As MPs return to work on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be on the other side of the world attending a series of four summits that will take him from Cambodia to Tunisia over the week.
On Friday, Mr. Trudeau was en route to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations he will be attending through to Sunday. The 10 members are involved in talks on a trade agreement with Canada.
Mr. Trudeau will be attending the G20 summit Nov. 15 to 16 in Bali, Indonesia. Then comes the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov. 18. Finally, there’s the Sommet de la Francophonie in Djerba, Tunisia.
Meanwhile, Parliament sits again on Monday, after a week-long break. While Mr. Trudeau’s meetings touch on areas of high priority for the government, including trade and an Indo-Pacific strategy, the long absence leaves him vulnerable to criticism at home over domestic challenges.
Before departing Canada, Mr. Trudeau framed the first leg of his trip in terms of economic issues, saying, in a tweet, that he was going to Cambodia to meet with other leaders “to create good jobs and economic growth, strengthen partnerships, and promote regional stability.”
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office released earlier this month said the summits are an opportunity for Canada to weigh in on issues such as economic growth, energy insecurity, climate change, human rights and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Pollster Nik Nanos said foreign policy is always a top priority for a prime minister. “However, in this current environment where Canadians are worried about a recession and paying the bills it will be critical to connect Trudeau’s summit work with the economy, jobs and the rising cost of living,” Mr. Nanos, the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, said in a statement.
“Canadians want to see a Prime Minister focused on their well-being and working to help Canada navigate in a time of economic uncertainty. Not focusing on the economy may leave the Prime Minister vulnerable to attack from opposition parties who may try to portray him as engaging in unnecessary foreign trips at taxpayers’ expense without a material benefit to the Canadian economy.”
Janice Stein, the founding director of the Munk School for Global Affairs and Public Policy and the Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management at the University of Toronto, said it is challenging for any prime minister to be out of the country for this length of time.
“No matter how good the technology becomes, and no matter how good the staff is, you don’t quite have your finger on the pulse when you are away. And international travel is, frankly, exhausting,” Ms. Stein said in a statement.
But she said Canada has interests in these gatherings. “The G-20, ASEAN and APEC are high priorities for this government, given Canada’s new Indo-Pacific strategy, and Canada always goes to the meetings of the Francophonie. The government did not have many degrees of freedom here,” she said.
She said she expects that Mr. Trudeau will be talking about deepening Canada’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific at the ASEAN and APEC meetings.
Roland Paris, a former foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau now a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said in a statement that Canada has a direct interest in crises that will overshadow discussions at these summits.
“Ottawa has promised a new Indo-Pacific strategy within a month but has apparently been ‘soft-launching’ elements of that strategy in recent weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if additional elements were announced during this trip.”
The Official Opposition Conservatives did not respond to questions about themes the Prime Minister should be advancing as he attends the summits. They issued a statement, however, in which Conservative MPs Blake Richards and Pierre Paul-Hus said Mr. Trudeau had skipped Remembrance Day ceremonies to attend “a conference prioritizing photo opportunities with foreign dignitaries over paying his respects to our Veterans and our fallen.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that one of his priorities, as prime minister, would have been to use the ASEAN Summit and the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting to strengthen relationships with countries in the region and ultimately diversify trade.
The NDP Leader said, in a statement, that the G20 summit will be a good occasion for Canada to “stay strong” on its stand against the invasion of Ukraine and discuss how the G20 can increase its effort to fight the climate crisis. Meanwhile, he said, at the Francophonie summit, Canada needs to be more active in protecting and promoting the French language.