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


The Liberals dedicate only a few pages to international affairs in their platform, opting to focus more on domestic issues like reconciliation, childcare, and COVID-19. This is unsurprising—the Liberals’ track record on foreign policy since 2015 has been far from spectacular, and not exactly a point of pride for them.

Recycled promises, a lack of creativity, and a series of conspicuous omissions (e.g., China, defence procurement, foreign intelligence, etc.) do not inspire confidence in the party’s already shaky foreign policy position.

With that in mind, here are some of the key foreign policy-related excerpts from the Liberal platform.

Defence and Security 

The Grits say they’ll work with the U.S. to modernize NORAD, including by “upgrading the North Warning System […] and investing in the infrastructure and capabilities necessary to deter and defeat threats to North America.” As mentioned in our previous analysis, “modernizing” NORAD would be an expensive and complex initiative, but it would be in Canada’s interest to start talks with the U.S. sooner rather than later.

The Liberals then say that they’ll launch a new, comprehensive “Asia-Pacific strategy to deepen diplomatic, economic, and defence partnerships in the region, including by negotiating new bilateral trade agreements, expanding FIPAs, and building stronger economic linkages.” This much-hyped strategy has, according to media, been in the works since April 2019. Why more time is needed (or if the government is simply waiting for the right time to release it) is unclear, but this promise seems empty, and designed to merely buy time than to develop actual policy.

The Liberals also recycle the promise of founding a Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Governance, which was made in 2019. 

The Liberals want to add more countries to the “coalition of more than 65 states that have supported Canada’s initiative to condemn and eradicate the practice of arbitrary detention.” This is clearly a reference to the plight of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, although the Liberals opt not to directly mention China, which becomes a pattern throughout the document. (Interestingly, “China” emerges but once in the Liberal platform, and 41 times in the Conservative platform.)

Trudeau and the Liberals would expand cooperation and assistance to partners, allies and international organizations on humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery, including health and climate emergencies, and conflict response, and they would also (continue to) work with “like-minded partners” to develop collective responses to “[…] cyber threats, foreign interference in democratic processes, and egregious violations of human rights.”

On Huawei, the Liberals would introduce legislation to “safeguard Canada’s critical infrastructure, including our 5G networks, to preserve the integrity and security of our telecommunications systems.” They don’t mention the company by name here, but it’s clear who they are calling out.

Finally, the Grits would increase resources available to our national security agencies to “counter foreign interference and to the RCMP to protect Canadians from unacceptable surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by foreign actors.” The Liberals estimate this would cost $50 million per year, beginning in 2022-’23.

Trade

There is nothing of true significance on the trade file, but the Liberals will, however, develop a strategy for “economic cooperation across Africa,” including by supporting the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, facilitating increased infrastructure investment, and expanding partnerships in research and innovation.

This pledge is a bit surprising, considering that, as the Globe has noted, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland “never set foot in Africa during her nearly three-year stint as Canada’s minister of foreign affairs,” which did not seem to suggest a willingness to engage with the continent.

Trudeau and the Liberals also want to “establish a new federal hub to help Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs take full advantage of the opportunities created by CUSMA, CETA, CPTPP, and other trade agreements.” The details on this promise are scant, but they’ve budgeted $9 million per year for the policy beginning in 2022-’23. 

One of the odder aspects of the Liberals’ trade plan relates to border carbon adjustments.

In early August 2021, they publicly announced – rather cautiously – a plan to consult domestic stakeholders on the feasibility of a Canadian border carbon adjustment. But in the platform, the Liberals have jumped the gun, promising to “move forward” with a border carbon adjustment on imports from countries that “aren’t doing their part to reduce carbon pollution and fight climate change.” The pledge was likely triggered by the NDP and Conservatives’ announcements to implement a border carbon adjustment. 

Climate Change and the Environment

The platform sets out goals to work with leading countries to build on the Ocean Plastic Charter, and move towards a new global agreement on plastics; lead international efforts to establish a global coalition to respond to wildfires and other climate emergencies; and accelerate the global shift to a circular economy by hosting this year’s World Circular Economy Forum.

It also promises to deliver on G7 Finance Ministers’ commitments to mandate climate-related financial disclosures based on the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures framework. In a related context, it aims to expand Canada’s Responsible Business Conduct strategy which ensures Canadian companies at home and abroad are upholding the highest environmental and social standards in corporate governance.

On the nexus between climate and security, plans include the establishment of a NATO Centre of Excellence on Climate and Security in Canada, to address threats posed by climate change. The Conservatives have proposed a similar centre, although theirs would be called the “NATO Centre of Excellence for Arctic Operations.”

Immigration

In terms of economic immigration, the platform aims to expand pathways to permanent residence (PR) for temporary foreign workers and former international students through the Express Entry points system. The Liberals also hope to advance the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot to welcome 2,000 “skilled refugees” to fill labour shortages in in-demand sectors, such as health care.

As for family reunification, the Liberals are aiming to reduce processing times that have been impacted by COVID-19 to under 12 months, Introduce electronic applications for family reunification, and accelerate reunification by issuing visas to spouses and children abroad while they wait for the processing of their PR application.

The platform also sets out to establish Canada as a “safe haven” for those facing persecution by providing resettlement to, in particular, human rights defenders, journalists, feminists, LGBTQ2 activists, and members of religious or ethnic minorities at risk.

The platform also spells out extensive supports for Afghan citizens, including the expansion of the new immigration stream for human rights defenders; working with civil society to ensure safe passage and resettlement (for all, including Afghans); and increasing the number of eligible refugees from 20,000 to 40,000 Afghans including those in need of protection, as well as those who have supported Canada over the past two decades.

Development

In the short term, the platform aims to increase Canada’s international development assistance every year towards 2030 to realize the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It also promises to donate at least 200 million vaccine doses to vulnerable populations around the world through COVAX by the end of 2022, and provide additional funding to support developing countries. The platform also plans to quadruple annual investments under the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives to support development efforts undertaken by Canada’s embassies.

In terms of advancing thematic priorities for development, the platform aims to build on the support Canada provides to developing countries in the areas of education, women’s rights, and supporting vulnerable groups like people living with disabilities and LGBTQ2 communities.  

Lastly, the Liberals aim to help establish an International Anti-Corruption Court, to prevent corrupt government officials from misusing resources and impeding development.


Photo Credit: Adam Scotti

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