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A Radical Idea: CANZUK in Canadian Foreign and Defence Policy

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Image credit: Adam Scotti - PMO

COMMENTARY

by Jay Heisler
September 14, 2021


The world is watching the 2021 Canadian federal election with some interest, owing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s international celebrity status. However, the media have overlooked one aspect of the election. A Conservative Party victory would not just spell the end of the Trudeau administration, but would also bring to the fore a previously obscure policy proposal that the Conservative Party has made in its foreign policy platform. This is the dream of CANZUK, a union of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. This would be both a radical shift in Canada’s foreign policy and also potentially in Canada’s defence policy.

If the Conservative Party wins, three of four CANZUK nations would have pro-CANZUK governments in office: Canada, Australia and the U.K. That would just leave New Zealand under the Jacinda Ardern administration, and pro-CANZUK politicians have said they expect New Zealand to follow Australia into a CANZUK agreement if the other three nations finalize it. 

An idea once considered absurd might soon become a reality, making life quite different in four nations that host a great number of immigrants and refugees from the rest of the world. This means a CANZUK agreement could have ramifications for people from all corners of the globe.

So what does CANZUK entail? The proposed agreement is still in its early stages and many concrete policy suggestions have yet to be ironed out. However, consensus so far includes a free-travel zone among the four nations and greater economic co-operation. According to experts, this could also include greater defence co-operation. A CANZUK agreement is not expected to compete with, or get in the way of, Canada’s existing commitments, such as the Five Eyes agreement, which consists of all four CANZUK nations and the United States.1

Defence experts say that Australia might see CANZUK as an antidote to a long-time fear of being abandoned in its distant Asian location. Also, New Zealand is so joined to Australia on a defence level that it would likely go along with Australia in such a radical defence policy shift. Finally, Canadian defence connectivity to both Oceanic nations has been historically weak despite the Five Eyes arrangement and was concentrated mostly on Canada’s West Coast. Therefore, the ties could be improved despite the fact there is a very close relationship on paper. Halifax, for example, hosts a Five Eyes intelligence facility in its navy yard, but has little historic Australian or New Zealander diplomatic or military presence in the city. CANZUK could help make sleepy Nova Scotia more international.

Australian intelligence officer John Blaxland, author of Strategic Cousins: Australian and Canadian Expeditionary Forces and the British and American Empires, about the Canada-Australia relationship,2 said that many defence experts consider a CANZUK union feasible and also an idea with potentially deep implications for defence co-operation.

James Skinner, the British-born founder of CANZUK International, the citizen organization pushing for CANZUK as a policy, says: “Through effective outreach, we were successful in lobbying the U.K and Australian governments to include provisions for freer movement of citizens and mutual skills recognition as part of their comprehensive trade deal.”

He added that his group is “… also working with members of the New Zealand parliament to ensure similar provisions are adopted with the upcoming New Zealand-U.K. trade deal, which will allow us to further develop CANZUK in the months and years ahead.

Skinner also said he was happy to see that Canada’s Conservative Party had made CANZUK a cornerstone of its foreign policy: “Although CANZUK International is strictly non-partisan, we will certainly look forward to engaging with Erin O’Toole should he form government after the federal election.”

CANZUK is quite popular in the U.K., where a survey found that 94 per cent of British parliamentarians support the free movement of goods among Canada, Australia and New Zealand, while 61 per cent support the free movement of people among those countries.3

Does a new chapter in Canadian foreign policy await us after September 20? Life for Canadians could suddenly be very different in a myriad of ways.


End Notes

1 Anthony R. Wells and Admiral the Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC PC, Between Five Eyes: 50 Years of Intelligence Sharing, (Oxford, Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020).

2 John Blaxland, Strategic Cousins: Australian and Canadian Expeditionary Forces and the British and American Empires, (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006).

3 James Skinner, “Polling Reveals Majority Support for CANZUK in UK Parliament,” CANZUK International (blog), January 20, 2021, https://www.canzukinternational.com/2021/01/polling-reveals-majority-support-for-canzuk-in-uk-parliament.html.


About the Author

Jay Heisler is a Voice of America journalist previously published with CNBC, the Chronicle Herald and Canadian Defence Review. He teaches part time at Dalhousie University and NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He also does Canada analysis for Oxford Analytica.


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