Best & Worst Foreign Policy Moves
While 2006 was a learning period in which foreign affairs wasn't a government priority, 2007 has seen the Conservatives try to leave their mark on how Canada interacts with the world. Below are what we think are the best and worst of those efforts.
1. Calling China's Bluff
This government has never shied away from criticizing China's human rights record–impressive given the Asian nation's growing clout.
Still, over the past year the government had toned down its message, as evidenced by comments from Chinese Ambassador to Canada Lu Shumin who said repeatedly that relations had improved since 2006. But then news broke that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was going to follow the lead of other world leaders by publicly meeting Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Mr. Lu warned such a tête-à-tête would affect bilateral relations, and members of the Canadian business community with links to China were visibly concerned. Unmoved, Mr. Harper met the Dalai Lama on Parliament Hill on Oct. 29, and the monk, an honourary Canadian citizen, was received by the government with open arms and much publicity.
In response, the Chinese government called Canada's Ambassador to China Robert Wright onto the carpet to express its dissatisfaction, while the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa held a press conference and released a strongly worded statement.
But business seems to continue as usual. Canadian firms continue to land contracts in China, trade and investment numbers are reaching new heights, and there haven't been any reports of real impacts.
While the government's apparently selective manner in sticking to its so-called principled approach to foreign policy, seen by its interest in inking deals with Colombia, Mongolia and Vietnam without criticizing those states, is suspect. But the government's decision to call China's apparent bluff and take a stand by hosting the Dalai Lama, a move many Canadians and the Opposition supported, is admirable.
2. The Americas Strategy
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Latin America and the Caribbean in July, he'd already served notice that his government was looking to do more in what he called its own "backyard."
During the G8 leaders' summit in Germany in June, he told reporters that "a focus of our new government is the Americas, where we also have countries that have developmental challenges."
"Africa is obviously going to remain an important target for us," he added on June 7. Many critics raged at the idea that Canada was turning away from Africa, the world's poorest continent.
Yet there is some logic in Canada being in the Americas. There's a great deal of potential for Canadian businesses, potential the U.S. is largely unable to take advantage of because of the baggage it brings to the region. Also, many countries have problems that Canadian assistance can help address.
The government has been criticized recently for the strategy's lack of substance, and there are indications it is still in development. By all accounts, the only part of the strategy that's been clearly defined is a desire to ink free trade deals with countries like Peru, Colombia (highly controversial) and members of the Caribbean Community. Yet Canada continues to work in Haiti and new development projects have been launched in different nations in democratic development, good governance and labour rights.
There are fears that a desire to protect Canadian mining, oil and gas businesses in the face of increasing nationalization and socialist tendencies is driving this engagement. There are also concerns that Canada's engagement with the Americas will come at Africa's expense.
In principle, the government's desire to re-engage other countries in the hemisphere is a positive move in Canadian foreign policy. Canada has, for too long, ignored a part of the world where it could play a constructive role and benefit economically and politically. The government has also said Africa will not lose with this shift.
How the Americas strategy plays out and what the underlying reason for the focus is will determine whether this policy is truly a winner, but at this point it looks like a good idea that needs more work.
3. Agriculture Fight at WTO
Canada and Brazil have teamed up to fight the United States over its agricultural subsidies program at the World Trade Organization in a battle that could have major affects on global trade.
The two countries allege that the U.S. exceeded its allowable $19.1 billion in annual subsidies for all agricultural products in 1999-2002 and 2004-2005. The original challenge was launched by Canada in January 2007, while Brazil followed suit with its own in July.
The WTO agreed in December to merge the two cases and hear them together before rendering a ruling. The U.S. Trade Representative Office has defended its payouts, saying they fall within the limits. It has also said the challenge is a distraction from completing the Doha round of WTO talks.
However, even in the face of the Canada and Brazil challenges, as well as intense criticism over its refusal to rein in agricultural subsidies to advance the Doha talks, Congress has proposed an expansion of the U.S. farm bill. That's why the joint Canada-Brazil challenge is very important. If the U.S. loses, it would send a signal to the Americans that they must make moves to cut down on the subsidies, which could pave the way to significant movement on the Doha talks, or risk more challenges in the future.
Canada and its agricultural industry stands to gain a great deal if the challenge is successful, but so does the world if the U.S. is forced to give in on its subsidies. It won't be easy, but this was a good fight to pick.
4. Push Back on the Border
Border-crossing rules continue to tighten as security trumps all in this post-9/11 world, even as the highly integrated North American economies face tough competition from abroad.
International Trade Minister David Emerson lamented this in a speech in Miami on Dec. 3, where he said new border measures like inspection fees and regulatory requirements "will set all of North America back."
The Conservative government has been extremely vocal on the need to ensure the border remains open, trying to sell U.S. decision-makers on the fact that they will suffer if things continue moving the way they are.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed the message during a presentation to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Sept. 2, saying: "What we want to make sure is we don't go backwards in any way."
Canadian victories on the issue have been few and far between to date, though Congress has put off full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative until June 2009 at the earliest.
It's unclear how much the message about the importance of keeping the border open is influencing things to the south. However, the government's willingness to address the issue at the highest levels can only help, and the way it is delivering the message, by highlighting the danger to American prosperity, is the right way to go.
5. Arctic Sovereignty
Canada and the U.S. also agree to disagree over the Arctic.
Standing next to U.S. President George W. Bush during a press conference on Aug. 21, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated Canada's claims of ownership over the Northwest Passage.
"Canada's position is we intend to strengthen our sovereignty in the Arctic area, not only militarily, [but] socially, environmentally and others," Mr. Harper said in French.
The government has followed through by promising new Arctic patrol vessels, the building of a deep-sea port and a winter training school, expansion of the Arctic Rangers, and more funding for social programs for the North.
Critics say these promises aren't nearly enough–icebreakers are still desperately needed–and whether they will have any impact on American attitudes towards the Northwest Passage, many of which are security related, is doubtful.
However, the fact that a Canadian government is showing interest in the Arctic is long overdue. One just needs to make sure the government has a long-term, comprehensive plan and isn't making it up as it goes along.
Of course, Arctic sovereignty mustn't be confused with the ongoing question over who owns what in the far North, where the Arctic seabed and its treasure trove of natural resources are up for grabs. The government needs to step up mapping and research efforts if it wants to press Canada's case at the UN.
1. Behaviour at Bali
No decision last year set Canada up for international isolation more than the government's handling of the climate change file.
Throughout 2007, the government positioned Canada closer to the U.S. and Australia, both Kyoto Protocol rejecters, by joining the Asia-Pacific Partnership and the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. It insisted that any efforts to combat climate change not come at the economy's expense, and that developing nations, especially China and India, face the same obligations as developed nations.
The government announced in the throne speech on Oct. 16 that "Canada's emissions cannot be brought to the level required under the Kyoto Protocol within the compliance period."
A month later at the Commonwealth leaders' summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to support a proposed resolution that would have seen the 53-state group call on developed nations to meet binding commitments for greenhouse gas reductions at that month's UN climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia without similar requirements for China and India.
The stage was set for the Bali conference. With their new Labour prime minister, Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol and switched over to the majority. As a result, Canada was left alongside a select few states, including the U.S., as detractors to efforts to hammer out a global framework on addressing climate change.
At the conference, Canada was described as obstructionist and left almost completely isolated. Even when U.S. negotiators caved and agreed to a watered-down deal, the Harper government was caught flat-footed and had to change tact quickly.
Where Canada was once considered a major player on climate change, it is now considered a pariah. The Conservative government says it is standing up for Canada, and some could credit it with being honest in addressing the issue by not paying lip service to resolutions and commitments it has no intention of keeping. But its actions have left Canada isolated and its global reputation hurt in ways that extend beyond climate change. The world now sees a different Canada, and one that many Canadians are not proud to call their own.
2. Two UN Treaty Turns
When Canada criticizes other nations' human rights' records, it is generally able to do so from a high moral ground. But our reputation took a blow in 2007, and countries like Iran took advantage by attacking Canada's credibility.
In September, Canada joined Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. in voting against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In explaining Canada's position to the General Assembly, Ambassador John McNee said the government had "significant concerns" about the document's language and said the negotiation process had not been inclusive or transparent.
Mr. McNee said that land, territory and resource provisions "are overly broad, unclear and capable of a wide variety of interpretations" and could put into question matters that have been settled by treaty, among other concerns.
The decision not to support the declaration was a 180-degree turn for Canada, which had lent its support and energy to the document's development for years. Other states noted the declaration did not create new rules or rights for native peoples, and that it was non-binding, which meant there was no reason not to support it.
Then came word that the government would no longer seek clemency for all Canadians facing the death penalty abroad. Weeks later, when Canada refused to join 74 other nations in co-sponsoring a European Union-led UN initiative calling for a global moratorium on capital punishment, eyebrows were raised at the world body, where Canada's strong opposition to the death penalty had long been a foregone conclusion.
While officials said Canada would continue to vote in favour of a moratorium, outside observers as well as Canadians criticized the two changes.
The government never fully explained why it refused to co-sponsor the resolution. Critics felt it was trying to throw its political base a bone by doing something it couldn't do at home. Either way, it did little to help our reputation abroad. Combined with Canada's shift towards unquestioned support for Israel, the world now knows it is dealing with a different Canada at the UN than it is used to.
3. Foreign Aid Hypocrisy
The prime minister didn't look very good as he emerged from last summer's G8 leaders' summit in Germany.
There were accusations from anti-poverty activists that Canada was among the nations blocking increased funding for Africa, even as the government revealed it was turning its attention to the Americas.
Stephen Harper also shocked many when he said that the government was going to increase funding to Africa to $2.1 billion by 2008-09–not the $2.8 billion that had been pledged by the Liberals in the 2005 budget.
Five months later, Mr. Harper admitted during a stop in Tanzania that Canada has a long way to go to meet his election promise to increase foreign aid levels to 0.5 per cent of GNP.
The comments came as Mr. Harper was unveiling a new health care project in Tanzania. Ironically, funding for that project had already been announced during the 2006 G8 leaders' summit, where Canada committed $450 million in new money for Africa.
In fact, rather than increasing the ratio of Official Development Assistance to GNP, the government has pushed for greater effectiveness and accountability while the numbers have dropped from 0.33 at the end of 2005 to around 0.3 this year. CTV acquired a Finance Department document in November that predicted ODA levels would sit at 0.29 by 2010.
Mr. Harper blamed Canada's falling aid to GNP ratio on faster economic growth than expected.
As noted, Canada's renewed focus on the Americas is a good move, but Africa is still in dire need of attention. And with Canadian aid levels shrinking as a percentage of GDP, even as it chalks up record surpluses, there's no reason we can't do more in both the Americas and Africa at the same time.
4. No Balance in Afghanistan
Afghanistan remains a political football with the Manley panel releasing its recommendations yesterday. While it's still early, it's likely the only thing the government did by creating the panel was buy a brief respite in the debate in Parliament and ensure the voting process is more hurried. That the Conservatives revealed they wanted to extend the mission to 2011 only days after the panel was established was telling.
Meanwhile, the government remains unable to sell the Afghan mission, and its approach continues to receive much criticism, especially on its inability to balance the mission's military and non-military aspects.
While the government says progress is being made in Afghanistan, reports indicate a major disconnect.Visiting MPs can't venture beyond the wire because it's too dangerous. CIDA is increasingly relying on local groups to deliver programs and projects for this reason, and can't even get out to monitor them.
Meanwhile, no one really knows what is happening on the ground besides on the military side, and even that may be cut off. The result has been repeated good news stories being thrown around by the government that are immediately undercut by reports from the field.
Balance–or a lack thereof–has become the buzzword when it comes to Canada's mission in Afghanistan. The government did well in getting a new special envoy to raise Afghanistan's profile and serve as senior co-ordinator.
But while the military mission's price tag has reached $3.1 billion, including an additional $340 million requested in the supplementary budget in November, no new funding has been set aside for development. In addition, Canadian diplomatic efforts have been largely invisible.
All in all, a major rethink is needed here.
5. The Stance on Torture
For the past five years, Canadian Omar Khadr has languished at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Captured after he allegedly killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002, he was sent to the camp to face murder and terrorism charges. While he was far from the only Westerner captured while fighting with the Taliban or al-Qaeda, the fact that Mr. Khadr was 15 years old–technically a child soldier–when he committed his alleged crimes, combined with the way he has been treated by the U.S., and Canada's subsequent silence, is worrisome.
Opposition MPs had been reluctant to lobby for Mr. Khadr's repatriation so he can face trial in Canada, because of his family's strong involvement with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. However, 22 MPs and 55 law professors called on the government last week to intercede on Mr. Khadr's behalf. That call came the same week it was revealed a training manual for Canadian diplomats listed the U.S. and Israel among states believed to use torture. Guantanamo Bay is listed as one place where torture is believed to be used.
This past year also saw the government establish a no-fly list and reintroduce provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act that had been thrown out by opposition parties and an amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Act as a way around a Supreme Court ruling that had questioned the constitutionality of security certificates. In both cases, critics said the changes were minimal and did not address original concerns of individual rights being suppressed by terrorism legislation.
The government's silence in the Khadr case, as well as its insistence upon introducing and maintaining controversial tools to combat terrorism without addressing individual rights is worrisome.