After failing to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) earlier this year, it is evident that Canada’s reputation as a robust partner on the world stage has diminished. However, during this global pandemic, Canada has a vital opportunity to enhance its international standing.

The emergence of COVID-19 has jolted many countries to foster closer multilateral negotiation and planning, including Canada through efforts such as the Ministerial Coordination Group on COVID-19. Additionally, the Government of Canada has earmarked $50 million in support for international assistance partners. Suffice to say, a global health crisis such as a pandemic requires nothing short of deep and integrated global health diplomacy (GHD). Although Canada has outlined international efforts to curtail the pandemic, more can be done.

During this period of need for heightened international cooperation, Canada not only could but should bolster its international response to COVID-19 as well as future global health crises by developing a response that prioritizes GHD. Plainly, it is in Canada’s best interest to do so.

Our Globalized World is Far from Pandemic-Proof

Very few global health experts will doubt the reoccurring thrust of epidemics and pandemics in the future or suggest that the world is prepared to manage them. Moreover, deforestation, mounting species extinctions, climate change and increasing human interconnectivity all seem to suggest that global pandemics are becoming more likely. The recent outbreak of new coronavirus mutations that have forced Denmark to cull its entire mink herd and halt its global export of furs further demonstrates the superfluity of these challenges.

Therefore, government actors across the globe, if prudent, will need to factor in health considerations when considering foreign policy direction and execution. As a species, we cannot ignore the reality that we live in, and subsequently states must engage in meaningful multilateral health policy collaboration. Canada is no exception to this reality.

Canada and GHD: A Decisive Moment

In his new report A Global Crisis Requires a Global Response, Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, highlights that Canada needs to be a leader in the international COVID-19 response if it expects to recover substantially from the economic and health disaster anytime soon. The only way Canadians are protected from the virus is when the virus has been treated around the world. The only way Canadian markets bounce back is when other countries’ economies recover as well and in turn look to purchase Canadian products.

This straightforward example of a need for Canada to lead the international COVID-19 response in the present should also reveal how Canada must pivot to address global health crises in the future.

In the context of a world that will continue to see health disasters rear their heads, Canada should pursue a GHD-driven approach to its foreign policy that addresses the following:

1. Educating our public service. It is imperative that Canadian policymakers equip themselves and the public service with the tools to mitigate these challenges. Public servants should be taught an interdisciplinary and health-centered approach to global governance, negotiation and diplomacy that ensures health sector literacy.

2. Utilizing and equipping the diplomatic mission. Transitioning health from a “soft” issue in international policy frameworks to a more central element in diplomacy and foreign policy. This could include synthesizing diplomatic access to global health professional guidance, communications and ensuring fast and accurate data collection through “Health Attachés” to embassies.

3. Mitigating COVID-19 and future health crises. Canada must strengthen global governance preparedness through closer diplomatic ties to international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and maintain sustained investment in International Financial Institution (IFI) mechanisms for consistent global health security.

Reid Groeneveld is an MA candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. Reid’s research interests focus on diplomacy, inter-state negotiation, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and regional cooperation.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect iAffairs’ editorial stance.


Image by NASA, courtesy of Unsplash.

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