On Oct. 21, voters will choose the next government of Canada. Ten days later, if Boris Johnson, who today became Britain’s prime minister, is to be believed, the United Kingdom could crash out of the European Union, fomenting a crisis that would seriously affect this country.
The good news is that the Conservatives and Liberals, the parties most likely to form the government, take a roughly similar approach to foreign policy; Ottawa’s response to Brexit would be same regardless of whether Andrew Scheer or Justin Trudeau is leader.
But with the West staggering from crisis to crisis, with populists of one stripe or another in power from Washington to Warsaw, and with China, Iran, Russia and other adversaries emboldened, preserving Canada’s economic prosperity and collective security could become an urgent priority for the federal government.
“It’s a big problem,” says Mel Cappe, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, who previously was Canada’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom and Clerk of the Privy Council. “Things could be a real mess for the next prime minister.”
One of the next government’s first decisions will be how quickly to conclude a free-trade agreement with Britain if it does leave the EU. Canadian and British officials have insisted the existing trade agreement between Canada and Europe could be easily and quickly retooled.
But Mr. Cappe says negotiations could go on for years, complicated by special interests in both countries, such as dairy and aviation.
Earlier this week, Andrew Percy resigned as British trade envoy, blaming what he called the “cack-handed” approach of his own government toward trade with Canada.
And what if the United Kingdom is dissolving even as talks progress? Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a hard Brexit would create an “urgent” need for a second referendum on Scottish independence. The future of Northern Ireland within the U.K. is also uncertain.
The EU itself is at risk from populists of various sorts. Several Eastern European countries are no longer democratic. Far-right parties are on the rise in Italy, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and elsewhere.
Angela Merkel plans to step down as German Chancellor in 2021, leaving Emmanuel Macron as the de facto leader of the European project. But as the French President launches a fresh wave of reforms aimed at reining in public spending, his survival is anything but assured.
An increasing number of analyses project that U.S. President Donald Trump could be re-elected if he can rally white suburban voters in rust-belt states. A Western alliance led by Mr. Trump in his second term, with Mr. Johnson leading whatever is left of the United Kingdom and with the EU and perhaps the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) unravelling (Turkey could be on the way out), would leave Canada dangerously exposed.
In the Middle East, Iran is taking advantage of Western disunity – one of Mr. Johnson’s first priorities will be dealing with Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker last week – China is increasingly assertive in the Pacific, while Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine and elsewhere, including Turkey.
Canada has always depended on, and profited from, a rules-based global order. But what comes next, with that order under threat on multiple fronts, not least the very countries that created those rules in the first place?
“What is Canada going to do, with so many balls up in the air?” Mr. Cappe wonders.
Conservative and Liberal governments have, for all their sniping, shared priorities in foreign policy, which includes maintaining good relations with the United States while broadening trade and other relationships in Europe, Asia and the Pacific.
But instability could come to Canada as well if the next government is a weak minority propped up by opposition parties, with crises from overseas coming thick and fast.
What might happen if the next prime minister is confronted by a belligerent U.S. President intent on a new round of tariffs, escalating pressure from China, Turkey leaving NATO and aligning with Russia, and yet another Iran-fuelled crisis in the Middle East, even as the government struggles to survive the next vote of confidence?
Enjoy the summer.
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