A bad week for Canada

Canada has really taken a beating on the world stage this past week. The reaction to the new face of Canada’s foreign policy being crafted by the Conservative Harper government has meant a difficult few days for Canada as the world wagged its collective finger at the ‘True North strong and free’.

A plum prize in any country’s portfolio, one of two vacant seats on the United Nations Security Council was, up until a few days ago to hear Canadian pundits tell it, ours for the taking. But Canada was rebuffed. Instead, the seats went to Germany and Portugal, with Canada withdrawing after the second round of voting showed a lack of support among UN members for its bid. This was a historic loss since Canada has never lost a bid for a seat on the Security Council before.

The decision by UN members to choose the other countries over Canada is a repudiation of our government’s change in direction on a number of issues affecting UN member nations. The Harper government seems bent on dismantling or refashioning every significant institution that bears the mark of previous Liberal governments. The result is that our current foreign policies are making Canada over into an outlier.

Canada has taken a road not well travelled by us in the past and, although on a somewhat smaller scale, this tack is clearly having an unwelcome effect along the lines of the world’s response to the foreign policies of the former George W. Bush Administration in the U.S.

Harper’s shift away from impartial support on Palestinian/Israeli relations has been criticized on many fronts for threatening Canada’s peacemaking position with his statement last May that “those who threaten Israel also threaten Canada”.

The decision to pull Canadian troops out of Afghanistan next year is not without controversy as pressure mounts for them to stay. We think our troops should be brought home, but have to question why they were repositioned from their well-defined role as peacekeepers to combatants in Afghanistan in the first place.

Canada’s shifting international aid away from Africa and towards South America might have also had an impact as African countries were among those casting their votes on which countries get the Security Council seats.

The current government’s refusal to maintain a strong moral voice on the environment has been duly noted by international organizations. We have lost our position as a leading voice on climate change while the government focuses more attention on selling the Alberta oil sands project.

This country also drew significant negative international attention (and repercussions) over Transport Canada’s refusal to allow airlines in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to increase service to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver in an obvious attempt to protect Air Canada. The government has been accused by the Opposition Liberals of “bungling” and “incompetence” in handling the negotiations, and there had been mutterings from UAE representatives about the tone of negotiations from the Canadian side. Canada has now been asked to remove its military base from Dubai, at the cost of some $50 million, which will affect the movement of troops and supplies into and out of Afghanistan.

By the way, was the failure to gain a UN Security Council seat more embarrassing than the UAE’s refusal to allow a plane carrying Defence Minister Peter McKay and Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, to enter its airspace on their way from Afghanistan last weekend?

All of this has taken place despite the international respect Canada gained for navigating the 2009 recession better than other G20 countries and the hosting of an arguably successful G-20 summit (in spite of how locals felt about it).

Canadian foreign policy is unquestionably going through a period of distinct change under Stephen Harper. While this change has not yet begun to hurt Canada’s reputation as one of the best countries in which to live, we are concerned that the ideological makeover of our image as viewed internationally will do more harm than good for Canada in the long term.



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