BLOGGING FOREIGN POLICY
I am in Scotland this week, where I will be attending a conference to discuss the possible implications of next year’s referendum. I have no expertise on Scotland, but much of my research (before my current NATO project) has focused on separatism. One key question is whether events in one place matter that much for events elsewhere—is secession contagious? More …
I have long argued that separatism is about as contagious as cancer rather than the common cold – groups and countries exposed to the same external forces will behave differently. For example, ethnic conflict and separatism did not spread from one Eastern European country to another and throughout the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Instead the de-legitimization of Communism and the onset of political competition did seem to move from country to country. These forces then combined to cause multiple countries to break apart at the same time.
What the outcome of Scotland’s referendum will mean for Canada is the point of interest for the CIC audience. At the conference in Scotland, I am going to argue that the outcome will be largely irrelevant outside of the UK. Because of the power of confirmation bias, I do not think that whatever happens over there is going to matter across the Atlantic.
Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to pay attention to that which confirms your predilections and ignore that which does not. So, if one wants to secede, one will learn from an event only those lessons that encourage pursuit of that goal. And if one wants the country to remain intact, then one will draw only those lessons that reinforce beliefs about the superiority of federalism.
We have seen this play out many times, including when Kosovo declared its independence and when Montenegro had its referendum. Quebec secessionists pointed to Kosovo’s success and said, ‘hey, they got to unilaterally declare independence, so that kind of stuff is ok now.’ Of course, this ignores a variety of stubborn and inconvenient truths, including the reality that until NATO created de facto, if not de jure, separation in 1999, Kosovo faced an oppressive regime. That the international community, or at least a significant part of it, was prepared to support Kosovo reflects the fact that Kosovo, unlike Quebec, had no recourse through their federal political system.
The more direct example of conflicting lessons is Montenegro, which also seceded from Serbia. The European Union mediated the divorce, requiring a referendum for Montenegro to become independent. The Quebec secessionists pointed to this event and said ‘look, they can do it, why can’t we?’ They entirely overlooked the requirement of fifty-five percent of those voting had to be in favour that the EU had set. Canadian federalists, on the other hand, really liked the idea of someone other than the separatists setting the rules—the EU in this case, Canada in the Quebec case—and especially liked the fifty-five percent requirement.
Next year, when Scotland holds its referendum, there will be enough conflicting claims as to its significance that Quebec separatists and Canadian federalists will both be able to draw their preferred lessons. If the Scottish separatists win, then the Quebec separatists can point to a very similar case—British-style institutions, no oppression of any significance, and say that the situation is so similar that Quebec should become independent, too. The Canadian federalists would point to the negotiations that went on between the Scots and the British government over the language of the question, so that the lesson to draw is that Quebec should work with Canada to create a clear question. If the Scottish separatists lose the referendum, the Quebec separatists will say that the example really is not that similar since there is not a deep language divide and so on. And the Canadian federalists would say, ‘see, democracies do not need to break apart’.
The confirmation bias of which I speak is not just a psychological process but also a political one. The parties in Quebec that focus on independence must do so or else lose much of their raison d’etre. The Parti Quebecois, if it looked upon a failed Scottish referendum and realized that its own dreams of independence were not going to be realized, would have to figure out another way to justify its existence (and being the party of xenophobic anti-immigrant sentiment won’t be enough – too many others are also moving in that direction). Without the nationalist discourse centered around independence, Quebec parties would have to focus on good governance, and good luck with that.
Of course, this entire post may be a product of my personal confirmation bias, as I developed a set of beliefs about twenty years ago about how separatism works in the world. Maybe I tend to squeeze into those beliefs the events of the day in ways that confirm my basic views about the virulence of separatism. I have always believed that nearly all politics is local, including foreign policy.*
To be sure, the last referendum here was close enough that encouraging lessons from elsewhere might swing a few voters and that might be enough. However, those votes are likely to be offset by a few soft nationalists swinging the other way – those who voted yes last time but have learned lessons from elsewhere that would discourage them from doing so again.
That is really the problem – there are so many lessons to draw from the dynamics beyond Quebec and beyond Canada, that we can pick and choose whichever lessons we want to learn.
* Which is why I understand why a cash-strapped Quebec would be thinking of launching the Quebec International Solidarity Agency now, yet another nationalist project aimed mostly at the domestic audience despite pretensions of helping out the world.
In July 2011, shortly after Canadian voters handed the Conservatives a majority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper observed that “since becoming prime minister…the thing that’s probably struck me the most in terms of my previous expectations—I don’t even know what my expectations were—is not just how important foreign affairs/foreign relations is, but in fact that it’s become almost everything.” More …
Given this interesting admission, you might expect foreign policy to feature prominently in the government’s agenda. But you would be wrong. While Mr. Harper may acknowledge the importance of foreign policy, the recent Speech from the Throne suggests that he is still not treating it as important.
Yes, the Throne Speech. It seems more like months—and not just two weeks—since parliamentarians returned to Ottawa. Mr. Harper, himself, helped to turn attention away from the speech by showing up the next day in Brussels to announce the Canada-EU Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement. The CETA story, however, lasted only a day or so. It was soon overshadowed by the Senate expense scandal that has dominated the news ever since.
Nevertheless, the Throne Speech offers the best glimpse of the government’s policy intentions for the new session of Parliament. It provides a framework for ministers and their officials to follow in the months to come. Ministers typically press for their own priorities to be included in the address, and departmental officials use specific language in the Throne Speech to portray their respective proposals as central to the government’s agenda (and, thus, deserving of priority treatment by other departments and central agencies).
If you think about the speech in those terms—as a broad agenda, a reflection of which ministers succeeded in pushing their priority items into the speech, and a means by which departments can subsequently associate their own issues with specific language in the speech—one thing that stands out is the near-absence of foreign policy in the text. It included almost nothing for the foreign minister or his department to use as a hook for policy.
True, the speech highlighted international trade, including the CETA. However, with the exception of a promise to launch a new plan “to assist Canadian businesses as they expand abroad,” this portion of the speech essentially reported on Canada’s ongoing trade negotiations and offered little that was new.
The main foreign affairs portion of the speech, near the end of the address, was very thin gruel. It began with a paragraph on the moral rectitude and steadfastness of Canada as an international actor:
Canada stands for what is right and good in the world. This is the true character of Canadians—honourable in our dealings, faithful to our commitments, loyal to our friends. Confident partners, courageous warriors and compassionate neighbours.
Fanfare complete, the speech then turned to the first specific foreign policy item.
Quiz yourself: which issue warranted top billing? Was it the need to improve Canada’s relations with the U.S. (a perennial priority for Ottawa)? Was it a pledge to work with other countries to strengthen the global system of rules and institutions during a period of rapid change and turbulence? Or was it a promise to address the issue that Canadians (and the citizens of many other countries) regard as the single greatest threat: global climate change?
No, it was none of these things. It was this:
Our Government defends Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, the lone outpost of freedom and democracy in a dangerous region. And our Government stands opposed to those regimes that threaten their neighbours, slaughter their citizens, and imperil freedom. These regimes must ultimately be judged not by their words, but by their actions.
There was nothing new in this statement; it recapitulated language that the government has used many times before. While I agree that Canada must remain a strong supporter of Israel, what message did it send about Canada’s foreign policy priorities to list this as the first issue? At best, the message was this: We have no new ideas on foreign policy.
The next paragraph reiterated Canada’s support for “freedom”—including freedom of religion, a subject of particular interest to core Conservative supporters:
Canada seeks a world where freedom—including freedom of religion, the rule of law, democracy and human dignity are respected. Our Government will continue to promote these fundamental values around the world, including through the newly established Office of Religious Freedom.
Again, there was nothing new in this paragraph. It simply reminded Canadians that the Harper government has been working to promote certain rights abroad – albeit, with questionable consistency.
Next, the speech offered a pair of points on development assistance:
Our Government will help the world’s neediest by partnering with the private sector to create economic growth in the developing world.
Tax dollars spent on foreign aid must achieve real results. Our Government’s international aid will continue to be focused, effective and accountable.
These statements reflected the government’s ongoing efforts to promote private-public partnerships for development. It has done so, in part, through pilot projects with Canadian extractive companies operating overseas. Once again, there was nothing new in this statement—or, for that matter, in the idea that aid must achieve “real results.”
Finally, we learned that Canada has been promoting the health of women, infants and children in the world’s poorest countries—true and laudable, but yet another statement of what the government is already doing. The only hint of a forward-looking agenda was a pledge to ensure that “early and forced marriage…does not occur on our soil,” which is technically a matter of domestic policy (“on our soil”) but could conceivably also include international efforts.
And with that, the foreign policy portion of the Throne Speech was over. In an address of more than 7,000 words, which took a full hour to deliver, there were just a few short paragraphs on foreign affairs, saying essentially nothing new or substantive. Apart from its ambitious trade agenda, which is finally beginning to pay dividends with the CETA, Canada’s foreign policy has been reduced to an idiosyncratic handful of narrow issues.
There are two possible explanations for the virtual absence of foreign policy from the Throne Speech. On one hand, the foreign minister may have tried, but failed, to convince the prime minister and his staff to include more substantive foreign policy items in the speech. Alternatively, the minister may not have even tried to get such items included.
Either way, the result was the same: a Throne Speech that underscored, once again, how little the Conservative government appears to care about foreign policy. It also suggested that Mr. Harper’s discovery of “how important foreign affairs/foreign relations is” and “that it’s become almost everything” was more of a passing thought than a transformative insight.
The most important question at this time of year is, of course, what costume one will wear for Halloween. Last year, I combined my Mickey Mouse ears (Canadian version) with my Jedi Robe as this most important holiday took place shortly after Disney purchased Lucasfilm and kick-started the making of many Star Wars movies to come.
But enough about me. What should Canada dress up as this year? Something that plays on its role in the world, on recent events, or on some basic Canadian traits. My American friends could only offer up the lamest of clichés – hockey players or Mounties – but I think we can do better than that. More …
The most obvious one in the aftermath of the CETA agreement is for Canada to go trick-or-treating as a cheese maker. The amount of attention that this one dimension of the agreement has received illustrates nicely the frustration with supply management, and that one set of policies really does seem like a trick to most, treat to a few.
Canada could go door to door dressed in a nice suit with a bunch of checks hanging out the pockets to show that the Senate scandal is far more amusing and far less scary than the semi-annual Congressional shutdown in the U.S.
Or Canada could wear a Congress costume with a “closed” sign on the doors to better demonstrate how Canada’s various legislative interruptions are inconsequential for the day-to-day governing, even if they tend to interrupt holding governments to account.
How about dressing up as a Tim Hortons lineup. Because Canadians are such a patient people, they wait in long lines for coffee and doughnuts that are, um, ok.
As it is football season, the scariest thing I see on TV these days are the incredibly tired, overplayed Canadian Tire commercials. So how about Canada goes out as the same commercial we see about five to eight times every half hour? Commercials in Canada are almost entirely tricks with very few treats.
Canada could go out as a puppet – any puppet will do – as the folks in the centre of the government prefer to do all of the speaking for the rest of the government.
Maybe Canada could dress as a phone with Uncle Sam attached to the earpiece?
How about going as a half-built ship, helicopter, or plane? Busted procurement processes are like most Halloween movies – kind of tired but they can still be pretty scary.
A friend suggested that Canada should go out wearing as many religious symbols as possible at the same time – kipa, hijab, turban, kirpan, ostentatious cross, Jedi robe, etc. – singing songs from a dozen religious traditions as well as My Sweet Lord, Hallelujah, Hava Nagilia, Jesus is Just Alright, and the like to celebrate the diversity that defines Canada.
This list may seem kind of negative, but many Halloween costumes are supposed to be scary. Anyone can go as a responsible Mountie, a productive lumberjack, or a dashing hockey player. But the best costumes are either funny, as I think a Tim Horton’s lineup might be, or very scary, like a defence procurement mess.
The important thing is that my neighbourhood is very enthusiastic about Halloween. I once lived in a neighbourhood in West Texas that tried its best to ignore Halloween. Now that was a scary place. This is my 12th Halloween in Canada, and I have had far more treats than tricks. So, embrace the silliness and enjoy the candy, Canada. Trick or treat!
Nobody riles up Canada’s international development community more than Stephen Harper. Many former diplomats, scholars, and NGO workers criticize the direction that Canada’s foreign aid program is turning towards under the Prime Minister’s watch.
Just last week it was announced that a select group of Canadians would help the Harper government in its efforts to fully merge the now defunct Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) into the newly renamed Department of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Development (DFATD). What is stirring debate now is that the CEO of the mining firm Rio Tinto Alcan is one of the members of the external advisory group who will help the government revamp and restructure the new ministry. More …
Many NGOs and development experts are fearful that Canadian aid will be swallowed up by the trade agenda. They worry that Ottawa is only interested in advancing Canadian mining interests across the globe. The demise of CIDA was first mentioned in the 2013 federal budget and was immediately met with criticism – too much attention would be put on foreign policy and commerce, leaving poverty alleviation as an afterthought. That Christian Paradis, the former Minister of Industry, is now in charge of the international development portfolio cemented some people’s worst fears.
Lost in the debate, however, are two important issues. The first is the need for Canada to take a much broader view of international development. The Official Development Assistance Accountability Act makes clear that while poverty reduction is an important goal, Canada’s foreign aid must also promote international human rights standards. In other words, preventing conflict and responding to humanitarian crises and natural disasters is important as well.
The second issue, which is directly tied to the first, is that we need to embrace new technologies as potent tools to be added to our foreign aid program. To do so, however, we cannot exclude the private sector.
The Canadian aid “shake up” is an opportunity to innovate and modernize. The technological revolution that has transformed every aspect of our society in the past few years should not be viewed solely as belonging to the personal domain of individual citizens or for commercial uses. New technologies and social media sharing platforms such as Twitter and Facebook need to be fully integrated into the new department’s operations.
Consider the important lessons that can be taken from Canada’s belated but welcomed embrace of digital diplomacy. As Ottawa plays catch up with our key allies, most notably the U.K. and the U.S., evidence suggests social media is a powerful tool that governments can use across a broad spectrum of activities. Earlier this year Foreign Minister John Baird, in collaboration with University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, initiated a dialogue on the future of Iran. The event was Ottawa’s first public foray using social media and new technologies to communicate with ordinary Iranians directly, bypassing Iranian authorities. This was not a one off exercise – an interactive website is up and running, ensuring sustainability in cyberspace.
While Canada is moving in the right direction on the digital diplomacy front, our international development agenda needs to kick into high gear on the technological front.
The Obama administration has also made several steps in this direction. The U.S. International Development Agency (USAID) has made science, technology, and innovation a key programming area and administers 12 different initiatives. Washington understands that investing in new technologies and facilitating innovative public-private partnerships to generate groundbreaking new solutions is essential to overcoming global development problems. Not only is USAID using technology to alleviate poverty and target development needs, but they are also attempting to do the same for the protection of human rights and the prevention of mass atrocity crimes.
Even the United Nations, an organization that is not exactly known for embracing change and technology, recognizes the need to modernize its practices. The UN Secretary General established The Global Pulse initiative to help move the UN into the 21st century and the digital sphere.
The same cannot be said about Canada’s foreign aid program. DFATD’s website does not appear to have any specific international development programs like those developed by USAID and the UN. This is unfortunate and must be addressed as part of the CIDA-DFATD merger.
Technological advancements like social media, mobile tech, commercial satellite technology, and crisis mapping, to name just a few, can be used to reduce poverty and protect human rights. By taking a lead and ensuring they are incorporated into DFATD’s new structure and programs, Canada can open up a space that will allow a whole new generation of international development practitioners and organizations to emerge and strengthen our aid program.
The huge victory that is the trade agreement with Europe, CETA, is likely to be entirely eclipsed in Canada by the Senate scandal. Still, the reality is that this trade agreement is far more consequential for Canadians, as it will affect what they can buy, where they can sell, and perhaps even slightly weaken that Orwellian-sounding program, “Supply Management”, which should be called the Dairy and Poultry Protection Racket, but that is a tangent from the story of the day, which is… Canada is First! More …
Observers are trumpeting that this is the first trade agreement between a member of the G8 and the EU. To be clear, the G8 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, and the U.S. Since France, Germany, Italy and the UK are members of the EU, Canada has only beaten out Japan, Russia, and the U.S. Woot! Still impressive? Maybe, but perhaps not so much.
Moreover, since an agreement is the result of a bargaining process, being the first to conclude an agreement can mean several things:
- Negotiators left out the tough stuff and dealt only with less controversial, less combative, and less conflictual issues, so that a deal could be reached more quickly.
- The Canadian government had a great deal of leverage so it brought the EU to its collective knees faster. (They really need that maple syrup?)
- The Canadian government was in a clear position of weakness and conceded whatever it was that the EU wanted quickly. (Cheesy concessions?)
- The other governments interacting with the EU may have other things on their mind. (Japan – recovering from the Tsunami; U.S. – the joy that has been budget politics; Russia – um, Putin’s focus on appearing shirtless and bullying his country’s immediate neighbours?)
The simple point here is that being first may be either meaningless – if there was no real race, coming in first is irrelevant – or it may actually be a bad thing, as Canada could have conceded far more for far less than was necessary.
To be clear, I am not opposed to a free trade agreement. Indeed, I am a big fan of lowering barriers, especially between advanced countries. I would like cheaper European products, and the Canadian markets would be better off with more competition and less collusion. I am just taking shots at a silly way to portray the agreement.
Which leads us to John Hancock’s piece at CIC last week. Hancock argues that this agreement will create such advantages for Canada that it will pressure the U.S. and then Asia to work on deals with the EU as well. I am not an expert on international trade, but I am a bit less confident about this. A deal with Canada is far easier for Europe than a deal with either the U.S. or “Asia”, as Canada is still, dare I say it, a relatively small and mostly irrelevant market. Sorry, but how many Canadian firms are likely to edge out European ones in European markets? RIM? I jest. But seriously, trade negotiations turn on the questions of who will be hurt by lower walls, and whether or not they are politically powerful. Will concessions cause significant “dislocations”? Does opening up Europe to more Canadian products endanger key sectors of the European economy? Probably not so much. Will doing the same for the U.S. or for China have minimal impact? Probably not. So, I just don’t believe that this is the first of many dominoes to fall.
The example of NAFTA and the Uruguay Round, cited by Hancock, is interesting, but the U.S. is unlikely to lead on such matters anytime soon. DC is paralyzed – when was the last time the U.S. signed a significant trade agreement? You don’t recall? Me neither.
My larger point is this: the CETA is a very significant agreement for Canadians, so much so that we probably do not need to overreach and argue that being first is super-special, or that it will lead to a new round of trade liberalization around the world. We should be focused on what it really means in the medium term. Will my cheese get significantly cheaper? Is there any way we can use this agreement to kill supply management? Ah, now I am the one who is over-reaching.
After too many false dawns to count, Prime Minister Harper has finally announced his “historic” free trade agreement with the EU. This is one instance where the political spin may actually be understating the achievement. Not only is this the first major transatlantic trade deal in 70 years, giving Canada a significant jump on the United States – now pursuing its own EU strategy – it could turn out to be a crucial lever to help accelerate the pace of global trade talks after two decades of drift. More …
The idea of transatlantic free trade has had a long germination period, to say the least. First mooted in the late 1940s – NATO’s article 2 included “economic collaboration” among its goals – and revived again in the 1960s, it was dropped both times because key players lacked the political courage to push it through. This latest initiative can be traced to former Liberal trade minister Roy MacLaren’s call for a transatlantic free trade agreement back in 1995, and his tireless campaign to advance the idea ever since. Today’s success is a testament to nothing if not policy perseverance.
Why is the agreement important? The obvious reason is that Canada will now have preferential access to the world’s biggest market, giving Canadian exporters and investors a significant advantage over their American and Asian rivals. It’s easy to forget, amid the Eurozone’s recent financial woes, that Europe’s combined GDP is larger than America’s, almost twice China’s, and over ten times India’s. Meanwhile, Canadian consumers will pay less for thousands of European products – from cars to Camembert to Chanel perfume.
The agreement will also strengthen Canada’s competitive edge, not just in Europe, but in the critical U.S. market and beyond as industries expand, streamline, and take advantage of lower-priced inputs. So far, the Canadian debate has been bizarrely focused on the fate of heavily-protected dairy farmers – mainly because they have the funds to complain loudest – but this sector represents a minuscule fraction of two-way trade – and trade itself is becoming less important to the transatlantic economy than fast-expanding investment, technology, and people flows. By layering free access to Europe on top of its existing free access to North America, Canada has executed the ultimate hub-and-spoke strategy, significantly increasing its attractiveness for global investment and production.
But perhaps the biggest impact of the agreement will be felt beyond the bilateral economic relationship. There’s no question that a successful Canada-EU deal will be noticed in Washington and spur U.S. officials to accelerate their own free trade negotiations with Brussels – especially when they face growing pressure from U.S. exporters to level the playing field.
The realization that a transatlantic deal is doable and that it may presage a bigger U.S.-EU deal or even an eventual North America-Europe bloc (should Canada push to trilateralize the discussions, which increasingly makes sense) will also be felt in Asia, which, up till now, has had the lead in the globalization race. Who knows, a successful Canada-EU agreement might even give the comatose Doha Round of global trade talks a needed shot in the arm when WTO trade ministers meet in Bali this December.
This wouldn’t be the first time that far-sighted Canadian trade policy helped set in motion a process of competitive liberalization worldwide. There’s no doubt that the 1988 Canada-US FTA spurred to Mexico to join the NAFTA talks three years later, which in turn persuaded the EU and other world trade powers to seal the deal on the Uruguay Round in 1994.
Canada has taken an important step towards transforming itself into the most competitive economic space in North America. And it has provided clear evidence that the cause of trade liberalization is not dying or dead, which even this week’s Economist was gloomily suggesting. The Harper government will now be looking for credit for both these achievements, and rightly so – it deserves it.
The Liberals in Canada had a lot of fun a few years ago putting together a video showing Stephen Harper delivering a speech when he was still in opposition in which he repeated, sometimes word for word, one delivered on the other side of the world by John Howard, then prime minister of Australia. Tony Abbott, the new prime minister of Australia and a Howard protégé, now seems to be returning the favour, mirroring Mr. Harper’s approach and strategy when it comes to climate change. More …
Mr. Abbott is in the news this week after releasing proposed legislation to repeal the 2012 carbon tax put in place by the previous Labor government. His opposition to what was then a proposed tax helped him unseat the previous leader of his party, Malcolm Turnbull, in 2009 and it became one of his key campaign pledges in the September 2013 election, which his party won.
Both Mr. Abbott and Mr. Harper lead right-leaning parties – somewhat confusingly called Liberal in Australia and Conservative in Canada. The countries they lead have important natural resource sectors the government is keen to protect – energy dominates in Canada, mining in Australia. And both countries are among the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases on a per capita basis.
But the similarities in their approach to one of the most pressing global issues of the day go well beyond that casual comparison. In at least nine other aspects of how they deal with climate change, Mr. Harper and Mr. Abbott could pass as each other’s doppelganger.
1. Both were climate change deniers before admitting it was real.
There was a time when neither man wanted to admit that human activities were contributing to climate change, perhaps because that would imply that people in general and governments in particular should do something about it.
In 2002, when the House of Commons was debating the Kyoto Protocol and Mr. Harper was still in opposition, he opposed its adoption, partly because the Liberal government had not provided a credible implementation plan but also because he maintained the science wasn’t settled about man’s contribution to global warming. “There is no particular knowledge at the moment whether that relationship has to do with natural or man-made carbon dioxide,” he said.
Five years later, he acknowledged that while Canada was a small contributor to global warming, “we owe it to future generations to do whatever we can to address this world problem” and called climate change “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity”. That said, the words “climate change” did not appear in the October 16th throne speech setting out the government’s agenda for the future.
The more colourful Mr. Abbott described the science of climate change as “absolute crap” as recently as 2010. More recently he acknowledged that climate change is real, although he still questioned the “so-called settled science of climate change”, and called for effective action as long as it was not a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.
2. Both were in favour of putting a price on carbon before they were against it.
In his speech to the Conservative caucus this week, Mr. Harper repeated a now-familiar attack on the opposition New Democratic Party’s call for a cap on industrial emissions and an emissions trading market (cap-and-trade), saying that under his government “there will be no 20 billion-dollar carbon tax”:
— Stephen Harper (@pmharper) October 16, 2013
Yet the Conservative campaign platforms for the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections all promised to institute a remarkably similar cap-and-trade system if the party were elected (which it was in the last three elections).
Mr. Abbott supported an emissions trading system when Mr. Howard was party leader and at the start of Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal leadership, but then questioned the idea in his 2010 book Battlelines and made opposition to the Labor government’s plan a central issue in the 2013 election, which his party won.
That the two party leaders could so easily change position on this issue suggests their policies have more to do with staying in tune with the political zeitgeist than acting out of sincerely held conviction.
3. Both lead parties that advocate for free markets but both want to use the heavy hand of regulation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The paradox at the heart of Mr. Harper’s approach to tackling climate change is that although he frequently says he is in favour of smaller government and wants to use market forces to provide solutions, he has taken the opposite approach by using regulations rather than market-based mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While this contradiction is not confined to climate change – the raft of consumer measures in the October 16th throne speech will spawn all sorts of new regulations if they are to materialize – it is at its most obvious on this issue.
Mr. Abbott plans to replace the existing carbon tax with something called a Direct Action Plan, which involves paying companies that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and penalizing those that exceed emissions baselines. Some of the details remain to be worked out. But it is clear that the plan will call for more rather than less government involvement in this area. He argues that his plan will result in the same overall reduction in emissions as that produced by the tax.
One further parallel between these two approaches is that both the Canadian regulations and Mr. Abbott’s plan appear to focus on emissions intensity – the amount of emissions per unit of production – rather than absolute emissions. Critics of this approach note that even if oil companies, for example, reduce the amount of emissions for each barrel of oil, if more barrels are produced, total emissions could still rise.
4. Neither man minds thumbing his nose at the international community, regardless of the damage it does his country’s brand.
It’s worth noting that Mr. Harper and Mr. Abbott continue to advocate their particular brand of climate change action (or inaction as some critics contend) despite a growing global chorus calling for governments to put a price on carbon. The International Energy Agency, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank have all come out strongly in support of using fiscal instruments, such as a carbon tax, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This advice has gone unheeded in Ottawa and Canberra.
The two prime ministers also seem oblivious to the damaging impact on their country’s brand – an intangible but important factor in international relations – of having the dubious distinction of being the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol (Canada) and the first country to implement a carbon tax and then axe it (Australia). If Mr. Abbott continues to use Mr. Harper’s playbook on climate change, an Australian departure from the Kyoto Protocol lies in the future.
5. Both lead countries where the effects of climate change are already severely impacting some regions.
The Arctic is a signature theme for Mr. Harper’s government. The throne speech October 16th waxed eloquent, or at least waxed, on how Canadians were a northern people and the country was “the true north, strong and free”. Yet the Arctic is also where climate change is having its greatest impact in Canada, with average annual temperatures increasing at twice the rate of global average temperatures. Thawing permafrost damages houses, roads and airports. The warming trend disrupts wildlife and thus the hunters who depend on them. And the melting of sea ice has led to coastal erosion. Thus the promise in the throne speech that the government is “protecting our Arctic environmental heritage” rings hollow.
Southeastern Australia, already one of the most fire-prone areas in the world, is expected to experience more bush fires as a result of the warming climate. The BBC has some remarkable footage from this week of the skies over Sydney being darkened by the smoke of nearby blazes. More bush fires mean more deaths and more damage to livestock, property, and crops. Yet despite a record-breaking heat wave in 2013 and dire warnings of more extreme weather to come linked to climate change, Mr. Abbott has not waivered in his resolve to scrap the carbon tax and dismantle an impressive range of climate change advisory bodies (see next point).
6. Both leaders have axed institutions set up to advise government and the public on climate change.
The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was established by an Act of Parliament 25 years ago to research and analyze critical issues of sustainable development. In 2013 it closed its doors after the Conservative government repealed the legislation and stopped its funding. Foreign Minister John Baird defended the closure, saying that the government did not like the advice it was getting from the research group, especially its repeated suggestion that the government implement a carbon tax. The Conservative government has also gained a well-deserved reputation for muzzling federal scientists, especially if their work touches on climate change. Perhaps the silliest example of this muzzling is that of a government geologist who was refused permission to speak to journalists about a flood that occurred in northern Canada 13,000 years ago.
Mr. Abbott lost no time in axing a number of advisory bodies once he became prime minister. Within days of the election the government moved to close the Climate Commission, set up by the previous Labor government in 2011 to provide reliable and authoritative information on climate change, and the Climate Change Authority, meant to advise on the carbon price. The government also has the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, meant to support private investment in renewable energy, in its sights.
In eliminating authoritative views that might clash with their own, both leaders have tried to limit informed debate on climate change policy. If Mr. Abbott follows Mr. Harper’s lead, government scientists in Australia will soon fall silent.
7. Both prime ministers have appointed weak environment ministers who seem more interested in developing natural resources than protecting the environment.
Shortly after she was appointed environment minister earlier this year, Leona Aglukkaq, an Inuk who grew up in the Arctic, gave an astonishing interview to the Canadian television network CTV in which she appeared to question whether the science about climate change had been settled. She said it was debatable whether the Arctic was warmer and pointed to unusual snowstorms in the summer of 2013 as proof. Any hopes that Ms. Aglukkaq would join with other Arctic groups in demanding more government action on climate change were dashed. But she is just the latest in a long line of ineffectual environment ministers who take their marching orders from the prime minister’s office.
Australia’s new environment minister, Greg Hunt, seems to be cast from the same mold. His defence of the government’s decision to repeal the carbon tax focused on the short-term savings to consumers and businesses (more on this below), while ignoring the longer-term impact that not curtailing greenhouse gas emissions will have on Australia and the world. As a Fulbright scholar who did his thesis on emissions trading versus regulation – and came down on the side of emissions trading – he should know better.
In both countries, it would be better to have no environment minister at all (a cost savings measure the prime ministers have overlooked?) than to have ones that do not see themselves primarily as responsible stewards for the environment on behalf of the public.
8. Both prime ministers appeal to the baser (financial) interests of consumers.
Mr. Harper’s attack on proposals to put a price on carbon narrowly focuses on the potential cost to taxpayers and the supposed impact on jobs. Thus the New Democratic Party’s proposal becomes a “job-killing tax”. Lost in the discussion are the longer-term costs that failing to reduce carbon emissions will entail. Also lost are examples, such as the carbon tax in the western province of British Columbia, where jobs were created, not lost, and taxpayers have supported the overall cost because of the potential long-term benefits.
Mr. Abbott has also zeroed in on the potential consumer benefits in the short-term. Australian households would be better off to the tune of $550 a year, without the tax, he says. Power prices will drop by 9% and gas prices will decrease by 7%.
Whether those predicted savings outweigh the predicted cost to the economy of more extreme weather does not come into the argument. It should. But the two leaders have one more point in common:
9. Both are betting that their constituents don’t care enough to inform themselves about climate change and perhaps challenge the government’s policy.
Ever since the global financial crisis, jobs and the economy have risen to the top of the public’s list of concerns, pushing down anything that does not merit more immediate attention. An international poll released earlier this year by GlobeScan noted that public concern for the environment had hit its lowest level in 20 years. The pollster noted that even though the evidence of environmental damage was stronger than ever, the economic crisis and a lack of leadership had caused the public to tune out. People will undoubtedly tune back in again as the evidence accumulates, but by then the almost identical climate change policies put in place by the like-minded prime ministers of Canada and Australia will be well entrenched.
Does it matter that Canada and Australia are dragging their heels – or moving backwards in the case of Australia – when it comes to addressing climate change? Both leaders would argue their countries are small potatoes when you look at the world picture and that anything they do won’t materially affect global greenhouse gas emissions.
But their actions matter in both big and small ways. In a small way, at least globally speaking, they are handicapping their businesses, which are not preparing for a future in which reducing emissions will increasingly be a priority. Other countries are well ahead of both Canada and Australia and will reap the benefits while Canadian and Australia companies play catch up.
Canada is already feeling the sting of being branded as an environmental laggard in its efforts to secure U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. Is something similar lurking in Australia’s future?
And in a bigger way, both Canada and Australia are providing cover for other recalcitrant countries in climate talks aimed at an effective global deal. The days when either country could claim to be a model or lead the world in this area are sadly long gone.
At last we have a roadmap. On 25 September, at a special event of the General Assembly, UN member states established a path and process for setting the post-2015 global development agenda. After an extended sequence of significant reports and recommendations over the past year, a short and matter-of-fact outcome document forged some core agreements, finessed some ongoing debates, and confirmed a basic timetable for the coming two years. More …
Many of the most important agreements were procedural. All countries agreed that the formal intergovernmental negotiations will start in September 2014 and will culminate in a summit of heads of state and government in September 2015. The word “summit” has a specifically elevated meaning in UN jargon, so this represents top-tier importance for the international system.
The General Assembly also commissioned Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to pull together “the full range of inputs” and to present a synthesis report before the end of 2014. Outsiders might consider this mandate trivial, but it represents a major de-escalation of intra-UN tensions. Following a series of intensive political debates, many General Assembly members have felt a need to remind the world that the Secretary-General works for them rather than vice versa. The mandate also provides clear space for Ban Ki-moon to make direct recommendations for post-2015, similar to Kofi Annan’s 2000 We the Peoples report, which helped to inform the landmark Millennium Declaration.
On matters of substance, countries made stepwise progress. They asserted poverty eradication as “the central imperative” of a post-2015 agenda, a subtle nod to continuing the core elements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But they also called for a “coherent approach” that “integrates in a balanced manner” the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, “working towards a single framework and set of Goals” applicable to all countries. This amounts to strategic ambiguity around whether the poverty and environmental sustainability agendas will be pursued through a unified or parallel set of goals. In plain English, “It will be nice if we can arrive at a single set of goals that applies to everyone, but we don’t know whether we will get there.”
Underpinning the universality debate is the hot-button concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. All countries have agreed to the concept but still fight bitterly about what it means in practice. At the core of cores, it asks the extent to which developing countries should pay a different price for fighting climate change and related problems compared to the rich countries that caused them in the first place.
A related debate pertains to peace, security and various components of governance. Many have critiqued the MDGs for their top-line agnosticism on issues such as human rights and the rule of law. The question is how to set measurable targets that all countries, ranging from China to the United States to Brazil and Nigeria, will agree to. The new outcome document agrees that a post-2015 framework should “promote” these things, but does not commit to set targets around them.
Finally, the General Assembly agreed that the key responsibilities over the coming year are delegated to its open working group on sustainable development goals plus a targeted expert group on “sustainable development financing”, both of which will need to make their recommendations before formal negotiations begin next September. Whatever the final composition of any post-2015 goals, at this stage the biggest unresolved issues hinge on decisions of economic policy and development finance, so the expert group will likely form a fulcrum for intergovernmental breakthroughs. It is co-chaired by Ambassador Pertti Majanen of Finland and former Nigerian Finance Minister Mansur Muhtar. If they can achieve the robust engagement of finance ministries and investment leaders around the world, they will have a strong chance of success.
The world has never experienced such an intensive and broad-ranging intergovernmental process towards the confirmation of an agreed global agenda. Its multi-layered nature risks alienating outsiders who lack the time or inclination to master specialized diplomatic procedures. Fortunately, the General Assembly has also called for an inclusive approach that extends beyond traditional interactions with civil society and national parliaments and also includes local authorities, scientific communities, and the private sector. More than a million people around the world expressed their views over the past year. Empowered by the newly clarified timetable, hopefully hundreds of millions more will have the chance to share their perspective over the coming two years too.
This piece was first published by the World Economic Forum.
Prime Minister Harper’s Throne Speech announced that Canada is on the verge of signing a free trade deal with the European Union – this country’s first major trade deal since the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement in the later 1980s. Harper is in Brussels today to meet with the President of the European Commission and seal the deal. More …
Media attention has naturally focused on contentious areas. Dairy farmers are “cheesed off” about a reported doubling of EU cheese imports into Canada’s closed dairy market, apparently in exchange for Canadian access to EU beef and pork markets. Other areas of contention include extending patent protection for pharmaceuticals, opening up government procurement, and increasing the review threshold for EU investments in Canada.
These issues matter, especially for specific sectors and regions that will need to adjust. But Canadians should take a few steps back from these headline issues to think about the broader global context. Here are three reasons we should care about this deal that don’t typically make the headlines:
1. Canada needs to find other markets than the United States. With a small domestic market, Canada depends on global opportunities to improve our living standards. Historically, we have relied on our commercial relationships with the U.S. to do so. But Canada’s trade with the U.S. has completely flat-lined over the past decade. The reasons for this are long-term and unlikely to change.
For one, as the Conference Board report Walking the Silk Road shows, Canada’s companies now face intense competition from China in the U.S. market. While the U.S. will nevertheless continue to be Canada’s most important trading partner, companies will need to find opportunities elsewhere. The EU market is larger than the U.S., and our trade and investment relationships are significant and growing, according to our forecasts. In fact, we export more products to the EU than to China, India, and Brazil combined.
2. Canadian companies won’t be at a disadvantage. With a Canada-EU deal, this country’s businesses will gain an advantage in the EU market over firms from other countries (like the US) that still face tariff and other trade barriers in the EU – or at least will not be at a disadvantage relatives to companies from countries that have signed a deal with the EU. Canada may now want to join the U.S.-EU talks to ensure that Canadian businesses do not lose advantage if a more ambitious deal is struck between the EU and U.S. This would be similar to Canada’s decision to join U.S.-Mexico trade talks following the signing of the Canada-U.S. free trade deal, and resulted in NAFTA.
3. This helps Canada open doors to markets beyond the EU. Signing a comprehensive Canada-EU deal gives Canada’s entire free trade negotiations agenda a boost. Over the past decade, Canada has tried but failed to complete major trade deals, and signed several relatively minor trade deals. The signing of the Canada-EU deal shows the world we can actually complete a major deal.
This will lend momentum to Canada’s other major trade negotiations, including those with fast-growth markets to which Canadian businesses are underexposed. These include the Canada-India talks, Canada-Japan talks, the 23 country trade in services negotiations, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks (U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Japan, and Vietnam).
Moreover, freer access to the EU market makes it easier for Canadian companies to set up offices in the EU to be able to access markets further afield such as those in Asia.
There are other reasons. The deal is likely to make it more attractive to sell Canada’s fast-growing services in the EU market and beyond. And of course Canada benefits from having access to the best of European technologies, goods, services, and agricultural products (more cheese, please).
The key point is that the world economy has changed dramatically. Canada’s traditional reliance on the U.S. economy is no longer enough. The imminent Canada-EU deal should help start opening doors to new opportunities, and encouraging Canadian companies to step through.
The new effort by the Department of National Defence to save money via ‘Defence Renewal’ has a variety of aspects that can and should be examined. Saving a billion dollars a year would be significant, representing more than five percent of the budget. However, besides the various hopes and dreams built into this process, there is one piece that is almost stunning in its lack of realism – the part about strategic clarity:
Strategic clarity is the articulation of a clear organizational direction and strategy for success, and the translation of that strategy into specific goals and targets throughout all levels of the organization. It is an essential component of ensuring priorities and resources within an organization are aligned and focussed on delivery a set of commonly shared objectives.
There are two basic problems here: much of this lies outside of DND; and thus far this government has done a lousy job setting priorities. More …
Sure, it would make a great deal of sense for DND to figure out what its future is and then orient itself around that. However, the pattern of the past several years indicates that the strategic direction of the CF and its civilian masters is subject to fairly rapid change at the whims of the folks in the Prime Minister’s Office. As far as I can tell (including conversations in Brussels and Ottawa with people who should know), DND and the CF were not involved in the decision to send 900 troops to Afghanistan for the training mission that is now wrapping up. The announcement earlier this year to send a single plane to help out the French in Mali for a very short bit of time with a series of extensions also seemed to lack any military input – it seems hardly credible that the French would only need a few days of help.
One could argue that there has been much stability in Canadian strategy. There have been no modifications to the key document, the Canadian Defence First Strategy, except for all of the aspects that have been overtaken by events, such as much investment in a northern port, delays in the new vessels for patrolling the Arctic, and the like. Indeed, this document represents a largely unaddressed cleavage between Harper and the military – the latter is still focused on its day job of working within NATO while Harper is apparently not a big fan of the alliance and is most interested in bilateral military efforts.
So, the first problem with the new plan for Strategic Clarity is that it is not clear what Canada’s strategy is these days. The second problem is related to the first – the above definition of Strategic Clarity would seem to require prioritization and difficult choices. Given that the government has continued to try to continue major procurement projects for all three branches of the CF, that it refuses to consider cuts in the number of troops in the CF, and has downplayed the effects of spending cuts on readiness, I would have to say that Harper and his team are lousy at setting priorities. To be sure, the CF isn’t so great at this either, although the Army has shown some interest by asking to cut the Close Combat Vehicle. Otherwise, peace within the unified CF might be best kept by giving everyone the big-ticket items they want. Hard choices, like dealing with the sub mess, continue to be avoided.
Thus, I am skeptical about this Defence Renewal effort. The people writing the documents have the right idea – if you can figure out what Canada’s strategy is and stick to it, then choices about how to shift the money become clearer. Actually shifting the money, making personnel cuts, and the like would still be politically difficult but would be easier to explain and defend.
The problem is that politicians decide strategy, as it should be, which makes it harder to predict. And with this government, clarity is not likely, so setting up a plan based on strategic clarity is very problematic at the least. It is more of a hope than a plan, and the two should not be confused. Perhaps strategic clarity should focus on being clear about how to manage strategic uncertainty.