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Headshot of Jeffrey Simpson. (Brigitte Bouvier/Brigitte Bouvier/For The Globe and Mail)
Headshot of Jeffrey Simpson. (Brigitte Bouvier/Brigitte Bouvier/For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

Canada is 'back' on the world stage? Hardly Add to ...

For those who care about Canada's international reputation and Canada's ability to influence others in the pursuit of Canada's self-interest, these are discouraging days.

Everywhere, there is penny-pinching that makes no sense, a hectoring tone not appreciated by others, and a misunderstanding about how international affairs really work. For a government that has proclaimed Canada is “back” on the international stage, what is actually happening would be funny were it not serious.

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For some time now, the euro zone has been in various states of crisis. To observe that the European Union, and particularly those member states using the euro, needs to improve its internal arrangements is obvious, as is any observation that the crisis there is a long way from resolution.

But if that crisis deepens, Canadians, like people everywhere, will be adversely affected. And so, concerned countries outside the euro zone have been pledging what we might call “just-in-case” money to the International Monetary Fund to use, if necessary, to stabilize the world economy and assist the euro zone.

Pledges of $430-billion have been made. More are to come from large emerging countries such as China, Russia, India and Brazil. Countries that have already pledged include Japan, South Korea, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia and Singapore.

The Harper government, however, rejects the idea of contributing to an IMF fund. Canada, therefore, stands alone with the United States, which unlike Canada is in terrible fiscal shape. Worse, various Canadian politicians, rather than at least using a sympathetic tone, prefer a hectoring, morally superior one toward Europe – a tone ill-becoming a G8 country.

Where, except on the Conservative backbench, would one get someone like Pierre Poilievre, MP? He said: “This Prime Minister will not force hard-working Canadian taxpayers to bail out sumptuous euro welfare-state countries and the wealthy bankers that lend to them.” Here is blind ideology blended with profound parochialism of the kind that is giving Canada a well-deserved reputation for being increasingly an outlier, except when it comes to military interventions.

Canada under this government failed to win a seat on the UN Security Council, a stinging rebuke. Canada's once-sterling reputation for caring about Africa is over. Canada's reputation in the Arab world is mud, because although ministers never criticize anything Israel does, they never miss a chance to lecture the Palestinians.

Canada is about to be spurned in its efforts to join the emerging trade bloc, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Canada's Commonwealth partners are worried the Harper government might wreck the next meeting in Sri Lanka because of its hectoring of that country's government, a policy that curries Conservatives' favour with the large Tamil community in Toronto. Canada's feeble non-climate-change policy is universally panned.

In the current budget, the government is cutting foreign aid by $319-million and taking $170-million from Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The government is selling off residences (that, properly used, are essential for making contacts with key people in other countries, which is what diplomacy is all about), hollowing out staff at missions abroad, closing consulates (in the U.S.), reducing budgets for outreach overseas. (How do you think Mr. Harper was one of the first world leaders to phone the newly elected President of France, François Hollande? Because the Canadian embassy in France worked hard to get Mr. Hollande's personal cellphone number. That's called diplomatic work.)

The government is eliminating the small but effective program encouraging the study of Canada in foreign universities. It has ended the annual trip to the Canadian Arctic for ambassadors posted here (for which the ambassadors partly pay) – a briefing trip that gave ambassadors an insight into that increasingly crucial part of the country they would likely not otherwise receive.

It is all so penny-wise and pound foolish, especially for a country that once prided itself on punching above its weight and, more important, understood that this is a relatively small country with huge international interests. Now, Canada has retreated into an anglospheric worldview coupled with a focus on trade deals, but lacking any sense of a wider conception of international affairs.

Hectoring and lecturing undoubtedly appeals to the Conservative Party's core voters. It does not impress other governments, including friendly ones.

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