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Derek Burney was Canada's ambassador to the United States from 1989 to 1993. Fen Osler Hampson is a distinguished fellow and director of global security at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Chancellor's Professor at Carleton University.


Will foreign policy be a value proposition in the federal election? Most of the electorate still says no. Opinion polls show that voters are much more concerned about issues closer to home – jobs and the health of the economy – than they are about Canada and the world.

But the inconvenient truth is that Canadians should care more deeply about foreign affairs. The country's future depends on it. When the party leaders debate Canadian foreign policy on Sept. 28, they should try to knock Canadians out of their comfort zone, not pander to public emotion with mawkish platitudes about Canada's place in the world.

It is true that the refugee crisis in the Middle East, which is causing European leaders much heartache, has touched the heartstrings of Canadians and grabbed headlines. But it is not going to be a ballot-box issue. There isn't a huge difference in the number of refugees that each party says it would admit and everyone is promising to cut red tape to expedite entry. When the sturm und drang settles, as a country we will step up to the plate, whoever wins the election.

Americans are more sanguine, looking, first and foremost, to security threats and to European leadership (leading from behind), which is anything but cohesive. But the relative absence of the United States on this global issue and the more chronic problem of "diminishing U.S. leadership" should also concern Canadians.

There are real differences among the parties, however, when it comes to use of military force to defeat the Islamic State.

The New Democrats want to end the mission as soon as possible. The Liberals are prepared to train local Iraqi forces, but don't believe we should wage the fight by dropping bombs. The Conservatives are committed to staying the course though our military contribution is modest.

But this is not a make-or-break issue for most Canadians. Whatever course the next government chooses will have consequences, especially for our relations with key NATO allies, including the United States, and Canadians need to think that through.

Canadians also have to ask themselves whether, as a G7 country that prides itself on playing a global role, a defence budget that clocks in at barely 1 per cent of gross domestic product is sufficient.

We are not free riders, but nor are we carrying our full freight, notwithstanding the enormous sacrifice Canadian women and men have made fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and the Middle East. But when a key ally such as Australia spends more than 2 per cent of its GDP on defence, we need to take a hard look in the mirror.

Canadians continue to delude themselves that the world "wants more Canada," like the tourist commercial of a bygone era. The world is not waiting for us.

Look no further than Asian investors who are cooling to the idea of buying natural gas from yet-to-be-built LNG terminals in British Columbia. With all the talk about infrastructure investment as the wave of future prosperity, we have dilly-dallied about $100-billion worth of private-sector investment in liquefied natural gas and pipeline projects to anchor our future prosperity. Lower-cost, more nimble suppliers from Russia, Australia and the United States have beat us to the punch.

We also have to dispel the illusion that if we roll over and play nice with Washington, it will, in return, look out for our interests. The Obama administration stiffed both of its NAFTA partners in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership when it struck a secret deal with the Japanese on lower foreign content thresholds for auto parts. Whether this was blissful or calculated ignorance, the snub shows how little Ottawa and Mexico City count in President Barack Obama's affections, and we are having to push back.

Canada is also going to have to bite the bullet on supply management if it wants to join the TPP. You can't be a winner by playing a loser's game. The same applies to China which, notwithstanding its current economic turmoil, is still the world's second-largest economy and growing faster than the United States or other advanced industrial economies. We can't ignore the Chinese market, nor other emerging Asian markets.

Ultimately, we will be judged by the world by the manner in which we are perceived as governing ourselves in the world. Not "more" or "less" Canada, but a more assertive and braver Canada.