Skip to main content

International Trade Minister Ed Fast speaks during Question Period on Nov. 25, 2013.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development should not be taken too literally in its Global Markets Action Plan. Ed Fast, the Minister of International Trade, says that the plan will "ensure that all Government of Canada diplomatic assets are harnessed to support the pursuit of commercial success by Canadian companies and investors." These words are repeated no less than four times in the document. It makes it sound as if the sole job of diplomats will be to carry businessmen's luggage. A closer look, however, suggests a welcome emphasis on encouraging Canadian commerce and investment abroad, but as part of a more comprehensive, nuanced strategy.

For example, when John Baird – Minister not only of Foreign Affairs but also of Trade and Development – said he was "deeply skeptical" about the interim agreement on Iran's nuclear program and made it clear that Canada's sanctions against Iran would remain in full force, he was definitely not harnessing himself as a diplomatic asset to support Canadian commerce with the Islamic Republic. If all Canada cared about was "commercial success," we'd have no sanctions at all.

Trade, commerce and investment are more than ever at the core of Canada's foreign policy. Good. But human rights and foreign aid are also core Canadian interests, and their pursuit cannot be simply subsumed under the activities of trade commissioners. The former Canadian International Development Agency has been amalgamated into Foreign Affairs. Mr. Fast may talk about harnessing all diplomatic assets to business objectives. That cannot account for Canada's aid to the Philippines after the devastating Typhoon Haiyan, which was sent to relieve suffering. In fact, the Philippines are nowhere mentioned among the "markets that matter" in the action plan that was released on Wednesday. Does that mean in future Canada would give less? We hope not.

The advancing of Canadian economic interests should be a high priority of foreign policy, and often the highest priority. Mr. Fast and his colleagues are right to articulate a coherent framework for advancing those goals. But other Canadian interests, such as human rights and humanitarianism, will sometimes trump the dollar, and should.