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The federal Conservatives are rejecting accusations from a former high-ranking diplomat that Canada's foreign policy has been compromised by political obsessions with ethnic voters.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he "respectfully disagrees" with Robert Fowler's critique that Canada's reputation as a trusted mediator has been eroded by attempts by both the Liberals and Conservatives to lure the Jewish vote.

Canada's foreign policy has shifted to an unabashedly pro-Israel stance under the Conservative government.

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Mr. Fowler told a Liberal policy conference on the weekend that "the scramble to lock up the Jewish vote in Canada meant selling out our widely admired and long-established reputation for fairness and justice."

Mr. Fowler, who spent five months in al-Qaeda captivity last year, also urged Ottawa to take a stronger stand in Africa, where he said population growth and endemic instability threaten Western security.

Mr. Kenney, who is leading his party's attempt to court ethnic votes, says Canada's foreign policy is on the right track.

"I would say he's asked us to take a 'balanced' approach in the Middle East but a principled approach in Africa," Mr. Kenney told reporters on Monday.

"I think we should have a principled approach everywhere. And a principled approach means supporting democracy and opposing terrorism."

He also rejected Mr. Fowler's contention that Canada is turning away from global affairs and becoming consumed with domestic interests.

"Maybe Mr. Fowler didn't notice that Canada has taken a remarkable leadership role, for instance, in Haiti; or that we're expanding our international trade markets through additional trade agreements throughout the Middle East, Latin America and Europe," Mr. Kenney said.

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The minister also pointed to increased foreign aid, and to Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Mr. Fowler has represented Canada at the United Nations, and also served as a diplomat and adviser under former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Brian Mulroney.

He was taken al-Qaeda hostage in western Africa last year while serving as the United Nations special envoy to Niger.

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