Canada Foreign Policy
Sunday, June 25, 2006
  Out for Summer

Parliament will recess for summer. Despite performances by Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor, PM Stephen Harper is in charge. In fact, Harper’s political career is unscathed. And I suspect this observation is valid when his records on both domestic and foreign policy are considered. But it is an especially valid claim for his foreign policy work.

Perhaps Harper’s high ratings have something to do with the fact that his first months in office have been given over to putting in place obligations and policy commitments made by the ousted Liberal government. Predecessor Paul Martin wanted troops in Afghanistan; Harper is behind the mission. Martin sought a deal on the softwood trade with the US; Harper, very possibly, perhaps, has one. And then there’s the opposition. So far, Harper has no better allies than the parties across the floor. Their divisions are his strengths. The New Democrats, in being vaguely against the Afghan mission but staunchly behind the troops, send out messages that, very likely, resonate with few voters. Then the Bloc, when it does comment on Afghanistan, opposes, though oddly seems to find itself in a position where articulating a proactive foreign policy agenda, be that Quebec-centric or national in scope, is turning out a much more difficult prospect than perhaps even they suspected. And the Liberals? They remain at war internally. Most oppose Afghanistan, even though their former government sent troops, while those poised to take over the party leadership at the upcoming convention back Canada’s role. And inter-party alliances? Any threat to Harper? Not likely. With the Liberals coming apart, the New Democrats seem to sense a chance of winning over disaffected Liberals and possibly even forming opposition after the next election. But to do that, the NDP will focus on social issues, and Harper will direct the foreign policy agenda.

Public opposition to Harper? So far there doesn’t seem to be any serious mass opposition to a thing he’s done. There have been a few anti-war protests that have attracted thousands [see, for example], but concern over Canada’s policy in Afghanistan isn’t occupying our national psyche, and certainly doesn’t find expression on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. According to most surveys, the majority of the Canadian public has not supported the war, but this has not translated into a backlash against Harper. And in fact, there is some recent evidence, in the form of polling data, that suggests Canadians’ support for the Afghan mission is growing in recent weeks, from some 40% to now 48% claiming to approve of Canada’s role [See for example,].

Parliamentarians may be off to their summer barbecues, but the world won’t stand still. Daily headlines say Iraq, even after the passing of key Al Qaeda leaders such as Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, is a much more violent place than before. Afghanistan, too, is heating up. The latest issue of Newsweek explains Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the new Taliban leader, is ramping up the violence and brutality in his country. Taliban recruiting videos, say Newsweek writers Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai in their piece “In the Footsteps of Zarqawi” for the 3-10 July 2006 issue, show a fighter who may be more vicious than any Iraq counterpart, and “the most revolting footage shows a gang of Dadullah's thugs slitting the throats, one by one, of six Afghans they accuse of spying for the Americans. As each head is severed, it is grabbed and placed facing the camera, atop the torso of the victim's sprawled corpse” [Story posted at]. Developments in Afghanistan are taking an increasing toll on Canadians there, and perhaps most recently “clashes with the Taliban forced Canadian troops to cancel plans to hold medical clinics Saturday in villages west of Kandahar City” [CP, 24 June 2006].

And then there are those trade issues. According to one source, Harper is facing “more grief over [the] stalled softwood deal” [See piece “Harper Gets More Grief over Stalled Softwood Deal,” by Peter O’Neil and Gordon Hamilton of CanWest News Service, published in The Vancouver Sun, 23 June 2006. Story posted at]. One of the latest tensions is triggered by recent evidence that suggests, “the U.S. government would use the proposed lumber accord as a tool to interfere with provincial forest management policies, especially B.C.'s new market-based timber pricing policy” [cited in].

Will Harper be able to get safely past summer on only barbecue chicken and burgers?

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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