Lawrence Martin in a journalist/commentator with whose opinions I very often disagree; he has a strong anti-conservative, and pro-Liberal bias; he has been a reliable leader of he Justin Trudeau cheering section. But that doesn’t mean that he’s blind to reality nor that he is totally uncritical.
In a recent column in the Globe and Mail he bewails the problems that Canada faces with China as a result of, properly, honouring a US bench warrant and detaining an important Chinese executive. “The drama,” he writes, “illustrates how middle-power Canada is at the mercy of the bigs – the U.S., China, Russia. That’s typically the case. But there’s a difference this time … [because] … Given the sudden dire turn in relations with Beijing, Canada is on the outs with all the superpowers in a way it has seldom been before – if ever. Relations are hostile with Russia, abnormally fractious with Washington, grim with China … [and, he explains, and I agree] … that denotes a shrinking Canadian presence on the world stage. It means its potential influence is diminished. It means it is more vulnerable on trade, defence and other issues.“
Mr Martin looks back, predictably, lauding the foreign policy achievements of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien ~ and each did have a few ~ but he says, “Relations with Washington are not about to change – not with Mr. Trump having surrounded himself with hard-liners such as Mr. Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. With Russia, relations have no prospect of improving, either: Mr. Putin is not about to change his ways, and Ms. Freeland is not about to get an entry visa. With China, a freeze could endure during months of extradition hearings. The prospect for long-term damage is very real … [and, he adds] … It’s not Ottawa’s fault that it got caught in the Washington-Beijing crossfire. It’s not Ottawa’s fault that Americans elected Donald Trump.” That’s all true, of course, but Ottawa must shoulder some part of the responsibility for the current state of play vis-à-vis all three great powers. The Trudeau regime went out of its way to show off its progressive values when President Trump wanted serious trade negotiations and increased defence spending; choosing Ms Freeland to be foreign minister was bound to have consequences in our relations with Russia and then Justin Trudeau went to China and did more virtue signalling when they, too, wanted serious trade negotiations.
Lawrence Martin concludes, and I agree, again, that “the upshot of it all is that Canada’s voice grows faint. As a middle power, it sometimes punched above its weight. Now the opposite is more likely.” can it be turned around? Yes, of course, but I am about 99% certain that Justin Trudeau and Gerald Butts have neither the brains nor the acumen to do the job.
Canada needs a new government that will commit itself to making our country Bigger, Better and Bolder. We need a government that will take a practical, pragmatic and holistic approach to making Canada, once again, a leader amongst the responsible middle powers. That’s another Big Idea that needs competent, resourceful, effective and bold, even imaginative leadership.
Such an approach will require:
- First and foremost, getting a grip on the country’s finances. That means stopping all the wasteful, showboat style expenses that the Trudeau regime has engaged in and, by so dong, has turned a small budget surplus in 2015 into seemingly never-ending deficit piled upon deficit, so that we are probably borrowing from our great-grandchildren to pay for Trudeau’s excesses;
- Reforming and shoring up the social safety net so that it does what Canadians need and most of what they want, too, in a cost effective and operationally effective manner;
- Making Canada really open for business: that means, inter alia, building pipelines to both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, making those projects matters of overarching national importance; opening and reopening serious free(er) trade negotiations with a range of partners including, especially, the ASEAN, Britain, the Caribbean states, China, India, Singapore, South Africa and South Korea;
- Making immigration work for Canada ~ expanding (even beyond the Liberals’ ambitious plans) the number of legal immigrants in the skilled worker category, keeping the family class immigration levels about the same and cutting back a bit on the number of refugees admitted to Canada, for reasons I have outlined before;
- Reforming our military ~ first by cutting the number of admirals, generals, commodores and Navy captains and Army and RCAF colonels, too and by closing a few useless “commands” and HQs and then reforming the defence procurement ‘system’ so that it is efficient and effective and has the correct political oversight and, only then, increasing the size of the defence budget and expanding the size and capabilities of our armed forces. That’s a 20+ year programme that needs to be crafted and then ‘sold” to Canadians so that they will expect successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, to ‘keep the faith’ as they did throughout the St Laurent, Diefenbaker and Pearson years; and
- Finally, reasserting Canada’s role as a leading nation in political/diplomatic, commercial/trade and military terms.
The grand plan, it is a grand strategic plan, must be clear in its aim and flexible in its execution because it will not be, cannot be a one term, four year plan … it must be good enough so that successive leaders, Conservative and Liberal alike will want to see it through . because the people of Canada will be behind it.
Further, the grand plan cannot stand alone, it must be one of several pillars that support a coherent national programme that convinces enough Canadians, more than 40% of them, that it considers everything from the Arctic and agriculture through climate change and the environment and transportation and how to control zebra mussels.
Right now we are punching below our weight. As Lawrence Martin says, “Prime ministers have often had a personal rapport with superpower leaders. Mr. Trudeau, despite his charms, has none today. The Canadian voice for compromise can hardly expect to be heeded. Ottawa’s views on multilateralism, open borders, diversity and climate change will have less of a hearing without superpower allies.” That’s a pit and while not all of the blame can be laid at M. Trudeau’s feet he must accept some of it; he has, again and again, botched the business of leading a G7 nation through the labyrinths of international politics because, in my opinion, he simply hasn’t the necessary mix of brains and ability. It will be a tough slog to return Canada to the status of, as Mr Martin says, “a middle power [that] sometimes punched above its weight,” but it is a good task, even a noble task and Canadian deserve no less from their government … and they are in dire need of a new government that can and will do the job.