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Over the past two years, Justin Trudeau has closely adhered to Stephen Harper's foreign policy. One of the questions of 2018 is whether the Liberals will continue to imitate the Conservatives or strike out on their own.

That the Liberals have been so, well, Conservative in global affairs must come as a surprise to those who loathed the Harper government's contempt for the United Nations, hostility toward Russia, on-again-off-again approach to China, frayed relations with Washington and foot-dragging on climate change.

"Foreign posture has replaced foreign policy," complained Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the UN, in the Literary Review of Canada.

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"In most domains that matter on the world stage, Canada has actually lost influence: it is now punching below, and no longer above, its weight," lamented Gerd Schonwalder, at the University of Ottawa's Centre for International Policy Studies.

And former prime minister Brian Mulroney castigated his Conservative successor for allegedly diminishing Canada's standing in the world. "We're in the big leagues … so we have to conduct ourselves in that way," he said in a CTV interview. "We can't be out-riders."

Mr. Trudeau promised to restore Canada's traditional commitments to multilateral institutions, human rights and environmental protection.

"Canada is back, my friends," the new PM declared at the Paris talks on climate change in 2015. "We're here to help."

And yet, although the tone of the Liberal administration is more inclusive and less partisan than its Conservative predecessor, there has been little change "in the substance of policy," observed Kim Richard Nossal, a political scientist at Queen's University, in an interview.

"In many spheres, there is a lot more continuity than discontinuity," noted Paul Evans, an international relations specialist at the University of British Columbia. "This is surprising because in ideology and philosophy, instincts and inclinations, the mindsets of the two men are a mile apart."

The Harper government negotiated a free-trade agreement with the European Union; the Trudeau government secured ratification.

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Under Mr. Harper, Canada joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but only because the Americans had belatedly signed on to the talks; now that U.S. President Donald Trump has pulled the United States out of the TPP, Mr. Trudeau is wavering on whether Canada should stay in.

Mr. Harper was, at first, openly hostile to the Communist regime in Beijing, but eventually agreed to seek improved relations. Mr. Trudeau is much more outwardly positive in his approach, but refused to commit Canada to free-trade talks after visiting Beijing in December. On China, both Liberals and Conservatives want to get close, but not too close.

The Harper government confronted Russia over its annexation of Crimea and generally bad international behaviour. The Trudeau government has expanded sanctions and now leads a NATO battle group in Latvia.

Mr. Trudeau vowed to replace Conservative militarism with Liberal peacekeeping. But on his watch, the number of Canadians in blue helmets has gone down rather than up.

"The waiting game continues," said Walter Dorn, a peacekeeping expert at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, after the latest non-announcement in November.

Mr. Trudeau is far more assertive than his Conservative predecessor on the need to combat global warming. But the government has only committed itself to meeting the targets set by the Conservatives.

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On defence procurement, foreign aid and relations in the Middle East, the rhetoric has changed, but the policies remain substantially the same.

Prof. Nossal attributes this unexpected continuity to "a Liberal Party in third place in 2015 that did not have a terribly clear idea about foreign policy and international politics." After the Liberals came to power, he believes, they were "struck by the realities of world politics."

Dr. Evans agrees. "The Middle Power flag the Liberals had hoped to fly high is only partially unfurled," he believes, in part because the Liberals have been too preoccupied with the challenges posed by Mr. Trump.

While the President approved the Keystone XL pipeline that Barack Obama had blocked, to Mr. Harper's chagrin, his threat to terminate the North American free-trade agreement is several orders of magnitude more dangerous for Canada.

And here we may finally see a parting of the ways between the Liberals and the Conservatives. If, as many observers suspect, the renegotiations break down and Mr. Trump terminates the accord, "it will be interesting to see where [Conservative Leader Andrew] Scheer and his crew come down," Prof. Nossal says.

Mr. Harper has written that Canada should seek the best available agreement with the United States, and let Mexico fend for itself. Mr. Trudeau, thus far, is committed to solidarity with Mexico.

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Will he sustain that commitment if push comes to shove? And will Mr. Scheer agree with his predecessor that any deal is better than no deal at all?

We may soon learn whether the Liberals and Conservatives finally and fundamentally disagree on a major foreign-policy priority, or whether on this file, too, Mr. Trudeau is simply Mr. Harper with more interesting socks.

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