Stephen Harper’s new brand of Canadian foreign policy – one that chooses sides over sidelines and replaces peacekeeper with “courageous warrior” – is poised to have its clearest illustration yet as Libyan rebels celebrate the beginning of the end of the Gadhafi regime.
Support at the United Nations for military intervention, a quick decision to approve Canadian Forces bombing raids and the move to expel Libyan diplomats while the status of the North African nation remained uncertain gave observers a chance to see a very different Canada on display.
“This is a significant shift in Canadian foreign policy,” said Queen’s University professor Christian Leuprecht, a fellow with the school’s Centre for International and Defence Policy. “In the past, our objectives really in foreign policy have been defined by international stability and open trade routes. And what we see in Libya, previous governments very likely would have sat out.”
Mr. Harper has been increasingly vocal of late in describing his approach to Canadian foreign policy, one that is willing to risk upsetting some groups by choosing sides in global conflicts. The link between this and domestic politics was made obvious in an election campaign ad this year that was shot like a movie trailer, showing images of Canadian fighter jets as Mr. Harper’s voice spoke of a Canada that “must be great … by turns a courageous warrior and a compassionate neighbour.”
“Canada welcomes the news that the Gadhafi regime is at the beginning of its end,” Mr. Harper said Monday in a statement he delivered in the foyer of the House of Commons. “Libyans have waited a long time to be free of the barbarity, repression and violence of the Gadhafi regime. And the Libyan people must now chart their own democratic course.”
Sufyan Maghur, a Canadian-Libyan businessman based in Ottawa, served for a time as the main conduit between the Canadian government and the Libyan rebels, known as the National Transitional Council.
He says while other countries also met with the NTC in Libya, as did Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, few other countries offered such sweeping support in terms of diplomacy, military force and humanitarian support.
“Canada played a leading role in all of the aspects of the conflict, so I think Canada will be considered as a main partner [after the conflict]and hopefully it will strengthen relations between Canada and Libya in the future,” he said.
Canada’s military role in Libya did have the support of the Opposition NDP in Parliament, but only after the NDP secured concessions such as a limited time line. But NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said he hopes Canada will continue to help Libya after the jets have returned home by supporting new democratic institutions.
But Mr. Dewar said he’s concerned about what the Harper government’s rhetoric may mean for the next conflict that surfaces.
“We don’t want to see Libya or any future engagement used simply as an opportunity to reframe and rebrand Canada for domestic political gain,” he said. “It should be about doing the right thing and being responsible allies engaged in world affairs in a way that not only we can be effective, but be proud of.”