The world now knows what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meant when he said: “Canada is back.” We’re not the helpful middle-power willing to punch above our weight, after all. We’re more like the spoiled teen who engages in voluntourism to pad her résumé. It seems we’re more out to impress people than take on the thankless tasks required of an adult.
Our friends have come to see us as high maintenance, fickle and even hypocritical. Helpful? Not so much. We get up on our high-horse to proclaim our “feminist” foreign policy while continuing to sell armoured vehicles to one of the world’s most misogynistic regimes. We don’t have the guts to admit why we’re really selling arms to Saudi Arabia and hide behind the excuse of done deals.
We naively trumpet a return to peacekeeping without so much as a basic understanding of the modern meaning of the term. When we learn what’s really involved, we stall and waver, until that is no longer possible. We make a commitment to supply helicopters and personnel in a danger zone, but offer no date for deployment, fearing body bags before the next election.
We are becoming a laughing stock in diplomatic circles for the haplessness and tone-deafness of our Prime Minister on foreign soil and the failure of his entourage to insulate him from himself.
“The government’s actions and rhetoric have been inconsistent, at times contradictory and mostly focused on messaging and advancing the Liberal brand than fixing real problems,” according to the 2018 Foreign Policy Report Card produced by Carleton University’s School of International Affairs in partnership with the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal. “For a political party that promised to elevate Canada’s position in the world, the Liberal government under Justin Trudeau has achieved remarkably little in the first half of its tenure to meet that goal.”
Was Mr. Trudeau really ever that interested in the hard work needed to enhance Canada’s influence on the world stage, especially if it involved taking any political risks? During the 14 months that Stéphane Dion served as his Foreign Affairs minister, Mr. Trudeau held only a single face-to-face meeting with him, according to a new book by former Dion adviser Jocelyn Coulon. And that meeting only happened because the two men were stuck on a flight to Europe together.
“On the plane, Dion brings up several topics, including re-engaging with Russia,” Mr. Coulon writes in Un Selfie avec Justin Trudeau. “Trudeau is hesitant and reminds [Dion] that there are two schools of thought within cabinet on the topic [of Russia]. According to a witness at the scene, it is not a deep conversation and Trudeau grows irritated by Dion’s insistence.”
Mr. Dion, it seems, was a constant thorn in the side of the Prime Minister’s Office, pushing a seemingly uninterested Mr. Trudeau to leverage Canada’s middle-power status on a host of issues. In return, Mr. Dion was demoted from chairing the cabinet committee on the environment, because he pushed for more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, and ultimately turfed from cabinet altogether.
On Russia, of course, that other school of thought was championed by Chrystia Freeland, who had antagonized President Vladimir Putin as a journalist. By the time she replaced Mr. Dion at Foreign Affairs in early 2017, however, saving the North American free-trade agreement had become her all-consuming priority. She has, hence, paid only fleeting attention to other files under her authority.
Even if her NAFTA work pays off soon with an agreement-in-principle with the United States and Mexico, it is unlikely to lead to a refocusing of Canada’s foreign policy or a revival of the Pearsonian diplomacy the Liberals once talked about. This government seems to have neither the courage nor wherewithal of its high-minded diplomatic pretensions.
Consider the tepidness with which Mr. Trudeau greeted this week’s report from his own Special Envoy to Myanmar. Bob Rae called on Ottawa to press the international community to launch an investigation into crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar’s military against the largely Muslim Rohingya minority. Canada, he said, should let in thousands of Rohingya refugees and triple its aid to the region. “What we do, or don’t do, in response to the Rohingya crisis will be a litmus test for Canada’s foreign policy,” Mr. Rae insisted.
In a statement, Mr. Trudeau thanked him for his “thoughtful recommendations” and added: “In the coming weeks, we will assess the recommendations in this report and outline further measures we intend to take.”
Canada is willing to be back, it seems, as long as it’s convenient for us.