Justin Trudeau’s leadership skills will be tested this week when G7 leaders assemble at the majestic Manoir Richelieu in Charlevoix, Quebec.
Now in its 44th year, it is easy to dismiss G7 summitry as an expensive talk fest. We should look at its $600 million price-tag as an insurance premium for global wellbeing. And frank talk among leaders of the great liberal democracies is needed now more than ever.
The erosion of public trust in liberal democracies’ institutions – government, business, the media and NGOs –is profoundly disturbing. The public needs to see its leaders taking action on the big issues of the day. The Charlevoix agenda provides that opportunity, covering gender, work, climate, energy, the oceans, protectionism, populism and extremism.
American protectionism will be top of mind in the wake of the steel and aluminium tariffs and the threat of more to come. The G7 finance ministers and bank governors drew the lines last week in Whistler highlighting the “negative impact of unilateral trade actions by the United States.”
Donald Trump will be as welcome as the proverbial skunk at the garden party. The other leaders need to take him on but not give him an excuse to walk out. As chair, Mr. Trudeau’s task is to keep the tone civil and constructive.
In recent weeks Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron have had a go at Mr. Trump on the trade differences as well as Mr. Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear deal. Perhaps G7 leaders, collectively, can convince him that it is better to reform, not rubbish, the rules-based international system.
A useful outcome would be agreement on how to improve dispute settlement at the World Trade Organization. Leaders should also try to get ahead of the curve and come up with a collective approach to addressing Mr. Trump’s concerns about the auto industry. More tit-for-tat tariffs are not the answer.
The G7 summit is the pinnacle of a year-long process. The deliverables outlined in the final communique will be a measure of Canadian industry in the long process that culminates with the Leaders’ summit.
Last week in Whistler, G7 development ministers agreed to make gender equality central to development policy and approved a slew of initiatives. It is a testament to consistent Canadian leadership dating back decades, especially on empowering women, including Stephen Harper’s focus at the UN on maternal and child health. The French promise to pick up the gender baton as they host the 2019 G7 summit.
Leaders are also expected to endorse a practical plan to rid the oceans of plastics. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that 311 million tonnes of plastic were produced in 2014. Without the kind of action proposed by the G7, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.
We can also expect blunt talk from Mr. Trump about allies paying “their fair share” of defence costs.
Canada remains at the low end of G7 nations, as a percentage of GDP spent on defence, but Mr. Trudeau can point to a series of initiatives, taken on his watch, that put Canadians at the sharp end in support of collective security. Canada leads the NATO brigade in Latvia. Our Special Forces are in the Middle East. Royal Canadian Navy warships are in three oceans and our submarines are now into far waters. An RCAF plane is part of UN surveillance on North Korea. And Canadian Forces will soon be part of the UN peace operations in Mali.
It’s the 60th anniversary of our continental defence alliance. Mr. Trudeau needs to visit NORAD headquarters in Colorado. He should invite Mr. Trump to join him. It would visibly underline to Americans that Canada is a steadfast ally and make a mockery of Mr. Trump’s national security argument – the pernicious excuse for the steel and aluminium tariffs.
A year ago this week, Chrystia Freeland, Harjit Sajjan and Marie-Claude Bibeau spelled out the Trudeau government’s foreign policy. It is built on the themes of multilateralism and collective security with a focus on a feminist development policy and a progressive trade policy.
Each of these themes has guided Canada’s G7 stewardship. How they are reflected in the final communique will be a measure of the new Canadian internationalism and Mr. Trudeau’s standing with his peers.