Taiwan, China and the Indo-Pacific

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Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Taiwan Strait

CIA Factbook

Colin Robertson

May 31, 2022

The current Taiwan Strait deliberations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE) could not be more timely, especially as they relate to Taiwan, China and the South China sea. The government should pay heed to the committee’s deliberations and integrate them into its long-promised, long-overdue, Indo-Pacific strategy. This new strategy must include a new approach to Taiwan.

I made my first visit to Taiwan in the spring of 1988, six months after being posted as consul to the British Crown colony of Hong Kong. Hong Kong was China’s entrepot to the world as well as our best entrée into the rest of Asia. Hong Kong continues to be home to the largest concentration of Canadian citizens in Asia and the second-largest population of expatriate Canadians after the US. In the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, many Hong Kongers emigrated to Canada. After obtaining citizenship, many returned to work in Hong Kong while keeping family and business ties with Canada.

I was also accredited to China. Every four months, I would travel north by rail from Kowloon through the New Territories, crossing the border at Lo Wu and then onto Guangzhou to attend to our consular cases while reporting on the economic developments in a China that, under Deng Xiaoping, was now determined to get rich. As Deng summarized his view on the role of ideology in economic development: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” 

I watched Shenzhen change from bucolic rice paddies and water buffaloes to a booming frontier town of bamboo scaffolding and raucous growth. Today, it is China’s Silicon Valley and home to Huawei.

I had already visited Beijing, with its hutongs and bicycles, and choked in the coal smoke. My visit to Taiwan reminded me very much of Beijing. The island’s population was overwhelmingly Han Chinese but the island has been politically distinct from the mainland since the civil war that engulfed China before, during and after the Second World War (1927-49), producing the People’s Republic of China ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the mainland and the Republic of China (ROC) ruled by the Kuomintang on Taiwan. The Kuomintang (KMT) and the CCP ruled in much the same way, both claiming to be the true representatives of the Chinese people. When I first saw Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek’s successor as president, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, had just stepped down. My posting concluded in 1992, four years before Taiwan’s first free and fair election in 1996.

For the West, the iconic Asian leader of the time was Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, friend of Pierre Trudeau and master of technocratic efficiency. Lee famously argued that “Asian values” were best protected by benevolent but autocratic government, a view China enthusiastically embraced as a capitalist alternative to democracy.

Taiwan has become a vibrant and lively democracy with peaceful transitions between parties, a free press, independent judiciary, and a competent civil service — arguably, the least corrupt in Asia.

Fast-forward to 2019, when I returned to Taiwan for another visit. Months earlier, I had visited Shanghai and Beijing – now modern and bustling cities. Taipei had kept pace.

But there was one fundamental difference.

As we drove into Taipei, we passed the official residence of its president, Madame Tsai Ing-wen (re-elected for a second four-year term in 2020). There was a demonstration. What was it about, I asked? It was in support of freedom of the press. An oligarch with ties to China wanted to buy a local newspaper, something the public opposed. The PRC disinformation and cyber campaign against Taiwan is relentless. Taiwan’s disinformation defences should be studied by the West.

Taiwan has become a vibrant and lively democracy with peaceful transitions between parties, a free press, independent judiciary, and a competent civil service — arguably, the least corrupt in Asia. In its latest annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom House scores Taiwan with 94 out of 100. (Canada scores 98, the US gets 83, China is ranked at 9).

I had dinner with Taiwan’s minister for Information Technology, Audrey Tang. Applied technology, notably the production of semi-conductors – is the means by which Taiwan leapt into the ranks of developed nations. (In its annual evaluation of economic freedom, the Heritage Foundation ranks Taiwan 3rd among 39 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, China ranks 35th).

Minister Tang is transgender. A month earlier, the Taiwanese legislature had been the first in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage.

Yes, she told me, China is relentless in its campaign to destabilize and intimidate the Taiwanese through disinformation, cyberwarfare and intrusions into its airspace. But the Taiwanese people will defend their democracy. They rely on the US and wish the West were less cowed by China.

Against this backdrop, an observation and three recommendations:

Taiwan has become a democratic citadel in Asia. Through industry, innovation and freedom, its quality of life eclipses that of the mainland. This belies the CCP belief that Chinese people, indeed Asian people, want and do best under autocracy. A successful, democratic Taiwan undermines the very legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. If Hong Kong was, as Deng Xioping put it, “the pimple on the arse of China”, Taiwan is the heretic state that Xi Jinping is determined to reunify with the mainland. Vladimir Putin, evidently, views Ukraine the same way.

Now that China has snuffed out democracy in Hong Kong, Taiwan is the best place in the Indo-Pacific from which to monitor the mainland. Taiwan’s think tanks and intelligence about China are without peer. With China a source for pandemics but inclined to cover-up, Taiwan’s proximity gives us early warning.

As to recommendations:

First, there is no quick fix for our challenges with China. We must stay engaged with the PRC for reasons of geopolitics, trade and our people-to-people ties. Working with China to address climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation is essential. But we need to do so with eyes wide open because China is actively challenging our rules-based order.

China sees itself as the rising superpower, but with power comes responsibility. It should initiate a pragmatic end to the disputes on its frontiers and in Asian waters.

Our current China policy of “eyes wide open”, with a fourfold approach of “coexist, compete, co-operate, and challenge”, was enunciated by then Foreign Minister Marc Garneau after the resolution (September, 2021) of the Meng Wanzhou-two Michaels standoff. But it is more talking points than substance. At a minimum, we need a re-examination of our policy on the activities of Chinese state-owned enterprises as well as a full discussion of Chinese disinformation, cyber-intrusions including intellectual property theft, and efforts to subvert democracy worldwide. Intimidation of Canadian citizens of Chinese descent must be resisted and the malefactors sent packing. The Declaration on Arbitrary Detention also needs teeth – sanctions – to prevent more Chinese hostage-taking. 

For Canada and its democratic partners, engagement alone won’t address the tensions arising from China’s ambition to predominant power in the Indo-Pacific. The democracies cannot permit the foremost authoritarian state to dominate the Indo-Pacific, shape its strategic culture and set the rules. The democracies need structures and new frameworks for collective pushback to respond when China behaves badly and acts in violation of international law.

For now, our fundamental differences on values such as human rights and democratic institutions require a robust defence that will require investment in both hard and soft power.

Second, we should do more to support Taiwan.

Taiwan’s geostrategic position in the South China sea, through which our trade must pass, is critical. In what is shaping up to be a long confrontation between autocracy and democracy, Taiwan matters to Canada. Toward this end, we need to:

  • Promote trade and investment and encourage more people-to-people ties, including marketing Canadian schools and universities and Canada as a destination for tourism and immigration.
  • Taiwan is exemplary in its promotion of democracy globally. Canada should find opportunities to partner with them.
  • Resume ministerial visits. The last minister to visit was then Industry Minister John Manley in 1998.
  • Support Taiwan’s legitimate aspiration to join institutions such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Just as functionalism has worked for Canada, so it should for Taiwan.

Third, the Indo-Pacific is a region of vital importance to Canada’s security and prosperity.

We have been working on a strategy for over five years. We can no longer afford to procrastinate. In the meantime, our key partners – the United States, the United Kingdom, European Union, AustraliaNew Zealand – have all implemented strategies flexible enough to adapt to change. Our strategy needs to include the following:

  • Shift from our current episodic, issue-based engagement in the region to a more persistent presence with key states and institutions of interest. We need to vigorously engage with emerging coalitions such as the Australia-India-Japan-United States (Quad) supply chain resiliency initiative.
  • Protect and support freedom of navigation in areas where it is under threat. That will require an increased maritime – especially naval – presence.
  • Increase participation in military exercises with allies. This must include ship visits in the region to boost Canadian trade and to support diplomatic and academic overtures as well as to assert our national policy on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • Re-think and re-engage in security dialogues such as the East Asia Security Dialogue and organizations like ASEAN and the Quad.

Canada’s interests in the Indo-Pacific require sustained diplomatic engagement and military presence.

As a matter of urgency, we need a comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy that includes a new approach to Taiwan. For the good of Canadians and to ensure policy continuity through government transitions, it should enjoy the support of the Official Opposition and the provincial premiers, as well as the government.

The Pacific is one of Canada’s oceans. We don’t pay enough attention to it. Now, we must.

Contributing writer Colin Robertson is a former career foreign service officer and diplomat who has served in America and Asia. He is now Senior Advisor and Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Foreign Service reform

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Time to Revitalize Canada’s Foreign Service

Policy Magazine, May 8, 2022 Colin Robertson

In a world that is increasingly confrontational, diplomacy matters more than ever. So, it is timely that the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is examining the “Canadian foreign service and elements of the foreign policy machinery within Global Affairs Canada.”

If their work prods the government into investing more in our diplomatic service, it will be resources well spent. As Canada’s eyes, ears and voice, reflecting our values and protecting our interests beyond our borders, these times require a strong Canadian foreign service.

The last serious study of the foreign service, the McDougall Report, was commissioned by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1980 and completed 13 months later. A new review is overdue and expected to be completed in an equally timely fashion.

The Senate study is the initiative of its chair, Peter Boehm, and vice chair, Peter Harder, two former foreign service officers with distinguished careers at home and abroad. It will build on and likely complement an earlier Senate study, Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy, the initiative of Senator Pat Bovey, whose professional career included directing the Victoria and Winnipeg art galleries.

As a middle power contiguous to a superpower, more than most nations our sense of identity is realized by how we act and are seen to act abroad. More than most nations, our prosperity depends on our ability to trade and invest abroad. As does our ability to recruit immigrants and refugees. To successfully achieve these objectives, we rely on our foreign service.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Canada’s foreign service was instrumental in helping to build the rules-based order that, for much of the last 77 years, reinforced global peace and security, permitting unprecedented global growth.

Half of our heads of mission are women and women make up 53 percent of our foreign service, up from less than 25 percent in 1981. Visible minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community represent 8 and 10 percent of the foreign service respectively.

If American diplomats were the architects, Canadian diplomats were the engineers of post-war multilateral institution-building. Lester Pearson, Hume Wrong, Norman Robertson and Escott Reid introduced the principle of “functionalism”; if you have interests, competence and capability, then you earn a place at the top table, regardless of size. It has become the guiding light of Canadian foreign policy, leading to achievements such as the creation of peacekeeping, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the Ottawa Treaty on landmines and the International Criminal Court.

Canada is not a great world power, but in certain sectors — food and energy, for instance — we have vital interests and capacity. Coupled with the leadership and personal support of prime ministers such as Louis St-Laurent, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien, we gained a place at the table. What smoothed our way was the effective diplomacy of our foreign service.

Internationalists by conviction, our post-war diplomats were realists by experience, an attitude that continues to characterize Canadian diplomacy. They also personified the qualities we still seek in our foreign service:

  • Adaptability: Dispatched among datelines around the globe and back to headquarters like homing pigeons, officers must adapt fluidly to new cultures and pick up new skills.
  • Engagement and Communications: In a networked world, officers must possess the vital ability to personally engage in the single-minded pursuit of the national interest and then communicate analysis and recommendations to our foreign and domestic interlocutors.
  • Empathy: Officers must possess the curiosity and interest to master the elements, values and languages of other peoples. Cultivating relationships is a lot easier when we respect people enough to know them. Understanding where our adversaries are coming from helps prevent them from becoming enemies. In the contest between open and closed systems that is likely to dominate this century, empathy reflecting our values is a powerful asset.

While the qualities remain the same, the current foreign service looks much different from the mostly male, mostly anglophone generation of Lester Pearson. Half of our heads of mission are women and women make up 53 percent of our foreign service, up from less than 25 percent in 1981. Visible minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community represent 8 and 10 percent of the foreign service respectively.

As our world transforms so must our foreign service. Here are 10 recommendations that I believe will help in its transformation to meet the challenges of the 21st century:

1. More foreign service staff, sufficient that we have surge capacity for calamities and to allow for training, secondments, exchanges, and personal leave. In a Global Affairs department of nearly 13,000 that is part of the 320,000-member public service, the foreign service numbers just over 2,400, or less than a percentage of the total public service.

Our international presence has grown to 175 foreign missions. While our foreign ministry has expanded fourfold since Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, the foreign service has only increased a little less than 25 percent. We need more officers. Our pluralism means that we are one of the few countries in the world that can build a foreign service that looks like the entire world. This is an image few others can present and we need to capitalize on it.

Since Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, the global population has nearly doubled from 4.4 to 7.8 billion while Canada’s population has grown from 25 million to its current 38 million. One in five Canadians is born abroad. In Toronto, our biggest city, half the population was born abroad. Canadian trade, as a percentage of GDP, has expanded from 46 percent to 65 percent.

Both our trade and immigration are enabled by the foreign service. When we strove to meet Pearson’s target of 0.7 percent of GDP to development assistance, led by the Canadian International Development Agency, our diplomats helped to bridge the north-south divide, often utilizing Canadian business prowess, especially in engineering.

The personal interests of Canadians, who before the pandemic were traveling more than ever before, is also the responsibility of our diplomats. Inevitably, Canadians encounter mishaps – injuries, robberies, arrests – that require our consular services to step in and help. In the case of calamities such as the COVID pandemic, strife in Lebanon, or a tsunami in the Indo-Pacific, it is on-the-ground consular officers who bring those Canadians home. While 1-800 lines are useful, nothing beats having diplomats on the ground to help those in need.

We also, quite literally, need more foreign service: Increasingly, we are home-bound rather than foreign-based. When I joined the foreign service, half of us were abroad and half at home. Today, only about 18 percent are posted abroad. It’s not possible to give and get a Canadian perspective when our foreign service is home-bound. It costs more to post them abroad but our interests require a strong presence overseas.

2. More geographic and functional specialists. In recent years we have embraced the “cult of the manager” at the expense of specialized expertise.

I will never forget a briefing during Pierre Trudeau’s East-West peace initiative that involved a newly arrived deputy minister who had not served in the foreign service. Allan MacEachen was foreign minister for a second time, in addition to his role as deputy prime minister. He quizzed the deputy on some facts. The deputy paused and then said he’d have to ask others, saying that his job was to “manage” the department. MacEachen nodded but never invited him back. He told us that he expected his diplomats to “know their stuff”. So did Pierre Trudeau. While he had once dismissed the foreign service, saying he learned more from reading the newspaper, he — like most of his successors as prime minister — came to appreciate and rely on the versatility and expertise of Canada’s foreign service.

The reputation of the foreign service depends on its expertise and experience. We can contract bean-counters but developing foreign service expertise is a life-long vocation of learning languages and understanding foreign cultures through repeated postings as well as reinforcing that knowledge and constantly expanding our networks of contacts.

3. “Duty of Care”, a recently introduced (2017) concept of ‘risk management’ that handicaps Canadian diplomats from working in difficult circumstances, needs review and clarification. Foreign service officers expect to serve in difficult circumstances. Like our military, we are – and should be – compensated accordingly. If we want to bring a Canadian perspective to the top table, we need to be in places like Kyiv, Tehran, and Pyongyang. With protection, we also need to accept difficult circumstances as part of the job.

4. Recognition, including a career track, for locally engaged staff (LES). Whether foreign nationals or expatriate Canadians, they keep our offices abroad running efficiently, providing residual memory and continuity and, in my experience, they have the best networks of the people we need to engage. They are an under-appreciated asset and they need champions.

5. Better utilization of honorary consuls, especially in the United States, where we should have representation in every state. With three-quarters of our exports destined to the US, and with US sources accounting for over two-thirds of our foreign investment, we need representation in every state to both advance our interests and head off the perpetual challenge posed by American protectionism. Honorary consuls, who can offer the value-added of longevity in post, can make a difference.

6. More emphasis on partnerships with provincial representatives, who complement our work abroad, especially when it comes to trade and investment. With 33 offices abroad, eleven of them in the US, Quebec has the most sophisticated provincial foreign service and it is a model for other provinces as they expand their networks abroad.

7. Political appointments, yes, but sparingly. Those with political backgrounds have proven especially effective in heading our US missions where all interests are political. But diplomacy is a vocation that requires experience and expertise. There is always the temptation to use foreign postings as a reward. Many rise to the role, but we should not use ambassadorial appointments as a sinecure.

8. More use of data and technology. Algorithmic protocols are now more important to diplomats than the protocol of table placement. Measurement also matters and through investments in technology, knowledge management and diagnostics, the foreign service can leverage data to our advantage.

9. More public diplomacy. Outreach, applying social media, needs to go beyond the conventional circuit of business, bureaucrats and fellow diplomats to include innovators, thought leaders, mayors, civil society and those who share our values. The government also needs to fully implement the recommendations of the Senate report Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy, especially those relating to the revival of a Canadian studies program and the creation of a comprehensive cultural diplomacy strategy, resourced and then measured.

For an insight into the effectiveness of public diplomacy in advancing Canadian interests, read Gary Smith’s recent memoir Ice War Diplomat in which he describes the tremendous diplomatic value achieved through the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series. We may soon need to resurrect that playbook.

10. As to foreign ministry machinery, form follows function. That form must be sufficiently adaptable to reflect the priorities of the government while avoiding reorganizations that create chaos and deadlock. Middle powers such as Canada must mostly react to events but an annual government priorities statement would provide focus for our limited resources.

Canada’s global interests are best served with a professional and muscular foreign service. For most of the past decade, successive governments, Conservative and Liberal, have starved what was once the world’s premier diplomatic service. If the Conservatives distrusted their diplomats and treated them with contempt, the Liberals took them for granted. Recruitment was halted, budgets were sliced and our residences abroad were sold off, ignoring the fact that. in the host country, lunch or dinner at the Canadian Residence was considered a prized invitation. These political leaders forgot Jean Chrétien’s canny observation that “you don’t do diplomacy out of the basement.” It’s time for redress.

Justin Trudeau is now the senior member of the G7 and, if he is like most prime ministers who have formed a government more than once, he will be looking to leave an international legacy. The current global distemper certainly provides much opportunity for Canadian bridge-building. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is astute and engaged. Crises, especially the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have necessitated that Joly quickly establish a network of her own that includes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Canadians will embrace a revival of the job we have always best served in international affairs, that of helpful fixer. But it will require the proper resourcing and revitalization of our foreign service so that it can do its job.

Canada and US Politics

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America’s political divisiveness a concern for Canada, but American protectionism a challenge no matter who is in office say MPs, experts

Protectionist policies in the U.S. continue to be a ‘political sticking point,’ as Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ approach has left a lasting impression American approaches to trade, MPs and experts say.
Canada-U.S. expert Colin Robertson, not pictured, said he’s been told by people at the American State Department that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, left, is making a good impression with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and that ‘he takes her counsel even though she’s brand new in this game.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade and courtesy of Flickr

Members of Parliament and experts on the Canada-U.S. relationship are not inclined to entertain the thought of second term for Donald Trump as president of the United States—at least not yet.

The U.S. is a “nation divided,” but both the Democrats and the Republicans have protectionist tendencies that pose economic and political challenges to Canada, say MPs and experts, and just because Trump is not in office today, many of the protectionist attitudes and policies that he introduced have been maintained by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.

“What does worry me is that politically, the United States is a nation divided,” says Liberal MP John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood, Ont.), who is the co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group along with Senator Michael L. MacDonald (Nova Scotia).

MP John McKay—who is the co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group—said what worries him about the Canada-U.S. relationship is ‘the United States is a nation divided.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“But [the division is] not one-sided. The Democrats have a protectionist tendency that never seems to work for Canada. The Republicans, on the other hand, have an isolationist tendency that also doesn’t work for Canada,” McKay told The Hill Times in an interview.

McKay said the protectionist policies from the United States continue to be a “political sticking point” in the relationship between the two nations, even a few years after Donald Trump—famous for his “America First” slogan and policies—has vacated the White House.

Asked if he was concerned about Trump’s ongoing attempt to make a political comeback—and the not-so-subtle hints he’s been dropping about a 2024 presidential run—McKay scoffed.

“Who could pay attention to what Donald Trump does? I don’t sit on a Twitter account and watch it each and every day. How do you respond to that?” he said.

Trump has “obviously captured” the Republican Party, McKay said, but wouldn’t say he was concerned about a second term in office for the failed businessman-turned-politician.

“Every once in a while something goes sideways on him, and as other commentators have put it, he hasn’t won. He lost the election. He lost the Congress in 2018. His losses are greater than his wins,” said McKay.

Colin Robertson, vice-president and fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said he thinks the return of Trump or a candidate like him “is something we should prepare for.”

“My own view is that we should be trying now as much as we can to institutionalize things like how you manage the border,” Robertson told The Hill Times. 

Institutionalizing border policy is something that will “provide us with a kind of shield if you get a crazy again,” he said. Once things are entrenched in the bureaucracy, it becomes more difficult to change them, so Canada should be working to make sure it’s on the same page as the U.S. in a few key areas while the relationship is friendly.

NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West, Ont) said there’s a “rush” for passports in his constituency which sits on the border.

“That includes people travelling to the United States and rediscovering relationships that have been separated, amongst family, friends and business counterparts,” he said.

NDP MP Brian Masse, his party’s trade critic, said he’s happy to see a ‘rush’ for passports in his border riding of Windsor, Ont. as it indicates personal and business relations are being restored post-pandemic. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

That restoration of interpersonal relationships is helpful, he said, because it’s the foundation upon which the political relationship rests.

Canada is “lacking champions in the U.S.,” he said, which is why, as an MP, he’s “more interested in renewing our cultural, social, and business context and families along the border. It’s our people that at the end of the day, are the solid backbone of the relationship.”

“With the U.S. focusing on itself and its divisiveness over the last several years—[it was] challenging before COVID, and with COVID—it’s certainly become complicated to get the attention of Washington and to be taken seriously, which is something that government has a real problem with at the moment, even outside of COVID.”

Masse—his party’s trade critic—said he wasn’t concerned about Trump.

On trade, Masse said Canada has issues with both Democrats and Republicans.

“You don’t have to just worry about Trump,” he said. “We’re getting hit on both sides.”

Maryscott “Scotty” Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, told The Hill Times that Canada’s relationship with the United States is “distracted.”

“The state of the relationship, in my opinion, is distracted,” she said, pointing to “endless political cycles,” the state of the economy, and current world events—including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—as factors that are competing for political attention at the moment.

“I think companies, citizens, leaders, politicians are not focused on how to advance the Canada-U.S. relationship to the benefit of everybody. I think they’re focused on their immediate problems,” she said.

Greenwood also suggested that the rhetorical position of the Biden administration as being friendly to Canada has given Canadians what is perhaps a false sense of security about the relationship.

“When Trump was president, Canada did—I think—a phenomenal job of stickhandling the relationship with him. It was a combination of being cool under pressure, not…being goaded into anything,” she said. Canada negotiated the new NAFTA—or the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement or CUSMA, as it’s now known—skillfully, she said.

“Canada was fully mobilized and it wasn’t partisan. It was a really good, sort of broad, sectoral—public, private, labour, everything—effort. And then, when Biden was elected, I think there was a moment where Canada generally—not like, particularly in government, but just sort of everybody—breathed a sigh of relief, and thought, ‘Okay, well, we’ve got a friend,’ right.”

Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, said the Canada-U.S. relationship is currently ‘distracted.’ The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Greenwood said the truth was that the protectionist policies and attitudes that had been accelerated under Trump were continuing along at “at a rate that I think Canadians found alarming.”

The rhetoric was better, she said, but the substance stayed the same. This was evidenced by Joe Biden’s “Buy America” policies, which require initiatives that receive government funding to use products that are made in America. One of the better known examples of this is Biden’s proposed rebate for electric vehicles (EVs). The $12,500 (U.S.) rebate is only available for all-American EVs. But that’s not the only example. As Greenwood pointed out, the U.S. border also closed to potatoes produced in Prince Edward Island since November.

“It might sound a little obscure … but it was definitely a protectionist act on the part of the U.S.,” Greenwood said.

It was actually the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that stopped P.E.I. potatoes from moving across the border, but only after the U.S. threatened legal action due to concerns about potato wart. But, as reported by CBC, Prince Edward Island potato growers said they were confident about the quality and safety of their potatoes.

“Joe Biden, Secretary of Agriculture [Tom] Vilsack, under pressure from Idaho, Maine … found a way to block P.E.I. potatoes—a big competitor out of the market—during their biggest, as I learned, the biggest time for potatoes in the market is Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Greenwood said.

The border reopened to some shipments of P.E.I. potatoes at the beginning of April.

In his April 5 address to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen distinguished between “Buy America” and “Buy American” policies—which are federal procurement standards—and Trump’s “America First” stance.

U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen addressed the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations (CORIM) on April 5, where he described Canada and the U.S. as family. ‘You don’t agree with everyone in your family all the time,’ he told the council. Screenshot courtesy of CORIM

“America First was a protectionist statement of trade and a philosophy that, in all things trade, the playing field was going to be tilted toward America. That is not Buy America or Buy American,” which are federal procurement standards.

“Buy American” refers to the 1933 Buy American Act, which requires U.S. federal agencies to purchase goods that are made in the U.S. “Buy America” refers to requirements set out for projects like infrastructure projects that, in order to qualify for federal funding, must purchase goods made in the U.S., like steel or iron. “Buy America” requirements are passed by Congress on an ongoing basis.

“‘​​Buy America’ is a federal procurement standard. It does not apply to trade between companies, Canada and the United States. It only applies to federal procurement. It has also existed for decades. It’s not new in the Biden administration,” Cohen said.

Cohen highlighted Canada’s prominence as the United States’ top trading partner, citing more than $2.6-billion (CAD) in cross-border trade every day.

“That is an incredible statistic. Yes, we have some disagreements. And I’ve analogized this to a family. I mean your family—you don’t agree with everyone in your family all the time. There are going to be disagreements. And we’ve had some disagreements. But we can’t let those disagreements bury the lead of our incredibly strong overall relationship and the enormous economic benefits to both countries that accrue from that relationship,” Cohen said.

Robertson, who is also a former Canadian diplomat, said the improvement in the tone of the Canada-U.S. relationship shouldn’t be understated, and that working relationships between the two countries on a diplomatic level have much improved these last two years.

Robertson said Cohen is in near-daily contact with his counterpart, the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman. He also said that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.) is making a good impression with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“I’m told by people at the State Department that he takes her counsel even though she’s brand new in this game,” Robertson said. “And so I think that that’s probably working to our advantage.”

McKay said one area of focus for Canada in its relationship with the U.S. is reshoring supply chains in a mutually beneficial way.

“The other thing I would be concerned about is that in a reshoring and nearshoring of supply chains, Americans need to be thinking in terms of North American reshoring and nearshoring, not just America reshoring otherwise, that’ll lead to other problems,” he said.

Greenwood pointed to an effort she is involved in that is working to foster North American co-operation in the face of protectionism, much of which was entrenched by COVID-19 and pandemic-related supply chain issues and shortages of things like personal protective equipment.

It’s called the “North American Rebound” and has been signed by various chambers of commerce at the state and provincial levels.

“It’s really about the U.S. and Canada joining forces to compete against the world,” she said. “And protectionism comes from both the U.S. and Canada … Canadians think of protectionism only as coming from the U.S., and that’s not exactly true. So this is, you know, equal opportunity. Co-operation, if you will, against protectionism.”

Frank Fukuyama on Liberalism and its Discontents

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The New Fukuyama: Spreading the Blame for Liberalism’s Discontents

Liberalism and Its Discontents

By Francis Fukuyama

Macmillan/May 2022

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

April 26, 2022

Liberalism and its Discontents is a defence of liberalism by Francis Fukuyama, who made the transition from niche political scientist to literary rock star — with all the credit, blame and controversy that provokes — with the publication of his bestseller The End of History and the Last Man in 1992.

In The End of History, Fukuyama famously declared that liberal democracy was the form of human government that best served humanity’s aspirations — a conclusion some players both political and geopolitical have spent the three intervening decades pushing back against. Expanding on an essay he had written in 1989 for The National Interest just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it caught the zeitgeist of the end of the Cold War. Subsequent books looked at questions around trust and human nature, development and technology and their relationship to governance.

Posted at the time to our embassy in Washington, I would regularly call on Frank Fukuyama to get his assessment of the state of America, chatting with him in his office at at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on Embassy Row. With George W. Bush in his second term and the war in Iraq having turned sour, Fukuyama thought that Americans could become more isolationist and less idealist and that they wanted ‘less government’ and less ‘adventurism’ abroad. We would continue our conversation after he moved to Stanford. This review also draws from a Zoom call we did for a CGAI Global Exchange podcast.

For much of the past decade, Fukuyama — now Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford — has focused on democracy. He published two magisterial volumes:  The Origins of Political Order: from Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (2011) and Political Order and Political DecayFrom the Industrial Revolution to the the Globalization of Democracy (2014). In 2018, he published Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. Now, we have Fukuyama’s defence of liberalism in a slim volume — at 192 pages — whose title is a play on Sigmund Freud’s classic Civilization and Its Discontents.

For Fukuyama, liberalism is the “limitation of the powers of governments through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction.” Liberalism is based on the principles of equality, the rule of law to ensure accountability, and the unalienable rights of individuals to what the Founding Fathers defined in the US Declaration of Independence as ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. It is underpinned by representative government to guarantee liberty while providing order and stability.

Classical liberalism, writes Fukuyama, is a big tent encompassing a range of political views that nonetheless agree on the foundational importance of equal individual rights, law, and freedom. Liberalism became a “pragmatic tool” for resolving conflicts in diverse societies, lowering the temperature of politics by parsing apparently irreconcilable divides over cultural and political issues into component parts and then providing remedies. This often involves addressing particular local circumstances and coming up with fixes that either takes the steam out of the issue or buys times for more measured consideration. Over time, writes Fukuyama, liberalism became more than just a mechanism for pragmatically avoiding violent conflict, but also a means of protecting fundamental human dignity.

But what once was taken for granted is today under severe threat as would-be authoritarians such as Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Jair Bolsonaro use their electoral mandates to attack democracy, including by undermining the courts and justice system, delegitimizing the press by labeling mainstream media as “enemies of the people”, and corrupting professional bureaucracies and turning them into partisan instruments. It is no accident, writes Fukuyama, that Orbán puts himself forward as a proponent of the oxymoronic model of “illiberal democracy.”

Over time, writes Fukuyama, liberalism became more than just a mechanism for pragmatically avoiding violent conflict, but also a means of protecting fundamental human dignity.

Liberalism and its Discontents takes us from the Greeks, for whom liberalism was ‘nothing in excess’ through the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, democratization in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the neoliberalism of the 1980s and 1990s. Today, says Fukuyama, liberalism faces attacks from enemies abroad and at home as well as from the pernicious effect of social media and a weakened free press.

The autocrats – China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin — offer an alternative authoritarian system based on state enterprise and near-total surveillance aligned to a system of what the Chinese call ‘social credit’ designed to keep the population in check. Both Xi and Putin posit that the West is decadent and in decline, and, as Putin told the Financial Times, liberalism has “become obsolete.”

At home, liberalism faces attacks from both conservatives and progressives. They share a common contempt for liberalism and globalism and an attraction to populism, although from different perspectives. It is to this challenge that Fukuyama devotes his attention.

For the right, liberalism is incompatible with their fixations on nationalism, economic freedom and culture. Fukuyama writes that discontent from the right goes deeper than the ambitions of a handful of populist politicians. They would not be successful were they not riding a wave of discontent with some of the underlying characteristics of our current society especially the feeling of the working class that the system only works for the elite and that their children will be even worse off. Similarely, in trying to rectify past injustices through privileges or entitlements for designated groups, governments create new resentments that are fodder for populists.

For the left, liberalism is an affront to their focus on identity politics and social justice. While the challenge from the left is less direct, Fukuyama warns that it is equally pernicious. He points to the media, the arts and academe as especially susceptible to self or peer-censorship in their writing, speaking and teaching.

To deal with the discontents. Fukuyama offers solutions and hope.

While America’s checks and balances limit the possibility of the kind of reforms desired by young progressives, they also protected the country from attempted abuses of power by Donald Trump.

For pluralistic nations, Fukuyama points to federalism as a proven formula to meet regional, religious and linguistic needs. Voting: the casting, counting, and certification of which is a fundamental right, must be defended. For democratic deliberation and compromise, privacy is a necessary condition if individuals are ever expected to be honest about their views.

Solving inequality depends as much on family and community and access to good health care and education as government intervention. Social policy should be directed at fluid categories such as class rather than fixed ones like race or ethnicity. Inequality in group outcomes, he writes, is a by-product of multiple interacting social and economic factors, many of which are well beyond the ability of policy to correct. Our political leaders, says Fukuyama, have a responsibility to revive public-spiritedness, tolerance, open-mindedness, and active engagement in public affairs.

For those of us troubled by the distemper currently afflicting our politics and public policy, Fukuyama is a necessary read. Restoring trust in government and our public institutions is essential. Somehow, we have got to find our way out of the mean narrowness of the right and the left’s fixation on equality of result over equality of opportunity, as Fukuyama presents it.

Reinvigorating what historian Arthur Schlesinger once called the vital centre will require active civic engagement, new ideas, and perhaps new parties and certainly new leadership. In the meantime, as Fukuyama concludes, we can still learn much from the wisdom of the Greeks and their belief in moderation and nothing in excess. “Moderation is not a bad political principle in general,” he writes, “and especially for a liberal order that was meant to calm political passions from the start.”

Advice both timely and timeless.

Canada and Indo-Pacific

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‘No time to lose’: Indo-Pacific strategy highly anticipated after absence from budget

By NEIL MOSS      
With the focus on confronting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, little opportunity was left to spotlight Indo-Pacific priorities in the budget.
Some are anticipating Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to release Canada’s new Indo-Pacific strategy this year. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Absent from the latest federal budget were commitments to Indo-Pacific priorities as Canadians await the government’s much-anticipated strategy for engagement in the region.

In the budget tabled on April 7, the Liberal government pledged an additional $8-billion in defence funding and to complete a defence review. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s (University-Rosedale, Ont.) comments on the budget’s foreign policy commitments spotlit Ukraine, noting that the rules-based international order is under the “greatest threat since its inception,” and remarking that democracies around the world can only be safe when Russian President Vladimir Putin and his armies are “entirely vanquished.”

Experts on Canada’s engagement with Asia noted that with the attention on Ukraine, they didn’t have an expectation there would be a focus on Indo-Pacific matters.

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The Globe and Mail reported earlier this year that an Indo-Pacific strategy was being circulated at the “top levels of the bureaucracy” and is supported with $3.5-billion over five years.

The development and launch of an Indo-Pacific strategy is highlighted in Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.) mandate letter, noting that the strategy has the objectives of deepening “diplomatic, economic, and defence partnerships and international assistance in the region.”

The government has already announced its intent to begin trade negotiations that would seemingly be fundamental to supporting increased trade away from China, including trade talks with Indonesia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and re-engaging with India towards an interim trade pact.

The Canada-China relationship has been beleaguered since Beijing arrested Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in apparent retaliation to Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the U.S. in 2018. All three cases have since been resolved. Since then, Canada’s foreign policy attention has shifted to Europe and Ukraine.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng has announced that Canada will embark on trade talks with Indonesia, ASEAN, and India. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

While a focus on Indo-Pacific priorities is not in the budget, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada president Jeff Nankivell, most recently Canada’s consul general in Hong Kong, said he expects the strategy to be launched this year with the necessary resources announced when it is revealed.

“It’s important to get this done sooner rather than later,” said Nankivell, also a previous deputy head of mission at Canada’s Embassy in China. “It was signalled already a few years ago and it has taken too long to get to this point, so looking ahead, my hope would be that it’s a matter of a few months at most.”

With the shifting nature of geopolitics, he said it’s important for Canada to “step up” its engagement in Asia, including in southeast Asia where he remarked countries can partner on regional security and global issues.

“There’s really no time to lose,” he said.

Nankivell said the fact that Joly is in Indonesia and Vietnam this week amid the situation in Ukraine shows that she is committed to revealing the strategy this year.

“The fact that she is doing this travel this week, the fact that she [was] engaging with ambassadors and high commissioners from countries in Asia last month at a time when there was so many other things going on, I think those are pretty strong signals that the government has not lost its commitment to move on the Indo-Pacific strategy,” he said.

The former diplomat said Canada needs to “raise” its game in the region.

“Countries in the region have seen Canada over the years engage in a kind of sporadic way, but not in a sustained way,” he said. “It should be the aim of having an Indo-Pacific strategy … that we bring more sustained focus and resources to bear on those relationships.”

One of the measures of the strategy’s success, Nankivell said, is to have representatives of Indo-Pacific countries notice a significant change in Canada’s engagement.

He said the greatest opportunities for growth of new economic markets are in the Indo-Pacific.

“Investing in better relationships in the Indo-Pacific region is an investment in prosperity for Canadians because you simply won’t find opportunities on the same scale anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Former Canadian diplomat Philip Calvert, who served as ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos from 2012 to 2016, said he wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t a focus in the budget on the Indo-Pacific, given the government has been occupied with the crisis in Europe.

“I think they’ve made the decision that the most immediate threat comes to Canada from Russia,” said Calvert, who has served multiple postings at Canada’s Embassy in Beijing.

With the need for an Indo-Pacific strategy to be attached with funding, he said he expects that it has been pushed aside by Russia.

“Sometimes governments have a tendency to be easily distracted,” he said. “This has thrown them off a bit from their Indo-Pacific plans.”

“It’s unfortunate because it’s taken them a while to get the Indo-Pacific strategy up and running,” he said, noting that there have long been calls for greater predictability for Canada’s future engagement in the region.

He said what is important is for the government to keep the Indo-Pacific strategy in its sights and continue to work on it.

When the strategy is released, Calvert said he hopes it will identify what some of the key challenges are for Canada in Asia and how Canada can build credibility in Asia by looking at issues like climate change.

Canada’s Embassy in Beijing has been without an ambassador since Dominic Barton left last year. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said Canada is in a position as a middle power where it must react to events, instead of being proactive.

“You can only do so much at one time—while [the Indo-Pacific is] important, it wasn’t urgent and immediate in the same sense that Ukraine was,” he said.

Not only is Canada’s attention on confronting Russia, but Ottawa will also likely have a role in the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war is over, he said.

Robertson said he expects the focus of the Indo-Pacific strategy to shift from trade to defence and security.

Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who served in Beijing from 2012 to 2016, said he was expecting to see more on Indo-Pacific priorities in the budget, but that is encumbered by the need to confront Ukraine and the ongoing debate in Ottawa about the funding that will be tied to an Indo-Pacific strategy.

He said he doesn’t understand why it has taken the government so long to formulate its plan on future engagement with China, noting the delay in its decision on whether to allow Huawei in Canada’s 5G network is also puzzling.

Saint-Jacques suggested that there may be some “complacency” from the government, as Canada-China trade has been strong.

“We need the government to come up with a completely revised engagement strategy that recognizes China is a threat to security, to democracy, and it conducts interference activities in Canada,” he said. “We have to be a lot more proactive and firm with China and push back, but we don’t see any of that.”

He noted that the U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is also awaiting Canada’s new engagement plan with China and the Indo-Pacific.

Bob Rae at UN

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On Feb. 24, 2022, Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, says he carries a copy of the UN Charter in his pocket. At the General Assembly session, above, on Ukraine, he said: “Russia and its acolytes can spin and can contort all they want, but the violations of international law are theirs: the loss of life, the wounding, the pain and suffering, are all their responsibilities. As it’s been said, this is President Putin’s choice.” 

TORONTO — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seriously rattled Europe and the rest of the world and upset the normally sedate discourse of diplomats at the United Nations as well. The public remarks of Canada’s UN ambassador about the war have stood out for their vehemence against Russia and President Vladimir Putin’s claims for a  military incursion against a neighbor.

“Whatever lies are spoken here today trying to justify the unjustifiable or to explain the inexplicable. . . . It is President Putin’s war of choice . . . ” Bob Rae, Canada’s envoy, said on Feb. 28 in an emergency special session in the General Assembly on Ukraine, four days after Russia began attacking its neighbor.

Rae’s frank talk and hashtag diplomacy are getting noticed in a profession where talk is more often subtle than confrontational. With a Twitter-handle tip of the hat to his year of birth, Canada’s envoy, @BobRae48, currently has about 173,000 followers — friends and foes alike. He describes himself as “ambassador, writer, teacher” and that his tweets express his “personal views.”

On March 21, in response to a tweet by Volodymyr Artiukh, an academic researcher, about “the focus on NATO expansion,” in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Rae wrote: “This blaming of the current crisis on NATO and the West has to be put to sleep. This has been about Putin’s drive to restore empire, tyranny and dominance, and to block freedom and sovereignty. He is Stalin’s horrendous successor.”

For those who have followed his career, Rae’s outspokenness is entirely in character. He is described as a man who understands the power of words, knows what is at stake and is determined for Canada to champion human rights. He uses Twitter to amplify Canada’s voice at the UN, calling out nations and their leaders who defy the UN Charter, of which a worn copy that belonged to his father, a former envoy, is always in his pocket, he says.

Indeed, Rae, 73, learned the art of diplomacy and debate from his father. Saul Rae was a career Canadian diplomat who served as ambassador to the UN in Geneva (1962-1967) and New York City (1972-1976)

He is known in Toronto social and political circles for his lightness and sense of humor and love of music. Rae plays the piano and composes songs for his wife, Arlene Perly Rae, each year on their wedding anniversary. (She is pictured with Rae on his Twitter page.) He dabbles in poetry and has written four books reflecting on the state of politics, democracy and the public good.

A recipient of a Rhodes scholarship and a lawyer, many people describe Rae as the smartest man in the room. A pragmatic politician, Rae moved back and forth from federal to provincial politics, from the center-leaning Liberal Party to the left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP). In 1990, he was sworn in as the first, and so far, only NDP premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. His premiership ended with a crushing electoral defeat five years later, and he returned to Ottawa and the Liberal Party in 2006.

He ran twice for the leadership of the federal Liberals, but lost both times, and finally served as the interim party leader from 2011, until Justin Trudeau’s election in 2013 as prime minister. Rae left politics after that.

Julian Porter, a prominent Canadian lawyer and a close friend who has breakfast (virtually) with Rae most Tuesday mornings, ascribes his astute oratorial skills to the early days as a member of Parliament in Ottawa for the New Democrats. Representing a small party with few seats and little influence, he quickly learned the art of being heard on the floor in Canada’s House of Commons.

In his own work, Rae has described Canada’s tenuous influence on the world stage, particularly at the UN. Years before he was appointed Canada’s ambassador to the world body in 2020, Rae wrote about his country’s value to the UN in his 2015 book, “What’s Happened to Politics?.”

“As a country that is less than a superpower, Canada cannot rely on its muscle to make itself heard,” he wrote. “Our influence comes from a capacity for wisdom, from being a trusted source of information, knowledge and judgment on some of the most difficult issues facing the world.”

In a March 16 Politico interview, he was asked if he was satisfied with the amount of discourse at the UN in response to the crisis in Ukraine. Rae replied, “There is always lots of discourse at the UN. The question is: Is the discourse related to reality? Is it related to the ability to take action?”

Trusted by Prime Minister Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (who has Ukrainian roots), Rae’s outrage at Russia’s actions in Ukraine resonates with Canadians. Those who know him well professionally and personally say that he speaks from the heart. Trudeau appointed him to the UN post.

“There may be people looking askance at the Canadian ambassador’s outspoken comments,” said Guillermo Rishchynski, a former Canadian envoy to the UN.

“Nevertheless, Rae’s leadership shows Canada well,” he added. “We have been defeated twice for a seat on the Security Council. Leading with our chin on this can only help Canada.” (Canada lost a three-way race for two Security Council seats, defeated by Norway and Ireland, in 2020, leaving the country stung by its second failure in a decade to gain a spot in the chamber.)

Canada’s diplomatic corps is acutely aware that Twitter can also be a platform for unforced errors. In 2018, Freeland called out Saudi Arabia on Twitter for unjustly imprisoning human rights advocates. The Saudis swiftly expelled Canada’s ambassador and cut trade.

“It was an expensive tweet for Canada. The lesson is that there is no nuance on Twitter,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a nonpartisan research institute based in Calgary.

Not one for nuance, and responding to the lack of allied support for Canada in the spat with Saudi Arabia, Rae posted on Twitter on Aug. 7, 2018: “The Brits and the Trumpians run for cover and say ‘we’re friends with both the Saudis and the Canadians.’ Thanks for the support for human rights, guys, and we’ll remember this one for sure.”

In a recent CBC interview, Rae said of Russia’s leaders, “We know they are lying because their lips are moving.” He also posted those remarks on Twitter.

In his 2015 book “What’s Happened to Politics?,” he wrote about a study of propaganda in WWI, called “The First Casualty,” referring to the idea that truth is the first thing discarded by all sides as they attempt to influence public opinion.

While Rishchynski sees Rae’s wit and outrage at Russia’s aggression in Ukraine as fit for the moment, not everyone agrees. Several diplomats have said privately in interviews for this article that they fear Rae’s frank-talking undermines Canada’s ability to play a meaningful role in peacekeeping and humanitarian spaces at the UN.

On the evening of Feb. 23 in New York City, as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in Europe in the morning of Feb. 24, Rae reposted a PassBlue tweet with a photo of Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia presiding over a late-night emergency session of the Security Council on Ukraine, with the caption, “Criminals and apologists for criminals.”

As some members of the Security Council had requested an emergency session to push for peace for Ukraine, Russia announced, numerous time zones away, that it was invading the country.

Even longstanding admirers disagree with Rae’s bluntness on Russia’s assault on Ukraine. “If you want a cease-fire or to de-escalate, is it wise to threaten Putin with war crimes or genocide?” said John Packer, associate professor of law and the Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution at the University of Ottawa. “All are applicable, but what is the point of saying it? The art of diplomacy is to obtain the change of behavior you seek when you have no ability to force that change.”

Rae is not backing down, however. Addressing fellow UN General Assembly members regarding a recent South African-led proposed resolution focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine that omitted references to Russia’s aggression, Rae said:

“A humanitarian crisis of this type is not a spontaneous event. It is the direct result of a deliberate decision by one country, the Russian Federation, to invade another, Ukraine. We cannot be expected to discuss Moby Dick without talking about the whale.” (The resolution was never taken to a vote.)

His Twitter following keeps growing: @BobRae48 added 2,000 new followers between March 24 and 27.

Suzanne Courtney

Susanne Courtney is a freelance journalist and writer based in Canada. A former fellow in global journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto, her writing focuses primarily on international affairs, international development and development finance. Recently, she wrote the 2021 State of the Sector Report on Canada’s Impact Investing in Emerging and Frontier Markets.

Time for CD Howe

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To truly support our allies, Canada needs a C.D. Howe moment


Rona Ambrose is the chair of the Women’s Economic Council of Canada and a former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Frank McKenna is a former New Brunswick premier and Canadian ambassador to the United States. Colin Robertson is a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a former diplomat.

The invasion of Ukraine has brought in its wake not just the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, but also a global food security crisis and profound disruption of energy markets. Canada is uniquely positioned to help, but it will require the kind of effort we mustered all those decades ago.

The immediate challenge posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is meeting the energy crisis imposed by the necessary sanctions on Russian oil and gas: Russia is the world’s largest exporter of oil to global markets, and its gas exports account for close to 40 per cent of the European Union’s consumption. The invasion has also created the biggest commodity crisis since 1973, and, in the case of wheat, a level of disruption that has not been seen since the First World War. To adjust, Europeans have had to make dramatic changes to the status quo that would have been unimaginable just three weeks ago.

This courageous effort, and the heroic sacrifices of the Ukrainian people, must be matched by a herculean effort by allies around the world to supply the war effort. And so Canada – endowed as we are with an abundance of food and energy – cannot respond as if things are business as usual. We have already opened our doors to the displaced, but we also have the oil and gas Europe needs and, like Ukraine, we are a breadbasket to the world. Canada must be part of the solution to help our friends and allies. Throwing up our hands wasn’t an option in 1939 – and is not an option now.

Harnessing our natural resources to do so, including oil and gas, hydroelectricity, uranium and critical minerals, requires a strategic approach. It starts with an inventory of infrastructure requirements – electrical grids, pipelines, rail, road and port capacities – then identifying their vulnerabilities and how to fix them. Canada also needs to take such an approach to our agri-food resources. We need to inventory what our farmers, ranchers, fishers and food processors need to ramp up production, and resolve any choke points in getting our food to markets.

We will also need dynamic leadership. For inspiration, look at how Canada helped win the Second World War. Like never before, Canadian industry and government worked together under the direction of the redoubtable C. D. Howe, who the Canadian Encyclopedia aptly describes as the “most successful businessman-politician of his day.”

In those years, Canada became a vital link in keeping Britain alive with our supply of food, oil and armaments. We built ships and trained pilots. If the U.S. was, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, “the great arsenal of democracy,” Canada was the aerodrome. In securing vital sea lanes in the long Battle of the North Atlantic, our navy had the fourth-largest fleet in the world by the war’s end.

Once more, Canada needs to step up and put our economic assets on a war footing. In short, we need a C.D. Howe moment.

A good start would be the appointment of a minister with the authorities of a Howe – someone who can work closely with industry and labour across the areas of energy, agri-food and defence with the goal of cutting through red tape and executing a plan to rebuild our military while fuelling and feeding our allies.

We need dynamic leadership that will work across party lines and provincial boundaries. We need a bulldozer to plow through the thicket of bureaucracy and regulations that make it so hard to get things done in Canada.

This may seem impossible, but the same was said before the Second World War. That conflict should teach us that nothing is impossible when life and liberty are in the balance. We must defang Russia and any other malevolent country that wants to use its commodity hegemony to hold the world at ransom.

The rules-based world as we knew it is gone. The institutions that we helped build and sustain are no longer fit for purpose. Canada now needs to roll up its sleeves and join in reconstructing a rules-based order for the democracies.

In the struggle between autocracy and democracy, Canadians know where they stand. We expect our governments to rise to the challenge and help our allies. It starts with feeding and fuelling our friends and allies.

Interview with Shaye Ganam on the oped

After the horrors of Ukraine, Canada should aim to be a major player in helping the world meet its future food needs

From a long-term perspective, Canada should work to raise its potential as a sustainable global food supplier— especially for developing countries that are major importers of food and, with ongoing climate warming and weather shocks, face growing threats to their own agricultural capacity.

TORONTO—The Russian invasion of Ukraine is triggering many responses in Canada, including calls for more aid to Ukraine, tougher sanctions against Russia, accelerated welcoming of displaced Ukrainian families, dramatic new defence spending and ways for our oil industry to profit.

Some of these responses make great humanitarian and pragmatic sense—such as speeding up the entry of displaced families, directing more help to Ukraine, and contributing to world food needs. But some, despite coming from reputable individuals, are so extreme or misguided one has to wonder why they were made.

Perhaps the strangest proposal came from Rona Ambrose, former interim leader of the Conservative Party; Frank McKenna, former New Brunswick premier and our ambassador to the United States; and former diplomat Colin Robertson, all well-experienced individuals with serious accomplishments, that Canada put itself on a full-scale war footing.

Conjuring up pictures of brave Canadian naval convoys ploughing the treacherous North Atlantic during World War II to deliver supplies to a beleaguered Britain, they called for the quick appointment of a war minister with draconian powers—C.D. Howe—so that, as in World War II, we can “feed and fuel” our allies while expanding our national defence capabilities and put our economic assets—energy and food in particular—“on a war footing.”

There clearly are things we can do to help the world cope with the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the widespread consequences of sanctions. But, without denying the horrors of what’s happening in Ukraine, this doesn’t need to be dressed up in wartime hysteria as though Europe was reliving World War II. This is a time for cool heads, not hot heads.

In fact, aside from important, ongoing aid to Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, the most useful things we can do will not be in Europe or the United States, but in the developing world, which may end up paying the highest price for anti-Russian sanctions. It is the developing world, and especially in the poorest of the poor countries which will have the most serious difficulty coping with soaring energy and food prices, and, in the case of food, even finding adequate supplies. They will have an urgent need for increased foreign aid. Food shortages, for example, can lead to humanitarian disasters and food riots, with serious political implications across regions, as we have seen before in North Africa and the Middle East. Egypt has already turned to the International Monetary Fund for help.

There are opportunistic calls from the oil patch and its supporters to get our oil and gas to the U.S. and Europe to replace Russian sources. But the reality is that the U.S. can cope and Europe has other options. For example, Saudi Arabia has already announced it will spend heavily to boost oil production and Germany has unveiled a long-term supply contract with Qatar for liquified natural gas. Meanwhile, Europe will be accelerating its transition to a low-carbon economy, steadily reducing oil and gas consumption.

Food is where we can make a much better contribution, and mainly for the food-deficient countries of the developing world, not the U.S. or Europe. Paradoxically, the more we push oil output, the more we threaten future food production. Climate change is already raising the prevalence of drought, which poses a major threat to our capacity to produce food, and risks of drought are expected to intensify. With harsh drought conditions in Western Canada last year, wheat production fell 39 per cent and canola production 35 per cent. Early signs are for continuing dry conditions this year.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is already having a serious impact, triggering record-high grain prices earlier this month. Russia is the world’s largest wheat supplier and Ukraine is the fifth largest. Together, they supply about 25 per cent of world wheat exports. Barring weather shocks, and assuming no effort by the West to block Russian wheat exports, Russia should be a major supplier again this year. But Ukraine is unlikely to be, since it is far from certain it can harvest this summer or plant for next year.

Some countries depend heavily on wheat imports and in large measure from Russia and Ukraine. Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer, followed by Indonesia and Bangladesh. But many food-deficient countries in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia are reliant on Russia and Ukraine for wheat and vegetable oils such as canola. Canada, Australia, and the United States can make up for some of the expected deficiency but not all. Many countries, including Canada, also rely on Russia for fertilizer supplies and these have been curbed by sanctions. To the extent it can boost food exports, Canada should give priority to countries facing humanitarian disasters.

From a long-term perspective, Canada should work to raise its potential as a sustainable global food supplier— especially for developing countries that are major importers of food and, with ongoing climate warming and weather shocks, face growing threats to their own agricultural capacity.

This also means making agriculture a more significant part of Canada’s innovation agenda. The combination of a rising world population, the existing and future threats from climate change, the major risks to global water supplies, and the deterioration and loss of healthy soils all mean that we have to pay much more attention to sustainable food production and the science of food production.

Right now, our eyes are fixed on the horrors of events in Ukraine, as they should be. But coming out of this crisis, as we will, we should focus on what’s next. For Canada, this means, we need to aim to be a major and reliable future player in helping the world meet its future food needs.

In the longer term, food and agriculture should be a growing industry for Canada while we, at the same time, must accept that oil and gas will become a shrinking industry.

David Crane can be reached At crane@interlog.com.


New Diplomacy

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Canada’s UN mission goes viral with tweet mocking Russian letter to United NationsRussia fired back, accusing Canada of ‘kindergarten-level Russophobic libel’

In an unorthodox diplomatic move, Canada’s UN mission on Thursday tweeted out a heavily annotated letter that Russia had sent to the United Nations, including pointed comments in the rewrite, later prompting Russian accusations of “kindergarten-level libel.”

In a tweet that quickly went viral, Canada’s UN mission added multiple remarks to a March 16 letter from Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia. The missive sought support for Russia’s draft resolution on providing aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine.

Canada’s UN mission annotated one part of the Russian letter that read: “Like other members of the international community, we are gravely concerned about its deterioration,” referring to the “dire humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine.”

Canada’s UN mission crossed out the first few words and changed the rest to read: “We are not gravely concerned about its deterioration,” and inserted at the end “because we are the primary cause.”

In a section a few sentences below that, Canada’s UN mission added a comment asking: “Do you think the UN membership actually believes this?” where Nebenzia accuses “Western colleagues” of “politicizing humanitarian issue [sic].”

On the final page, Canada suggested part of an alternative ending: “We want you to know just how little we care about the human life we have destroyed.”

Lama Khodr, a media spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the tweet was published “to contribute to Canada’s public diplomacy on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to provide transparency on the disinformation being spread by the Russian mission to the UN.”

Russia can’t negotiate in good faith while targeting Ukrainian civilians: Joly

1 day ago


Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says she doesn’t trust Russia to negotiate peace with Ukraine in good faith while its military is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on the ground. 11:58

Anthony Hinton, political co-ordinator at Canada’s UN mission, went to Twitter on Thursday to explain how the tweet was created.

“This was done in-house by a creative member of the team, who is responsible for protecting civilians,” he said.

“Took 30 mins. Only 1 draft then published. No back & forth with HQ. Aim: transparency for this blatant Russian disinfo, which they sent to all UN members.”

Countries around the world, including FinlandSwedenDenmark and Estonia, have commended Canada’s tweet.

Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the United Nations, fired back on Thursday:

“Thank you @CanadaONU for this kindergarten-level Russophobic libel!” he wrote on Twitter.

“It only shows that your diplomatic skills and good manners are at lowest ebb and gives an idea why your country’s bid for a non-permanent seat in #SecurityCouncil was voted down twice in 20yrs by UN membership,” Polyanskiy said, adding a thumbs-down emoji.

Tweet ‘unconventional’ but ‘effective’: expert

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says Canada’s tweet demonstrates “effective diplomacy.”

“It’s unconventional, but we are living in unconventional times,” Robertson said.

He said traditional diplomacy, which tends to happen behind closed doors and is kept out of the public eye, isn’t as effective in today’s information-rich times, where social media has increased people’s expectations for transparency.

In order to maintain public support, Robertson says it’s in governments’ best interest to make information public early on.

“I think diplomacy is going to have to change if it’s going to sustain the public support that is necessary for democracies to be able to act together,” Robertson said. “Because when you go to war, you have to have the support of your public.”

Robertson noted a shift in diplomacy strategy earlier on in the Russia-Ukraine conflict when Western officials shared intelligence on Russia’s imminent invasion publicly, something that he said would not have happened in the past.

On Feb. 21, days before Russia began its wide-ranging invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russian forces were preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine and laid out detailed intelligence about how Russia would do it.

Blinken said Russia ‘plans to manufacture a pretext’ for an attack on Ukraine. 3:54

But Robertson said Twitter diplomacy has backfired in the past, such as when Global Affairs Canada publicly called out Saudi Arabia on Twitter in 2018 for arresting activists and demanded their release.

After the tweet was published, Saudi Arabia ordered Canada’s ambassador to leave the country and froze all new trade and investment transactions with Canada.

“I think the problem with tweets is that there’s no nuance and, normally, diplomacy is nuanced,” Robertson said.

But he said in this case, the tweet condemning Russia’s actions in the letter provides quite a bit of nuance because it includes the original Russian letter and detailed comments explaining Canada’s position.

Better an also ran than not at all

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The top 50 influencing Canadian foreign policy


  • Justin Trudeau, prime minister
  • Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister and finance minister
  • Mélanie Joly, foreign affairs minister
  • Anita Anand, defence minister
  • Mary Ng, international trade minister
  • Marco Mendicino, public safety minister
  • François-Philippe Champagne, innovation, science, and industry minister
  • Omar Alghabra, transport minister
  • Harjit Sajjan, international development minister
  • Karina Gould, families, children, and social development minister
  • Michael Chong, Conservative foreign affairs critic
  • Hassan Yussuff, Independent Senator

Political staffers

  • Katie Telford, PMO chief of staff
  • Brian Clow, PMO deputy chief of staff
  • Patrick Travers, PMO senior global affairs policy adviser
  • Oz Jungic, PMO policy adviser
  • Elise Wagner, PMO policy adviser for Canada-U.S. relations and issues management
  • Jeremy Broadhurst, PMO senior adviser
  • Sandra Aubé, chief of staff to the foreign affairs minister
  • Chantal Gagnon, deputy chief of staff to the foreign affairs minister
  • Jason Easton, chief of staff to the international trade minister
  • Jillian White, policy director to the international trade minister

Civil Servants

  • Dan Costello, foreign and defence policy adviser to the prime minister
  • David Morrison, deputy minister for international trade and G7 sherpa
  • Jody Thomas, national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister
  • Marta Morgan, deputy minister of foreign affairs
  • Janice Charette, clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet
  • Bill Matthews, deputy minister of national defence
  • Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff
  • Steve Verheul, special adviser to the deputy minister of finance
  • John Hannaford, deputy minister of natural resources
  • David Vigneault, CSIS director


  • Kirsten Hillman, ambassador to the United States
  • Bob Rae, ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations
  • Ailish Campbell, ambassador to the European Union
  • Ralph Goodale, high commissioner to the United Kingdom
  • Larisa Galadza, ambassador to Ukraine
  • Jacqueline O’Neill, ambassador for Women, Peace, and Security
  • David Cohen, U.S. ambassador to Canada
  • Susannah Goshko, U.K. high commissioner to Canada
  • Sabine Sparwasser, German ambassador to Canada

Civil society and others

  • Maryscott Greenwood, CEO of Canadian American Business Council
  • Flavio Volpe, president of Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association
  • Alexandra Chyczij/Ihor Michalchyshyn, president and CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress
  • Irwin Cotler, former Liberal cabinet minister and human rights advocate
  • Frédéric Mérand/Laurence Deschamps-Laporte, academics
  • Thomas Juneau, academic
  • Robert Fife/Steven Chase, Globe and Mail reporters
  • Mark MacKinnon, Globe and Mail international correspondent
  • Alex Panetta/Katie Simpson, CBC reporters

    Honourable mentions 

    • Bill Blair, emergency preparedness minister
    • Sean Fraser, immigration minister
    • Robert Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister
    • Jonathan Fried, former diplomat
    • Louise Blais, former diplomat
    • Colin Robertson, former diplomat
    • Roland Paris, academic and former PMO foreign policy adviser
    • Shelly Bruce, Communications Security Establishment chief
    • Ratna Omidvar, Independent Senator
    • Goldy Hyder, Business Council of Canada president


Ukraine and the Democracies

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The democracies need to push back hard

Unless the democracies stand up — and stand together — there will be more Ukraines

Colin Robertson,  Special to Financial Post Mar 01, 2022

Our fraying rules-based international order is in danger of unravelling completely. Might makes right is enjoying a come-back. Unless the democracies stand up — and stand together — there will be more Ukraines. Democracy, under assault at home and from outside, is on the line. For Canada, standing up means we need to increase our defence and security premiums and, in concert with our democratic allies, rethink our global strategy

Bob Rae, our ambassador to the United Nations, got it right when he tweeted that Vladimir Putin is a “war criminal” and that “every possible assistance must be provided the people and government of Ukraine.” For now, that will mean money and equipment, including arms, to the Ukrainian patriots resisting Russian aggression, as well as humanitarian aid through the Red Cross and other organizations for the victims of the war, especially the displaced within Ukraine. We also need to open our doors to those who do not want to live under the Russian yoke.

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Canada was the first western nation to recognize Ukrainian independence. The ties of history and family are strong, especially in western Canada, with over 1.4 million Canadians claiming Ukrainian roots. Canadian governments, both Conservative and Liberal, have actively supported initiatives to grow and strengthen Ukrainian governance and, since 2015, to help train Ukraine’s armed forces.

The great strength of democracies is our fundamental belief in norms of fairness and decency. But Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping have never shared these values. A democratic and prosperous Taiwan and a Ukraine moving in that direction disprove their claim that autocracy is superior to democracy. And let’s not delude ourselves, if Putin gets away with Ukraine, Xi will soon swallow Taiwan.

The weakness of the West is our failure to robustly defend our values. But push back we must and so the next tranche of sanctions must bite not just the personal pocketbooks of President Putin, his cronies and kleptocratic entourage, but their passports as well. Why should they and their families enjoy their mansions in London, study at Harvard or skiing in the Rockies?

The West also needs to continue beefing up its deterrence through NATO’s collective security alliance. At their Wales summit in 2014 the allies each pledged to commit two per cent of their GDP to defence spending by 2024. Canada currently spends just 1.39 per cent, which means we are outpaced by all our NATO G7 partners: the United States (3.52 per cent), the United Kingdom (2.29), France (2.01), Germany (1.53, and rising to at least 2.0, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in the wake of the Russian invasion), and Italy (1.41).

Our habit of seeing the world as we would like it to be is no longer sustainable. As John F. Kennedy put it, “only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.” Surrounded by three oceans, and with the Russians and Chinese now active in the Arctic, we need a deployable, combat-capable Navy with destroyers, frigates, submarines, and attendant air and logistical support.

In addition to the ongoing disinformation and cyberattacks, Putin may decide to counter western sanctions by cutting off the Russian energy supplies to which our European allies, especially Germany, are addicted. Canada and the United States need to help out by ramping up production and getting tankers across the Atlantic (another reason we need more Navy). In the longer term, as a matter of national security, we need gas pipelines to both coasts and the LNG terminals that complement them.

As of last week, we live in a much messier and meaner world. The defining struggle going forward is between democracy and autocracy. Checks on abuse of power and human rights violations have eroded. Democracy is on the back foot. Freedom House reports 16 consecutive years of decline in global freedom, with fully 38 per cent of the world’s population living in “not free” countries, 42 per cent in only “partly free” countries and just 20 per cent — only one in five people on the planet — in “free” countrie

No democracy is perfect, but Canada’s is clearly in the top tier. We can share our experience, especially in managing pluralism, which is increasingly important in an age where tribalism and identity politics are on the rise. The Trudeau government needs to move now on its long-promised initiative to help advance “peace, order and good government.”

In the decades after World War II, the United Nations promoted the notion of fundamental rights. Canadian John Humphrey was instrumental in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During the Cold War the democracies actively advanced, albeit imperfectly, the cause of liberty and representative institutions in their domestic and foreign policies. It was all part and parcel of the larger effort to create an open, rules-based international system built on shared resistance to totalitarianism.

The system worked so well that we have enjoyed a remarkable period of peace and prosperity. But complacency set in. We are now called on once again to redeem and reinforce the norms and rules that ensure our democratic values and protect our way of life.