The chessboard

Yesterday, I said that Canada’s foreign policy is in disarray and then I saw an article by Marie-Danielle Smith in MacLean’s magazine in which she used the analogy of the world as a chessboard and said “last we checked, Canada does have a foreign minister – quite an energetic one – in François-Philippe Champagne. With the Canada-U.S. relationship headed for calmer waters and the pandemic becoming a new normal, what will his job look like—and what will Canada’s chessboard look like—in 2021?

The Queen's Gambit.jpg

So, do we have M Champagne as Anya Taylor-Joy/Beth Harmon in the ‘Queen’s Gambit?’ Does he have the independence to work around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and around his his PMO and around the people who pull the strings of both? You’ll forgive me, please, if I suggest that he does not. In my view no foreign minister since Louis St Laurent has had that kind of “freedom,” and St Laurent had it only because Mackenzie-King as old, tired and worn out. But the chessboard analog is a good one and Ms Smith recognizes the two key pieces:

  • Of course,” she says, “in 2021, Canada’s biggest foreign priority will still be in Washington, as the Joe Biden administration gets settled in and lays out its priorities. “That will be a filter through which our other foreign policy issues are considered,” says Roland Paris, an international affairs professor at the University of Ottawa and a former adviser to Trudeau. But big challenges remain with another superpower, China; with a rise in illiberalism across the board; and with much-relied-upon global institutions under threat.” The USA is, always, Canada’s “king” on the board … well, not quite always, but ever since the Ogdensburg Agreement of 1940, anyway; and
  • The “queen,” the most dangerous piece on the board, will be China. As Marie-Danielle Smith says, “Canada’s biggest foreign policy minefield will continue to be its relationship with China. The chief issue is China’s unjustified detainment of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor since late 2018, a tit-for-tat move after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou according to our extradition agreement with the United States.

Ms Smith quotes Professor Roland Paris (uOttawa), a former foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Trudeau, as saying that “Conditions will be “quite ripe” under a Biden presidency for allies to band together on other easy-to-agree-on issues including addressing Chinese intellectual property theft and its interference in other countries’ domestic politics.” But no one thinks that the Canada-China relationship will warm up any time soon, and there’s not much that a Canadian government of any stripe or even, as discussed yesterday, a “coalition to save the world” can do about that. One cause of the sour Canada-China relationship ~ the arrest of Meng Wanzhou ~ may play itself out without any Canadian participation, but others, including Canadian bungling (2017) of a potential free trade deal when Justin Trudeau, himself, trying to impress a domestic audience, pressed China for “progressive” conditions, will be harder to resolve.

François-Philippe Champagne is one of the few bright less than dim spots in a truly lacklustre cabinet. I don’t think there has been a worse cabinet in living memory, not even Diefenbaker’s (1963) after the resignations of Doug Harkness, George Hees and Pierre Sévigny. But, like St Laurent, Diefebaker, Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin Jr and Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau is often his own foreign minister … especially, in his case, when there is a photo op to be had. M Champagne may, indeed, be “energetic,” he may, even, unlike his predecessor, Chrystia Freeland be “able,” but he does not have the political power to set the agenda. He will do as Justin Trudeau and Katie Telford and the rich and powerful people who pull their strings say.

The rich and powerful in Canada say that the rise of authoritarianism is not a problem for Canada; nor is the collapse of the liberal world order ~ like his father before him, Justin Trudeau is an illiberal democratic leader; and the Laurentian Elites are happy to be friends with Angola, Burkina Faso, China, Djibouti and Ecuador ~ to hell with Australia, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Estonia and the others who always seem to want to make trouble for those who profit from trading with dictators and kleptocrats.

I’m reasonably confident that Global Affairs Minister Champagne has a good idea of the how the global chess match is playing out. I have no doubt that he, personally, wishes Prime Minister Johnson and President-elect Biden well as they try to establish a coalition of like minded democracies to reaffirm the liberal world order. But I am also certain that Prime Minister Trudeau has no interest in any of it unless he can see a clear connection with his own, domestic political agenda, which is wining a majority government, by hook or by crook.

As I said yesterday, Canada ~ Prime Minister Trudeau and Global Affairs Minister Champagne will be invited to all the meetings and I’m fairly sure that Minister Champagne will know what we should be going there. I am absolutely sure that Justin Trudeau will not.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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