The 2019 annual CFPJ Trudeau Report Card has been prepared by faculty and graduate students at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in partnership with iAffairs Canada. This year, our researchers have awarded the Canadian government a C+. A brief breakdown of the grade is provided below.
Canada’s more aggressive and conservative diplomacy is best exemplified by Chrystia Freeland’s appointment as Foreign Minister. Under her tutelage, Canada’s foreign policy no longer conveys a clear commitment to multilateralism nor, for that matter, quiet, constructive diplomacy. Instead, it has become a series of ad hoc efforts to publicly isolate, chastise and bandwagon against those states caught up in America’s geopolitical struggles. In many ways, Canada is more in lock step with Trump’s security agenda than the Liberal government would like voters to believe.
Even so, and despite a major defence review, the Trudeau government has shown an unwillingness to make Canadian defence a priority. Canada’s air force is aging and the navy faces challenges on a number of fronts. Indeed, the biggest issue on the defence file has been the disciplining of whistle-blower Admiral Mark Norman, who who sounded the alarm over the Liberals’ political interference within the procurement process. While some might consider the Liberals’ approach to peacekeeping as innovative, the government has yet to organize its priorities to ensure that its defence promises are kept.
If top bureaucrat Michael Wernick’s alarmist comments are taken at face value, Canada is less secure today than it was four years ago. The world has fundamentally changed and the Liberals find themselves adrift without a plan for steering us to safety. While the Liberal government has found small victories in exposing clandestine activity, reforming our intelligence community, and preparing for the future of cyber security, they have failed the larger tests. Our Arctic remains neglected, foreign fighters are returning home without judicial consequence, and now we find ourselves in the middle of a geopolitical battle between China and the United States with no exit strategy.
While the government managed to avoid fumbling the three trade agreements it inherited, the process was certainly messy. The United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) took the spotlight, supplying year-long drama and highlighting ill-considered strategies. Throughout this process, the government’s actions for the most part fuelled the fires of the unpredictable American administration, leading to detrimental ramifications for the Canadian economy which could have been avoided. Additionally, with the end of Trudeau’s term approaching, and the corruption scandal currently unfolding, the government is yet to live up to its rhetoric on progressiveness and diversification.
With respect to foreign aid, the Trudeau government considers itself progressive. Yet, despite its ambitious goals, the feminist international assistance policy (FIAP) remains underfunded without any clearly defined priorities. In year over year comparisons, the launching of FIAP suggests that the Trudeau government is delivering more of the same, just under a new title and brand. This marketing ploy may work to galvanize Trudeau’s domestic base, but it will not deliver the real change that the Trudeau government promised.
The heady days of the Paris Climate Agreement, where Trudeau hoped to become a global leader, are long gone, suggesting a reversal of fortunes on the environment and climate change files. His government has purchased a pipeline, is faced with provincial resistance to the implementation of a nation-wide carbon tax and has learned the hard way that reconciling the environment and the economy is a tall order. In an attempt to please everyone, prioritizing short-term gains may eclipse the long-term change this government promised.
On immigration and refugees, ongoing controversy generated from recurring irregular border crossings reflects the government’s failure to assuage public fear and maintain public confidence in the immigration system. These weaknesses in public policy stand in contrast to the Liberals’ performance on the global stage where the government continues to position itself as a vocal proponent of a revamped global refugee regime.