Canada, we need to talk about our place in the world

by Colin Robertson

The Globe and Mail
November 24, 2015

When the members of Canada’s new Parliament convene next week for the Speech from the Throne they do so against an international backdrop that is far from sunny: climate change, protracted conflicts, failed states, mass migration and rising powers that don’t respect the norms of the international order that Canada helped to create.

The new Trudeau government’s international agenda is already crowded: planning for the Paris climate talks, processing 25,000 Syrian refugees, shifting our Iraq commitment from CF-18s to trainers and humanitarian help. Then there is the promised defence review, revamp of security legislation and examination of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There’s a lot on the plate.

A review of Canada’s international policies is no easy assignment. Lester Pearson, our greatest diplomat, thought it was better to do foreign policy than review it because events beyond our control make grand plans irrelevant.

Foreign policy reviews come in three broad types.

Most are internal affairs, conducted by the civil service for cabinet consideration. Pierre Trudeau’s Foreign Policy for Canadians (1970) and the subsequent Canada-U.S. Relations: Options for the Future (1972) took this approach. So did Paul Martin’s much rewritten A Role of Pride and Influence (2005).

Then there are the more focused reviews, again conducted internally, as with Stephen Harper’s Global Commerce Strategy (2008) and Canada First Defence Strategy (2008).

There were other efforts by other governments that came to naught – dying from either bureaucratic nibbling, political indecision or the sense that events had passed them by.

Given the mixed record of reviews, Mr. Pearson’s skepticism may be right. But Mr. Pearson also recognized the dangers of complacency and acknowledged that foreign policy is too often reactive, rather than creative.

In terms of efficiency of process, broad public outreach and ultimate implementation, the most successful review was Jean Chrétien’s Canada in the World (1995).

The Chrétien exercise owed much to the work of two special joint parliamentary committees, looking at defence and foreign policy. They conducted national hearings and commissioned studies, including a still valuable essay by John Ralston Saul on culture and foreign policy.

The new Trudeau government could look to the Chrétien model with its emphasis on parliamentary involvement. Cross-Canada parliamentary hearings can be complemented through public dialogue, applying the Trudeau government’s apt facility with social media like Google Hangout.

It would benefit both parliamentarians and the public service if departmental staff were assigned to help the committee. Give the committee a sufficient budget to commission studies and for international travel. And have the committee report before the end of 2016 so that its recommendations can be acted on during this Parliament.

Deepening parliamentarians’ knowledge of international relations will help them and enhance the various interparliamentary committees and country friendship associations.

As our diplomat-in-chief, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in the midst of a whirlwind tour of summits. These well-tweeted travels inform but do not give depth or context. Mr. Trudeau should revive the practice of prime ministers, from Louis St. Laurent through Pierre Trudeau, of reporting to Parliament on major travels abroad.

A global policy review should focus on three questions:

  • Where do we want to play a role in the world and why?
  • What do we want to achieve?
  • How much will we spend?

Our international interests are vital. Trade generates 60 per cent of our GDP. Immigration and refugee resettlement provides us with new talent and new ideas.

Our sovereignty and well-being depends on the international rules-based system – the UN, the World Bank, IMF and WTO – and our NATO collective security alliance. Their value endures, but reforms are necessary.

Relations with China and Russia deserve particular focus. China wants and deserves more clout. Russia wants more respect. Both have the capacity to cause disruption, as we witness in Ukraine and the South China Sea.

It is in everyone’s interest to have rising powers integrate into the international system. Accommodations must be made. But with accommodation must go recognition by China and Russia of their responsibilities to established norms and the rule of law.

A review of Canada’s global policies is no easy assignment. Where can we find our niche and lead? Can we be deliberate and focused?

With growing public apprehension that times are out of joint and concern about the future, we need a national dialogue on Canada’s place and priorities in the world. Achieving greater understanding, if not consensus, on our global objectives will also help define the Canadian brand in the 21st century.

 

 


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
 
SEARCH
PODCAST

The Future of North American Trade: Assessing the USMCA

October 13, 2018

On today's Global Exchange Podcast, we convene our roster of North American trade experts to discuss the newly signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Join host Colin Robertson in discussion with Eric Miller, Laura Dawson, Sarah Goldfeder, and Larry Herman, as they discuss the pros and cons of the new deal, as well as what happens next.



EXPERTS IN THE MEDIA

Saudi Arabia’s spat with Canada was a lesson. Trump ignored it.

by Emily Rauhala (feat. Thomas Juneau), The Washington Post, October 17, 2018

Oilpatch scrambles to ship ‘distressed barrels’ as industry loses $100 million in revenues daily

by Geoffrey Morgan (feat. Kevin Birn), Financial Post, October 16, 2018

Donald Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 ‘poison pill’ won’t work in Asia, say experts

by Jacob Greber (feat. Hugh Stephens), Financial Review, October 16, 2018

Feds aiming to select preferred design for $60B warships by end of month

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Dave Perry), The Canadian Press, October 16, 2018

Ex-ambassador delivers aggressive defence of Saudi arms deal

by Murray Brewster (feat. Thomas Juneau), CBC News, October 16, 2018

Trump gains power over Canada, Mexico Trade

by Sabrina Rodriguez (feat. Sarah Goldfeder), Politico, October 15, 2018

Trump: Saudi king ‘firmly denies’ any role in Khashoggi mystery

by James McCarten (feat. Colin Robertson), The Canadian Press, October 15, 2018

Louise Mushikiwabo remplace la Canadienne Michaëlle Jean à la tête de la francophonie

by Claire Gillet (feat. Jocelyn Coulon), L’Express, October 12, 2018


LATEST TWEETS

HEAD OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 421-7th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 4K9

 

OTTAWA OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6

 

Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: contact@cgai.ca
Web: cgai.ca

 

Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.

 

© 2002-2018 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001

 


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email