Canada Foreign Policy
Monday, January 30, 2006
  Don’t Ask, But I’ll Tell Anyway

PM-designate Stephen Harper continues to gain coverage for something unusual. It’s been a week, and media continue to report the fallout from the most analyzed query, possibly in Canadian history, that nobody actually uttered, or seemingly even thought of asking at the time.

It all started back on 25 January 2006 when US Ambassador David Wilkins, while visiting an Ontario university, observed he had profound issues with Harper’s plan to militarize the Arctic. These areas, Wilkins noted, are international waterways, and as such have nothing to do with Canadian sovereignty. Ottawa has no business planning to deploy icebreakers. Washington is not the only capitol to make this argument, and legal scholars claim the position, at the very least, may have some merit.

And so the scene shifts to Harper’s first post-victory press conference, held 26 January 2006. Wilkins had already made his remarks, and no one actually asked Harper, but the new leader must have thought he heard someone wanting to know the answer to: “And so, as PM, how would you respond to Ambassador Wilkins’ position on Arctic sovereignty?” That must have been the case, as Harper simply volunteered: “The United States defends its sovereignty. The Canadian government will defend our sovereignty.” He also noted, “It is the Canadian people that we get our mandate from, not the ambassador of the United States.” [For complete analysis of the question that went unasked, see Thomas Walkom’s “Harper’s Arctic Stand Makes for Grand Politics,” Toronto Star, 28 January 2006. Story posted at].

Is it really necessary to explore why Harper made the remarks?

In any case, Harper’s rebuke made headlines around the world. Well, in the US media at any rate. The Washington Post observed in its coverage “Stephen Harper, elected Monday as prime minister, warned the United States on Thursday to back off from its challenge of Canadian sovereignty in Arctic waters that are fast thawing from global warming.” The daily continued, noting “Harper upbraided the U.S. ambassador for asserting that the icy polar regions, including the legendary Northwest Passage, are international waters” [material quoted from Doug Struck’s “Harper Tells U.S. to Drop Arctic Claim, The Washington Post, 27 January 2006. Story posted at].

Some sources, reporting the Arctic question has resulted in a “clash” between the North American neighbours, almost might make one suspect the Cold War has been reborn, featuring two former close, long-time allies [See “Canada, United States Clash Over Arctic,” UPI, 29 January 2006. Story posted at]. Russia’s press covered the Wilkins-Harper exchange, opting to stress those accounts making the point that “the surprising salvo was likely intended as a message to those in the Bush administration who might be cheering the election of a Conservative government with a view that Harper might be a pushover when it comes to prickly U.S.-Canadian relations” [Pravda, citing AP, 27 January 2006. Story posted at].

If sparring over the status of the Arctic remains in its current state, with Canadian politicians and US Ambassadors arguing over jurisdiction, the relevancy of some issues may have to be revisited. Perhaps Harper and Wilkins will need to spend time on ExoForeign policy. Alternatively, there may be serious attention that could be paid to the Arctic. Asking some unexplored questions makes sense. These may include: Is there real opposition in Washington to Canadian sovereignty? What would accepting international jurisdiction mean for Washington’s North American role? Is it more advantageous, and for whom, to settle for Canada’s claims or would it be more prudent to allow other nations to make use of international Arctic waterways? Answers here may make clearer just what the boundaries of Canadian independence may be.

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Sunday, January 29, 2006
  The view from...Jamaica:

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Thursday, January 26, 2006
  The foreign-policy policy news seems to be flowing fast:

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006
  How gone is Paul Martin? Will the Liberals need an interim leader?

And are they really friends now?

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006
  PM Harper

Canadians decided to give the Tories a chance. Harper and his Conservatives won 124 seats last night, including 10 in Quebec and 40 in Ontario, just enough to form a slim minority government [for coverage and analysis see, for example, CP, 24 January 2006. Story posted at]. The Liberals have been reduced to opposition and 103 MPs, down 30. The Bloc, while walking away with 51 seats in Quebec, lost considerable ground, both in terms of public support and Commons representation, shedding about 6% from the previous figure of roughly 49% of popular vote total and 7 MPs. Jack Layton’s New Democrats gained, up 10 seats to 29. There’s also one independent.

Perhaps the real story is former PM Paul Martin. He decided to end his political career on a high note, with one of the finest speeches he’s given, perhaps ever. He’ll stay on to represent his constituents, but won’t be taking his party into any upcoming elections. In being gracious about accepting the results, and in resigning and promising only to stay on until his Liberals can find a successor, he has almost certainly guaranteed that the divisions plaguing the Liberal Party will either be bridged, or at the very least kept from surfacing in public.

Already some are speculating that the Grits will be preoccupied with internal issues, with rebuilding, making it almost certain that Harper will have at least 8-12 months to govern with little serious opposition. There are those, too, who say the Bloc are big losers. They had hoped to win at least 60 seats and take over 50% of the popular vote in Quebec. Instead, they lost the momentum to the federalists, and some say this will make Gilles Duceppe cautious. While the NDP did gain ground, they are far from the balance of power. No matter how hard they press, they are unlikely to be able to cause too many problems for Harper. At least, that appears to be conventional thinking.

In fact, much of the analysis, in order to prove true, I suspect supposes that events outside the country will have little, no, or indirect impact on how politics is run. But if the pace of external events overtakes what’s likely to begin happening, analyses may have to be revised. There’s no certainty that Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran will remain manageable for an indefinite period. That could mean the parties may have far less time for navel gazing than they would want or expect, and debate and governing could get very interesting.

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Saturday, January 21, 2006

It’s just about over. Canadians go to the polls in a few days, and this country will have a new government and almost certainly a different party in power. Stephen Harper’s Tories, if surveys and public sentiment can be believed, are set poised to take office. This is also the end for PM Paul Martin.

Martin has had a distinguished political career, until about two years ago. Within weeks of unseating Jean Chretien, signs began to appear that Martin was ill suited for this nation’s top political job. After so much promise, after so many pinned high hopes on his ability to clean up corruption and reinvigorate the Liberals, he delivered only failure at worst and lackluster performance at best. The Dithers image sticks to this day.

The questions now revolve around Martin’s life after politics. If the very worst-case scenario is realized and the Liberals fall to under 60 seats, he may not even lead the opposition. If this scenario develops, it’s almost certain he would make known his intention to leave public life, likely within three or so months after the election. Even if he does come in second, he may be around a little longer, but not much longer.

In addition to arguably being this country’s weakest prime minister, Martin also seems to be its most tragic figure. In no small way, his own attitude contributed to his downfall. In the early days as PM, he distanced himself from and alienated the left wing of the Liberal Party. He even enraged the pro-Chretien faction to the point where some became openly and vehemently critical of the new leader. Have some of these people removed themselves, albeit temporarily, from public life? Have they even worked against Martin? Do they wish for him to lose, and to lose badly on 23 January? Has all his hubris culminated in this, one of the worst election campaigns ever, possibly serving to drive voters to the Tory and New Democratic Party camps?

For Stephen Harper, the concern is whether or not the new government will be a Tory minority or majority. For NDP leader Jack Layton, there have to be dreams of ascending to opposition status, damaging the Liberal brand name to the point where it can never hope to recover.

And so the political obituaries are likely to go from the evening of 23 January and for at least a few days. And if the press does find itself in the position of being able to dwell on the demise of the Martin regime, something of perhaps far more importance may go unnoticed, at least for some time.

As one prominent Conservative once said, and I paraphrase, an election is no time to discuss issues. But for maybe just one moment in this campaign, that could have been have different. Foreign affairs were mentioned, and in a way that might have led to serious policy debate.

First, nothing moved for the Liberals. In practice, Liberal policy has been evolving, but of course the rhetoric is static. All that Canada did in and for the outside the world, including new dangerous assignments, fits within the paradigm of peacekeeping and aid. Does it matter that peacekeeping may be more of a national myth than reality? Not at all. Is it of concern that Canadians may actually have seen combat in Iraq? Certainly no, but let’s not dwell on or even mention any of this. Is it material that the nature of the mission in Afghanistan is shifting, and the result may lead to Canadians fighting in that country for at least a generation? Of course not. It’s all about peacekeeping and rebuilding.

The Tories did mention foreign policy, but their rhetoric leaves much to interpretation. The result here is that many simply assume Stephen Harper as PM would translate rhetoric about beefing up the military into having Canadians fight wars. Again, the reality may be far more complex, and much more nuanced than the Liberal position. Perhaps, and this is pure speculation, Harper does not disagree with those numerous critics in the international community who say Canada has spent the past decade, perhaps two, running away from its obligations, obligations to the world which mean more Canadian soldiers need to spend more and more time fighting enemy insurgents and less on peacekeeping. But how to revitalize the armed forces? Perhaps there is no better way than getting involved, say in Afghanistan, which in turn could translate into the means for advocating even more time, effort and resources need to be spent on rebuilding a military infrastructure that’s been in decay for some time.

And then there’s Jack Layton, who during this campaign offered a third way. Or did he? According to Layton, Canadians want to be peacekeepers, not fighters. And just to make sure, why not have a debate? While he and the NDP may be late in dealing with foreign policy issues, they appear to be the first, at least in this election campaign, to claim a national debate must be placed on the agenda. The NDP leader says “Canada's role is the peacekeeping role, the peacemaking role, nothing more than that …Canadians feel helping the Afghanis build a democratic society is a role that is appropriate for Canadians to play.” In addition, on 17 January 2006, Layton “pledged Tuesday to use his party's influence in the next Parliament to maintain the Canadian military's good-guy peacekeeper role around the world.” But does Layton really want to distance himself from the Liberals and the Conservatives? Perhaps he may find much common ground, and all he wants is the debate: “A move to offensive operations is ‘a significant change in Canadian foreign policy’ that needs to be agreed upon democratically, Layton said” [all Layton quotations and text cited in Murray Brewster’s “Layton: Canadians Don’t Support Afghan Offensive,” CP, 17 January 2006. Story posted at].

It’s almost surely the case that issues brought up in an election campaign fade away when the voting is over. Foreign policy has received almost no attention under the Martin government. But could it be that Layton’s remarks point to how things may just change under a new government? Will the NDP get its foreign policy debate? And is this just the kind of thing that might finish other political careers?

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Sunday, January 15, 2006
  Events in Afghanistan:

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006
  Finally, is there going to be something for analysts/observers of Canadian foreign policy to write about? Do dreams come true? Does it get any better than--Stockwell Day?

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Sunday, January 08, 2006
  I'll start the New Year with a story that involves the Old World. Read very carefully...

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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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