Can Canada have a real foreign policy or just more diaspora politics?

Konrad Yakabuski, writing in the Globe and Mail over two weeks ago, said “Canadians have grown accustomed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s moments of inattention, when the words that come out of his mouth don’t quite match the occasion … [even so] … During Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Ottawa visit last month, however, Mr. Trudeau seemed to be in another dimension entirely when he twice referred to Japan as China in describing the close relations between Canada and the Land of the Rising Sun … [Mr Yakabuski says that] … If Mr. Trudeau’s briefing notes did not include a primer on the long history of bad blood between China and Japan, they should have. But it’s hard not to get the sense that, in foreign policy, the Trudeau government doesn’t have much of an institutional memory … [and he explains that] … It’s not clear what the Trudeau government hopes to accomplish through its foreign policy, other than to check off a series of boxes that speak to its progressive bona fides. That may play well with certain domestic audiences, but it carries zero weight in the real-world trenches of geopolitics. A foreign policy that’s only for show is the same as having no foreign policy at all.

The problem is that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are playing diaspora politics. Konrad Yakabuski says that “The navel-gazing of Canadian foreign policy is best exemplified in our toxic diaspora politics, which admittedly weren’t invented by the current government. But the Trudeau Liberals seem to operate exclusively on the basis of diaspora politics when dealing with certain countries, again with domestic electoral considerations outweighing diplomatic or geopolitical ones .. [that was, certainly, the root cause of the India fiasco, and, he adds] … The vacuity of our foreign policy was laid bare last year with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s virtue-signalling tweet demanding that Saudi Arabia release human-rights activists. If any thought was given to what should follow that ultimatum, it has not produced any concrete action other than to put Canada on a Saudi blacklist without helping a single dissident … [and] … Ms. Freeland has proved adept at issuing earnest and high-minded statements about spreading Canadian values through foreign policy, but these are mostly for domestic consumption. Elsewhere in the world, such preachiness is seen as the refuge of those who talk rather than do.”

The problem is not just amongst the Trudeau Liberals. The Conservatives, including, for example, James Bezan, when dealing with the Ukraine issue, and Michelle Rempel, with the plight of Middle Eastern women, are also very skilled at appealing to various diasporas. It’s nothing new,  of course; most Canadians are familiar with the Anglo-French politics which shaped Canada and with the matter of the Irish in America in the 1860s and the Chinese in the 1880s, which led to riots and, eventually, the Exclusion Act of 1882.

Canadian politicians, going back generations, have practised diaspora politics, whether with immigration, foreign or social policy files. But Prime Minister Trudeau’s failure to have read briefing notes or to have understood that China and Japan are different countries and his insults to India are different; they have brought Canada into international disrepute.

Mr Yakabuski, following on from his comments about Ms Freeland, says that “It’s in allowing such a precipitous deterioration in our relations with China, however, that the Trudeau government has really fallen down on the job. The excuse that talks with the United States to renew the North American free-trade agreement had monopolized the best minds in government doesn’t cut it. Canada has no choice but to manage its relationships with both world superpowers; the cost of failing to engage with China has simply become too great.

But, he adds, in a warning shot across the Conservatives’ bows, that “That’s why Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s pledge to get tough on China, which he reiterated this week in a pre-election speech on foreign policy, would be laughable if it wasn’t so self-defeating. “So long as China is willing to hold our exports hostage, all the while committing human-rights violations on an industrial scale, we have no choice as Canadians but to consider other trade partners,” Mr. Scheer insisted. But he failed to name any that could fill the void.” Now, in fairness, Andrew Scheer did single out India and Japan, with both of which Justin Trudeau has soured relations, almost beyond imagining, and he could have mentioned the Philippines, which also has Justin Trudeau in its bad-books and the rest of the ASEAN nations.  But, as I have said before, even if we can repair trade relations with China and India, Japan and the Philippines, Asia will not replace the USA as our number one trading partner.

Konrad Yakabuski does, reluctantly, give Andrew Scheer credit for showing “some initiative in promising to begin talks to join the U.S. continental missile defence program, which at least three successive prime ministers have been too scared to propose, lest they awake the sleeping dogs of anti-Americanism. But Canada must play a bigger role in its own defence, especially as Russia increasingly occupies the Arctic … [and he says that] … Mr. Scheer’s promise to move to meet our defence spending commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is also long overdue. It’s been two years since Ms. Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced a massive investment in our military capabilities, none of which has materialized. But that’s what we’ve come from to expect from this government.” Hear, hear!

He concludes that: “Like many of Mr. Trudeau’s early declarations in office, his bragging about Canada being “back” has come back to haunt him. The reality is, we’ve rarely been this absent.” I agree, 100% what that.

It is time for a change.

 

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