Canada Foreign Policy
Monday, April 24, 2006
  Geopolitical Complexities?

The Tories are finally starting to let us know just how they might handle foreign policy. PM Stephen Harper, simply, controls the agenda. At least, that’s the case when Afghanistan is the issue. Canadian troops are in that country, but virtually every aspect of public relations on or about the military mission is directed by the PM. There is an opposition, but Harper has already informed them, and the public and media as well, that Canada is in Afghanistan to stay. He does this, usually, by simply stressing that Ottawa does not “cut and run.” The opposition has had several opportunities to debate the mission, most recently earlier this month. But what passed for debate was little more than an information exchange, which I doubt lasted past an hour or so. While this does allow the opposition parties to say the nature of Canada’s mission has at last been handled by parliament, it also somehow conveys the impression that the opposition was satisfied to rush the affair through the Commons, either wanting to move on to more pressing matters or to avoid foreign and defence policies by giving them as little time as possible. Now that the NDP, Liberals, and Bloc can say have dealt with Canadians in Kandahar, are they in fact content to hope the issue does not resurface? Or, are they waiting for interest groups to push the agenda before they take a more vocal stand? Are the parties lacking the means to keep the issue of Canadians in Afghanistan in the media in the absence of public pressure or opinion to do so? It now does seem unlikely that the debate is over for good. On 22 April 2006 media reported that four soldiers died, bringing the total to 16 Canadians killed in Afghanistan.

Harper has also signaled that he intends to give up on some of the priorities of his predecessor. For instance it may be that Sudan is not of interest to the Tories. Darfur, described by some as the worst case of human rights abuse in this new century, had been on Liberal PM Paul Martin’s agenda. Now the question is whether or not Harper will just walk away. “Clement Apaak, president of the SFU [Simon Fraser University] Student Society and founder and chair of Canadian Students for Darfur [says]…his group is already stepping up its efforts to force greater Canadian involvement in the three-year conflict that has claimed about 180,000 lives (no official figures are available) and driven millions from their homes… ‘A letter has already been sent asking him [Harper] to make a public statement about his position on Darfur,’ Apaak said. ‘We’ve asked all our supporters to write him as well…There was a lot that Canada was doing, and they [the Conservatives] don’t seem interested in continuing what was being done by the previous government. That is very disturbing, as far as we are concerned. I think everyone is more concerned than the government is right now’” [From ‘Darfur Falls off Tory Agenda,’ Matthew Burrows, Georgia Straight, volume 40 number 2000, 20-27 April 2006].

And finally, if Harper’s strategy for managing foreign policy involves allowing Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay to rely on his current crop of handlers, there may have to be some rethinking. Over the past month, MacKay has dealt with a few Great Power matters. There was nothing too serious, and the events and any of their potential fallout will likely fade away, and soon. The developments do, however, provide some insight into how the Tories work. First, there was the bizarre incident with Condoleezza Rice. Back on 13 April 2006 MacKay met with the US Secretary of State and things seemed to be going so well…until it was time to make an appearance at a press conference. Right then MacKay morphed, forgot about his role as foreign minister and became fan boy. He turned to Rice and announced, “I'm delighted to be here. I've always been a fan of yours and much of our discussion today confirmed what I already knew about you from having followed your career, so we're very grateful and I personally extend my thanks to you for your generous and very kind invitation to be with you” [State Department Transcripts. Document posted at]. Then over the past weeks several high-ranking Tories made statements about China. Again MacKay led the charge, saying his government is “very concerned about [China’s] economic espionage.” He has also said “it [economic espionage] is something we want to signal that we want to address, and to continue to raise with the Chinese at the appropriate time.” And here MacKay was backed up by Harper, who noted, obviously reading from the same hymn sheet “We have some concerns with certain activities of the Chinese government in this country and we do intend to raise them at the appropriate time” {MacKay and Harper citations quoted in CTV news, 20 April 2006. Story posted at]. At about the time Harper and MacKay seemed concerned about China’s espionage activities, President Hu Jintao visited Washington. Was there some coincidence?

Posted by Stan Markotich
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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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