Canada in the World

Shortly after the Liberals won the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau claimed that “Canada is back”. This cringe-worthy claim was his attempt to paint the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper as some sort of outlier from past Canadian governments. Not only does this statement personify Liberal arrogance, but it is disconnected from the historic reality of Canadian foreign policy. Ahead of the election it is appropriate to look at our past and check in on the status of this Trudeau claim.

From Vimy Ridge to Kandahar and from CIDA to CETA, Canada has been an active and reliable global ally on trade, security, foreign aid and multilateral diplomatic efforts from our earliest days. With our closest friends like the Five Eyes group of nations, diplomacy is quite straightforward because our national interests and values align almost perfectly. With many other countries, however, there may be a lack of alignment on values like human rights, religious freedom and the rule of law despite shared interests in other areas. This is where effective foreign policy is critical and why previous governments of both stripes have tried their best to get the balance between our interests and values right. In fact, only Justin Trudeau has disrupted this balance by putting his own global brand and his domestic political fortunes ahead of the national interest.

Let’s begin our global review next door with our most important relationship. Following the election of President Trump, everyone knew that negotiations related to NAFTA would be a challenge. With that in mind, why would Prime Minister Trudeau think that it was helpful to place his so-called “progressive agenda” in front of a President not exactly known for his progressivity? Rather than using areas of mutual interest like the auto or agriculture sectors to build consensus, as suggested by the Conservatives, Trudeau promoted elements of his election platform like climate change and indigenous reconciliation even though these issues would not be part of a trade agreement. While Canada played politics, Mexico took a strategic approach. The Mexicans quietly and effectively negotiated a deal behind the scenes with no political posturing like Trudeau. Mexico got a deal done and Canada was forced to join the deal Mexico negotiated. Trudeau had placed his own political interests ahead of our country’s most important economic relationship.

Read: “John Ivison: U.S. cites Trudeau’s progressive trade agenda as barrier to progress on NAFTA”

Read: “Tories offer Liberals a NAFTA olive branch — with strings attached”

Read: “Tory argument that progressive NAFTA chapters should take a backseat to jobs ‘crazy’: McKenna”

Read: “Erin O’Toole: Negotiations with Trump need a total rethink. Here’s how to get a deal”

This approach continued with one of our most important emerging relationships. Trudeau made securing a free trade agreement with China the centerpiece of his foreign policy and he appointed one of his senior Ministers to be our Ambassador. His 2017 state visit to China was promoted as a kick-off to free trade discussions, but instead, Trudeau returned with nothing but a frayed relationship. Instead of building trust by focusing on trade as he had publicly stated, Trudeau continued the approach he had started with the US and contrasted his views with the Chinese leadership. His visit was widely seen by observers in China to be condescending to the hosts and out of line with the expectations that had been set in advance of the trip.

Read: “On Trudeau’s rocky China trip, Communist newspaper lashes out at Canadian media”

Two years later, when the extradition arrest of a senior Chinese business leader in Canada exploded on the global stage, there was already a trust deficit between the countries. The Trudeau government’s response to the extradition was flat footed and confusing. No senior call was made to provide assurances to China following the arrest and then Trudeau’s hand-picked Ambassador made a series of contradictory public statements on the crisis that led to his resignation. In the months since we have seen the detention of two Canadians citizens, death penalty sentences to Canadians in their justice system and refusal by the Chinese to trade fairly in canola, pork and possibly other commodities that will cost our economy billions. We have had no Ambassador on the ground for three months. We have sent no high-level envoy or Ministerial visit. And the Prime Minister has refused to take a personal role at driving towards resolution and has rebuked calls for trade or retaliatory action. The Liberals appear weak and without a plan.

Interestingly, the last time there was a trade disruption with canola, Canada was able to sell more canola into crushing mills and markets in the Middle East, but that is not an option this time. An unnecessary Twitter dispute with Saudi Arabia has caused relations to sour in that part of the world and we cannot leverage these channels at a critical time. The surprising and unnecessary Twitter spat led to job losses at universities and teaching hospitals in Canada alongside hundreds of millions in losses in trade and investment. All this because of a mis-translated tweet in Arabic sent from our embassy at the request of the Trudeau government. Interestingly, the Canadian company that ended up losing the most as a result of this tweet was SNC Lavalin, so perhaps that unintended outcome led to more pressure within the PMO to push Jody Wilson-Raybould to give SNC the deferred prosecution agreement.

I don’t have the space to recount all the foreign policy missteps of the Trudeau government, but suffice to say the list is long. It includes some of our closest allies like Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Japan, who through a series of gaffe statements, poor decisions and Trudeau’s ‘no-show’ at a leader’s meeting in Asia, have chilled to Canada in recent years. The diplomatic chill also extends to many important emerging relationships like that with the Philippines, which cancelled an aircraft order from Canada to show their displeasure. And, of course, the entire world knows about the poor relations between Canada and India following the Prime Minister’s infamous trip to that country where he put his domestic political interests ahead of the national interest. Trudeau’s state visit to India led to a serious diplomatic riff, higher tariffs on Canadian farmers and endless material for late night talk show hosts.

Read: “‘Screwed’ by Justin Trudeau, leaders fume over scuppered Trans-Pacific Partnership deal”

Read: “Trudeau skips meeting Belgian royalty, business delegation”

Read: “Canadians cannot be overly impatient with integration of immigrants, Justin Trudeau says”

Read: “In wake of Trudeau’s summit no-show, Japan raises possibility of a Trans-Pacific Partnership without Canada”

Read: “PM Trudeau doesn’t understand Philippines, Duterte says”

Read: “Justin Trudeau’s India tour branded a ‘slow-moving train wreck’ as family is mocked for ‘Bollywood’ attire”

Winston Churchill once said, “[t]he reason for having diplomatic relations is not to confer a compliment, but to secure a convenience”. A leading nation like Canada should craft its foreign policy to secure conveniences for our people and strategic interests and not with a view to enhance the profile or electoral prospects of a leader. Our foreign policy must focus on trade, security and development, while also advancing our support for human rights, our commitment to democracy and the rule of law. Executing this policy involves our professional diplomatic service and key political leaders who work together to build strong personal relationships and mutual opportunities to build trust and influence. A flippant comment, an immature tweet or an airport photo-op might feel good for the politician in the moment, but it may actually set back the delicate art of diplomacy. The diplomatic failures of the Trudeau government are eroding alliances, eliminating options and are slowly isolating Canada. As a former Liberal foreign minister recently said, Canada has never been so “alone in the world” and I am sure our exporters and especially our citizens in Chinese prisons agree.

Watch: “Why Trudeau is Failing on Foreign Policy”