Foreign policy

After the Canadian Federal Election: What next for foreign policy?

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by Monique Cuillerier

Now that the Canadian federal election is over and a minority Liberal government is in place, what can we expect to happen next in Canadian foreign policy? To begin with, there are new ministers. François-Philippe Champagne is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, while Karina Gould becomes Minister of International Development. Harjit Sajjan remains as Minister of National Defence. 

Prior to entering politics, Champagne was an attorney and businessperson. Amongst other roles, he was previously Minister of International Trade. Gould has experience as parliamentary secretary for international development, as well as Minister of Democratic Institutions. 

There is also a new set of cabinet committees, including a Cabinet Committee on Global Affairs and Public Security, chaired by Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry and Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages Mélanie Joly as vice-chair. Although at first glance, Bains and July seem odd choices, many of the other cabinet committees have similar, unrelated choices for their leadership. 

As we consider where Canada’s foreign policy may be headed, we can look at the platform the party put forward during the election campaign, as well as the responses they provided to the questions WFMC sent them. (Links to a more extensive summary of their platform and their complete responses to the WFMC questions are at wfmcanada.org/2019- election/) 

The platform says the Liberals will ‘renew’ Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping with new investments, particularly to advance the women, peace and security agenda. In the WFMC questions they identified the absence of women as the “central challenge for peacekeeping in the 21st century” and pointed towards the Elsie Initiative they launched in 2017. 

In their platform, the Liberal Party also pledged to expand Canada’s role in multilateral organizations, particularly NATO and the UN. Additionally, they said they would establish a “Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government”; provide “additional resources” to international institutions like the International Criminal Court and the World Trade Organization; and take a leadership role in the development of international protocols to ban the use of fully autonomous weapons systems. 

In regards to a question about strengthening the United Nations, the Liberal Party declared their support for a rules-based international order and the accompanying multilateral institutions, while also recognizing the need for reform. In this context, the Canadian campaign for a UN Security Council seat, which is largely based on the values expressed by Canadian foreign policy, such as democracy and human rights (rather than specific actions), was also mentioned. 

The party would also gradually increase Canada’s overseas development assistance each year towards 2030; improve, in undetermined ways, international development assistance; spend at least 10% of ODA budget on education; and lead an international campaign to ensure quality education in refugee and displacement camps. 

As well, the Liberals say they will introduce government legislation for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which WFMC has been advocating for some time, “by the end of 2020.” The implementation of UNDRIP was one of the important Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the previous parliament, a private members’ bill on UNDRIP was introduced, but (as a result of Conservative Party obstruction in the Senate) failed to pass before parliament was dissolved. 

In response to the WFMC question on what Canada’s international climate change commitments should be, the Liberals committed to a net-zero greenhouse gas target for Canada for 2050. They will appoint an expert advisory panel to generate recommendations on how to reach the target and legislate five-year carbon budgets beginning in 2025. 

WFMC also asked about which nuclear disarmament measures the Liberals would support. They replied that, although they support nuclear disarmament, “the conditions required to facilitate further major reductions in nuclear arsenals and eventually eliminating them are not present,” because of the lack of participation of the nuclear weapons-possessing countries.

Given that this is a minority government, the key foreign policy issues identified by those parties most likely to collaborate with the Liberal Party are also of interest. 

All three of these parties — the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party — agree with the implementation of UNDRIP. 

The Bloc Québécois’ five foreign policy priorities are: climate change, international trade reform (especially related to environment and labour), promotion of multilateralism, the fight against tax havens, and Quebec’s authority in relation to its jurisdiction. The Bloc did not respond to WFMC’s questions.

 The Green Party used an interesting approach in their platform, explaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and labelling sections in the platform with their related Global Goals. They advocate for a role for Canada in strengthening multilateralism and would like to see Canada’s overseas development assistance budget increase to 0.7 per cent of GDP. They would also like to see Canada’s role in peacekeeping expanded. 

The New Democratic Party of Canada also support a recommitment to multilateral peacekeeping, including participation in missions and fully implementing the women, peace and security agenda in all aspects of peacekeeping work. As well, they would like to see more work towards ending sexual harassment and assault in the military. They also would like to see Canada’s ODA spending increased to 0.7% of GDP and have Canada do more to support and implement the SDGs. 

Many of the Green Party and NDP responses to the WFMC survey were similar. 

Answering the question on what Canada can do to strengthen the United Nations, both parties declared their support for the Responsibility to Protect; a United Nations Emergency Peace Service; a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly; and meaningfully marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. 

And on nuclear disarmament, both parties think Canada should support a NATO policy of “No First Use”; de-alerting, i.e. a NATO policy of taking missiles off hair-trigger alert and eliminating options to launch on warning; and signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

In regards to the question about Canada’s global climate change commitments, the Green Party said they would like to see Canada’s commitment double, so that greenhouse gases are cut to 60% below 2005 emission levels by 2030. Meanwhile, the NDP would like to see a climate emergency declared and put in place ambitious targets to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, along with the creation of an independent Climate Accountability Office. 

Which foreign policy priorities the current federal government chooses to pursue are still unknown. Where, and if, the government pursues collaboration with the like-minded parties remains to be seen. But there are clearly numerous areas, such as peacekeeping, climate change, and UNDRIP implementation, that are ripe for cooperation

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