Canada is not back. It has been distracted. So Justin Trudeau is going on tour to make a last-ditch effort at telling Africans Canada is still here.
His trip to Africa is an attempt to shore up the struggling Canadian campaign for a two-year seat on the UN Security Council. But the lateness of the venture, four months before the vote, underlines the bigger issue. Mr. Trudeau hasn’t fulfilled his promise of reconnecting Canada to the wide world.
Suddenly, Canadian ministers are fanning out to visit Africa. Trade Minister Mary Ng is touring three African countries. International Development Minister Karina Gould visited two in January. So did Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne.
But there weren’t many visits in 2019. And when Mr. Champagne went to Egypt in December, he was the first Canadian foreign minister to visit the continent in three years. Nice to see you, Canada. Where have you been?
You may remember the boast that, in 2015, the newly elected PM was telling Canadians, and the world, that “Canada was back.”
But look around now. Canada can’t count on being shoulder to shoulder with a U.S. ally that isn’t thinking much about allies right now. It is in a deep chill with China, which imprisoned two Canadians as a way of bullying Canada to release a Huawei executive who faces extradition. Mr. Trudeau’s trip to India to rekindle relations ended in farce. Diplomatic relations with Iran, which Mr. Trudeau promised to renew, are still suspended. Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia was kicked out in 2018.
Canada is more alone in a chilly, chilly world.
That’s not all Mr. Trudeau’s doing. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, overreacted to a Canadian tweet demanding the release of imprisoned rights activists. Acting on a U.S. extradition request enraged a newly assertive China. And most of all, the election of U.S. President Donald Trump changed a lot, making the preservation of the U.S. relationship and the renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement the overarching priority.
Ms. Freeland was responsible for NAFTA talks, so presumably that’s one reason she never toured Africa in her nearly three years as foreign affairs minister.
But there is still a world out there. And Mr. Trudeau has not delivered on his promise to re-engage with it.
In Asia or Africa, a lot of countries will question whether Canada is relevant to them. Certainly, the Liberal standards Mr. Trudeau set early on were not met. His government advertised a big return to UN peacekeeping, but delivered a smaller medical-evacuation mission in Mali. There are still aid projects, but not much increase in budgets. There are other themes, such as ocean preservation and the maritime “blue economy,” that, officials note, are of interest to African countries. A little.
The upshot isn’t only that Canada’s bid for a Security Council seat is in trouble – it’s that Canada’s influence, including its ability to press its commercial and security interests, is weak. And for all the UN’s flaws, having a seat on the Security Council, with its power to approve sanctions or peacekeeping missions, is a position of diplomatic influence.
So Mr. Trudeau is on a scramble through Africa hoping to save the Security Council campaign.
It’s hard to know how much hope there is. Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, suggested he was confident in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail. Some senior Liberals seem to think it is a lost cause. Mr. Trudeau was warned after he was re-elected that it is a difficult race, but chose not to abandon it.
It will certainly be a major embarrassment for Mr. Trudeau if Canada loses to Norway and Ireland. Ten years ago, when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives lost a bid for a Security Council seat, finishing behind Germany and Portugal, the Liberals treated it as a global rebuke for Mr. Harper’s policies. Before then, Canada had won a Security Council seat every decade. If Canada loses again, Mr. Trudeau’s critics will be crowing.
The bigger issue for the country, however, is not the UN campaign, but the reason why Mr. Trudeau’s trip to Africa is a mad dash late in the game. Because so far, Canada is not back.
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