The 2022 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.
The year 2022 was marked by some dubious achievements, including a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics involving a handful of states, an unprecedented level of economic warfare directed at Russia, the weaponization of multilateral organizations such as the G20 and the United Nations (UN), and a multibillion-dollar course correction away from China. Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly inherited a diplomatic file that repeatedly underperforms. Since coming to office in the fall of 2021, Joly has had plenty of opportunities to chart a productive, if not distinctly “Canadian,” diplomatic agenda. Instead, her government’s diplomatic performance is hampered by rhetorical overreach, squandered opportunities, failures to engage, hypocrisy, and irrelevance. The most recent example of Canada’s fall from grace is its glaring absence at the Oslo talks on Afghanistan.
Under Joly’s guidance, the Liberal’s foreign policy approach to the monumental challenges posed by the global pandemic, the rise of China, and the war in Ukraine show a government and its intellectual underpinnings clinging desperately to an old liberal internationalist order, as interpreted by some 30 countries cobbled together by President Joe Biden under his “alliance of values” agenda. Joly’s mandate letter released in December of 2021 makes no explicit reference to China, yet the country looms large in every entry. The letter makes it clear that the United States (U.S.) and Canada will work jointly to confront China.
Turning to development, the 2021 federal election brought increased official development assistance (ODA) and commitments for greater COVID-19 support internationally. However, the Liberal’s development policy has made limited gains as the pandemic further impacts aid recipients. Additionally, funding challenges and a limited scope in feminist programming remain obstacles for the file, as highlighted in previous Report Cards.
The past year has also included a great deal of movement on the environment and climate change file. Ambitious new climate commitments and initiatives have been plentiful from the Liberals, whose goal is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. However, this Report Card shows how a clear gap has emerged between the rhetoric and reality of many of these promises. With new emission reduction targets being announced alongside the approval of a new deep-water oil project, the rhetoric-reality gap will widen even further as the federal government tries to balance short-term and long-term goals.
Canada’s immigration and refugee file is also not without its shortcomings, despite achieving unprecedented immigration targets and mobilizing migration pathways in response to both the Afghanistan and Ukraine crises. The application backlog remains a persistent concern that, coupled with double standards for asylum seekers and controversy surrounding the Safe Third Countries Agreement (STCA), challenges Canada’s international reputation on immigration.
On the trade file, there are concerns that Canadian exports are fuelling a humanitarian crisis. Trade negotiations with Asian countries that have weak human rights standards and undemocratic governments continue apace. These actions raise the question of whether the Trudeau government has a clear direction for this file while trying to incorporate a feminist foreign policy and inclusive trade agenda. Managing never-ending trade disputes with the U.S. and battling the border closures ate up much of the Liberals’ time in 2021 and 2022.
Lastly, the defence file remains fragile. Delayed efforts in procurement, revitalizing defence systems in the Arctic, as well as the slow response in fixing Department of National Defence’s (DND) toxic military culture put Canada on the backbench. Security has been equally concerning. Sustained challenges and threats caused by the pandemic portray a country sticking to outdated and reactionary policy responses. With a still pending decision on Huawei, the rise of ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE), and weak pandemic early warning systems, the Liberal’s national security strategy lacks sufficient coordination, transparency, and forethought to adapt to evolving threats.
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