Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part series covering the foreign policy planks of the Conservative, NDP, and Liberal platforms for the 2021 election. Click this link to browse the Conservative platform, and here to read our analysis of the Liberals’ foreign policy plan, as well as the New Democrats’ foreign policy plan.


Compared to past platforms, the Conservatives have put a decent amount of thought into their proposed foreign policy plan—a welcome break from the typically scant three-to-four-page spread dedicated to international affairs.

Familiar, hot-button issues like cybersecurity, China, and foreign interference dominate the agenda, but more esoteric issues like NORAD and hybrid threats also pop up, demonstrating that the party—at least on the surface—is committed to seriously thinking about Canada’s precarious, uncomfortable place in the world.

Here are some of the most noteworthy excerpts from the plan.

Defence and Security 

Erin O’Toole and his camp accuse the Liberals of dropping the ball on foreign interference, and pledge to establish a permanent interdepartmental task force to address the issue. The task force would include officials from CSIS, CSE, Global Affairs Canada, National Defence, and provincial and municipal governments.

The Liberals did publicly establish a panel on foreign interference for the 2019 election, but disbanded it following their electoral win. (Despite grand rhetoric, there was no significant interference in the 2019 election.)

The party plans to finish standing-up a “properly funded, equipped, and staffed Canadian Armed Forces Cyber Command to defend Canada from cyber-attacks,” which would presumably bolster, rather than duplicate, the ongoing efforts of the Communications Security Establishment to do just that.

The Conservatives also pledge to engage allies and other democracies to “monitor, detect, and expose foreign disinformation attacks and threats from foreign actors,” which has been a mainstream security concern since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Liberals, for their part, brought Canada into the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, a multi-nation alliance and think-tank which, inter alia, examines the impact of disinformation campaigns on the democratic process. What the Tory pledge would actually consist of, outside of, perhaps, more Five Eyes collaboration, is unclear, but the thought is there.

On Huawei—an issue that has surprisingly disappeared from public debate of late—the Conservatives get tough, declaring that they would ban the company from Canada’s 5G infrastructure and “further investigate the company’s role in providing surveillance capabilities that have been used against the Uyghur people and other persecuted minorities in China.” This would be a hollow “win” for the Conservatives, as most major Canadian telecom companies have already ruled out partnering with Huawei. In response to this proposed ban, however, China would doubtlessly retaliate, calling into question the logic of such a ban.

In the Arctic, the Tories cite Russian territorial aggression and environmental degradation as the main reasons for bolstering security in the region. (The party does not cite specific instances of Russian aggression, but the rhetoric is consistent with an O’Toole statement from November 2020, in which he called Russia “one of the leading bad actors in the world.”)

They plan to complete the Nanisivik Naval Facility on Baffin Island and develop a new Arctic naval base at Churchill, Manitoba and “deploy new autonomous vehicles for Arctic surveillance operations in the air and at sea.”

Additionally, they promise to “update and enhance the North Warning System as part of NORAD and extend it to protect the entire Canadian Arctic,” which is a remarkably bold plan. Modernizing the NWS would have a significant price tag, estimated at anywhere from $2.4 billion to $5.2 billion, and would require extensive negotiations with the Americans over cost-sharing. A related pledge from the O’Toole camp is the establishment of “a NATO Centre of Excellence for Arctic Operations,” which sounds useful (and may have been partially inspired by the ultimately unfulfilled Liberal promise to create a “Canadian Centre for Peace, Order and Good Government”).

The Conservatives pledge to renew Canada’s commitment to NATO by:

  • “Intensifying Operation UNIFIER, Canadian Armed Forces’ military training and capacity-building mission in Ukraine, supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons, and reinstating the provision of RadarSat imagery.
  • Increasing spending on national defence to move closer to our 2% aspirations.
  • Expanding Canada’s contribution to NATO Baltic Sea Air Policing and NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Latvia.
  • Creating a NATO Centre of Excellence for Arctic Defence at the Resolute Bay CAF Training Centre to enhance cooperation and interoperability with allies.
  • Ensuring active Canadian participation in NATO training missions and NATO Centers of Excellence in the areas of Cybersecurity, Strategic Communications, and Energy Security.”

Erin O’Toole and his team also want to bring Canada into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (better known as ‘the Quad’), which would be just one element of the party’s broader proposed shift to the Indo-Pacific. Canada has already participated in military exercises with Quad nations, including during Exercise Sea Dragon in January 2021.

When it comes to procurement, the Conservatives don’t offer up anything particularly noteworthy. They want to, essentially, stay the course on Canada’s new batch of fighter jets, and proceed with the wildly expensive Canadian Surface Combatants, in addition to new icebreakers, Joint Supply Ships, and Coast Guard vessels. The Victoria-class submarines need to be replaced, say the Tories, and they also want to prioritize the procurement of “two armed, heavy icebreakers” for the Royal Canadian Navy to “in the face of increased Russian and Chinese Arctic activity.”

One of the more interesting defence tidbits in the platform is the establishment of a “Canadian National Interest Council,” which would implement “long-term security and economic priorities and grow Canadian strategic and economic influence.” The Tories also want to update Canada’s defence policy (Strong, Secure, Engaged), which they correctly refer to as out of date.

Trade

The Conservatives take a cautious approach to trade, asserting that they do not “promote free trade for the sake of free trade,” but instead believe in “engaging international markets to create Canadian jobs, investment, and strategic partnerships.” 

They promise to shift trade away from China and toward the Indo-Pacific and Africa, pursuing trade agreements with countries in those regions. How this differs from the Liberals is unclear, as the government launched negotiations with Indonesia on June 20, 2021, with the goal of eventually inking a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, and they also started exploratory talks with ASEAN in September 2020.

The Tories say that they will move our supply chains away from China as well, and withdraw from the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank.

The Conservatives also want to spearhead a Canada-Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom (CANZUK) agreement that would seemingly prioritize trade, and give secondary importance to defence, security, and exchange initiatives. 

They also touch on Magnitsky sanctions, declaring that they would expand the list of those targeted by Canada. 

Climate Change and the Environment

The platform lays out the party’s intention to ban the export of plastic waste, and to work with international partners to combat oceans plastic.

The party intends to study the feasibility of a carbon border tariff (also known as a border carbon adjustment), which would reflect the amount of carbon emissions attributed to goods imported into Canada. The platform states that “producers in countries with emissions reduction mechanisms that are compatible with our own will be exempt.”

This comes after the Liberals publicly announced their own plan to examine (and consult Canadian businesses on) border carbon adjustments. The government’s announcement followed a controversial proposal from the European Commission for a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, as well as a related proposal from two U.S. Democrats for a border carbon adjustment.

Immigration and Development 

The platform notes that the party will “reform, not reduce, international development assistance […] maintaining current aid levels while increasing the effectiveness of Canadian aid.” The platform doesn’t explain how Canadian aid is currently “ineffective,” or how they would make it more effective.

In 2019, the Conservatives under Andrew Scheer proposed to cut foreign aid by 25%, which prompted concern and criticism from some international aid experts. One of those experts argued that Scheer’s understanding of Canadian foreign aid was “based on false figures.”

A Conservative government would also take $250 million from Canada’s annual “International Assistance Envelope to build resilience in fragile democracies.” This contribution would be a “Canadian endowment for bilateral democracy programs, offering training, resources, and support to those confronting authoritarians and fighting for the success of their democracies.”

Finally, on immigration, the Conservatives seek to cut administrative backlogs, reduce red tape in the immigration application process, scrap the family reunification ‘lottery system’ and replace it with a first-come, first-serve system, and, perhaps most ambitiously, promise to end illegal border crossings.

Photo Credit: Deb Ransom

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