… even the prime minister’s former (first) foreign policy advisor says that ““We can’t afford to continue these unforced errors, because there are real costs to relationships and to Canada’s credibility.”“
Writing in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson, who is often critical of the Trudeau Liberals, recounts his conversation with Professor Roland Paris of the University of Ottawa, who was Prime Minister Trudeau’s fist foreign policy advisor. “Allies left furious by mixed messages and a missed meeting in Vietnam. A trip to China that accomplished nothing. And the debacle of the visit to India … [he writes, and] … Even Roland Paris is growing frustrated … [and] … The Ottawa academic who served as Justin Trudeau’s first foreign policy adviser is sounding a warning: This government must stop dropping the ball in Asia and the Pacific.” This is a topic with which I have dealt more than once, in ever growing frustration.
(Caveat lector: I know Professor Paris, not well ~ we certainly are not friends, acquaintances perhaps, but I respect him as a person and as an academic … we don’t share much in the way of political preferences but I respect his views. He’s not some ferbile leftist, he is, sincerely, looking for a proper liberal role for Canada in the world. He was a critic of Prime Minister Harper, but always an informed and reasonable one.)
Mr Ibbitson, still citing Professor Paris, goes onto say that “The stakes are too high for this country’s geopolitical and economic future to be messing up as badly as this government has messed up. Mr. Trudeau and the people surrounding him need to take “a serious, hard, honest look at what happened in the past few weeks in order to understand where the problems were,” Prof. Paris advised.“
By way of background, John Ibbitson explains that “As director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa, Prof. Paris was highly critical of Stephen Harper’s foreign policy, with its suspicious approach to the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. Prof. Paris envisioned a return to Pearsonian principles of engaging with global institutions and encouraging dialogue among conflicting parties … [and] … These principles informed his key role in crafting the foreign policy plank in the Liberals’ 2015 election platform. He also helped Mr. Trudeau prepare for the leaders’ debates and served on the transition team after the election. As foreign policy adviser, he was in the thick of the whirlwind overseas trips that dominated Mr. Trudeau’s early months in office, before returning to the University of Ottawa in 2016.” Several years ago I was a regular participant in the CIPS symposia; I did not share the prevailing views but I have always found Professor Paris to be highly knowledgable and open minded.
“Prof. Paris,” Mr Ibbirosn explains, “has nothing but praise for the Trudeau government’s all-fronts approach to protecting the North American free-trade agreement, which is under threat by U.S. President Donald Trump. He is equally enthusiastic about the skillful ratification of the free-trade agreement with the European Union that was negotiated by the Harper government … [but] … then came Danang, Vietnam, where leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership thought they had a deal to proceed with the trade treaty even though the United States had pulled out – only to learn Canada wasn’t ready to sign. Adding insult to insult, Mr. Trudeau stood the other heads of government up at a crucial meeting … [following that] … Canada eventually signed a reworked TPP, so no permanent harm done. But how to account for Mr. Trudeau’s subsequent trip to China? Officials in Beijing were ready to start talks on a trade agreement, only to learn that the Canadians insisted on including environmental, human, labour and gender rights in the talks. Mr. Trudeau left empty-handed … [maybe it was just that] … “There were some miscues in Danang and there were some miscues in Beijing,” said Prof. Paris, reinforcing his conviction that “we need a level of diplomacy and seriousness in Asia that reflects the importance of that region for Canada’s economic future” … [but then] … The serial disasters of the India visit and its aftermath simply reinforce that lack of competence and seriousness of purpose.” As I said, just the other day, Canada ~ which, sadly, for now, means Team Trudeau ~ must “do the “big deals” with China and India ~ the former will require Team Trudeau to drop it juvenile campaign rhetoric about “progressive” trade … [and] ,,, the latter will require a “reset” of the Indo-Canadian relationship after Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s monumentally stupid words and deeds during and after his recent trip.“
Again, as useful background, Mr Ibbitson, citing Professor Paris, explains that “The problem is that, for most of Canada’s history, Asia and the Pacific have been an afterthought. The key priority, for obvious reasons, was the U.S., which is why Foreign Affairs, International Trade and the Centre (the Prime Minister’s and Privy Council offices) have sophisticated operations and talented people dedicated to managing the file. Our historic ties to and alliances with Europe also equip us well for continental diplomacy … [but] … although Canadian governments of all stripes have stressed the importance of deepening relations with Asian and Pacific countries, resources don’t match rhetoric.” That is a fair critique of Canadian policy throughout the three quarters of century of my lifetime, especially since the Louis St Laurent era. We are, of course, inextricably linked to the USA by geography, by trade, by “kith and kin” and by a history of friendship. After World War II we turned our attention to Europe … we did engage with Asia, most notably in the Colombo Plan which Canada was instrumental in setting up, But Canada (and Britain) withdrew in 1991 partially because of the situation in Asia, especially the Sri Lankan civil war (1983-2009) and partially because of Prime Minister Mulroney’s desire to refocus Canada’s foreign policy on America and the Americas and to solve the 25 years old impasse with France.
““If 10 per cent of [the effort devoted to Canada-U.S. relations] were devoted to Asia, we would be twice as far ahead in that region and we probably wouldn’t be seeing the kind of mistakes that have occurred,” … [Roland Paris said] … So what should happen next? First, a ruthless postmortem, followed by a well-thought-out strategy for future engagement in the region, with the necessary resources deployed to implement that strategy. Top of the list: getting trade talks going with China.” Mr Ibbitson concludes “That’s how Roland Paris would do it. Just in case anyone in the Centre is listening.” Sadly, no one in the Centre is listening. Gerald Butts and Katie Telford who mismanage the ongoing gong show called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau neither know nor care about Canada’s vital interests, they are concerned only with the 2019 election campaign.
The necessary “ruthless postmortem” and the equally urgent “well-thought-out strategy for future engagement” in Asia both require, above all, reform of the foreign policy establishment centred in the oh so pretentiously named Global Affairs Department and a rethink of how we develop and manage trade relationships. Canada needs to be a major trading nation ~ our national prosperity depends upon being able to sell our products, above all our resources and services (human brainpower) to the world. That means, inter alia, building infrastructure to move our natural resources to tidewater, on both coasts, maybe, eventually, to all three coasts. Everything is tied together: relations with India, China and America; global free(er) trade; world peace and prosperity; pipelines and First Nations; national unity and foreign relations. It is complex and difficult but leaders as diverse as Louis St Laurent and Stephen Harper managed … Canada needs leadership now, the “unforced errors” that are emblematic of Justin Trudeau’s regime must stop.
Edited to add:
You know things have gone from bad to worse when even uber-partisan Liberal insider Warren Kinsella turns on you (03.05.18 column) and says “your government is deceitful, dishonest and insincere … [and, it’s] … Time to grow up, Justin. Quite a few of us have had it with this bullshit.“
The problem for Mr Kinsella is that playing Mr Dressup and not understanding his role is about as “grown up” as Justin Trudeau will ever be.