Your foreign policy hashtag hot sheet
by Ally Foster (feat. David Carment)
January 30, 2013
With the world bypassing the supposed Dec. 21, 2012 doomsday, members of Parliament are once again taking their seats in the House of Commons for another season of legislative changes, budget-balancing, and debate.
In this hot sheet of topics bound to make headlines this term of Parliament, Embassy and foreign policy pundits make a few predictions of the (tongue-in-cheek) trending tweets this season under #cdnfp.
Mali is on everyone’s mind in Ottawa as the government tries to decide what role Canada should play in the West African conflict. France and Nigeria have publicly suggested that they are looking to Canada for continued support for the military intervention. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he is looking for consensus from all parties, to be monitored through a study by the House foreign affairs committee.
With the current commitment of a C-17 heavy-lift aircraft renewed until about Feb. 15, and rumours of a second plane being sent to transport equipment and personnel for the French- and African-led campaign against extremist groups in Mali’s north, all signs are pointing to a drawn-out series of extensions and bite-sized additions to contributions.
The consistent rhetoric from the Canadian government has been that there will not be a direct military mission in Mali, but debate continues to swirl over what ‘direct’ really means.
The CBC cited unnamed sources in reporting Jan. 28 that Canadian special forces have boots on the ground in Mali protecting Canadian assets there, but no Canadian Forces are in combat.
Some pundits say the Mali predicament is only the first in what will soon be a list of conflicts on the continent that Canada will need to take a stronger stance on: Egypt has once again fallen into rioting hands; Somalia continues to be plagued with terrorist attacks and threats against Westerners; and according to David Carment, a Carleton University professor and fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, weak states are spiraling downwards and, in turn, demanding attention.
South Sudan is beginning to weaken, said Mr. Carment, who is also the editor of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal.
Kenya may also become unstable due to the massive influx of refugees pouring through its borders from neighbouring countries.
“Canada is going to be put in a position to have to do a little more than they’re doing now,” he said, speaking about failing states such as Somalia. “The business-as-usual approach probably won’t stand anymore. We’re going to have to do something about the future.”
If you think you’ve accidentally picked up Embassy’s January 2012 Back to Parliament edition, your sense of deja vu isn’t off base.
The conclusion of the Canada-European Union trade deal has been ‘just around the corner’ for more than a year now. Lead negotiators from both sides were in Brussels in late January in what Quebec’s chief negotiator called “the final stretch.”
It remains to be seen if the final stretch is a 100-metre dash or a longer run.
According to The Globe and Mail, European Union trade commissioner Karel De Gucht is set to be in Ottawa from Feb. 6 to 7, presumably to meet with Trade Minister Ed Fast. The goal is to reduce as many remaining issues as possible before that time.
But the nail-biting is bound to increase as speculation brews that the United States and the EU might also launch free trade talks soon. It could be problematic for Canada as a smaller player that could be forgotten in the American shadow, John Curtis, former chief economist with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said in a January interview with Embassy.
When the trade deal is signed, there will be major reverberations about some of the concessions that Canada is likely to have made, said Fen Hampson, a distinguished fellow and director of global security at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, and the chancellor’s professor at Carleton University.
The EU wants more access to Canadian dairy markets and procurement, as well as changes to Canada’s intellectual property rules.
The foreign affairs department has been hinting at the final touches for the new office of religious freedom for a year now, and there were strong suggestions that it would open its doors and begin making use of its $5 million-per-year budget by the end of 2012. But that prediction—like the Mayan apocalypse—passed by unrealized. Without much surprise.
Most recently, when Foreign Minister John Baird travelled to London for an international religious freedom meeting, his staff stated that the office would be opening in early 2013.
The hold-up seems to be finding an ambassador for the position. An unnamed source quoted by CBC in September 2012 claimed that two people had turned down the job.
Many analysts say it’s worth the wait to find the right candidate.
The 2012 budget was a doozy, and budget buzz is already starting to surface for 2013. How well-oiled will the foreign policy machinery be, considering that portfolios with international connections were some of the hardest hit in last year’s budget?
The budget is always a hot issue, said Mr. Hampson. But he argued that the Harper government uses the budget to change the direction of its policy, and could again this year during continued fiscal austerity.
The prospect of additional cuts to DFAIT will be a hot topic, he said.
In the name of finding “efficiencies and savings,” the Canadian government swept the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (otherwise known as Rights and Democracy) last year under the DFAIT roof.
Some are questioning whether other Crown corporations—such as the International Development Research Centre—are next.
Mr. Hampson noted that the IDRC still has not announced a new president (David Malone is leaving to start a new job in March), which he said is raising questions as to whether it will meet a similar fate.
International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino hasn’t settled into his new position at the helm of the Canadian International Development Agency quietly.
In his first six months in the job, he has most notably cemented a major policy shift that focuses on increased partnership with the private sector. He also announced the freezing of future aid to Haiti through an interview with French newspaper La Presse—apparently blindsiding the Haitian government.
The fallout from both will certainly cause a stir.
A decision about how to deliver future aid to one of Canada’s biggest recipients will have to come down the pipes eventually, and the longer it takes, the more critics will decry a lack of predictability for the struggling country.
Whatever happens, Canada’s involvement in Haiti is sure to be a hot topic in development circles this season.
With President Barack Obama behind the desk in the Oval Office for another four years, Canada’s relationship with the US is evolving quickly.
The US and China are showing increasing signs of tension, while Canada cuddles closer to the emerging giant.
Climate change was a focal point during Mr. Obama’s inaugural speech. Most agree that it’s nowhere near the top of the Harper government’s trade-heavy priority list.
But, “the real litmus test” for Canada-US relations will be whether Mr. Obama green-lights the Keystone XL pipeline, said Mr. Hampson.
Nebraska’s governor has now approved the new route for the pipeline, and 53 of 100 US senators have signed their support for it.
An environmental firestorm could ignite if the proposed pipeline—which would connect Canada’s oilsands to refineries along the Texas Gulf—is given final approval.
As Canada is set to ratify a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China, it also continues talks for a free trade agreement with Japan and India, while preparing to open its first-ever embassy in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
The Canadian government’s hush-hush foreign policy plan, a draft of which was obtained by CBC News, stated that “Canada’s trade and investment relations with new economies, leading with Asia, must deepen, and as a country we must become more relevant to our new partners.”
Some have pondered whether Canada’s reputation as a defender of human rights and democracy would be threatened by closer ties with China.
“To succeed we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align,” read the document.
With Canada entering into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and increasingly becoming invested in countries such as China, Japan, Indonesia, and Myanmar, some defence analysts caution that forging ahead with economic growth will not come without other policy implications.
Keeping in mind the unrest in Myanmar, the continued territory dispute over islands in the East China Sea, and the age-old question of what to do about North Korea, Canada will likely be asked to contribute more equipment, personnel, and resources to ensure security in the region, said both Mr. Hampson and Mr. Carment.