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Table of Contents
- The Mechanics of Elections
- Election Spending
- Foreign Interference
- Canadian Elections: Project, But Be Careful about Predictions
- Voters’ Considerations in 2021
- Canadians Will Vote One Way Provincially and Another Federally
- The Debates
- The Polls
- Forming a Government and Governing
- Private Members
- The Senate
- Further Sources
- About the Authors
- Canadian Global Affairs Institute
August 2021 - In response to requests by foreign diplomats to explain our election process, we have revised this primer, written originally in 2019. It tries to explain the process of our elections and forming a new government. We consulted stakeholders from the different parties as well as experts on Canadian politics, polling and our elections in putting this piece together. This primer does not analyze the parties’ policies and politicking – these are available daily from the news media and we point to those we follow in the “Further Sources” section. CGAI will also be publishing a series of prescriptive pieces on global affairs issues to help the next government in its global policy development. The Parliamentary Centre will be offering an Election Primer for Diplomats, September 8 at 10 a.m. – more info at parlcent.org.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul. Source: CBC
Election 2019 Results
On August 15, 2021 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked with his family the short distance from Rideau Cottage to Rideau Hall to ask the new Governor General, Mary Simon, to dissolve the 44th parliament and call an election for Monday, September 20, 2021 – a shortest possible 36-day campaign.
General elections in Canada are called when the Governor General dissolves Parliament on the advice of the prime minister. The Governor General issues a Proclamation for the issuance of writs of election and an Order in Council is addressed to the Chief Electoral Officer requesting the issuance of separate writs of election to the returning officers for each of the 338 electoral districts. Three weeks before the election, each candidate must file with the returning officer several documents, including the nomination paper. The federal election is under non-partisan control of Elections Canada and its chief electoral officer.
In seeking the dissolution of Parliament, the prime minister also recommends the election date. The Canada Elections Act now specifies that the election period must last a minimum of 36 days and a maximum of 51 days: in 2015, the election period was unusually long – 78 days – while the 2019 election period was 40 days. In an Abacus survey taken just before the election call, 77 per cent said that they intend to vote.
Unlike Australia and certain other countries, Canada does not have mandatory voting. Voter turnout in national elections is usually around two-thirds of eligible voters – it was 67 per cent in 2019, 68.5 per cent in 2015 and 61 per cent in 2011.
Elections in Canada’s 338 electoral districts (aka constituencies or ridings) are decided by the first-past-the-post system, i.e., whoever gets the most votes wins the election, even though “most votes” rarely translates into the majority of votes.
For most of our history, the race to govern has been essentially between the Conservatives and Liberals. They are our oldest parties, dating back to Confederation. The Tories, as the Conservatives are often called, governed for most of the period after Confederation in 1867 until just before the turn of the century when the Liberals took power and then governed for most of the 20th century. So far, this century has been a split between the Liberals and Conservatives. The NDP grew out of the early 20th century progressive movement of farmers and labour and while they have formed government in the provinces, they have only enjoyed one spell as Official Opposition (2011-2015). The Bloc Québécois was formed in the early 1990s to defend Quebec’s interests leading to independence. They formed the Official Opposition (1993-97), and held the most seats in Quebec until 2011. The Greens were formed in the early 1980s and won their first seat in 2011. Other parties, such as the current People’s Party and Maverick Party, come and go but rarely win seats.
In the 2019 election, the Conservatives won more votes than the Liberals. The New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party (Greens) favour proportional representation and, in the 2015 campaign, Trudeau promised electoral reform that many interpreted as favouring proportional representation. It has not happened at either the national or provincial level. Indeed, when put to a vote, proportional representation has been defeated in provincial referendums in British Columbia (B.C.), Ontario and Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.).
The first-past-the-post system means that, based on previous elections, a party can win the majority of the seats in the House of Commons with around 38 per cent of the votes. Only two governments in recent history have won more than 50 per cent of the vote: John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives in 1958 and Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives in 1984.
The Constitution Act defines how many seats are accorded to each province. Unlike partisan gerrymandering in the United States, the formula is adjusted based on population after each decennial census in an independent non-partisan process with independent commissions working separately in each province. The Constitution guarantees both Quebec and Prince Edward Island a minimum number of seats. This creates major discrepancies in the population of constituencies. For example, there are an average of 36,500 voters in each of the four constituencies in P.E.I., Canada’s smallest province, while each of Alberta’s 34 constituencies has 111,000 voters. The current 338 electoral districts break down by province as follows: Ontario, 121; Quebec, 78; B.C., 42; Alberta, 34; Manitoba, 14; Saskatchewan, 14; Nova Scotia, 11; New Brunswick, 10; Newfoundland and Labrador, 7; P.E.I., 4; Northwest Territories, 1; Yukon, 1; and Nunavut, 1. In terms of geography, Nunavut is the largest at 2,093,190 square kilometres (almost four times the size of Germany) while the smallest is Toronto Centre at 5.84 square kilometres.
The parties all handle candidate selection slightly differently, with different discretion afforded the leader to “parachute” candidates into a riding or to screen out really bad candidates. Every party candidate needs to have the leader sign the nomination form. But by international standards, the candidate selection process in Canada is remarkably decentralized.
By U.S. standards, Canadian elections are not just shorter, but also much cheaper to administer. There are also much stricter rules on election spending. The price tag for the 2019 election was $502 million or $18.35 per elector. The 2015 federal election cost $443 million, up 53 per cent from the $290 million spent on the 2011 election because of the addition of 30 new ridings and an unusually long campaign.
In terms of party campaign spending in the 2019 election, the Conservatives spent $28.9 million – nearly to the $30 million limit – the Liberals spent $26.1 million and the NDP spent $10.3 million.
The Election Modernization Act (2018) restricts the amount of spending allowed in the period before a campaign and aims to prevent foreign interference with rules to regulate third-party political activity. Political parties can now spend up to $2,046,800 on advertising in the pre-writ period. After the writs are issued, those spending limits are raised significantly. Interest groups can spend up to $1,023,400 in the pre-election period and then $511,700 during the election period, with a maximum of $10,234 in each constituency in the pre-election period and $4,386 in each constituency during the election. Canadians can give up to $1,650 annually in total to all the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of each registered party. Election expenses for each candidate in a constituency are fixed and they vary between $88,000 (Charlottetown) and $134,000 (Pontiac) with the average around $110,000. Depending on their vote, there is a degree of reimbursement from public funds.
Foreign interference in democratic elections is a reality. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and the RCMP are monitoring foreign threat activity in Canada. For the 2019 election, a Cabinet Directive on the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol set out general directions and the principles to guide the process for informing the public of an incident that threatens Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election. It will guide the 2021 election.
Canadian federal elections are volatile and unpredictable in outcome so predictions are dangerous. It’s better to offer projections based on polling, but polls too have their problems. The 2015 election is a good example. Two-thirds of Canadians going to the polls were comfortable with the country’s direction and optimistic about the economy, but two-thirds also wanted change. At various points, the polls showed the lead was held by the Conservatives, the NDP and the Liberals (who won, but who began in third place).
Unlike the U.S., where most voters have registered as Democrats or Republicans, it is estimated that between a third and a half of the Canadian electorate is prepared to change its mind based on the campaigns. Pundits and political scientists reckon that the Conservatives have the most solid base – around 25 per cent. The Liberal base is lower, around 22 per cent, but they also have a higher potential ceiling. The NDP can count on around 13 per cent and the Greens, who won their first seat in Parliament in 2011, have polled as high as 10 per cent although they are currently in internal turmoil. The Liberals are generally considered centre-left, the Conservatives centre-right, the NDP and the Greens are left and the Bloc Québécois is a coalition of those looking out for Quebec’s interests.
It is likely that 2021 will be remembered as the pandemic election. Going into the election, voters will consider:
Referendum on Leadership
For many voters the election boils down to leadership – who do you want to lead the nation and spend time watching and listening to over the next few years? Elections are an opportunity for newer leaders and leaders of the opposition parties to portray themselves to the voters and to convince them they have the temperament and character required to lead Canada. Most voters’ assessment of the campaign is more about personalities and personal flaws. Leaders who misgauge the country’s mood soon find themselves out of a job.
Debate on Issues
At the outset of the 1993 campaign, then-prime minister Kim Campbell famously declared that elections were not the place to discuss policies. She may have been right but she then took her party into oblivion. Watch for polling that assesses voters’ desire for change and voter satisfaction with the direction of the country. That governments defeat themselves is another political axiom, especially when there is an overwhelming desire for change. As to the issues in this campaign, an IPSOS poll taken before the election identified health care, affordability and cost of living, climate change and the economy – essentially those that were top of mind in 2019. These top identified issues were followed by COVID-19, taxes, housing and poverty. An Abacus poll taken after the election call confirmed this lineup and noted that the top issues – cost of living, health care, climate and post-COVID economic recovery – were the same for the two biggest demographic voting groups – the millennials and the baby boomers, with marginal differences between men and women.
Liberals believe they will score good marks if the election is a referendum on how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, including their recent calls for mandatory vaccinations for federal public servants and those travelling across federal jurisdictions. They also believe that Canadians support measures to cushion the pandemic’s economic effects, including wage subsidies and cheques to individuals.
Since the pandemic’s onset, the provinces that have called elections have been rewarded with a majority – until Nova Scotia’s Liberal government went down to a resounding defeat to Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston the week after the federal election was called. Before that, majority governments were returned to New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs in September 2020, Saskatchewan Party Premier Scott Moe in October 2020, British Columbia’s NDP Premier John Horgan in October 2020 and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Liberal Premier Andrew Furey in March 2021.
Managing the Economy: Who Can Keep the Country Prosperous or At Least Out of a Pandemic-induced Recession?
Running deficits became part of the equation in 1993 when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) almost had to intervene to prop up the economy. Since then, Canadians and governments of all political stripes were chary of running deficits. Attitudes have changed since the start of the pandemic. Government programs to support workers, families, business and seniors have received widespread approval. Even the deficit-wary Conservatives have put forth proposals in their election manifesto, Secure the Future: Canada’s Recovery Plan, to increase spending, although they plan to curb the deficit within 10 years.
Response to World Events
Foreign policy has not usually been a major election issue. The last time it played a decisive role was in the 1988 election around freer trade with the U.S., with Brian Mulroney’s pro-free trade Progressive Conservatives winning re-election. In 2015, the government’s response to the plight of Syrian refugees was widely discussed. But in 2021, there is a growing sense that the world is a messier and meaner place. Relations with China are in the deep-freeze and, as with other liberal democracies, negative views of China have reached their highest level ever. For Canadians, this is in large part due to China’s “hostage diplomacy” and the incarceration of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Canadians will wonder whether the fall of Afghanistan justified the loss of Canadian lives. The plight of Haiti, and concern from Haitian-Canadians, particularly in Quebec, is a reminder that diaspora politics remains a potent force in Canada. Concerns such as global climate change and the large-scale movement of peoples requiring global action, along with the decline of democracy in many countries, are moving foreign policy from its traditional back-burner position.
Canadians’ view of the U.S. has rebounded favourably with the election of President Joe Biden. But relief at Donald Trump’s defeat comes with recurring questions about how much things have changed under the Democratic administration. There is a growing list of irritants, including the cancellation of Keystone XL, restrictive Buy American purchasing provisions, lack of U.S. federal government support for Line 5 and lack of recognition for mixed-dose vaccines and the Covishield version of Astra Zeneca and, now, growing dissatisfaction around the exit from Afghanistan. The U.S.’s closure of its land border to Canadians will remain in effect past the election.
Canadians are also quite ready to vote one way provincially and then balance it by voting for a different party federally. When Trudeau took office after the Liberals had spent a decade in the wilderness, most provincial governments were Liberal. Today, conservative governments lead seven provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government in Quebec is nationalist centre-right. The only Liberal governments are in Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon. The NDP governs British Columbia, our third largest province. Independents lead the governments in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
While provincial and federal parties may bear the same name, they are distinct and different entities although the NDP tends to draw from the same workers and base of support. Be careful in assuming close support and collaboration during elections, although in 2021 the Tory premiers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick will either actively campaign or tacitly support their federal counterparts.
Debates matter and they draw an audience. They may not produce a winner but they do identify losers. They can also gel impressions about personality – for and against – even if they do little to shed light on policies.
The Trudeau government established a Leaders’ Debates Commission headed by former governor general David Johnston in order to ensure debates are a “predictable, reliable and stable element(s) of future election campaigns”. This has created a partnership of news organizations that will produce two leaders’ debates – each two hours – on Wednesday, September 8 in French and Thursday, September 9 in English, broadcast from the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. The English debate will be produced, promoted and distributed by CBC News, CTV News, Global News and APTN News, while the French debate will be produced, promoted and distributed by Radio-Canada, Noovo, La Presse, Le Devoir, L’actualité and Les Coops de l’information (Le Soleil, Le Droit, La Tribune, Le Nouvelliste, Le Quotidien and La Voix de l’Est). TVA is also planning a French-language debate on September 2 but it is not clear how many leaders will participate.
In 2019, there was widespread criticism of the English debate with its less than cohesive moderator format that failed to hold debaters to account and the inclusion of People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, criticism that was validated when the People’s Party took only 1.6 per cent of the popular vote and elected no candidates. To participate in the 2021 leaders’ debates, the commission requires a leader of a political party to meet one of the following criteria:
(i) On the date the general election is called, the party is represented in the House of Commons by a member of Parliament who was elected as a member of that party; or
(ii) At the most recent general election, the party’s candidates received at least four per cent of the number of valid votes cast; or
(iii) Five days after the date the general election is called, the party receives a level of national support of at least four per cent, determined by voting intention, and as measured by leading national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recently publicly reported results.
In practical terms, their application keeps the leaders of the People’s Party (Maxime Bernier) and Maverick Party (Jay Hill) out of the debates.
Source: Leaders’ Debates Commission
Skepticism about polls began after previous elections with pollsters’ reliance on landlines that discounted younger voters’ intentions. The pollsters acknowledge this criticism. As Jean-Marc Léger wrote in his book Cracking the Quebec Code: The 7 Keys to Understanding Quebec, “Political polls make for about 1% of all my revenues, but account (for) 99% of my problems.” After an embarrassing series of inaccurate polls, there is now a healthy competition between pollsters on their last polling record.
There will be lots of polling during the election campaign but again, voters do shift and not all polls are equal. There are now many different polling firms, each using a different methodology; yet some media continue to report them as if they are equal and interchangeable. Some media also aggregate all the polls to produce an average on which they then base seat projections. So, when asked for a forecast, you can project based on current polling. But to confidently forecast is always treacherous. With this caveat, do look at the polling:
- After Labour Day (the first Monday in September) for a sense of where the electorate is. This is a good baseline of initial voter sentiment. Many will have paid limited attention during the summer.
- After the leaders’ debates, as families and friends will have gathered over a mid-September weekend with discussion of the election. This will provide a sense of how opinions are developing as the campaign heads into the final stretch. The most influential voices are families and trusted friends and this set of polls will provide a sense of how voters are assessing the now-lively campaign.
The final week is like the finale of a horse race as each party jockeys for advantage. Politesse goes out the window. There are calls for strategic voting. Backloaded advertising floods voters with negative messaging and the leaders’ rhetoric becomes harsh, pointed and desperate. During the final weekend, the undecideds, sometimes more than we think, make two decisions: whether they will vote and, if so, for whom, although many go to the ballot box still thinking about their decision. Parties with money pour on the advertising and their vote-getting operation goes into full swing. The issues become secondary to the focus on the leaders.
It is important to recognize that national polls, while interesting and may indicate a trend, do not usually accurately reflect what is happening regionally. Canada is a country of regions: B.C.; the Prairie Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba; Ontario; Quebec; the Atlantic Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador; and the North, consisting of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
There are national issues, but there are also important local and regional issues. Arguably, given Canada’s regional diversity, the national election is in fact a series of concurrent regional elections with a different set of parties contending in each region. There are also splits between rural and urban/suburban voters on a range of issues. Regions have their own breakdowns: the Toronto suburbs – also known as the 905 after their area code; Quebec-outside-Montreal (meaning Quebec usually divides between Montreal and the rest); and B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
Getting out the vote is critical. Conservatives are generally acknowledged to be best at it. The Conservatives are generally seen to have the most reliable voters and their ground game is good. The NDP is reliable but its ground game is always a question. The Liberals usually benefit from a big turnout but this requires an energetic campaign that convinces their voters to turn out. However, a question will be how many Canadians decide, because of the pandemic, to exercise their right to use provisions for advance or mail-in voting. Mail-in votes are only counted after the election to ensure there is no double voting, which could significantly delay results. With COVID-19, there has been a much greater emphasis on and promotion of mail-in ballots with some suggesting that up to five million of the approximately 18 million votes cast could be by mail. That means results may not be available on election night and it could take several days for all votes to be counted, which could delay determining whether one party has a majority.
With 338 seats in today’s House of Commons, a majority requires 170 seats. The leader of the government (i.e., prime minister), prior to the dissolution of Parliament, has the right to try to form a new government and then to affirm that government, at an early date, in a formal sitting of the House of Commons. If they fail to win a confidence motion when they meet the new legislature, they must tender their resignation to the governor general (in the case of the provinces, the lieutenant-governor). The vice-regal representative then decides whether to call another election or determine if any other party or group of parties can sustain the confidence of the House. That can be, but does not have to be, the party with the most seats. Equally, if the governing party entering the election falls into second place and can strike a deal with a smaller party, it can stay in power even if another party has more seats. Much of this procedure is based on Westminster constitutional conventions and past Canadian precedents and practices.
When no party has a majority of seats, the options are a minority government or a coalition government.
In the event of a minority, the vice-regal representative will usually ask the party with the most seats to meet the House and present its speech from the throne outlining its plans and policy priorities. Usually, a new government will come to an understanding with another party – including promises to introduce legislation on which the other party campaigned. The vote on the speech from the throne is considered a vote of confidence. If it passes, the new government will then present a budget. Past minority governments have usually lasted 18 to 24 months based on a vote-to-vote basis, as was the case in the Canadian parliaments from 1972-74, 2005-11 and since 2019.
A coalition government occurs when parties join forces to hold the larger share of seats. This can include agreements where the cabinet includes members from both, or all, parties depending on how many team up. Unlike in Europe, coalitions are rare in Canada – the last formal coalition was formed in 1864, before Confederation. Some Liberals backed the Conservative Robert Borden government in 1917, during the First World War, in an informal coalition.
Once elected, the first job of the prime minister (or provincial premier) is to form a cabinet. Unlike the U.S. where cabinet ministers are not members of the legislature (and must resign if they join the administration), forming a cabinet is a federal Canadian balancing act of geography, gender (Trudeau takes great pride that women comprise half of his cabinet), language, ethnicity and ideology. However, compared to elsewhere, the principal parties are not terribly riven by ideological splits.
Cabinet ministers are relatively independent as long as they follow their mandate letters and do not cross the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO and the Privy Council Office (PCO) – the control system for the public service and government – have most of the power, a trend in other liberal democracies as well, and a source of increasing concern for those who worry about the concentration of power in the executive. Lobbyists in Canada know that it is the bureaucrats, especially the senior mandarins, who make the recommendations upon which most ministers will act. In comparison to the U.S. system where power resides in Congress, power in Canada is concentrated among the senior bureaucrats and cabinet ministers.
Source: House of Commons
Private members or backbenchers are MPs who do not hold office as a cabinet minister, parliamentary secretary or chair of a committee. Backbenchers almost always vote for their respective party positions to avoid sanctions ranging from removal from committees to removal from caucus.
Some argue that toeing the line encourages cohesive party messaging and adherence to party policies. Others disagree. In his book, Whipped: Party Discipline in Canada, scholar Alex Marland examines the hidden ways by which political parties exert control over elected members of Canadian legislatures. In recent years, there have been efforts to give more power to Parliament and to private members through, for example, the creation of the Parliamentary Budget Office to give independent assessments of financial issues, including spending.
Our unelected Senate is evolving. Shortly after he was elected leader, Trudeau kicked the Liberal Senators out of caucus and, as prime minister, stuck to his promise to make appointments based on the stature of the individuals recommended by an independent commission rather than the prime minister’s personal choice. Prior to the 2015 election, then-prime minister Stephen Harper refused to make any new Senate appointments and was considering its abolition. As prime minister, Trudeau has now appointed most of the current 105-member Senate. Senators have divided themselves into various groups: Independent Senators Group, Conservative Party, Canadian Senators Group, Progressive Senate Group and Non-affiliated.
The Trudeau-appointed senators mostly support the Trudeau government. Critics suggest that the people appointed to the Senate tend to look like members of the Order of Canada – virtuous high-achievers – who just conveniently seem to think along the same lines as Liberals.
Is the Trudeau experiment working? The jury is still out. When he resigned in 2019, André Pratte, the former editor-in-chief of La Presse, and one of the first Trudeau appointees, said it was because the Senate was too “partisan”. The unelected “virtuous” new senators do not always appreciate that, while they are the chamber of “sober second thought”, their second thoughts are often neither welcomed nor acted upon by the elected House of Commons. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said the Senate needs to change to become more accountable but what that means is unclear.
On Polling: Pollsters of note include Abacus’s David Coletto (who is also a CGAI Advisory Council member), Frank Graves (a CGAI Fellow) of EKOS, Darrell Bricker of IPSOS, Greg Lyle of Innovative Research Group, as well as Mainstreet and Angus Reid and, for Quebec, Leger. Check out Philippe Fournier’s 338Canada and on CBC, Eric Grenier’s Poll Tracker, as well as the weekly running tracking poll from Nik Nanos.
For insights into Trudeau, read National Post columnist John Ivison’s Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister as well as Promise and Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power by the CBC’s Aaron Wherry. For autobiographical tomes: Trudeau’s Common Ground, and Jagmeet Singh’s Love and Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience, and Overcoming the Unexpected.
Nik Nanos looks at populism in his The Age of Voter Rage: Trump, Trudeau, Farage, Corbyn & Macron – The Tyranny of Small Numbers. Bricker and John Ibbitson wrote in The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future that Canadian politics, once dominated by the liberal Laurentian elite, is shifting to a conservative Western base. Their analysis is good, although their conclusion is unconvincing. Their book, Empty Planet, argues that Canada will rise as global population declines. For comic relief, Terry Fallis has written a clever novel, The Best Laid Plans, on a Canadian election, that is informative and funny.
For a critical look at Trudeau’s foreign policy by a Liberal insider, read Jocelyn Coulon’s Canada is Not Back: How Justin Trudeau is in Over His Head on Foreign Policy. For a counterpart, see Doug Saunders’ very good essay in the Globe and Mail on Trudeau’s foreign policy: Justin Trudeau vs. the World. For a view of global issues, read Stephen Harper’s Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption.
Maureen Boyd is a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and chair of the Parliamentary Centre, a non-profit organization that has worked for the past half-century in more than 70 countries supporting legislatures to better serve their citizens. She is a fellow of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and the founding director of Carleton University’s Initiative for Parliamentary and Diplomatic Engagement which provides outreach and policy orientation to parliamentarians and diplomats, including orientation for newly elected members of Parliament and annually for newly arrived diplomats to Canada.
Colin Robertson is vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and hosts its regular Global Exchange podcast. He is an executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and a distinguished senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. A member of the Department of National Defence’s Defence Advisory Board, Robertson is an honorary captain (Royal Canadian Navy) assigned to the Strategic Communications Directorate. Robertson sits on the advisory councils of the Alphen Group, Johnson-Shoyama School of Public Policy, North American Research Partnership and the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa. During his foreign service career, he served as first head of the Advocacy Secretariat and minister at the Canadian embassy in Washington, consul general in Los Angeles, consul in Hong Kong and in New York at the UN and Consulate General. A member of the teams that negotiated the Canada-U.S. FTA and then NAFTA, he is a member of the Deputy Minister of International Trade’s Trade Advisory Council and the North American Forum. He writes on foreign affairs for the Globe and Mail and Policy Magazine and he is a frequent contributor to other media. The Hill Times has named him as one of those who influence Canadian foreign policy.
The Canadian Global Affairs Institute focuses on the entire range of Canada’s international relations in all its forms including (in partnership with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy), trade investment and international capacity building. Successor to the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI, which was established in 2001), the Institute works to inform Canadians about the importance of having a respected and influential voice in those parts of the globe where Canada has significant interests due to trade and investment, origins of Canada’s population, geographic security (and especially security of North America in conjunction with the United States), social development, or the peace and freedom of allied nations. The Institute aims to demonstrate to Canadians the importance of comprehensive foreign, defence and trade policies which both express our values and represent our interests.
The Institute was created to bridge the gap between what Canadians need to know about Canadian international activities and what they do know. Historically Canadians have tended to look abroad out of a search for markets because Canada depends heavily on foreign trade. In the modern post-Cold War world, however, global security and stability have become the bedrocks of global commerce and the free movement of people, goods and ideas across international boundaries. Canada has striven to open the world since the 1930s and was a driving factor behind the adoption of the main structures which underpin globalization such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and emerging free trade networks connecting dozens of international economies. The Canadian Global Affairs Institute recognizes Canada’s contribution to a globalized world and aims to inform Canadians about Canada’s role in that process and the connection between globalization and security.
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