Canada Foreign Policy
Friday, September 30, 2005

Her story is harrowing and inspiring. It’s about success, and about overcoming some of the most difficult obstacles imaginable. She arrives in Canada a refugee child, from a place where she recalls being “draped in barbed wire from head to toe” [cited in ‘New GG Calls for Unity,” by Norma Greenaway and Anne Dawson, CanWest News Service, 28 September 2005. Article posted at]. She becomes a successful journalist, a media star, a public figure suspected by some of flirting with Quebec separatists, and now this country’s newest Governor General. Michaelle Jean, 48, was sworn in as the 27th GG on 27 September 2005.

She understands dictatorship and has felt repression. Her first speech included remarks about how harsh life outside Canada can be. Yet her observations amounted to no grand worldview. Rather, her words were intensely personal. There is the mention of slavery, and of the harsh days before her family fled Haiti in 1968. “My own story begins as a young child in another country…I, whose ancestors were slaves, who was born into a civilization long reduced to whispers and cries of pain, know something about its [freedom’s] price, and I know too what a treasure it is for us all,” Jean observed [cited in].

Much of the time she spoke she dealt with domestic issues, explaining how conditions within Canada must change. The era of “two solitudes,” of French and English conflicts and disagreements, was a relic of the past. “Today's world ... demands that we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all…We must eliminate the spectre of all the solitudes and promote solidarity among all the citizens who make up the Canada of today,” she observed at the swearing in ceremony. Jean pledged to remain “determined that the position I occupy as of today will be more than ever a place where citizens’ words will be heard, where the values of respect, tolerance, and sharing that are so essential to me and to all Canadians, will prevail” [Cited in CTV News, 28 September 2005. Story posted at].

The Head of State is largely a ceremonial office. There have been times when Governors General have found themselves embroiled in the politics of the day, and their actions have been far from uncontroversial. While Jean begins her tenure with much support, there have been those who have gone on record noting just how political her appointment may be. Back in mid-August, just after the country began to learn about Jean, writer Arthur Weinreb noted “it is unlikely that [PM Paul] Martin knew much about Michaëlle Jean when he appointed her to be Canada’s next Governor General. All he really needed to know was that Jean was a Quebecker and a visible minority woman. The fact that she was a CBC info babe was just icing on the cake. The fact that she was a Quebecker and therefore might be a Quebec nationalist no doubt didn’t enter his mind” [Cited in “Michaelle Jean—A Great Canadian,” by Arthur Weinreb, Canada Free Press, 15 August 2005. Story posted at].

Much of what Jean said at her inaugural, and just how she said it, may be seen as a direct response to those who have been her critics. Hers is a tenure that says the office may be mired in domestic issues for some time, if not for a full five years. If this does happen, could there be an impact on either the substance or our perception of Canadian foreign policy in the years to come? John Ralston Saul, husband of former GG Adrienne Clarkson, once wrote “The Governor General should be much more involved in gathering together visiting cultural figures and Canadian cultural figures… The international reverberations of a cultural Governor General could be considerable. Those of a protocolaire Governor General are zero [cited in].

Stan Markotich
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Wednesday, September 28, 2005
  But does PM Paul Martin really have a clue about foreign policy? I presented a case a few days ago, and suggested there may be some substance and reason behind recent goings on. There is, of course, an entirely different argument to be made. I suggest reading an excellent piece by Salim Mansur, writing in the Toronto Star:

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005
  Who is Michaelle Jean? She was sworn in today.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005
  Warren gets on with it.

Peter Warren, one of Western Canada’s premier broadcasters, had a very interesting show on 25 September 2005. During the first hour, from about 11.00-12.00hrs Pacific Time, Warren spoke with a former US Ambassador to Canada. Paul Cellucci, promoting his new book, had much to say about American views of Canada and some of our leaders. Perhaps of even greater interest—callers to Peter’s show who spoke about our perceptions of the US, American and Canadian politicians, and even world affairs in general. Near the end of the hour, there was a different guest, featuring discussion about our incoming Governor General.

To access Peter’s show, go to the archives (audio vault) at CKNW radio and listen to or download the material from the 11:00a.m timeslot. The show should be there for at least a few weeks:

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Thursday, September 22, 2005
  From Reform to Lethal Force

Not much in the world is changing, or is it? The case may be made there is very little that’s fundamentally different for you, if you happen to be a ranking member of the Canadian foreign policy brain trust. For sure, there are those members of the international community you see slacking off, failing to live up to commitments and obligations, but that’s about all really.

On 16 September 2005 Prime Minister Paul Martin, attending the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, delivered a speech that has been variously described as a “scathing critique” [See for example CTV, 17 September 2005, “Martin Delivers Scathing Critique of UN Failures.” Story posted at] and “terse” [See “Editorial: Martin’s UN Blast,” Toronto Star, 19 September 2005. Story posted at]. Martin attacked the organization, claiming that much of its work had devolved to the point of “empty rhetoric” while the world waited for “concrete results” [].

Martin’s is a “profound disappointment” with how the international body deals with human rights issues. He added that now the UN Commission on Human Rights finds itself saddled with a “serious credibility problem.” At the same time he said, “Canada cannot conceive of a world succeeding without the United Nations” [cited in]. He noted that he had wanted other issues to find their way on the agenda, mentioning AIDS and nuclear disarmament, but understood that terrorism would occupy most attendees most of the time. Martin’s prescription for the UN was a hefty dose of reform, not radicalism. All the problems faced by the international body could be overcome if only it could rededicate itself to plans and strategies already agreed upon, and if efforts making those plans workable were redoubled. The rhetoric may have been scathing, but the message comes across as fairly benign.

The PM never questioned the importance of the UN; he only railed against its inability, as he saw it, to meet its commitments. But was advocating reform Martin’s only objective? Is there not a possibility that his rhetoric may have signalled something much more profound? Perhaps, say a serious shift in Canadian foreign policy? No doubt many analysts of Martin’s performance at the UN will continue to stress how far from radical his remarks were. That may have been the point. Perhaps the real aim was to use the UN performance to distract from another agenda, to deflect from real intent, and to register disappointment now as a means of later recalling that element in order to restructure policy approaches. Public diplomacy, especially that which comes from large multilateral or multinational settings, rarely suggests meaningful change to the status quo. Martin certainly did not deviate from this tradition, at least not very much. But could his harsh rhetoric have been intended only to register current disapproval as a way of sometime returning in the future to the theme of needing to restructure or redefine Canada’s foreign relations?

There is some evidence now beginning to surface that suggests official Ottawa just may be reconsidering its peacekeeping commitments. Now, that’s very far from saying Canada will ever be out of the peacekeeping business, or that any reconsideration of that role can or will lead to major policy reversals. Yet reports over the past several days show Canadian troops are now as involved in peace making, as they are in peacekeeping. On 20 September 2005, Stephen Thorne, writing in the National Post, began his coverage with the observation: “Canadian special forces troops have killed and captured Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan, the head of defence operations acknowledged in an unprecedented look at his secretive commando unit”. What this means is that “Canadian troops, operating under U.S. command with approvals from the chief of defence staff, have the authority to use lethal force where necessary. And they have, indeed, used it…” [See Stephen Thorne’s piece, posted at].

Critics of Canadian policy, and those committed to seeing Ottawa’s activities as nothing short of representing the cutting edge of neo-imperialism, already claim this country is perpetrating “war crimes.” One British MP, anti-war activist George Galloway, recently remarked that Ottawa’s decision to stay out of Iraq did little to quell Canadian neo-colonialism. Instead, Canada opts to serve imperialist aggression by showing up in Afghanistan. “I'm amazed that so many people in Canada believe they’re not apart of this crime [war in Iraq]… Your ships in the Gulf and your soldiers in Afghanistan are doing the dirty work of (US President) George W. Bush and (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair. They are freeing American ships and soldiers to go to Fallujah and massacre the people of Iraq,” says Galloway [quoted in].

I suppose my only question really is: Was Martin’s rhetoric at the UN only the first signal, a way of softening up the international community for the possibility that, should UN reform fall flat, Canada may be expected to seek out other ways of expressing its foreign policy interests? Indeed the UN remains of vital importance. But maybe, perhaps at some date far in the future, could it not become the case that the Coalition of the Willing could become as, if not more, important a tool for the Canadian PM and policymakers?

Stan Markotich
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Friday, September 16, 2005
  "Aging" rocker Bob Geldof decides Canada's "weird." Paul Martin visits the UN and meets with world leaders, including those from Pakistan...

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A discussion of geopolitics and Canada's role in the world. A series of essays to examine the components of Canadian foreign policy making. Psychological, sociological, historical, and cultural variables impacting Canada's perceptions of the world.

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