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Liberals' defence policy review draws criticism for lacking consistency with foreign policy

by Iain Sherriff-Scott (feat. Stefanie von Hlatky)

The Hill Times
September 11, 2017

The Liberal government’s defence policy review, which was released to the public this spring, has drawn a similar brand of criticism as successive government’s policy reviews have, including that it lacks consistency with Canada’s foreign policy.

As Queen’s University political science professor Stefanie von Hlatky pointed out in an interview with The Hill Times, the review is among many done by previous governments conducted with “a lack of consistency between the foreign policy arm and the defence arm.”

Nearly every government since the days of Pierre Elliott Trudeau has conducted a full review of foreign policy. That tradition was broken during Stephen Harper’s tenure as prime minister when his government produced only a defence policy review during its nine years.

As well, since the 1960s, only one government has reviewed Canada’s defence and foreign policy alongside each other, despite the two policy areas being deeply and innately linked. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) government broke from the tradition started by his father, and carried the one started by Harper, initiating only a formal review of defence policy last year.

The review’s results were expected in January, but was delayed until June, likely in anticipation of unpredictable U.S. President Donald Trump, who took office in January, a development which, as Ms. von Hlatky pointed out, probably made the Canadian government, “a bit more risk averse when it comes to the quick implementation of bold new ideas.”

“Certainly the president’s views on NATO are quite controversial and a bit unpredictable, going from ‘NATO is obsolete’ to reinforcing Article 5 over the summer and really doing a 180,” she said.

Prof. Van Hlatky added that the signals coming from the U.S. were cause for pause and probably provided a rationale for stalling, or revisiting certain pieces of the defence policy. 

One of those pieces might have been the defence budget, which to the surprise of many, is set to increase over the next 10 years from $18.9-billion in 2016-17 to $32.7-billion in 2026-27.

The increase marks a shift in the Liberals’ plan for defence since the election in 2015, when Mr. Trudeau pledged not to increase the defence budget. But the plan for more funding sees the bulk of it arriving after the next election.

Conservative defence opposition critic James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman, Man.) wrote in an email to The Hill Times that the slow implementation of the new defence budget is unfortunate.

“The majority of the funding announced through the defence policy won’t be available until after the next election and the government won’t tell us where it is going to come from,” he said. 

Not only has the budgetary timeline drawn ire from Conservatives, many see the review’s lack of accompanying foreign and development policy consultations as signalling a lack of cohesion on Canada’s foreign policy outlook.

Ms. von Hlatky expressed that “in terms of a articulating a grand strategy, the defence policy review has not really served that purpose,” adding that the review provides the “the nuts and bolts,” of Canada’s defence policy rather than having a strategic outlook.

And as retired brigadier-general James Cox pointed out in an article published in The Vimy Report, “policy” and “strategy” are not the same thing.

Mr. Cox argues that “the overall lack of conceptual clarity between policy and strategy,” and “the absence of complementary policy developments in related fields,” impeded National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s (Vancouver South, B.C.) efforts to put together a comprehensive defence policy and strategy.

Instead, the Liberals took a different angle and presented Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s (University-Rosedale, Ont.) major foreign policy speech in the House of Commons just days before the defence policy review was published.

Prof. von Hlatky said that she thought the timing of the speech was “deliberate” in relation to the release of the defence policy review and that the minister sought to communicate the “linkages between the two,” rather than producing two separate reviews.

In Minister Freeland’s 4,400-word speech, she looked to outline Canada’s global direction in terms of a renewed focus on our foreign initiatives, be it development, peacekeeping, or Canada’s ongoing military commitments.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” remarked Minister Freeland in her speech.

“I think at the very least, the foreign affairs minister’s speech told us what to expect in a Trumpian world, as far as Canadian foreign and defence policy goes,” Ms. von Hlatky remarked.


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