France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls is eager to see Justin Trudeau’s “Canada is back” rhetoric at work in Africa. His country has thousands of troops on a counterterrorism mission in Mali and across Africa’s Sahel region, and hopes Canadians will be deployed nearby.
The French PM arrives in Canada Wednesday for a visit that underlines how Canada’s foreign policy has changed.
Though one priority of Mr. Valls’s visit is talking about finalizing the Canada-EU trade agreement initiated by Stephen Harper, much of the focus is on things Mr. Trudeau moved to the forefront: climate change and peacekeeping.
“Generally, we need a strong and active Canada in the world. And I am delighted when I hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau say that – I will use his expression – Canada is back. Ready to reinvest internationally. Our two countries are, in effect, confronted by the same challenges. The terrorism which has struck our two societies. The crises that are shaking Africa and the Middle East and which affect our security,” Mr. Valls said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
“And on all these subjects, France wants to act with Canada.”
Mr. Trudeau plans to deploy up to 600 troops to a UN peacekeeping mission in Africa – and no Canadian ally is watching more closely than France.
“The Canadian army is a very professional army. The contingents of blue helmets, frequently deployed alongside French soldiers, have contributed greatly to the United Nations’ peacekeeping or peacebuilding operations,” Mr. Valls said. “So, in effect, to see Canada participate alongside us, for example in Africa, would be a very interesting idea.”
France sent its military into Mali in 2013 to stop Islamist extremists from taking the capital. Now, 3,000 French troops are deployed on a counterterrorism mission, Opération Barkhane, in Mali, Chad, Niger, and several other former French colonies. A separate UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is tasked with stabilizing the country, and French officials have quietly encouraged Canada to take a key role there.
Mr. Valls didn’t explicitly call on Canada to send peacekeepers to Mali – Mr. Trudeau’s government has yet to announce which mission it will join, or whether it will deploy troops in more than one place.
“Frankly, that is to be discussed,” Mr. Valls said. “But undeniably, in training the armies of Niger, of Mali, and Burkina Faso, the reinforcement of that training, or work in the area of intelligence – those are areas we can discuss and move forward on with the Canadian government.”
Aside from France’s counterterrorism mission, there is a need for training and prevention, Mr. Valls said, and “seasoned armies from European countries or from countries like Canada can be particularly useful.”
Mr. Valls’s trip to Canada is the first high-level visit by a French leader since Mr. Trudeau came to power, and there is obviously more political affinity than when Mr. Harper hosted socialist President François Hollande in 2014. Mr. Valls, young-looking at 54, is a Barcelona-born centrist in the Socialist Party, and broadly speaking, in the same centre-left political club as Mr. Trudeau.
But it is common interests that have become clearer. Mr. Harper sent transport planes when French troops entered Mali in 2013, but rebuffed requests for more involvement. Mr. Trudeau’s return to peacekeeping makes Canada a potential ally in African security.
On climate change, the two countries now are diplomatic allies – since Mr. Trudeau declared it a priority at the Paris summit hosted by Mr. Hollande last year.
After Mr. Trudeau’s announcement of a national carbon price last week, Mr. Valls is applauding – noting that France is considering a carbon price for electricity generation and pushing for a “carbon corridor” to set a floor price for emissions in the EU.
But France isn’t convinced of the other part of Mr. Trudeau’s climate bargain – that reducing emissions will make oil sands exports more palatable.
It’s an issue that has a business connection in France, where energy giant Total SA has faced shareholder pressure to get out of Alberta’s “dirty” oil. But even with Canadian emissions-reduction measures, Mr. Valls believes it is up to oil sands producers to make their case.
In Europe, there’s a “strong debate against” unconventional oil from Canada or elsewhere, he said, and even initiatives to forbid imports: “So, producers have to make their case and explain how extraction is fully compatible with environmental requirements.”Report Typo/Error