Copeland: Is Conservative foreign policy different from Liberal foreign policy?”

By: /
5 September, 2011
By: Daryl Copeland

Former diplomat; research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

The the nature and orientation of the Conservative government’s foreign policy differ significantly from that of previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative  governments.

At the highest level of analysis, the overall international policy mix has shifted. The military, and a general preference for the use of armed force has been placed front and centre, at the expense of both diplomacy and development assistance. Moreover, there has been an acceleration in the transformation of the structure of the Canadian Forces, away from peacekeeping in favour of expeditionary war fighting. This was evident in both the prosecution of an ambitious – if ill-fated – counter-insurgency campaign in Kandahar, and the enthusiastic participation in the NATO bombing and embargo in support of regime change in Libya.

Under the conservatives DFAIT does not appear to enjoy the confidence, trust and respect which it once did. Once a leader in public diplomacy, the imposition of the (chillingly Orwellian) Message Event Proposal requirement means that the department’s staff cannot have an unscripted conversation outside the Pearson building and are now effectively gagged. There seems to be little appetite for the Department’s advice, and it is not being called upon to develop new international policy initiatives. When the international policy content of last four years (and four foreign ministers) are compared, for instance, to the three and  a half years in the late nineties under Lloyd Axworthy (land mine ban; International Criminal Court; blood diamonds; children in conflict; Responsibility to Protect), the contrast is striking.

Under PM Mulroney, Canada spearheaded the organization of the UN’s Rio conference on Environment and Development (Framework Convention on Climate Change; Statement of International Forestry Principles; Agenda 21; Biodiversity Convention); negotiated the FTA and NAFTA; concluded treaties on acid rain and the  protection of the ozone layer (Montreal Protocol), and; worked with in the Commonwealth to end apartheid in southern Africa.

Next year, in order to save $10 million, Canada will be alone among G-20 countries in its absence at  the Expo 2012 world’s fair in Yeosu, Korea. The theme of the Expo is “The Living Ocean and Coast.” Canada has one of the longest shoreline in the world, with frontage on three oceans…

Canada’s international image and reputation – our brand – are being fundamentally recast.

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Journalism in Canada has suffered a devastating decline over the last two decades. Dozens of newspapers and outlets have shuttered. Remaining newsrooms are smaller. Nowhere is this erosion more acute than in the coverage of foreign policy and international news. It’s expensive, and Canadians, oceans away from most international upheavals, pay the outside world comparatively little attention.

At Open Canada, we believe this must change. If anything, the pandemic has taught us we can’t afford to ignore the changing world. What’s more, we believe, most Canadians don’t want to. Many of us, after all, come from somewhere else and have connections that reach around the world.

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