Canada foreign policy direction

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday January 29 2014 in Opinion
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Canada’s foreign policy has become a bit of a puzzle to me. Once upon a time, the direction was clear. Canada was a middle power which would come to the rescue as peacekeepers; we were concerned about the imbalance of wealth between developed and developing countries and provided aid.


During much of that time, admittedly, there were clear demarcations between east and west. However, even after the fall of the Soviet Union and the changes that affected the world, Canada’s resolve was maintained.


It was clear Canada wanted to continue being an approachable ally to both sides.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just returned from an extended official visit to Israel which included a historic address to the Knesset – Israel’s parliament. In that speech, Harper made no bones about his government’s support of Israel, the sole Jewish state. He also used the opportunity to blur the lines in the difference between anti-Semitism and opposition to the government of Israel’s policies.


“People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East. As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel.”


The reaction to the speech has been mixed. Some believe that the Prime Minister went just a bit too far over the line. Others thought it was right on. From an international policy position, it seems to take Canada out of the possibility of contributing significantly to a positive outcome in the region.


My point is this: It may be okay for the United States to take an unconditional support of the state of Israel. Its support has been historical, backed by its military might.


Canada, on the other hand, while supportive of Israel, has always strived to maintain a relatively balanced approach, primarily because it did not want to alienate Israel’s neighbours and, of course, the Palestinian people. Harper’s position appears to suggest that those sentiments do not matter anymore. We are taking sides, and that is that.


There was a time when Canada would more actively involve itself in troubled spots, when most countries did not trust the United States and the Soviet Union (Russia). Canada acted as a go between and was considered somewhat neutral. Those times have certainly changed.


The fact is that this government appears to have taken the position that it will assert itself, as it sees fit. It does not concern itself with being a broker.


I suspect that in some circles this may be the right thing to do. Indeed the tenor of the Harper approach seem to be to orient Canada’s foreign policy towards increased trade and other economic concerns, moving away from the political. That does not explain this seemingly political approach and zeal towards Israel.


Later this spring, the National Holocaust Memorial designs, to be built in Ottawa, will be revealed and the winning design announced. Construction of the memorial is expected to begin in the summer.


The project, announced last April, will perhaps cost about $10 million – the Council is expected to raise $4.5 million; the Government of Canada will match to $4 million, and has donated the site where the monument will be constructed.


In its blurb on the project, the Government of Canada notes: “This will serve as a symbol of Canadian values and diversity, and as a memorial to the innocent men, women and children who perished.”


Here, on the eve of Black History Month (African Heritage Month), it is hard not to take a look at these activities – including apologies and other initiatives – and wonder if this government will pay more attention of the plight of Canadians of African heritage.


Overall, discussions about racism and its effects on some of Canada’s population is not necessarily a subject for discussion by any of the parties, it seems, at the federal level. The First Nations continue to try to keep their issues front and centre but with marginal, if any, success.


Perhaps there is something to be said about success being related to the volume of public demonstrations and other actions. That is, the louder you are, the less you get. Of course, the exception appears to be the African Canadian community.


It is also hard not to hope that our government would take a more involved position – or seek to be more influential – in its relationship with continental Africa.


To be fair, it is not only Canada that seems to have taken a hands-off approach to the trials and tribulations facing the continent. Indeed, the continent itself seems incapable of dealing with the issues it faces.


Again, none of the opposition parties appears to be taking any notice of what is going on overseas, with the possible exception of what is happening in the Ukraine. Even Thailand appears to be ignored.


Perhaps we are also seeing the redrawing of allegiances. Of course, much of this began with the establishment of the G-7. Now the G-8, and the G-20, are re-establishing boundaries – prioritizing who gets the attention of the more powerful nations.   

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