules on election spending. The price tag for the 2019 election was $502 million or $18.35 per elector. The 2015 federal election cost $443 million, up 53 per cent from the $290 million spent on the 2011 election because of the addition of 30 new ridings and an unusually long campaign.

In terms of party campaign spending in the 2019 election, the Conservatives spent $28.9 million – nearly to the $30 million limit – the Liberals spent $26.1 million and the NDP spent $10.3 million.

The Election Modernization Act (2018) restricts the amount of spending allowed in the period before a campaign and aims to prevent foreign interference with rules to regulate third-party political activity. Political parties can now spend up to $2,046,800 on advertising in the pre-writ period. After the writs are issued, those spending limits are raised significantly. Interest groups can spend up to $1,023,400 in the pre-election period and then $511,700 during the election period, with a maximum of $10,234 in each constituency in the pre-election period and $4,386 in each constituency during the election. Canadians can give up to $1,650 annually in total to all the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of each registered party. Election expenses for each candidate in a constituency are fixed and they vary between $88,000 (Charlottetown) and $134,000 (Pontiac) with the average around $110,000. Depending on their vote, there is a degree of reimbursement from public funds.

According to Elections Canada, the Conservatives have raised the most money in recent months, breaking new fundraising records and surpassing the Liberals by their widest margin yet.


Foreign Interference

Foreign interference in democratic elections is a reality. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and the RCMP are monitoring foreign threat activity in Canada. For the 2019 election, a Cabinet Directive on the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol set out general directions and the principles to guide the process for informing the public of an incident that threatens Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election. It will guide the 2021 election.


Canadian Elections: Project, But Be Careful about Predictions

Canadian federal elections are volatile and unpredictable in outcome so predictions are dangerous. It’s better to offer projections based on polling, but polls too have their problems. The 2015 election is a good example. Two-thirds of Canadians going to the polls were comfortable with the country’s direction and optimistic about the economy, but two-thirds also wanted change. At various points, the polls showed the lead was held by the Conservatives, the NDP and the Liberals (who won, but who began in third place).

Unlike the U.S., where most voters have registered as Democrats or Republicans, it is estimated that between a third and a half of the Canadian electorate is prepared to change its mind based on the campaigns. Pundits and political scientists reckon that the Conservatives have the most solid base – around 25 per cent. The Liberal base is lower, around 22 per cent, but they also have a higher potential ceiling. The NDP can count on around 13 per cent and the Greens, who won their first seat in Parliament in 2011, have polled as high as 10 per cent although they are currently in internal turmoil. The Liberals are generally considered centre-left, the Conservatives centre-right, the NDP and the Greens are left and the Bloc Québécois is a coalition of those looking out for Quebec’s interests.


Voters’ Considerations in 2021

It is likely that 2021 will be remembered as the pandemic election. Going into the election, voters will consider:

Referendum on Leadership

For many voters the election boils down to leadership – who do you want to lead the nation and spend time watching and listening to over the next few years? Elections are an opportunity for newer leaders and leaders of the opposition parties to portray themselves to the voters and to convince them they have the temperament and character required to lead Canada. Most voters’ assessment of the campaign is more about personalities and personal flaws. Leaders who misgauge the country’s mood soon find themselves out of a job.

Debate on Issues

At the outset of the 1993 campaign, then-prime minister Kim Campbell famously declared that elections were not the place to discuss policies. She may have been right but she then took her party into oblivion. Watch for polling that assesses voters’ desire for change and voter satisfaction with the direction of the country. That governments defeat themselves is another political axiom, especially when there is an overwhelming desire for change. As to the issues in this campaign, an IPSOS poll taken before the election identified health care, affordability and cost of living, climate change and the economy – essentially those that were top of mind in 2019. These top identified issues were followed by COVID-19, taxes, housing and poverty. An Abacus poll taken after the election call confirmed this lineup and noted that the top issues – cost of living, health care, climate and post-COVID economic recovery – were the same for the two biggest demographic voting groups – the millennials and the baby boomers, with marginal differences between men and women.

Pandemic Management

Liberals believe they will score good marks if the election is a referendum on how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, including their recent calls for mandatory vaccinations for federal public servants and those travelling across federal jurisdictions. They also believe that Canadians support measures to cushion the pandemic’s economic effects, including wage subsidies and cheques to individuals.

Since the pandemic’s onset, the provinces that have called elections have been rewarded with a majority – until Nova Scotia’s Liberal government went down to a resounding defeat to Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston the week after the federal election was called. Before that, majority governments were returned to New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs in September 2020, Saskatchewan Party Premier Scott Moe in October 2020, British Columbia’s NDP Premier John Horgan in October 2020 and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Liberal Premier Andrew Furey in March 2021.

Managing the Economy: Who Can Keep the Country Prosperous or At Least Out of a Pandemic-induced Recession?

Running deficits became part of the equation in 1993 when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) almost had to intervene to prop up the economy. Since then, Canadians and governments of all political stripes were chary of running deficits. Attitudes have changed since the start of the pandemic. Government programs to support workers, families, business and seniors have received widespread approval. Even the deficit-wary Conservatives have put forth proposals in their election manifesto, Secure the Future: Canada’s Recovery Plan, to increase spending, although they plan to curb the deficit within 10 years.

Response to World Events

Foreign policy has not usually been a major election issue. The last time it played a decisive role was in the 1988 election around freer trade with the U.S., with Brian Mulroney’s pro-free trade Progressive Conservatives winning re-election. In 2015, the government’s response to the plight of Syrian refugees was widely discussed. But in 2021, there is a growing sense that the world is a messier and meaner place. Relations with China are in the deep-freeze and, as with other liberal democracies, negative views of China have reached their highest level ever. For Canadians, this is in large part due to China’s “hostage diplomacy” and the incarceration of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Canadians will wonder whether the fall of Afghanistan justified the loss of Canadian lives. The plight of Haiti, and concern from Haitian-Canadians, particularly in Quebec, is a reminder that diaspora politics remains a potent force in Canada. Concerns such as global climate change and the large-scale movement of peoples requiring global action, along with the decline of democracy in many countries, are moving foreign policy from its traditional back-burner position. 

The U.S.

Canadians’ view of the U.S. has rebounded favourably with the election of President Joe Biden. But relief at Donald Trump’s defeat comes with recurring questions about how much things have changed under the Democratic administration. There is a growing list of irritants, including the cancellation of Keystone XL, restrictive Buy American purchasing provisions, lack of U.S. federal government support for Line 5 and lack of recognition for mixed-dose vaccines and the Covishield version of Astra Zeneca and, now, growing dissatisfaction around the exit from Afghanistan.  The U.S.’s closure of its land border to Canadians will remain in effect past the election.


Canadians Will Vote One Way Provincially and Another Federally

Canadians are also quite ready to vote one way provincially and then balance it by voting for a different party federally. When Trudeau took office after the Liberals had spent a decade in the wilderness, most provincial governments were Liberal. Today, conservative governments lead seven provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government in Quebec is nationalist centre-right. The only Liberal governments are in Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon. The NDP governs British Columbia, our third largest province. Independents lead the governments in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

While provincial and federal parties may bear the same name, they are distinct and different entities although the NDP tends to draw from the same workers and base of support. Be careful in assuming close support and collaboration during elections, although in 2021 the Tory premiers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick will either actively campaign or tacitly support their federal counterparts.


The Debates

Debates matter and they draw an audience. They may not produce a winner but they do identify losers. They can also gel impressions about personality – for and against – even if they do little to shed light on policies.

The Trudeau government established a Leaders’ Debates Commission headed by former governor general David Johnston in order to ensure debates are a “predictable, reliable and stable element(s) of future election campaigns”. This has created a partnership of news organizations that will produce two leaders’ debates – each two hours – on Wednesday, September 8 in French and Thursday, September 9 in English, broadcast from the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. The English debate will be produced, promoted and distributed by CBC News, CTV News, Global News and APTN News, while the French debate will be produced, promoted and distributed by Radio-Canada, Noovo, La PresseLe Devoir, L’actualité and Les Coops de l’information (Le Soleil, Le Droit, La Tribune, Le Nouvelliste, Le Quotidien and La Voix de l’Est). TVA is also planning a French-language debate on September 2 but it is not clear how many leaders will participate.

In 2019, there was widespread criticism of the English debate with its less than cohesive moderator format that failed to hold debaters to account and the inclusion of People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, criticism that was validated when the People’s Party took only 1.6 per cent of the popular vote and elected no candidates. To participate in the 2021 leaders’ debates, the commission requires a leader of a political party to meet one of the following criteria:

(i) On the date the general election is called, the party is represented in the House of Commons by a member of Parliament who was elected as a member of that party; or

(ii)  At the most recent general election, the party’s candidates received at least four per cent of the number of valid votes cast; or

(iii) Five days after the date the general election is called, the party receives a level of national support of at least four per cent, determined by voting intention, and as measured by leading national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recently publicly reported results.

In practical terms, their application keeps the leaders of the People’s Party (Maxime Bernier) and Maverick Party (Jay Hill) out of the debates.


Source: Leaders’ Debates Commission


The Polls

Skepticism about polls began after previous elections with pollsters’ reliance on landlines that discounted younger voters’ intentions.  The pollsters acknowledge this criticism. As  Jean-Marc Léger wrote in his book Cracking the Quebec Code: The 7 Keys to Understanding Quebec, “Political polls make for about 1% of all my revenues, but account (for) 99% of my problems.” After an embarrassing series of inaccurate polls, there is now a healthy competition between pollsters on their last polling record.


There will be lots of polling during the election campaign but again, voters do shift and not all polls are equal. There are now many different polling firms, each using a different methodology; yet some media continue to report them as if they are equal and interchangeable. Some media also aggregate all the polls to produce an average on which they then base seat projections. So, when asked for a forecast, you can project based on current polling. But to confidently forecast is always treacherous. With this caveat, do look at the polling:

  • After Labour Day (the first Monday in September) for a sense of where the electorate is. This is a good baseline of initial voter sentiment. Many will have paid limited attention during the summer.
  • After the leaders’ debates, as families and friends will have gathered over a mid-September weekend with discussion of the election. This will provide a sense of how opinions are developing as the campaign heads into the final stretch. The most influential voices are families and trusted friends and this set of polls will provide a sense of how voters are assessing the now-lively campaign.

The final week is like the finale of a horse race as each party jockeys for advantage. Politesse goes out the window. There are calls for strategic voting. Backloaded advertising floods voters with negative messaging and the leaders’ rhetoric becomes harsh, pointed and desperate. During the final weekend, the undecideds, sometimes more than we think, make two decisions: whether they will vote and, if so, for whom, although many go to the ballot box still thinking about their decision. Parties with money pour on the advertising and their vote-getting operation goes into full swing.  The issues become secondary to the focus on the leaders.

It is important to recognize that national polls, while interesting and may indicate a trend, do not usually accurately reflect what is happening regionally. Canada is a country of regions: B.C.; the Prairie Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba; Ontario; Quebec; the Atlantic Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador; and the North, consisting of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

There are national issues, but there are also important local and regional issues. Arguably, given Canada’s regional diversity, the national election is in fact a series of concurrent regional elections with a different set of parties contending in each region. There are also splits between rural and urban/suburban voters on a range of issues. Regions have their own breakdowns: the Toronto suburbs – also known as the 905 after their area code; Quebec-outside-Montreal (meaning Quebec usually divides between Montreal and the rest); and B.C.’s Lower Mainland.



Getting out the vote is critical. Conservatives are generally acknowledged to be best at it. The Conservatives are generally seen to have the most reliable voters and their ground game is good. The NDP is reliable but its ground game is always a question. The Liberals usually benefit from a big turnout but this requires an energetic campaign that convinces their voters to turn out. However, a question will be how many Canadians decide, because of the pandemic, to exercise their right to use provisions for advance or mail-in voting. Mail-in votes are only counted after the election to ensure there is no double voting, which could significantly delay results. With COVID-19, there has been a much greater emphasis on and promotion of mail-in ballots with some suggesting that up to five million of the approximately 18 million votes cast could be by mail. That means results may not be available on election night and it could take several days for all votes to be counted, which could delay determining whether one party has a majority.


Forming a Government and Governing

With 338 seats in today’s House of Commons, a majority requires 170 seats. The leader of the government (i.e., prime minister), prior to the dissolution of Parliament, has the right to try to form a new government and then to affirm that government, at an early date, in a formal sitting of the House of Commons. If they fail to win a confidence motion when they meet the new legislature, they must tender their resignation to the governor general (in the case of the provinces, the lieutenant-governor). The vice-regal representative then decides whether to call another election or determine if any other party or group of parties can sustain the confidence of the House. That can be, but does not have to be, the party with the most seats. Equally, if the governing party entering the election falls into second place and can strike a deal with a smaller party, it can stay in power even if another party has more seats. Much of this procedure is based on Westminster constitutional conventions and past Canadian precedents and practices.

When no party has a majority of seats, the options are a minority government or a coalition government.

In the event of a minority, the vice-regal representative will usually ask the party with the most seats to meet the House and present its speech from the throne outlining its plans and policy priorities. Usually, a new government will come to an understanding with another party – including promises to introduce legislation on which the other party campaigned. The vote on the speech from the throne is considered a vote of confidence. If it passes, the new government will then present a budget. Past minority governments have usually lasted 18 to 24 months based on a vote-to-vote basis, as was the case in the Canadian parliaments from 1972-74, 2005-11 and since 2019.

A coalition government occurs when parties join forces to hold the larger share of seats. This can include agreements where the cabinet includes members from both, or all, parties depending on how many team up. Unlike in Europe, coalitions are rare in Canada – the last formal coalition was formed in 1864, before Confederation. Some Liberals backed the Conservative Robert Borden government in 1917, during the First World War, in an informal coalition.



Once elected, the first job of the prime minister (or provincial premier) is to form a cabinet. Unlike the U.S. where cabinet ministers are not members of the legislature (and must resign if they join the administration), forming a cabinet is a federal Canadian balancing act of geography, gender (Trudeau takes great pride that women comprise half of his cabinet), language, ethnicity and ideology. However, compared to elsewhere, the principal parties are not terribly riven by ideological splits.

Cabinet ministers are relatively independent as long as they follow their mandate letters and do not cross the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO and the Privy Council Office (PCO) – the control system for the public service and government – have most of the power,  a trend in other liberal democracies as well, and a source of increasing concern for those who worry about the concentration of power in the executive. Lobbyists in Canada know that it is the bureaucrats, especially the senior mandarins, who make the recommendations upon which most ministers will act. In comparison to the U.S. system where power resides in Congress, power in Canada is concentrated among the senior bureaucrats and cabinet ministers.


Source: House of Commons


Private Members

Private members or backbenchers are MPs who do not hold office as a cabinet minister, parliamentary secretary or chair of a committee. Backbenchers almost always vote for their respective party positions to avoid sanctions ranging from removal from committees to removal from caucus.

Some argue that toeing the line encourages cohesive party messaging and adherence to party policies. Others disagree. In his book, Whipped: Party Discipline in Canada, scholar Alex Marland examines the hidden ways by which political parties exert control over elected members of Canadian legislatures. In recent years, there have been efforts to give more power to Parliament and to private members through, for example, the creation of the Parliamentary Budget Office to give independent assessments of financial issues, including spending.


The Senate

Our unelected Senate is evolving. Shortly after he was elected leader, Trudeau kicked the Liberal Senators out of caucus and, as prime minister, stuck to his promise to make appointments based on the stature of the individuals recommended by an independent commission rather than the prime minister’s personal choice. Prior to the 2015 election, then-prime minister Stephen Harper refused to make any new Senate appointments and was considering its abolition. As prime minister, Trudeau has now appointed most of the current 105-member Senate. Senators have divided themselves into various groups: Independent Senators Group, Conservative Party, Canadian Senators Group, Progressive Senate Group and Non-affiliated.

The Trudeau-appointed senators mostly support the Trudeau government. Critics suggest that the people appointed to the Senate tend to look like members of the Order of Canada – virtuous high-achievers – who just conveniently seem to think along the same lines as Liberals.

Is the Trudeau experiment working? The jury is still out. When he resigned in 2019, André Pratte, the former editor-in-chief of La Presse, and one of the first Trudeau appointees, said it was because the Senate was too “partisan”. The unelected “virtuous” new senators do not always appreciate that, while they are the chamber of “sober second thought”, their second thoughts are often neither welcomed nor acted upon by the elected House of Commons. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said the Senate needs to change to become more accountable but what that means is unclear.


What_Diplomats_Need9.jpgSource: House of Commons, 43rd Parliament, Second Session


Further Sources

On election night, all of the major media outlets will have ongoing coverage as will Maclean’s, Politico, the Hill Times and iPolitics.  The Herle Burly podcast has campaign insights.

The parties’ websites contain their platforms: Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Bloc, Green.

On Polling: Pollsters of note include Abacus’s David Coletto (who is also a CGAI Advisory Council member),  Frank Graves (a CGAI Fellow) of EKOS, Darrell Bricker of IPSOS, Greg Lyle of Innovative Research Group, as well as Mainstreet and Angus Reid and, for Quebec, Leger. Check out Philippe Fournier’s 338Canada and on CBC, Eric Grenier’s Poll Tracker, as well as the weekly running tracking poll from Nik Nanos.

For insights into Trudeau, read National Post columnist John Ivison’s Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister as well as Promise and Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power by the CBC’s Aaron Wherry. For autobiographical tomes: Trudeau’s Common Ground, and Jagmeet Singh’s Love and Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience, and Overcoming the Unexpected.

Nik Nanos looks at populism in his The Age of Voter Rage: Trump, Trudeau, Farage, Corbyn & Macron – The Tyranny of Small Numbers. Bricker and John Ibbitson wrote in The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future that Canadian politics, once dominated by the liberal Laurentian elite, is shifting to a conservative Western base. Their analysis is good, although their conclusion is unconvincing. Their book, Empty Planet, argues that Canada will rise as global population declines. For comic relief, Terry Fallis has written a clever novel, The Best Laid Plans, on a Canadian election, that is informative and funny.

For a critical look at Trudeau’s foreign policy by a Liberal insider, read Jocelyn Coulon’s Canada is Not Back: How Justin Trudeau is in Over His Head on Foreign Policy. For a counterpart, see Doug Saunders’ very good essay in the Globe and Mail on Trudeau’s foreign policy: Justin Trudeau vs. the World. For a view of global issues, read Stephen Harper’s Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption.


About the Authors

Maureen Boyd is a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and chair of the Parliamentary Centre, a non-profit organization that has worked for the past half-century in more than 70 countries supporting legislatures to better serve their citizens. She is a fellow of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and the founding director of Carleton University’s Initiative for Parliamentary and Diplomatic Engagement which provides outreach and policy orientation to parliamentarians and diplomats, including orientation for newly elected members of Parliament and annually for newly arrived diplomats to Canada.


Colin Robertson is vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and hosts its regular Global Exchange podcast.  He is an executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and a distinguished senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. A member of the Department of National Defence’s Defence Advisory Board, Robertson is an honorary captain (Royal Canadian Navy) assigned to the Strategic Communications Directorate.  Robertson sits on the advisory councils of the Alphen GroupJohnson-Shoyama School of Public Policy, North American Research Partnership and the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa.  During his foreign service career, he served as first head of the Advocacy Secretariat and minister at the Canadian embassy in Washington, consul general in Los Angeles, consul in Hong Kong and in New York at the UN and Consulate General. A member of the teams that negotiated the Canada-U.S. FTA and then NAFTA, he is a member of the Deputy Minister of International Trade’s Trade Advisory Council and the North American Forum. He writes on foreign affairs for the Globe and Mail and Policy Magazine and he is a frequent contributor to other media. The Hill Times has named him as one of those who influence Canadian foreign policy.


China, Michael Spavor and Robert Schellenberg

      Comments Off on China, Michael Spavor and Robert Schellenberg

Calgarian Michael Spavor found guilty, sentenced to 11 years on espionage chargesCTV

Bill MacfarlaneCTV News Calgary Video JournalistCALGARY — A Chinese court sentenced Calgarian Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison late Tuesday night.

The news was announced shortly before 9 p.m. Calgary time.

At a press conference, Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, added that the sentence was ‘”11 years with deportation”, although it remained unclear what was meant by that.

“That deportation phrase is noted,” Barton said.

He said he spoke to Spavor, who had three messages for friends and family in Canada.

“Thank you for all your support,” Barton said. “I am in good spirits and I want to get home.”

Although there did not appear to be any evidence to support the charges, the outcome was almost certain, according to some.

“We know in China that for high profile cases, it’s the Communist Party that dictates the rulings,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian diplomat.

“They are trumped-up charges for which there’s absolutely, absolutely no basis in law,” said Justice Minister David Lametti.

Spavor has been in custody since December 2018 in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition warrant to the United States.

He has 10 days in which to appeal the sentence.


Spavor grew up in Calgary and graduated from the University of Calgary with a degree in international relations.

He went to teach overseas in Korea where he fell in love with the people and culture, eventually becoming fluent.

He first visited North Korea in 2001, returning several times, including to live for six months. He is one of the few westerners to have met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Despite his remarkable life overseas, his friends say he always kept in touch and was interested in their lives at home.

“In the mid-90s we just started hanging out together and we’ve stayed friends ever since,” recalls friend Matt Burgener.

Burgener says he received a text days before Spavor was to return home to Calgary, making plans to see music together. That meeting never happened.

“He’s just a regular guy who had an incredible skill with languages and it took him into some unique corners,” he said.


The Spavor family issued the following statement after learning of the verdict and sentence.

We have been informed that the court in Dandong, China has come to a verdict and sentence in the case against Michael.

While we disagree with the charges, we realize that this is the next step in the process to bring Michael home and we will continue to support him through this challenging time.

Michael’s life passion has been to bring different cultures together through tourism and events shared between the Korean peninsula and other countries including China and Canada. This situation has not dampened, but strengthened his passion.

Once again we thank the Government of Canada for its tireless advocacy for the release of Michael, and are endlessly grateful for the support, thoughts and prayers of our friends and allies around the world.


Former diplomat Micheal Kovrig’s trial on similar charges is set to begin Monday.

A third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, had his death sentence affirmed by China earlier this week for drug trafficking. He had earlier been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“The Chinese end game, it’s free Meng Wanzhou, full stop, and they will bring all pressure they can,” says former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson.

Meng’s extradition hearing could be decided this week. The United States issued a warrant for her arrest on fraud charges related to the sale of equipment to Iran despite sanctions prohibiting the transaction.

Chinese shadows over the election campaign


(Ottawa) On September 4, there will be only a few weeks left before Canadians go to the polls.

On September 4, it will also be 1000 days that former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and his compatriot Michael Spavor, entrepreneur, are detained in China. Accused of espionage by Beijing, they have been languishing in prison since the Canadian authorities arrested, at the request of the United States, in December 2018 in Vancouver, the financial director of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, Meng Wanzhou.

The United States demanded the extradition of M me  Meng because she lied about Huawei control over another company that was brewing business in Iran, in violation of US sanctions against Tehran.

In general, foreign affairs are seldom a dominant issue during an election campaign. But the case of the two Michael’s, which is raising outrage and concern across the country, may well be the exception that proves this rule. The pressure on the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau to obtain their release is increasing, especially since the Chinese government sentenced, in an “unfair” and “unacceptable” manner, Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison on Wednesday.

The Chinese Communist regime has demonstrated time and again in the past that it knows how to choose the strategic moment to impose trade sanctions against a country that irritates it or to announce prison terms against foreign nationals detained in China.

He demonstrated it in 2019 when Beijing imposed restrictions on Canadian pork and canola exports just months before the federal election. China has done it again this week by announcing the sentence imposed on Michael Spavor after a mock trial, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to call an election, and as the hearings on the Ms.  Meng’s extradition to Vancouver is drawing to a close.

Raise the tone, without offending

So far, the pressure tactics exerted by Canada through diplomatic channels have not had any tangible effect. Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau managed to rally around 60 nations to the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations, including the United States, France and the United States. ‘Australia. This initiative targeted China without naming it. The Communist regime expressed its irritation, but that did not change the fate of the two Michael’s.

In April, Canada followed suit with its American and European allies by imposing a series of economic sanctions against four officials and a Chinese entity for “their participation in the persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.” . The gesture was denounced by the Chinese regime, but the sanctions did not change the tone.

Also in April, Canada’s Ambassador to China Dominic Barton quietly visited Washington to convince the Biden administration to agree to a deferred prosecution agreement that would allow Ms.  Meng to return to China in exchange for ‘an acknowledgment of guilt. According to The Globe and Mail , the Canadian Ambassador to Washington, Kirsten Hillman, participated in these talks which were to lead to the departure of Ms.  Meng from Canada in exchange for the release of the two Michael.

Asked about this on Wednesday, the head of Canadian diplomacy, Marc Garneau, refused to give details, simply saying that the two ambassadors were continuing their efforts to obtain the return to the country of the two Canadians.

Since coming to power, the Trudeau government has gradually raised its tone towards China. But he also multiplied the contortions to avoid offending the Chinese regime too much. Examples ? He still has not decided whether he will allow the Chinese giant Huawei to participate in the deployment of 5G technology in Canada, even if its main allies have ruled out for security reasons a long time ago. This decision has dragged on for three years.

In February, Justin Trudeau and his ministers also abstained from voting on a Conservative Party motion, passed unanimously by the Commons, which recognizes that “genocide” is currently being perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China against Uyghurs and “other Turkic Muslims”.

The Olympic Games, an “incredible lever of pressure”

In the opinion of several observers of Canadian diplomacy, the Trudeau government must now be intractable towards China. This is the case of Colin Robertson, who worked at the Canadian consulates in New York and Los Angeles and who is now vice-president of the Canadian Institute of Global Affairs. “Canada must adopt sanctions that have more bite,” he said Wednesday on CBC Newsworld.

In this context, the member for Lac-Saint-Jean, the Bloc Québécois Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, returns to the charge with his proposal formulated in an open letter at the beginning of the year. According to him, it is absolutely necessary to move the Winter Olympics planned in China in early 2022 to another country, or even suspend them until further notice.

In February, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe’s letter on “the Games of Shame” caused a stir. It was signed by some thirty elected representatives from Canada and Quebec. It has been endorsed by Olympic medalist Jean-Luc Brassard, the Advisory Center for Israeli Jewish Relations, and the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, among others. It also had echoes abroad.

“What we have just seen in the last two days are additions to the violation of human rights yet again by this regime which is completely tyrannical. This regime violates human rights all day long, ”the Bloc member said on Wednesday.

“I still believe in relocating the Olympics. They tell me I’m crazy because it’s six months from now. But as far as I know, the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed for a year due to a pandemic. We could push them back as long as China continues to violate human rights. We could very well relocate them in a year if the situation does not change, ”he added.

His letter itself followed a call by some 180 human rights groups to boycott the Beijing Games, which are scheduled to begin on February 4, 2022.

At the end of the line, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe gets carried away thinking that China could be the host of this grandiose sporting event.

Why were we able to delay the Tokyo Olympics for a year because of a pandemic? Is genocide less serious than a pandemic?

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, Member of the Bloc Québécois

“Economic sanctions, we can see that this does not stop the Chinese regime. What would hurt them the most is their international image. And the Olympic Games, it’s not only to nurture their international image, but it’s also a way of controlling the population even more by saying: “See, everything is fine. People come to party with us. ” It’s an incredible leverage that we have. “

A hard-line supporter of China, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole has already argued that the Olympics should not be held in Beijing.

“It would violate fundamental ethical principles to participate in the Olympic Games organized by a country which commits genocide against part of its population,” he said in February.

As the election campaign approaches, will Justin Trudeau’s Liberals dare to make the same emergency appeal to the International Olympic Committee?

Canadians pass Americans in vaccination

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Updated: Jul 20, 2021 4:31 PM

Against all odds, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed to beat a Covid-19 vaccination benchmark that even his counterpart to the south, US President Joe Biden, was unable to meet.

After initially bungling its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, falling behind many other developed nations, including the United States, over the weekend Canada moved ahead of its southern neighbor in per-capita vaccinations.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) vaccine tracker, as of mid-day Tuesday, 50.8% of Canadians were fully vaccinated. By comparison, just 48.6% of Americans have taken their full dose of vaccines, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the difference for people given at least one dose is even greater: 69.7% and 56.1% respectively).

That beats a benchmark set by Trudeau and federal officials, who said in late November that the majority of Canadians would not be expected to be vaccinated until September or even as late as December 2021.

Meanwhile, a levelling off of inoculations south of the Canadian border meant that the US fell short of Biden’s goal of having 70% of adults get at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot by July 4, and the spread of the Delta variant in the US is leading to a sharp increase in hospitalizations and deaths nationwide, particularly in states with high numbers of unvaccinated people.

While the Trudeau government should avoid the temptation to take a victory lap, it arrived just in time to deliver political dividends for Trudeau as he prepares for an expected reelection campaign.

It also allowed Ottawa on Monday to jump ahead of the US and announce a long-anticipated opening of the US-Canada border on August 9, when fully-vaccinated US citizens and permanent residents will be allowed into Canada. Public Security Minister Bill Blair said Monday in a press briefing that during a recent call with US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the US had not yet indicated that it would approve a reciprocal opening of the border to Canadians. (The border, which usually sees nearly 200,000 people cross in either direction each day, was closed for the first time ever to non-essential travelers and traffic in March 2020 due to Covid-19.)

How did Canada, which badly bungled its initial vaccine roll-out and largely avoided extreme measures, like the ones seen in the US, such as using pop stars and financial incentives such as guns, trucks and cash to help boost demand, manage to pull ahead of the United States?

To start, Canada was spared the politicization of vaccines and of the rejection of such widely-accepted public health protocols as mask-wearing and social distancing that was seen in the United States.

“Of course we have our share of libertarians and anti-vaxxers. But they are a small minority. Canadians huddle close to the center and it serves them well. Getting the jab is part of that,” Colin Robertson, vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute told me.

In Canada for the most part, scientists and experts — some of whom became mini celebrities on television — were given the lead in dictating policy and that gave Canada a leg up over othercountries. And there are only 13 provincial and territorial leaders in Canada, compared to 50 governors in the US, which made it easier for Ottawa to battle the virus in a coordinated manner.

“One thing the data show us is the extent to which politics does not drive the decision to be vaccinated in Canada relative to the US,” Shachi Kurl, president of polling organization Angus Reid Institute, told me.

But nothing seemed to have focused the minds of Canadians more than the possibility of further lockdowns. The federal and provincial governments tactic of turning up the heat with the threat of rollbacks on openings resembled the playbook of other jurisdictions such as Singapore where case numbers were kept low. Late last year in the Southeast Asian city state, authorities said lockdown restrictions may not be relaxed if at least 70% of Singaporeans didn’t use some form of approved tracing technology.

Initially, Canada faced great difficulty procuring Covid-19 vaccines, and Trudeau warned citizens to expect to fall behind other developed countries, including the US. The delay in vaccination – which was partially blamed on the country not having its own its own domestic pharmaceutical production facilities – allowed an incredibly punishing third wave, resulting in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, having one of the world’s longest lockdowns — more than 360 days — according to BBC News.

To date, more than 1.4 million Canadians have been infected by Covid-19 and 26,466 have died.

By late 2020, Canada had reportedly secured enough Covid-19 vaccines for every citizen to be vaccinated five times over, but the country still lagged in actually getting those doses out to the public because of delivery delays. By the time spring rolled around, Canadians were spoiled for choice, given the luxury of opting for the messenger RNA (mRNA) or vector vaccines — or an exotic combination of both technologies.

Expect Trudeau to leverage the vaccine success to the hilt when he hits the hustings. Tainted by several political scandals from his past two terms in office and still fresh memories of punishing lockdowns and seniors dying by the hundreds in care homes, clawing back his parliamentary majority will require political spin on the level not yet seen in a Canadian election.

But as other elected leaders worldwide have discovered, if there is one thing the Covid-19 virus is extremely adept at it is exploiting the smallest cracks in our defenses. Taking a victory lap too early and rolling back public health measures for political gain — especially when, as Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has been warning that the country is still confronting struggles with vaccine hesitancy among its citizens — can bring literally deadly consequences

NATO , G7 and Multilateralism

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Like Humpty Dumpty, multilateralism had a great fall.

American presidents have historically led and underwritten the rules-based system. But for U.S. president Donald Trump, multilateralism – the concept of countries working together for the common good – meant allies freeloading at America’s expense. With the abdication of U.S. leadership, efforts to fill the “empty throne” arose, notably by the Franco-German Alliance for Multilateralism, but multilateralism still stalled and fractured. “Westlessness,” as the Europeans called it, spawned an effort at strategic autonomy, but it has yet to take.

Then came the pandemic with its vaccine nationalism and closed borders. As a test of multilateralism, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ruefully observed a few months ago: “It is a test we have failed.” The leaders of the world’s democracies are now picking up the pieces.

Multilateralism thankfully got a boost at the G7 and NATO summits. That the democracies, despite their differences, can achieve shared purpose on the challenges of our time – COVID-19, climate and China – is a relief.

Hitting ‘Control-Alt-Delete’ on the world’s biggest corporate tax loophole

Pledging one billion more vaccine doses to help end the pandemic, G7 leaders will accelerate future development and production to tackle COVID-19 in developing countries. Pandemic-related debt relief will rely on the G20, meeting this fall in Rome, underlining that multilateralism is a smorgasbord with a variety of actors. The key, of course, is to act and not just punt problems into the aspirational phrasing that too often drowns summit communiques.

With Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, pressing for action on climate change and global public opinion increasingly convinced that the issue is a “global emergency,” the G7 leaders pledged to end support for coal generation, the single biggest cause of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Building on the 2018 Charlevoix summit, leaders also pledged to conserve at least 30 per cent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030, a reminder that multilateralism is a process that moves incrementally

China and Russia were called out for their aggressive behaviour and violations of human rights. As an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative – its massive, cross-continents infrastructure project stretching across land and sea involving 139 countries – G7 leaders are promising a “build back better” public-private infrastructure program. Public opinion in G7 countries has shifted significantly, with at least seven in 10 having a negative view of China.

NATO labelled Russia a threat and China a systemic competitor. U.S. President Joe Biden was right when he framed their challenge as a battle between the “democracies and autocracies,” in which the democracies must “prove democracy works.”

The return to great power competition and technology has changed the strategic environment, so NATO is revising its fundamental “Strategic Concept.” To remain fit for purpose, multilateral institutions must reform and adapt.

For Canada, changing geopolitics underlines the value of multilateralism in advancing our shared values as well as our self-interest. It will oblige us to reinvest in diplomacy, defence and development and to revive our skills as a “helpful fixer.”

Prime ministers Louis St. Laurent and Lester Pearson defined and engineered the institutions of postwar multilateralism. Pierre Trudeau sought to bridge the North-South and East-West divides. Brian Mulroney enabled German reunification, put climate change on the international agenda and advanced human rights in places like South Africa. Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin led on responsibility to protect, in the campaigns against land mines and child soldiers, and in the creation of the International Criminal Court and G20. For Stephen Harper, it was about improving global maternal and child health. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau consistently champions the empowerment of women and gender equality. This is helpful fixing.

With the world in a mess, Canada is capable of more. This means more money. The Trudeau government has made modest increases to its development budget of 0.27 per cent of GDP and 1.39 per cent of defence, but they fall short of the targets set by the UN (0.7 per cent) and NATO (2 per cent). Our foreign service also needs reinvestment.

It is time for the Trudeau government to move on its promised “peace, order and good government” initiative. There is an urgent need to focus on supporting democracy at home, while collaborating with fellow democracies and with emerging democracies.

Winston Churchill said of democracy that it was the worst system, except for all the rest. The same can be said of multilateralism. The G7 and NATO summits showed that the democracies can still act together for the global good. Multilateralism endures. Now the promises made in their communiques and declarations need to be matched in budgets and actions.

NATO Summit 2021: A Primer

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Canadian Primer to the NATO Summit in Brussels June 14, 2021


Image credit: Vlad Kochelaevskiy/Adobe Stock


by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice President and Fellow
June 2021


Table of Contents


Presidents and prime ministers of the thirty NATO nations will meet in Brussels on Monday, June 14. The agenda, for this their 29th summit since the Alliance was formed in 1949, will discuss safeguarding the rules-based order in the face of the rising challenge from China and Russia. NATO operations in Afghanistan and Iraq will also be discussed.


Note map does not include North Macedonia that joined NATO as the 30th ally in 2020.

To “defend”  NATO, says Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, requires “strengthening existing partnerships and building new ones, including in the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America,” in line with NATO’s 2030 ambitions.

For the U.S., which is the biggest contributor to NATO, “deterrence and defense remain NATO’s job number one“. As President Joe Biden said before leaving for a European tour that includes the G7 and EU summits and a meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as well as the NATO summit, he wants to ensure that “the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped so much of the last century” will also shape the post-pandemic world.

An important discussion will be around an updated Strategic Concept  to sustain NATO’s technological edge. Discussion will flow from the recent NATO 2030 report. Strengthening readiness and resilience requires securing supply chains, renovating infrastructure, and improving communications.

Defence Expenditures as a share of GDP


Facing destabilizing and malicious cyber activity, there is recognition that NATO’s cyber operations needs attention. In February, Defence Ministers endorsed NATO’s Coherent Implementation Strategy on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies including a security-focused technology hub, what Stoltenberg calls a “defence innovation accelerator”, with private sector partnership. At the Munich Security conference in March, Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed we “join forces in all spheres and regard security as a concept of networked security, of multidimensional security.”

The summit will also “set the gold standard when it comes to understanding and mitigating the security implications of climate change”, says Secretary General Stoltenberg.

The U.S. inevitably dominates these summits, for better or worse. As Biden told the State Department shortly after his inauguration “we will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s”. Repairing NATO is central to this objective. The values enunciated in the new Atlantic Charter, signed with Prime Minister Johnson on the eve of the G7 meeting will be reflected in his interventions.  In practical terms, it means support for the NATO 2030 initiative, keeping the alliance strong militarily, making it stronger politically and giving it a more global view.

In his preview of the summit, Secretary General Stoltenberg described a world of growing global competition saying NATO members must strengthen its political consultations; reinforce collective defence through increased readiness, modernize capabilities, and invest; and develop Alliance-wide resilience to make its societies less vulnerable to attack and coercion. This means more money – burden sharing – for joint training and exercises, stronger cyber defences, cutting-edge capabilities, and more capacity-building for partners.

Success at Brussels will be measured not just by the degree of cohesion and camaraderie after the turbulence of the Trump years but on how they deal with the immediate, urgent and future. All are important.

In the immediate and urgent category: Can the Alliance come together with stronger actions on Russia and on China? Are the Europeans, for example, prepared to support with their ships, submarines and aircraft freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea? Do they turn a blind eye to growing illiberal practises in Alliance members Turkey, Hungary and Poland? How do they manage the exit from Afghanistan? Do they stay the course in Iraq? And how does climate fit into their deliberations?

Looking forward, will they agree on a new Strategic Concept that addresses the challenges of technological change as represented by 5G, semiconductors, supply chains, export controls and technology rules and standards. Will we see some of the ‘values’ contained in the new ‘Atlantic Charter’ set forth by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Biden reflected in the NATO communique? Can the EU and U.S. resolve their differences on data protection and big data content?  What about the new battle domains of cyber, hybrid, space and disinformation? Can the Alliance take a collective defence against ransomware attacks and deal with the challenges posed by cryptocurrency?

And then what about that old chestnut: burden-sharing?


What will be Discussed?

Defence Spending

The United States shoulders nearly 70 per cent of the alliance’s operating budget. In terms of GDP the U.S. spent roughly 3.87 per cent on defence in 2020, according to NATO, while the average in European NATO countries and Canada was around 1.78 per cent. U.S. Presidents and Secretaries of Defense have consistently encouraged NATO members to spend more and, while president, Donald Trump mused about quitting NATO over allies’ inability to meet the 2 per cent GDP target for defence spending. While most allies, including Canada, still fall short, NATO defence spending by European allies and Canada has seen seven consecutive years of increases.

Developing a new Strategic Concept

The current Strategic Concept “Active Engagement, Modern Defence”, adopted in 2010, outlines three essential core tasks – collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security to meet diverse threats including the proliferation of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, terrorism, cyber-attacks and fundamental environmental problems. NATO 2030: United for a New Era, the 67-page report (November, 2020) of the Secretary General’s Reflection Group (that included former Canadian National Security Advisor Greta Bossenmaier) argues for a new strategic concept, drawing from the current concept but taking into account the return of systemic rivalry and the rise of global threats as well as the strains on allied unity. A big piece of the Reflection Group’s report deals with technological change and the need for NATO to catch-up and adapt to emerging and disruptive technologies (EDT). As they argue:

Maintaining a technological edge is the foundation upon which NATO’s ability to deter and defend against potential threats ultimately rests. EDTs pose a fundamental challenge but also—if harnessed correctly—an opportunity for the Alliance. Without a strategic surge in this area, allowing adversaries to gain competitive advantage would impede NATO’s ability to win on the battlefield, challenge strategic stability and change the fundamentals of deterrence, but also offer state and even non-state actors, including eventually terrorists, the potential to threaten our societies from within. They also could undermine NATO’s political cohesion, by raising questions about technology.


The Reflection Group described the China challenge as follows:

The scale of Chinese power and global reach poses acute challenges to open and democratic societies, particularly because of that country’s trajectory to greater authoritarianism and an expansion of its territorial ambitions. For most Allies, China is both an economic competitor and significant trade partner. China is therefore best understood as a full-spectrum systemic rival, rather than a purely economic player or an only Asia-focused security actor. While China does not pose an immediate military threat to the Euro-Atlantic area on the scale of Russia, it is expanding its military reach into the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Arctic, deepening defence ties with Russia, and developing long-range missiles and aircraft, aircraft carriers, and nuclear-attack submarines with global reach, extensive space-based capabilities, and a larger nuclear arsenal. NATO Allies feel China’s influence more and more in every domain. Its Belt and Road, Polar Silk Road, and Cyber Silk Road have extended rapidly, and it is acquiring infrastructure across Europe with a potential bearing upon communications and interoperability.

It recommended NATO take a series of steps including:

  • Increase information-sharing analysis on China within the Alliance;
  • Continue efforts to build resilience and counter cyber-attacks and disinformation that originate in China;
  • Expand efforts to assess the implications for Allies’ security of China’s technology capability development;
  • Invest in its ability to monitor and defend against any Chinese activities that could impact collective defence, military readiness and/or resilience in SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility;
  • Continue to identify vulnerabilities of key sectors and supply chains, in coordination with the EU;
  • Uphold NATO cohesion when Allies engage China bilaterally and through formats such as the 17+1 format and Belt Road Initiative;
  • Adapt to China’s integrated MCF doctrine by encouraging Allies to increase technological and military engagement with Allies more vulnerable to Chinese penetration.

Secretary General Stoltenberg recently observed that while NATO needs to “engage with China on issues like arms control and climate change, and therefore China is not an adversary”, their human rights record and actions in the South China sea is a reminder that  “they don’t share our values.” China is also a potential challenger: it has the second largest defence budget, the largest Navy, they are investing heavily in new modern capabilities including hypersonic weapon systems and they are integrating new disruptive technologies like facial recognition, artificial intelligence and big data into the new weapon systems.


As the NATO chiefs of defence observed after their May meeting, “Russia continues to demonstrate a sustained pattern of destabilising behaviour, including its violations of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Reflection Group recommended NATO should continue the dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue, within parameters agreed at the Wales and Warsaw Summits. The Group assessed Russia as follows:

After the end of the Cold War, NATO attempted to build a meaningful partnership with Russia, based on dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. But Russia’s aggression against Georgia and Ukraine, followed by its ongoing military build-ups and assertive activity in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, in the Eastern Mediterranean, Baltic, and in the High North, have led to a sharp deterioration in the relationship and negatively impacted the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia routinely engages in intimidatory military operations in the immediate vicinity of NATO and has enhanced its reach and capabilities for threatening airspace and freedom of navigation in the Atlantic. It has violated a number of major international commitments and developed an array of conventional and non-conventional capabilities that threaten both the security of individual NATO Allies and the stability and cohesion of the Alliance as a whole. Russia has amply demonstrated its ability and willingness to use military force, and continues to attempt to exploit fissures between Allies, and inside NATO societies. It has also employed chemical weapons on Allied soil, costing civilian lives.


By September NATO will be drawing down its non-combat Resolute Support Mission (RSM), which has been training, advising and assisting the Afghan security forces and institutions since January 2015. NATO operations in Afghanistan began after the UN Security Council authorized the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force that operated from August 2003 to December 2014. ISAF is NATO’s longest mission employing more than 130,000 troops from 51 NATO and partner nations, including Canada. Canadian Forces left Afghanistan in March 2014 after a twelve-year campaign and the loss of 161 men and women. Canada continues to support a number of programs and activities.


Iraq remains a battle-ground for domestic, regional, and international competition. In May, NATO ministers agreed to expand the alliance’s Iraqi mission.


At their April meeting the NATO-Ukraine Commission “reaffirmed NATO’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity calling on Russia to engage constructively at the OSCE on its military activities.  Secretary General Stoltenberg called on Russia to end its military build-up, stop its provocations, end its support for the militants in eastern Ukraine, and withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory to abide by the Minsk Agreements.


The North Atlantic Council condemned the forced landing of the civilian aircraft in Minsk (23 May) as a violation of international norms and rules, and a direct attack on the freedom of expression and the free and independent press. Some allies now restrict the access of the Belarussian airliner to their airspace and called for an independent international investigation.

Canadian_Primer_NATO3.jpgNATO Readiness

In 2018, NATO defense ministers agreed to the “Four Thirties” initiative, a military readiness plan that now  means the Alliance has 30 land battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 navy vessels, ready for deployment in 30 days or less.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine (2014) and intervention in Syria (2015) underline the need for NATO readiness. In practical terms this means a rapid combat-ready expeditionary force with attention to cyber defence and maritime security. As NATO scholar Julian Lindley-French and Admiral (retd) James Stavridis, former SACEUR, argue: “Article 5 collective defence must be modernized and re-organized around cyber-defence, missile defence and the advanced deployable forces vital to contemporary defence.” Military exercises demonstrate shortcomings in NATO’s ability to move forces across Europe, because of bureaucracy (customs officials asking to see passports at borders) and inadequate infrastructure (the bridges, roads and railways that have to handle military transports).

NATO Partners and NATO Expansion

NATO’s partnerships, born out of its 1990 London summit, focused first on the former Soviet bloc nations (many of whom are now full members), then on crisis management in the Balkans, and, since 9-11, on wider partnerships now including more than forty nations around the world – Australia, New Zealand and, as the latest addition, Mongolia. At its peak, the ISAF mission in Afghanistan included 22 partner nations. Partnership does not include the security guarantee of Article 5.  Ukraine and Georgia want membership in NATO and, at the Bucharest summit in 2008, NATO encouraged this. But NATO enlargement is controversial and there is discussion of different architecture to guarantee security. A wise person’s report (2016) commissioned by the Finnish government concluded that Finland and Sweden should stick together, whatever the decision, but that membership would provoke Russia. It described Russia as an “unsatisfied power” that “has made unpredictability a strategic and tactical virtue, underpinned by an impressive degree of political and military agility.”

Countering Terrorism

With its Terrorism Intelligence Cell at NATO HQ, NATO’s Counter-Terrorism Policy Guidelines focus Alliance efforts on three main areas: awareness, capabilities and engagement. NATO is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.


NATO and the EU work on migration, seeking to tackle the root causes and to help stabilize the source countries, including training local forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO is also assisting in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, and through Operation Sea Guardian, to provide help to the EU Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean, with ships and maritime surveillance aircraft.


Public Opinion and NATO

Pew Research Center survey conducted in spring 2021 says citizens hold a positive views of NATO at or near all-time highs across several member states. Americans, who contribute the most to NATO’s annual budget, are at 61 per cent favorable, the same as the overall median across the NATO states surveyed. While Americans are more favorable toward NATO than not, partisans hold very different views of the alliance. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are much more likely than their Republican counterparts to have a positive assessment of NATO (77 per cent vs. 44 per cent, respectively).

pan-European survey in November and December 2020 of more than 15,000 people in 11 countries commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations concluded “while most Europeans rejoiced at Joe Biden’s victory in the November U.S. presidential election, they do not think he can help America make a comeback as the pre-eminent global leader.”



While Europeans are happy with Biden’s election, like their leaders, they fear a return of another Donald Trump in four years.



What is NATO?

NATO is a military and political alliance constructed around the principles of collective security, democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. It has 30 members including Canada, the United States and most European nations, as well as a host of Euro-Atlantic partner nations. NATO represents half of the world’s economic and military power. As Secretary General Stoltenberg observes, “no other superpower has ever had such a strategic advantage.”

In the wake of the Second World War, the victors set up a series of international institutions. The foremost was the United Nations, and its alphabet soup of agencies – WHO, UNHCR, FAO et al – with universal membership designed to advance human progress and prevent the “scourge of war”. Responding to what Winston Churchill described as the “iron curtain” descending “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”, the western alliance set up a collective security agreement called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In the words of its first secretary general, Lord Ismay, NATO was to “keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in”. Most importantly it’s a collective security agreement – an attack on one would be considered an attack on all (Article 5). NATO was also designed, at Canadian insistence, to have an economic dimension to promote trade, investment, and commerce between the members (Article 2).


The agreement was signed in Washington on April 2, 1949. Its original membership included twelve countries – the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. In signing the agreement Canadian External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson said that Canadians “feel deeply and instinctively” that the treaty is “a pledge for peace and progress”.

The Alliance expanded with Turkey and Greece joining in 1952, West Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982. France left the military alliance in 1967 but rejoined in 2009. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, NATO membership is now 30 countries –  including Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.


NATO Today


NATO is based in its purpose-built (2018) headquarters in Brussels, where Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, leads its Secretariat with Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană, a former Romanian minister of Foreign Affairs. NATO military operations are headed by two commanders: the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) based in Brussels is currently U.S. General General Tod D. Wolters and the incoming Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) based in Norfolk, Virginia will be French General Philippe Lavigne currently French Air and Space Force Chief of Staff.

Member nations are represented in both the NATO Council and Military Committee. A Canadian has never held the post of Secretary General but Canadians have twice served as Chair of the Military Committee. General Ray Henault, a former Chief of Defense Staff, was chair from 2005-2008. The incoming chair is Admiral Rob Bauer, Chief of Defence of the Netherlands Armed Forces. Legislators from NATO nations meet annually in the NATO parliamentary assembly.

In 2018 NATO has four Joint Forces Commands located in: Brunssum, Netherlands, to enhance coordination, cooperation and situational awareness; Naples, Italy, to prepare for, plan and conduct military operations in order to preserve the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states; Norfolk, Virginia to protect sea lanes between Europe and North America; and inUlm, Germany, to focus on logistics in Europe. The Norfolk and Ulm commands were added in 2018.

Canada, Norway and the U.S. collaborate with the EU through participation in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) defence project Military Mobility enabling the movement of military personnel and assets throughout the EU, whether by rail, road, air or sea.


What has NATO done?

NATO is the classic defensive alliance with Article 5 of its charter declaring that “an attack on one is an attack on all.” Arguably the world’s most successful military alliance, alliance unity and its deterrence capacity contributed significantly to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, and the demise of the communist threat in Europe.

NATO has three core tasks: collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. For its first 40 years, NATO’s purpose was to deter Soviet aggression. With the end of the Cold War, NATO shifted to help the former Soviet-bloc countries embrace democracy and the market economy. Today, it deters Russian aggression.

NATO forces were involved in bringing peace to the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo) in operations that continue today. NATO forces, under the umbrella of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), have been present in Afghanistan since 2003. There have been operations around Iraq (1990-1) and a training mission (2004-11). In 2005, NATO assisted in the relief efforts following the Pakistan earthquake. In recent years, NATO has also provided support to African Union peacekeeping missions in the Sudan and Somalia. NATO led the UN-sanctioned Libyan campaign (Operation Unified Protector in 2011), maintaining a no-fly zone and conducting air strikes against the Gaddafi regime. Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard directed the air campaign.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2014 presented NATO with a renewed challenge. Conflicts within and between states have created failing states and mass migration on its southern flank – in North Africa and the Middle East – that requires ongoing attention.

Since 1989, NATO has also become involved in a series of out-of-theatre missions. Over 150,000 troops served under NATO command in six different operations on three continents, including counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.


NATO still matters. But collective security means collective contributions from all alliance members. As the New York Times editorialized:

Born after World War II, NATO linked America and Europe not just in a mutual defense pledge but in advancing democratic governance, the rule of law, civil and human rights, and an increasingly open international economy. The alliance was the core of an American-led liberal world order that extended to Asia and relied on a web of international institutions, including the United Nations and the World Bank. It remains the most successful military alliance in history, the anchor of an American-led and American-financed peace that fostered Western prosperity and prevented new world wars. No one has proposed anything credible to improve upon it.

But as NATO 2030 argues, the Alliance also needs to be continuously adapting to changing technology and geopolitics.


Canada and NATO

As a founding member of NATO, Canada has stood with their NATO Allies since 1949. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be pressed on Canada’s financial commitment to NATO. The government’s Strong, Secure, Engaged defence policy (2017) commits Canada to increasing its defence spending to 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2026-27, well short of the NATO two per cent norm. But as Trudeau has said, “there are many ways of evaluating one’s contribution to NATO” noting that Canada has “always been amongst the strongest actors in NATO.”


This includes Canada’s leadership of a multinational NATO mission in Latvia (and Trudeau will visit Latvia before going to the NATO summit). The 450-strong Canadian Forces contingent represent the commitment Trudeau made at the Warsaw summit in 2016, as part of broader Canadian support to Operation Reassurance, and note the “significant procurement projects” – especially the ongoing construction of new warships and the purchase of fighter jets – and Canada’s renewed activist internationalism.

As part of Canada’s commitment to NATO’s Operation Reassurance, Canada fighter jets patrol the Baltic skies. Since April 2014, Canada has deployed our Halifax-class frigates, most recently HMCS Charlottetown and HMCS St. John’s, in support of NATO reassurance measures. HMCS Windsor, one of our Victoria-class submarines, recently returned from five months in the Mediterranean where its mission including tracking Russian submarines. Canada is also providing humanitarian and Special Forces support to a U.S.-led multinational effort to support pro-Iraq forces battling ISIS and other terrorist groups.

In terms of readiness, Canadian forces already have achieved significant interoperability on land, air and sea with the U.S. through NORAD, our binational aerospace and maritime surveillance agreement, and through both joint exercises and active operations in theatres like Afghanistan and Libya and now in Latvia. Trudeau can also point to Canada’s recent mission as part of the UN peacekeeping operation in Mali, involving 250 Canadian soldiers and eight helicopters.

Then-president Barack Obama repeatedly told Canada’s Parliament: “NATO needs more Canada”. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland understands this, telling a Washington audience (June, 2018) that:

Since the end of the Second World War, we have built a system that championed freedom and democracy and prevented regional conflicts from turning into total war. Canada for one is going to stand up in defense of that system.…America has been the leader of the free world. We Canadians have been proud to stand at your side and to have your back. As your closest friend, ally, and neighbor, we also understand that many Americans today are no longer certain that the rules-based international order of which you were the principal architect and for which you did write the biggest checks still benefits America.

At the center of that defence arrangement, as Freeland, then foreign minister, told  Parliament  (June, 2017) in laying out the Trudeau foreign policy “NATO and Article 5 are at the heart of Canada’s national security policy.” We now need to up our defence contribution even beyond the additional monies included in the 2021 budget.

We should do more because Canadian sovereignty requires it and as we learned once again, during the COVID pandemic, the Canadian Forces first responder role goes beyond natural disasters – including bringing relief in retirement homes as well.

We could also do much more to assert our Arctic sovereignty – picking up the pace for construction of the icebreakers by using all of Canada’s shipyards and building more Arctic Offshore patrol ships and supply ships. We should also invest now in the next generation of submarines – they are the ultimate stealth weapon to deter unwelcome intrusions. And why not invest in a hospital ship to provide humanitarian relief in the increasing number of climate-related disasters that beset coastal nations?

Canada should also make the most of its membership in the EU/NATO Centers for Excellence especially those focusing on hybrid threats in Helsinki, Finland; cyber threats in Tallinn, Estonia; strategic communications in Riga, Latvia.



Further Reading

NATO has a comprehensive website but start with the NATO 2030 report.

Still worth reading is the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation initiative, led by General John Allen and including CGAI Fellow Julian Lindley-French. In the spirit of the Harmel Report (1967) and to “to better prepare NATO not only to meet the many technology and affordability challenges but to master them — from hybrid warfare to hyper war” they recommend a strategic review in time for the 70th anniversary summit so that NATO is “prepared, fit and able to act across the seven domains of grand conflict: air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.”

On Canada’s role  read scholar Timothy Andrews Sayle’s Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order and the forthcoming Canada in NATO, 1949-2019 by scholars Joseph Jockel and Joel Sokolsky.

CGAI produced a series of papers on NATO in advance of parliamentary hearings by the House of Commons National Defence committee into NATO and its report Canada and NATO: An Alliance Forged in Strength and Durability is worth reading.