Colin Robertson

Policy - - In This Issue - Colin Robertson

“Canada is Back”: Justin Trudeau’s For­eign Pol­icy

Declar­ing that Canada “is back”, Justin Trudeau promised a “con­struc­tive and com­pas­sion­ate” for­eign pol­icy in 2015. Then came Don­ald Trump in 2016—pro­tec­tion­ist, pop­ulist and uni­lat­er­al­ist—who presents the Trudeau gov­ern­ment with its big­gest for­eign pol­icy chal­lenge. Man­ag­ing the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship has tested Canadian gov­ern­ments since Con­fed­er­a­tion. For the most part, Trudeau has de­liv­ered on his for­eign pol­icy prom­ises. Un­der his lead­er­ship, Canada’s in­ter­na­tional brand has im­proved.

Ex­pec­ta­tions were high when, after win­ning elec­tion in Oc­to­ber 2015, Justin Trudeau promised Cana­di­ans that he would re­store “sunny ways” and grow the mid­dle class, among other prom­ises. As prime min­is­ter, he has achieved broad pub­lic support and favourable in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion for a mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism that rec­og­nized cli­mate change, em­braced refugees, es­poused a fem­i­nist de­vel­op­ment pol­icy, and, sur­pris­ingly for a Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, ar­gued for more de­fence spend­ing. But the ele­phant in the

room for Canada is Don­ald Trump. At two years in gov­ern­ment, Trump’s be­hav­iour on trade, mi­gra­tion, cli­mate and de­fence present tests for Trudeau that he has to get right.

In his only major for­eign pol­icy speech prior to his elec­tion Trudeau promised “Real Change in CanadaU. S. re­la­tions”. He ac­knowl­edged the wis­dom of for­mer Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney’s as­ser­tion that man­ag­ing the CanadaU. S. re­la­tion­ship is a daily re­spon­si­bil­ity for the prime min­is­ter.

In his only major for­eign pol­icy speech prior to his elec­tion Trudeau promised “Real Change in CanadaU.S. re­la­tions”. He ac­knowl­edged the wis­dom of for­mer Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney’s as­ser­tion that man­ag­ing the Canada-U.S. re­la­tion­ship is a daily re­spon­si­bil­ity for the prime min­is­ter.

Trudeau quickly es­tab­lished his bona fides with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama over cli­mate change and their shared com­mit­ment to pro­gres­sive lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ism. Their bro­mance was vis­i­ble to all dur­ing the Trudeau visit to the Obama White House in March 2016 and Obama’s visit to Ottawa three months later for the Three Ami­gos Sum­mit.

The elec­tion of Trump, with his plat­form of pro­tec­tion­ism, pop­ulism and “Amer­ica First”, forced Trudeau to re­set his gov­ern­ment and pri­or­i­tize the U.S. re­la­tion­ship. In­ter­na­tional Trade Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land has since be­come For­eign Min­is­ter, keep­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for North Amer­i­can trade.

Dur­ing Trudeau’s first work­ing visit with Trump last Fe­bru­ary, they agreed on an agenda: Grow­ing the shared economies, en­ergy se­cu­rity and the en­vi­ron­ment, border se­cu­rity, al­lies in the world, and em­pow­er­ing women en­trepreneurs.

Rene­go­ti­a­tion of the NAFTA be­gan in Au­gust, with seven rounds sched­uled be­fore Christmas. Free­land has iden­ti­fied Canadian ob­jec­tives as fol­lows:

• Mod­ern­ize the NAFTA to rec­og­nize the tech­no­log­i­cal and dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion;

• Make it a pro­gres­sive “fair trade” agree­ment, us­ing CETA as a model, through in­clu­sion of chap­ters on the en­vi­ron­ment, labour, gen­der equal­ity, in­dige­nous peo­ples;

• Re­form­ing dis­pute set­tle­ment to en­sure gov­ern­ments have the right to leg­is­late in the pub­lic in­ter­est with fair dis­pute set­tle­ment (Chap­ter 19);

Eas­ing busi­ness travel (Chap­ter 16), cut­ting red tape and fo­cus­ing more on har­mo­nized reg­u­la­tory co­op­er­a­tion;

Pre­serv­ing sup­ply man­age­ment and the cul­tural ex­emp­tion.

To de­liver the Canadian mes­sage to Amer­i­cans, there has been a ver­i­ta­ble flood south of cabi­net min­is­ters, pro­vin­cial pre­miers and leg­is­la­tors of all lev­els of gov­ern­ment, not just to Wash­ing­ton, but to the rest of the U. S., es­pe­cially into Trump coun­try. The Canadian mes­sage: Canada is a re­li­able ally and a trusted trad­ing part­ner and Canadian trade and in­vest­ment cre­ates jobs in the U. S., Canadian en­ergy fu­els the U. S. econ­omy and will sus­tain the North Amer­i­can en­ergy re­nais­sance promised by Trump. The New York Times reports that “un­like any­thing tried by an­other ally”, the “qui­etly au­da­cious cam­paign to ca­jole, con­tain and if nec­es­sary co­erce the Amer­i­cans … has largely suc­ceeded.”

To de­liver the Canadian mes­sage to Amer­i­cans, there has been a ver­i­ta­ble flood south of cabi­net min­is­ters, pro­vin­cial pre­miers and leg­is­la­tors of all lev­els of gov­ern­ment, not just to Wash­ing­ton, but to the rest of the U.S., es­pe­cially into Trump coun­try.

The re­la­tion­ship with the U. S. was at the heart of Free­land’s June 2017 for­eign pol­icy state­ment. As a “mid­dle power”, said Free­land, Canada has a “huge in­ter­est in an in­ter­na­tional or­der based on rules. One in which might is not al­ways right. One in which more pow­er­ful coun­tries are con­strained in their treat­ment of smaller ones by stan­dards that are in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected, en­forced and up­held.”

In many re­spects it is a back to the fu­ture evo­ca­tion of Pear­so­nian diplo­macy. Canada is seek­ing a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil seat, she de­clared “be­cause we wish to be heard.”

Ac­knowl­edg­ing frankly the “in­dis­pens­able” role that the U. S. plays in pre­serv­ing global or­der, she iden­ti­fied the mul­ti­ple fronts of the CanadaUS re­la­tion­ship: “From border se­cu­rity, to the de­fence of North Amer­ica through NORAD, to the fight against Daesh, to our ef­forts within NATO, to nur­tur­ing and im­prov­ing our trad­ing re­la­tion­ship, which is the strong­est in the world.”

There was no pussy-foot­ing about de­fence. Tak­ing a shot at Rus­sia for its in­va­sion of Ukraine, Free­land de­clared NATO and Ar­ti­cle 5 to be at the heart of Canada’s national se­cu­rity pol­icy. “The prin­ci­pled use of force”, de­clared Free­land, “to­gether with our al­lies and gov­erned by in­ter­na­tional law, is part of our his­tory and must be part of our fu­ture.”

The next day, De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan an­nounced the new de­fence pol­icy, “Strong, Se­cure, En­gaged”:

strong at home, se­cure in North Amer­ica and en­gaged in the world. The em­pha­sis— on home­land, North Amer­ica and then the world, is con­sis­tent with that of pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments. Spe­cific com­mit­ments in­cluded:

• Boost­ing de­fence spend­ing from 1 per cent of GDP to 1.4 per cent by 2024.

• Pur­chas­ing 88 ad­vanced fighter jets to re­place the ag­ing CF-18s and build­ing 15 Canadian Sur­face Com­bat­ant ships to re­place the ex­ist­ing frigates and re­tired de­stroy­ers.

• Grow­ing the reg­u­lar forces by 3,500 to 71,500 troops, and the re­serves by 1,500 to 30,000 and re­duc­ing the re­cruit­ment time from months to weeks. • In­creas­ing women in the Forces by one per­cent­age point a year to 25 per cent by 2026.

There was no ref­er­ence to whether Canada would join bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fence, as rec­om­mended unan­i­mously by the Se­nate National De­fence Com­mit­tee in 2014. Nor was there an elab­o­ra­tion on where the gov­ern­ment would de­ploy its promised com­mit­ment last Au­gust that Canada would com­mit 600 troops to peace op­er­a­tions.

Crit­ics of the Trudeau for­eign pol­icy ar­gue that spend­ing is still in­ad­e­quate with the promised in­creases in de­fence spend­ing fall­ing short of the NATO norm of 2 per cent of GDP. A Globe and Mail ed­i­to­rial mocked that “Canada is currently ca­pa­ble of play­ing a small but valu­able sup­port­ing role in a major mil­i­tary en­gage­ment, and a big role in a mi­nor mil­i­tary mis­sion.” In terms of de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, Canada currently spends just 0.26 per cent of the coun­try’s gross national in­come on for­eign aid— a long way from the UN tar­get of 0.7 per cent es­tab­lished by for­mer Canadian prime min­is­ter Lester Pearson. While “ex­cited about what it prom­ises”, Canadian Coun­cil for In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion CEO Ju­lia Sanchez got it right when she said that “… we don’t un­der­stand how this is go­ing to be re­al­ized with­out new fund­ing,”

Since Con­fed­er­a­tion, Canadian for­eign pol­icy has been con­structed around the re­al­ity of life with Un­cle Sam. Once a threat but for more than a cen­tury a friend and ally, its mar­ket sustains our pros­per­ity and its se­cu­rity um­brella pro­tects us.

To help mit­i­gate the pow­er­ful cul­tural and eco­nomic in­flu­ence of the United States, suc­ces­sive Canadian gov­ern­ments have em­braced col­lec­tive se­cu­rity in de­fence and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism in for­eign pol­icy and trade di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion. Rec­og­niz­ing that it is ac­cess to the U. S. mar­ket that sustains Canadian pros­per­ity, Trudeau’s top pri­or­ity is the re-ne­go­ti­a­tion of pre­ferred ac­cess to the U. S. mar­ket.

Two years into his man­date, Justin Trudeau’s pop­u­lar­ity re­mains high. His for­eign pol­icy— an ac­tivist and pro­gres­sive mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism— en­joys broad support. But the big test—rene­go­ti­at­ing pre­ferred ac­cess to the U. S. or find­ing and mak­ing good on coun­ter­weights—must still be achieved.

Colin Robertson, a for­mer min­is­ter at the Canadian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton and con­sul-gen­eral in Los An­ge­les, is a vice-pres­i­dent and fel­low at the Canadian Global Af­fairs In­sti­tute in Ottawa and se­nior ad­viser to Den­tons LLP. rob­colin@ gmail.com

Adam Scotti photo

Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau and Pres­i­dent Trump, ac­com­pa­nied by So­phie Gré­goire-Trudeau and Me­la­nia Trump in the Oval Of­fice at the White House, Oc­to­ber 11, 2017.

Adam Scotti photo

Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau at­tends a re­cep­tion at the Depart­ment of National De­fence. Jan­uary 26, 2016.

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