Hey! It’s Samantha and Jack, the editors of Well-Versed. We’ll be with you right up until the federal election. This week, we got you well-versed on Canadian foreign policy − in case you missed that edition, you can find it here.
We round up the most thoughtful reader opinions every week and feature them in Thursday’s newsletter.
If you’d like to be part of the conversation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org − include your first name, age and city, if you’re comfortable with sharing.
Reader responses may be edited for length and clarity.
Well-Versed is The Globe and Mail’s twice-weekly newsletter that aims to jump-start your conversations about the 2019 federal election. Write to us about which issues you want to hear about and express your opinion on the policies and people we’ve examined. If you’re reading this through a browser, you can subscribe to the newsletter.
Here’s what you had to say this week
This week, we took a look at Canadian foreign policy through the lenses of our relationships with the U.S. and China, examined what Chrystia Freeland has done for the Liberals and delved into the other party platforms. The commentary from Globe readers was in-depth and wide-ranging; each person seemed to have a deeply vested interest in a different area of the world, capturing the vastness of foreign policy.
Quite a few readers were frustrated by the declining relations between Canada and China. Andrew Parker from Mississauga wrote, “The extradition case for Meng Wanzhou is very weak, and very old, and does not enjoy much credence, given Trump’s credibility to date. There is also the matter of speedy justice.
“Time to let Meng Wanzhou return home, and receive our Canadians detained in China back home, and sell some canola seeds as well.”
User whengoodmendonothing was concerned about trade, writing in our comments, “One only needs to look at Huawei, Saudi Arabia and the Israel factor to know that trade has become a weapon of foreign influence in our country.”
John Lauzon, a student who is originally from Ontario but currently attending school in Paris, pointed out that our overview was lacking an explainer on a key policy issue.
“For a while now I’ve been concerned about the absence of any mention of the Arctic in our foreign policy debate in Canada,” he wrote. “The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, sea routes are opening, resources are becoming accessible and traditional lifestyles are coming under threat. A well-defined Arctic strategy should be essential to Canada’s future, and yet it barely registers on the foreign policy radar.”
(For those interested in reading more about Arctic policy: In mid-September the federal government released its strategy for the region, which proposes eight priorities but does not offer a timetable or funding guidelines. And Lauzon is right about the variety of environmentally related threats: Matthew LaPierre reported in August that “archaeologists and local First Nations are racing to keep up with the pace of the rapidly melting ice, trying to collect the artifacts before they degrade in the open air.”)
Jane Birkbeck drew the conversation back to Canada’s foreign-aid contributions.
“As a country, we promised years ago … to set our foreign aid budget at 0.7 per cent of our GDP,” Birkbeck, who is from Victoria, wrote. “We’ve never reached that goal.”
“Experts tell us we are at greater risk of nuclear war than ever before. The absence of debate on this issue is shocking,” reader Phyllis Creighton wrote of another discussion gap, “especially since the Trudeau government broke with long-standing Liberal policy of seeking progress on disarmament. Its scorn for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is reckless.
“Given the priority of addressing the climate crisis, planned increase in military expenditures – at a time when Earth cannot afford war – should be being debated.”
Over all, readers wished these big issues were being brought up more frequently by leaders, in media coverage and between voters.
Globe voices, community responses
Roland Paris: With tectonic international shifts, our foreign affairs strategy shouldn’t be an afterthought
Paris, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Geopolitics and former senior adviser to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, argues that foreign policy should not be in its usual backseat this election. He also calls for a comprehensive review of Canada’s international policy.
“With few direct threats to our security, privileged access to the world’s largest and richest market, and international rules and institutions that sustained a relatively open and stable world order, Canadian voters have understandably tended to treat foreign affairs as an afterthought. Today these conditions are decaying, leaving Canada more exposed than ever. A crucial question confronts our political leaders: How will Canada respond to these tectonic shifts in international affairs?”
Paris puts forward five challenges that will face the next prime minister: relations with President Donald Trump’s United States; the protection of economic interest amidst global trade tensions; the foundering of the multilateral system of international institutions that has long been a hallmark of Canadian foreign policy; the role of climate change both globally and at home, especially in the Arctic; and the increased threats to cybersecurity.
Readers such as user Biff24 found Paris’s analysis “sobering but necessary,” though others noted that it’s true that foreign policy has rarely figured prominently in elections and is unlikely to do so.
One user, BC Thoughts, called on the government to take more of a central role on the world stage. “For decades our government spouted the ‘honest broker.’ Quiet diplomacy behind closed doors became a cover up for doing absolutely nothing.”
Campbell Clark: The money and politics behind Andrew Scheer’s foreign policy announcement
Clark, a Globe columnist, wrote that Andrew Scheer’s pledge to cut foreign aid spending by 25 per cent was about much more than foreign policy.
“This was about money and politics. And it probably makes good politics for Mr. Scheer. Foreign aid isn’t popular. Mr. Scheer is saying he would cut foreign aid, but not only that, he’s saying he would use the money, $1.5-billion, on stuff a lot of people want more, like helping pay for tax breaks. … The foreign-aid cut wasn’t some budget-balancing asterisk in the footnotes. It was the marquee policy in an election-campaign announcement. That means the Tories think cutting foreign aid is a vote-winner. But foreign policy? That was incidental.”
Clark also argued that the Conservatives’ claim that aid is making its way to hostile governments – North Korea, Syria, Iran – isn’t strictly true; much of Canada’s foreign aid makes its way to non-governmental organizations, not regimes.
Readers responded in force to Clark’s column, debating the merits of aid spending as a part of government responsibility, what the pledge says about Scheer and what other parts of his international policy platform are noteworthy.
“You could poll forever and you would never find a statistically significant portion of Canadians who wanted our government to increase our foreign aid,” user JeffSpooner wrote. “When Scheer says he will cut foreign aid to some countries and use the money at home, he is on very safe ground.”
Another user disagreed with that comment, harking back to the 2015 election in which Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis was a prominent political issue. “Think about what lost the Conservatives the last election. It was the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi whose Syrian family was rejected to come to Canada and was instead found dead on a beach,” Zuglo9 wrote. “Canadians from that one infamous photograph assessed the mean selfish nature of Conservative foreign policy and forced them out of government.”
Other users chimed in that they wished foreign policy had taken a more central role in this year’s campaign and debates. “Too bad Trudeau skipped the Munk Debate on foreign policy,” user George Pinches wrote. “Voters deserve an opportunity to hear from the leaders. He scuttled that opportunity.”
Another user, Bob.McK, argued that Scheer’s big-ticket announcement to cut foreign aid clouded the more contentious parts of his plan. “By highlighting ‘aid’ spending, the announcement leaves other parts ... in the background – for example, pledging to move our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
Colin Robertson: Canada’s passive playbook on China takes too many pages from Beijing
A former Canadian diplomat and current vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Robertson wrote in late July that the apparent Liberal government policy of “hearing no evil, seeing no evil and doing nothing on the China file, for fear of further upsetting Beijing” was “no policy for Canada.” His opinion piece came in the wake of revelations that the Prime Minister’s Office asked former Canadian diplomat David Mulroney to check with the foreign affairs ministry before he makes future public statements on Ottawa’s China policy, citing the “election environment,” the ex-envoy said. Robertson argues that this is completely counter to the principled stand the government should have on China, and in fact mirrors the bullying and authoritarian politics in China that we should be so opposed to.
“We need a realistic, not a romantic, China policy. It should start with the recognition that China is an authoritarian state, a strategic competitor and systemic rival. It will never follow Western democratic norms because that would destabilize the Communist Party – the root and base of the People’s Republic of China. We have to contain what even Mr. Trudeau acknowledges is China’s ‘aggressive’ and ‘assertive’ behaviour.”
Globe readers were quick to jump into debates about the government’s handling of the diplomatic crisis between Canada and China – and the opinions leaned heavily to one side.
“Trudeau and the Liberal government have no clue what to do about the China file,” user Janet Miller 77 wrote. “The Liberals are hoping that if they say nothing the Chinese will somehow just relent, release the hostages and lift the trade embargoes. The Liberals are a pathetic bunch of incompetents who are costing the Canadian economy billions and hanging the hostages out to dry in this election year.”
User GogirlCA shared a similarly negative outlook on Ottawa’s approach to the worsening relations, writing, “Liberals are big on controlling the message, weak on action.”
“Attempting to silence dissenting opinions, like the Liberals are doing now with the former ambassadors, is right out of Beijing’s playbook. Trudeau did say how he admired the efficiency of the Chinese dictatorship,” user HabFan410 wrote, noting the common saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
“The Liberals’ approach to China is at least consistent with the rest of their foreign policy: incoherent.”
- Liberal candidate Judy Sgro has apologized for saying the black community in her riding has been supportive of Trudeau wearing blackface. In an interview with Toronto-based GBKM FM that later went viral, Sgro said, “Those in the black community have told me that how much more love they have for the prime minister that he wanted to have a blackface, he took great pride in that.” She has now called her remarks “insensitive.”
- Jagmeet Singh has been a criminal lawyer, an Ontario MPP, and now, the first racialized person to lead a federal party into an election campaign. He understands and embraces his place in history – but what does he want for Canada’s future? Reporter Ann Hui has an in-depth profile on him.
- As you may have noticed, right-wing media organizations Rebel Media and True North Centre for Public Policy have been in attendance at the debates. That’s because they won the legal battle to do so – after the Leaders’ Debate Commission turned them both down, saying they engage in advocacy. A federal court judge decided otherwise and said they would suffer “irreparable harm” if denied access.
Stay up to date with all The Globe’s political coverage here.
If you’re a Globe subscriber, be sure to also sign up for our regular Politics Briefing newsletter, written every weekday by deputy politics editor Chris Hannay. He will be ramping up his election coverage of all the big headlines and campaign trail news to keep you informed.