Originally published in Monday's Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Aug. 08, 2011
With his election victory, Stephen Harper has achieved a new
place among world leaders. Admired for his political skills as the
leader of an insurgent movement and then, as a prime minister who
jockeyed a pair of minority governments into a majority, he's
also recognized for steering Canada's economy through
recessionary waters that are still threatening his fellow G7
So what role will international affairs play in his
In several recent statements, he has told us it will be a major
one. Foreign affairs/foreign relations, he said, "has become
almost everything." In a world where "change is the new
constant," he declared, "our party's great purpose is
nothing less than to prepare our nation to shoulder a bigger load,
in a world that will require it of us." Accordingly,
"strength is not an option, it is a vital necessity."
If these words signal the government's intentions, then
there must be a match between our aspirations and our abilities to
achieve them. For too long, our capacity to be a significant player
on the international stage has failed to match our rhetoric. The
Prime Minister's declarations of intent have credibility,
coming, as they do, from a government that has consistently
supported the strengthening of our military capabilities. The
Canada First Defence Strategy, including the new command structure
for the Canadian Forces, has proved itself both at home and away
– in Libya, Afghanistan and in the reconstruction of
All the more welcoming, therefore, is Mr. Harper's recent
statement that "re-equipping the military is just the tip of
the iceberg when it comes to making Canada a meaningful contributor
in the world." The implications of this for Canadian foreign
policy are profound. Mr. Harper seems to foresee a highly active
foreign policy, and a very independent one. "We also have a
purpose," he said. "And that purpose is no longer just to
go along and get along with everyone else's agenda."
Implicit in Mr. Harper's statements is a recognition that
Canada's national interests are at the core of our foreign
policy and have never been more demanding than they are today. To
do so requires rebuilding our diplomatic resources to the stature
they had in the postwar era when it was widely acknowledged that
the impact of Canada's contributions far exceeded its size.
The negotiation of a new accord with the United States to
reverse the hardening of our border, the need to protect the access
of our energy exports to American markets, the need to create new
markets for our oil sands, the negotiation of a free-trade deal
with the European Union and India, the strengthening of our
relations with China, the protection of our interests in the Arctic
– all are of the highest importance for our national
interest and all deserving of the most talented of our human
"To shoulder a bigger load" will necessitate a foreign
service at the very top of its game. If the 1990s were a decade of
darkness for the Canadian Forces, both the '90s and the noughts
were equally so for the foreign service. Process took priority over
policy-making. Public diplomacy, an area Canada pioneered,
Meantime, there's been a revolution in the way information
is acquired and transcribed. Far from the information revolution
shrinking the role of the ambassador, it's enhancing it. Out of
the vortex of information and communication, the ambassador emerges
as chief interpreter of data and events, chief analyst, chief
intelligence officer, chief advocate and chief adviser, the central
player in a field with an infinite number of actors, pursuing
conflicting goals and agendas.
In this age of the Internet and WikiLeaks, the role of diplomacy
needs to be assessed and understood. The Prime Minister should
commission a task force on the foreign service, as he did for
Afghanistan. It's been more than 30 years since the McDougall
Commission looked at our diplomats. There will be no new golden age
of Canadian foreign policy unless we invest in the human resources
that, in the Prime Minister's words, are necessary "to
making Canada a meaningful contributor in the world."
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While that agreement mandated export measures on Canadian softwood lumber exports destined for the United States, it also protected those lumber exports from the potential imposition of onerous import measures by the U.S.
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