The 2021 annual CFPJ Trudeau Report Card has been produced by David Carment and graduate students at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in consultation with experts throughout Canada. This year, the researchers have awarded the Canadian government a C overall.
This Report Card has been prepared in partnership with iAffairs Canada and the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal.
With an unsteady minority government in hand, the Liberals find themselves with the immense and important challenge of bringing Canada’s economy back on track, while also striving to secure a functional international order. Liberal rhetoric alone has proved insufficient to reclaim Canada’s position as a middle power with influence and pride of place. This year’s Report Card has downgraded Diplomacy for the simple reason that this government has failed to provide any strategic guidance on foreign policy since 2015.
Defence has been equally disappointing: scandals of financial and personal excess abound, ineffective deployments dominate our agenda abroad, and we continue to delay the development of a strong, self aware strategic vision. Transparency is lacking and defence procurement is a mess, underscoring just how fragile Canadian defence is internally and externally.
The pandemic introduced novel security challenges for the government, with countless Canadians moving their work, and lives, online. Despite some successes (dodging hacks and side-stepping election interference in 2019), old problems persisted. Foreign interference remains a problem and issues in our own agencies are numerous as well, not to mention the endless debate around Huawei, the near-obsolete North Warning System, and a lack of urgency in addressing the potential risks of new technologies like 6G and the Internet of Things.
With implementation underway for three major trade deals, trade was not set to
dominate the Liberals’ agenda; a polarized U.S. election, rising tensions with China
and the economic devastation of COVID19 presented major challenges for Ottawa. In the face of increasing protectionism and threatened global supply chains, the Trudeau government settled for a reactive trade strategy.
The Liberals’ 2019 election platform promised to take sincere action to combat climate change, a promise that was backed by ambitious initiatives. While some initiatives, such as the ban on single-use plastics, are underway, many are impeded by a fixation on short-term interests. The Report Card demonstrates how reconciling a commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and jump-starting Canada’s economic growth has proven to be a difficult endeavour.
While making some important progress on development, the government does not differ much, in terms of “generosity,” from the Harper Conservatives. Operational issues and domestic considerations also remain barriers to developing a truly impactful development policy. Vaccine nationalism, and “Canada First” thinking, are not problems per se; they are merely startling because they expose Trudeau as being liberal-internationalist only when it suits him.
The global spread of COVID-19 led to the reinforcement of borders around the world, and the Canada-U.S. border was no exception. This move, compounded by moral and legal questions surrounding the Safe Third Country Agreement, stood in contradiction to the Liberals’ rhetoric positioning Canada as a country eager to welcome asylum seekers. Furthermore, the pandemic exposed the inequalities in Canada’s immigration system, exacerbated backlogs at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), but also prompted the announcement of higher immigration targets.
— Professor David Carment, Ted G. Fraser, Sydney Stewart (Carleton University, March 2021)
Banner image by Adam Scotti – PMO, courtesy of Flickr