Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Support quality journalism
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24weeks
The Globe and Mail
Support quality journalism
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Globe and Mail website displayed on various devices
Just$1.99
per week
for the first 24weeks

var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){console.log("scroll");var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1);

Prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau declared on election night: "To this country's friends all around the world: Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years. Well, I have a simple message for you on behalf of 35 million Canadians: We're back."

Will Canada, rhetoric aside, really be "back" when for most of the past two decades, under Liberal and Conservative governments, the amount the country spends on international engagement has dropped, and when nothing in the Liberal platform suggests a serious reversal of that trend?

Yes, Canada can be "back," sort of, if the tone of its foreign policy is less hectoring than it was under the Conservative government. Canada can stop hating the UN, add some nuance to its view of the Israeli-Palestinian file and figure out a more coherent China policy, among other tasks. It can certainly become part of the international effort to combat climate change rather than being an obstacle.

Story continues below advertisement

The Liberals can fulfill promises to reopen an embassy in Iran and offer moral support to the Iranian nuclear deal, Iran being a country whose importance is obvious to all but ideologues. The Liberals can remove visa requirements for Mexican citizens, as they have pledged to do, and thereafter for citizens of some South American countries. They can try to improve relations with the U.S. administration.

They can do all these things without proving the assertion that Canada is "back." To mean anything, the Liberal government would have to reverse the trends of the past two decades and restore and increase resources for the three Ds of international engagement: diplomacy, defence and development assistance.

In other words: Follow the money, not the rhetoric, because over time the world, including our allies, watches the money and blots out the rhetoric.

Given that the three Ds did not figure prominently in the election campaign, and do not register strongly as priorities with the mass of Canadians, Canada risks really not being "back" in the full sense of the word, including in relations with the United States.

On June 22, Mr. Trudeau delivered a speech in Ottawa accusing the Conservative government of having worsened relations with the United States. He promised instead to "treat the relationship we have with the seriousness it deserves." He pledged to create a cabinet committee to oversee relations with the United States. The Canadian ambassador to Washington would be at "that table on a regular basis."

Fine, but in his first conversation with President Barack Obama, Mr. Trudeau confirmed that Canada would withdraw from the combat mission in Iraq and Syria. Also withdrawn would be Canada's commitment to purchasing the U.S.-designed F-35 fighter jet.

Both projects are important parts of U.S. foreign and defence policies. Canada's withdrawal will make only a minor difference, but these decisions will hardly endear the new Canadian government to Washington. In addition, Mr. Obama is almost certainly going to reject the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Alberta bitumen to Gulf of Mexico refineries, a project Mr. Trudeau has endorsed. And soon to arrive will be another iteration of that hardy perennial of cross-border discord: fresh actions by U.S. lumber producers against Canadian imports.

Story continues below advertisement

Beyond the nice words, there are decisions already made or forthcoming by the Liberal government and the U.S. administration that the other will not like.

On defence more generally, Mr. Trudeau's government will save some money by not buying the F-35 but will spend it elsewhere on other fighter jets or somewhere else in the military. Total spending is unlikely to rise.

The same is likely for Canadian foreign aid, which as a share of gross domestic product has been in steady decline.

As for Canada's diplomatic efforts abroad, the Conservative government hollowed out embassies by reducing staff, selling buildings and cutting operational and entertainment budgets. Naturally, the effectiveness of missions abroad suffered. It remains unclear whether the Liberal government will restore the budgets for representation abroad, let alone increase them.

For many years, Canada talked a better game internationally than it was willing to pay for. In the memorable metaphor of former Liberal Foreign Affairs minister John Manley, Canada had a tendency to leave the dinner table when the bill arrived. So when you hear that Canada is "back," follow the money as a reality check.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies