The Liberal government has announced new measures to prevent foreign actors from interfering in the next Canadian election. All well and good, but here’s the thing:
There is no reason why any foreign actor would want to interfere in Canada’s election. The Liberal and Conservative parties are so closely aligned on every major foreign policy file that Russia, China or any other great power would achieve nothing by attempting to promote one party or undermine another.
Some actors at home or abroad might get into some devilment, as my mother used to call it, just to sow confusion. But Canada faces the world with a united front, though you’d never know it from listening to our politicians calling each other out.
The Liberals, in particular, would rather you think there was a great gulf between them and the Conservatives in foreign policy. After all, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised big changes, a Canada-is-back re-engagement with the world after a decade of Stephen Harper’s brutish approach.
The record, however, has proved to be the opposite. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reinforced Mr. Harper’s determination to isolate Russia and keep it isolated. The Liberals doubled down on support for Ukraine, and sent a battle group to Latvia to help protect NATO’s borders, with strong Conservative support.
Then there is the China file. While Mr. Harper was always suspicious of the regime in Beijing, Mr. Trudeau envisioned a warmer relationship. But hopes for trade talks were wrecked by the Liberals’ insistence on putting human rights on the agenda. And then came the detention for extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States.
Although Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has criticized Mr. Trudeau’s handling of the Huawei controversy, a Conservative government would maintain the Liberal position of honouring the extradition treaty between Canada and the United States, while leaving the rest to the courts.
In sum, neither Beijing nor Moscow has any reason to hope that conspiring to undermine the Liberals would lead to improved relations under a Conservative government.
The United States has interfered in Canadian elections in the past – quite egregiously, when John F. Kennedy was president and John Diefenbaker (whom Mr. Kennedy loathed) was prime minister. But the Trump administration would have no reason to prefer Andrew Scheer to Justin Trudeau as prime minister, or vice versa.
Mr. Scheer insists, of course, that he would have struck a better deal for Canada in the renegotiation of the North American free-trade accord. But he wouldn’t have. From Barack Obama to Donald Trump, and from Stephen Harper to Justin Trudeau, Canada-U.S. relations have followed broadly the same path: protecting Canadian interests, especially on trade, while working to preserve the Western alliance.
Speaking of trade, the Liberals concluded agreements with European and Pacific nations that were launched by the Conservatives. On the environment, both parties are committed to meeting the carbon-reduction targets established under the Paris accord. Neither Conservative nor Liberal governments met those targets. It’s safe to assume that Mr. Scheer would do no better.
The Conservative Leader has promised that, as prime minister, he would move Canada’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And Mr. Trudeau authorized a small peacekeeping mission in Mali that a Conservative government would probably not have approved. But that mission will end in July, after only one year. It’s unlikely that most Canadians even knew about it.
The two parties even mimic each other in their failures. Mr. Harper got nowhere in his efforts to get the Indian government interested in meaningful trade talks. Mr. Trudeau got nowhere also, and his trip to India turned into a personal embarrassment.
Mr. Harper tried and failed to persuade the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The Trump administration did approve the pipeline, but the project is hung up in the courts. In any case, both the Liberals and the Conservatives want to see Keystone go ahead.
As for Saudi Arabia, both parties agree that protecting the sale of armoured vehicles to the regime is the first priority, whatever else happens on the human-rights front.
Polarization over foreign policy is a curse. Just look at the U.S. and U.K. for examples of populations divided over the role their nation should play in the world.
But Canada is blessed by having two major parties with virtually identical views, Just don’t tell the Liberals. It drives them nuts.