Canada Foreign Policy
Saturday, June 30, 2007

Some already argue this is the end of the brief Tory era of Grand(iose) Foreign Policy.

Is Stephen Harper backing away from foreign policy? About a week ago he said he needed a parliamentary “consensus” for troops to stay involved in the Central Asian conflict zone in their current mission past February 2009. Does this mean he is really offering the opposition parties a chance to make foreign policy? That’s highly unlikely. But Afghanistan has proved a very unpopular war with Canadians, and all ongoing polling data suggest Tory support will continue to dissolve the longer Afghanistan drags on. Perhaps Harper sees his minority government lasting past early 2009, which would make it necessary for him to get opposition parties to agree to an extension of the mission, an agreement that might cause them to experience an equal falling-out of public support, resulting in the Conservatives having only manageable public opinion losses owing to foreign policy. But maybe that’s not the end-game either. Maybe Harper is just groping for a way to deflect criticism of Afghanistan until the next election happens, maybe later this year, or more probably sometime next. At that time the Tories may hope to win the slimmest of majorities, allowing them to simply extend the Afghanistan mission past 2009, and the opposition parties’ disagreement might have only negligible impact, at best, on the workings of government.

Maybe the PM is only trying to buy time until the next election. But even this seems somehow too simplistic. Too simplistic, most especially, when one has to account for a very Trudeau-esque move. Former Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau was famous for appealing to the public “over the heads of” the authorities, over the heads of the corporate interests of the Canadian establishment. The people, in their wisdom, would make the rulings and live by their decisions. And so Harper now finds himself appealing over the heads of the opposition parties. He is asking for consensus on Afghanistan, but a consensus proffered by each and every individual, by the public. “I will want to see some degree of consensus among Canadians about how we move forward...I would hope the view of Canadians is not simply to abandon Afghanistan. I think there is some expectation that there will be a new role after February 2009, but obviously those decisions have yet to be taken,” he said [PM cited in “Harper Wants ‘Consensus’ on Afghanistan,” The London Free Press, 23 June 2007. Story posted at].

Canadians are rarely, if ever, invited to a meaningful foreign policy debate. Demanding their vital input in such a forum is almost unheard of. Yet by doing so Harper seems to suggest he understands his Canadian history, especially the past in the province of Quebec. In the past, during the World Wars, conscription and the conflicts themselves threatened to rip apart the country. While English Canada supported the wars, Quebec tended to see them as foreign adventures to be avoided. With this history, is it really no mystery that most of the political elite likely prefers the public out of foreign policy discussion that in any sense deals with the topic of war. And so is it just possible that Harper hopes, this time, he may actually invite Quebecers to the talks, who, after perhaps giving approval for his policies will be disinclined in future to oppose a Canadian role in Afghanistan? With this, there is both a national unity and an assertive foreign policy,–just perhaps?

Mainstream thinking, at least for the moment, says the only thing Harper is doing is looking for an exit strategy, knowing that Canadians’ inability to reach that consensus will give him the excuse to withdraw. As journalist Terry Cooke, writing in the The Hamilton Spectator on 30 June 2007, observes: “Stephen Harper's new position on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan is disappointing. Fecklessness about committing men and women to armed combat is something that I have come to expect from Liberals, but it's hard to abide in a Conservative leader espousing principle while apparently opting for expediency...It's obvious that flagging public support due to mounting casualties has driven the prime minister to seek an exit strategy while trying to assign blame to the opposition benches” [Story posted at].

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Thursday, June 28, 2007
  An Intriguing Admission or Just Nothing at All?

PM Stephen Harper wants the public to buy into his image. Since coming to office, he has tried to convince us that he’s the type to be in charge. He controls affairs, and doesn’t fall victim to circumstances. Or, so he wants us to believe. Are recent events going to tarnish that image? Could one confession, or allegation, cause the whole edifice to implode? If the opposition parties only listened to what Harper has been saying, they might just be able to capitalize when an election comes around.

In the beginning, Harper would set out to redefine foreign policy. His predecessors, or so it was implied, had allowed foreign relations to deteriorate. Not only was this portfolio a niche the Tories might exploit to advance their standing with both the domestic public and international opinion, it was an area that demanded genuine attention. What could go wrong? Take charge of foreign affairs, and the approach would pay dividends at home and abroad. Harper, moreover, could use the strategy to shore up his image as take-charge great leader.

But now comes the intriguing admission that despite all outward appearances and assertions, the Tories, and especially Harper, never were even close to being in charge of foreign policy. Perhaps it was not due to lack of effort, but it was, if the charges are to be believed, due at least in large part to a bureaucracy intent on undermining political leadership: “Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper complained earlier this month that officials in his foreign ministry were undermining the government's overseas agenda, a newspaper [The Toronto Star] reported... If accurate, the report would support an impression in Ottawa that Harper has little time for his Department of Foreign Affairs, run by political rival Peter MacKay” [Cited in “Harper Says Undermined by Own Diplomats: Paper,” Reuters, 25 June 2007. Story posted at]. But, Harper cautions, the problem is not unique to his government, and perhaps it is not insurmountable. It may even be trivial. Harper said: “What is not acceptable, and it does happen on occasion, is for a public servant to say ‘That may be the position of the elected guys, but that's not the position of the government.’ All the (foreign) leaders I've talked to complain to me that their foreign service wants to do what (it) believes is foreign policy, not what the government-of-the-day's foreign policy is. It's a universal problem” [Cited in].

Should Harper be qualifying and minimizing his initial observation? Where is Peter MacKay in this dispute, or misunderstanding? Is the “rival” siding with his PM? According to one source, while Harper and MacKay may not be the very best of friends, they may be united when it comes to alienating the rank-and-file in the Department of Foreign Affairs. On 27 June 2007, Sean Durkan, writing in Embassy, observes: MacKay “did little to endear himself to the troops earlier this year by letting it be known publicly that he (like the PM) felt his bureaucrats erred by not ensuring someone turned up at the trial of Chinese-Canadian Huseyin Celil.” But the dynamic between Harper and MacKay may not be so simple. Even more recently, the Foreign Minister stood up for his department, whose members found themselves hauled before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The Committee is “sparring” with Foreign Affairs over the charge that DFAIT officials “bowed to political pressure and blacked out sensitive parts of the government's internal 2005 and 2006 human rights reports on Afghanistan...As [Deputy Minister Leondard] Edwards sat down in his chair last Tuesday to testify, Liberal MP Tom Wappel, the committee chair, was handed an open letter from Minister MacKay, stating he was distressed to hear of the rough treatment handed out to his officials last time round and that he trusted this would not happen again” [all citations in this paragraph from Durkan’s article ‘Stand by Your Staff,’ posted at].

Is Peter MacKay really that kind of rare minister who, even in some small respects, is actually able to work independent of Stephen Harper?

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Wednesday, June 06, 2007
  Global Events Update: the world just keeps getting so much easier for great leaders like Harper, Bush, and Brown...

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Tuesday, June 05, 2007
  Harper goes to Europe

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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