I have been asked to join a panel of three members of parliament today to speak to a gathering of diplomats based in Ottawa by the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy. This, of course, will test my ability to address everyone with their appropriate titles. My role is to suggest some of the foreign policy issues that might play in the campaign in the summer/fall. My first response, of course, is that foreign policy won't play much as Canadian voters, like American voters, focus far more on economic issues--jobs, wages, inflation, etc. My second response is that because Canada is a much smaller country with far more of its economy dependent on international dynamics, economic policy is foreign policy and vice versa.
Anyhow, here is what I am going to talk about, with much thanks to Phil and Roland for chiming in on stuff that I might have overlooked.
- USMCA and All That Jazz: The focus of Canadian foreign policy is always its relations with the US. The Trudeau government came into power thinking that this important file would be relatively straightforward. Trudeau had a good relationship with Obama, and, while folks thought that the relationship might not be so friendly with Hillary Clinton as President, it would not be that difficult either. Ooops, Trump. We forget since time in the Trump era is funky, but it was not that long ago that folks thought that Trudeau had managed to be the Trump whisperer via a good mix of pandering and pay to play. Trudeau lent Ivanka some credibility when her brand was failing. Anyhow, once Trump focused on NAFTA, things turned sour quickly, leading to more than a year of drama and tension. What did the Liberals get out of it? USMCA, a mediocre deal. Which leads to two questions for the parties in the fall?
- Could they have done better than what the Liberals got either through accommodation or more aggressive stances (Conservatives have said at different times that they would have done both)?
- What will they do when Trump returns to this issue and demands more?
- Speaking of bullies and how to respond, the second most important relationship these days is with China. Hoping to diversify Canada's trade situation and reduce dependence on the US led Trudeau to seek a better trade situation with China. That was going poorly before the US asked Canada to extradite an Huawei official. Now, China is literally taking hostages. So, again, what would the parties have done and what will they do to deal with China as China becomes more aggressive not just with Canada but with everyone?
- Speaking of bullies, how about that Saudi deal? The Conservatives inked an incredibly bad contract that stuck the Liberals with the difficult situation of selling arms (and thus paying the bills for some jobs in Ontario) for the Saudis to use as they act in most unhumanitarian ways. So, what to do about this lousy relationship? Yes, the opposition parties will blame the government for upsetting the Saudis by criticizing its human rights policies, but in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder, how should Canada handle its bully problem there? (I am sensing a theme)
- The last issue I will bring up (as I will have finite time and the Canadian media/electorate have limited attention span) is Mali/UN. What did Canada get out of it? What will Canada do next as it rotates its helicopter unit from Mali this year? How is the quest for a UNSC seat going and what would the various parties do to improve it?
What am I forgetting? Anything I should sub out and put something else in? Note, no Russia here, but that could be subsumed in a "how about them bullies?" question. I will mention election security and whether the Canadian parties will do better (like France) or worse (like US) in cooperating to confront that challenge.