Canada and the Month Abroad

Within the remainder of November through to December 2015, Canada is effectively involved in four high-level international meetings over the span of about one month.  These summits are the G20 Summit in Turkey, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Philippines, the Commonwealth leaders’ gathering in Malta, and the Paris Climate Change Conference.  So far the new Liberal government appears to be taking international participation and Canadian foreign policy more seriously than the previous government.  This increased interest in Canadian foreign policy by the Liberal government in addition to expanding Canada’s international participation will be a crucial test for the nation that will have significant policy implications for Canada on the world stage and domestically.  As to whether these implications will be beneficial or detrimental remains to be seen.

Canada is participating in international forums, so what?

These high-profile international fora will be international proving grounds for Canada and the new Liberal government.  Unlike the previous Conservative government led by Mr. Stephen Harper, Mr. Trudeau is undertaking a more open and proactive approach in enhancing Canada’s foreign policy and international participation.  Domestically, this was evident in the foreign policy platform of the Liberal Party and the Munk Debate on Foreign Policy.  In contemporary practice, this is evident in the lead up to the Paris Climate Change Conference where Mr. Trudeau will currently be accompanied by and entourage representative of, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, all of Canada’s premiers, and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.  Overall, these actions domestically and internationally are only one of the many changes evident in the process of expanding asserting Canadian foreign policy.  That said, how should Canada assert or re-assert its international influence?

Asserting and strengthening Canadian influence

As Oskar Douglas Skelton once stated in support of Canada having greater influence, if the country can be “committed to action only by their own parliaments and peoples, they will have real influence and responsible control.”  Though he was referring to Canada as a Dominion, this is still highly relevant as to what the Trudeau government seeks to accomplish for Canadian foreign policy.  The current government has been committed to action by the Canadian people in the federal election in addition to witnessing our new parliamentary representatives and ministers committing Canada to increased involvement abroad, some of which was not seen in the prior government.  What we arguably see is a strong commitment by the current government and the Canadian people to reinvigorate Canadian influence in global affairs and shoulder greater responsibilities than we currently have.  Yet, this will not be an easy process.

This is a process that will take time, perseverance, patience, and complex political manoeuvering, both domestically and internationally.  Though it is great to hear, pushing for policies that are potentially beyond Canada’s current national capacity all at once could actually run counterproductive as to what the Liberal government hopes to achieve.  They key here is to be ambitious, but not over ambitious.  By this I mean the government should assert Canada abroad, but should do so through incremental improvements and enhancements of Canada’s soft power over time as opposed to throwing all your cards on the table and risk losing future opportunities in one sitting, especially in consideration of Canada’s declined participation and influence on the global stage.  This will not be easy, but anything is possible.

International and domestic policy implications

Internationally, these proceedings will assist in demonstrating how much influence Canada currently has on the international stage and may also be a test as to the extent of the nation being able to implement policies derived from these summit’s and conferences, which may be initially evident in Canada’s negotiated successes or failures at the conference.  Current reactions from abroad to Canada’s participation suggests other governments may be eager to work with Canada and have us involved in such processes.

Domestically, what happens in the international sphere could very well affect the development of domestic policy.  Whatever may happen, potential domestic policy implications may affect industrial policy, taxation, the economy, policy governing the private sector, and the impact these policies may have on people’s livelihoods.  The nature of Canada’s international involvement and the impact this will have on Canada domestically are relatively unknown and will become evident over time.

There are numerous challenges on the road ahead

There are many challenges and questions that enhancing Canada’s international presence may or may not assist in answering.  Perhaps the extensiveness of these challenges can in one way be generally depicted in the thirty-six paintings by contemporary Polish artist Pawel Kuczynski.  Though there are many, there are some crucial questions that need to be considered and asked. They include, but are not limited to: Will the Liberal government opt in for the status of an honest broker or will we see?  Is the status of being an honest broker between parties even a valid option anymore for Canada given contemporary situations in which this world finds itself?  Is Canada more influential in specific areas of diplomacy than others? Is Canada able to come to a unilateral agreement or will the Canadian government seek multi- and bilateral assistance and support to forward Canadian interests?  Is the new government trying to punch too far above Canada’s international capacity?  Are the outcomes of these conferences feasible for Canada to achieve, even if we have to compromise to get an agreement?

Brandon Canu is currently an MA student specializing in intelligence and security at NPSIA. He completed his undergraduate degree in Political Science and History at the University of Waterloo. His primary research interest is in Canadian foreign policy, international development, ethnic conflict, conflict resolution and management, disarmament and arms control and, terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Featured Photo From Flickr.

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