Copeland: What should Canada’s top foreign policy priority be in 2013?

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7 January, 2013
By: Daryl Copeland

Former diplomat; research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

I believe that Canada’s top international policy priority for 2013 should be to move beyond the current preoccupation with trade and investment issues by restoring some coherence, shape and direction to the political side of Canada’s place in the world. For over a decade Canada’s international engagement has been characterized by an absence of leadership, and an unwillingness to unfetter the diplomatic capacity vested in DFAIT. Where once we initiated – on ending apartheid, on encouraging sustainable development, on the pursuit of peace and security – today we follow. Or, worse yet, we obstruct, especially in the case of negotiations related to climate change. On energy and environmental issues this country can surely do better than to garner multiple nominations for “fossil of the year”. Canada’s once admired image, reputation, and brand have suffered from serious mismanagement and neglect in recent years. To take account of longer term, bigger picture requirements, the government needs to engage Canadians in a national dialogue on grand strategy. Simply put, with no idea of where we want to go in the world or how we might best get there, we will never arrive. While it is for elected representatives to decide on particulars, I would propose a general concentration on issues which are central to both Canadian interests and global needs. Most of these feature a substantial scientific and technological component – preservation of the global commons, resource scarcity, public health, pandemic disease, and so forth. The threats to the planet posed by ideological extremism or religious violence pale in comparison to the challenges associated with underdevelopment and insecurity. As the globalization nation with a strong suit in civil society actors and activism, Canada is well-positioned to rebuild its internationalist vocation. Achieving that objective should be job one for 2013.

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