Weighing Canada’s international interventions

By Patrick Hunter Thursday March 06 2014 in Opinion
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A few weeks I puzzled about Canada’s foreign policy – what motivates us? This came after the prime minister’s very defining trip to Israel – defining in that he made no bones about where his government stood in its relationship with Israel. His visit with the Palestinians, by contrast, was muted and emotionless.


Last week, with the situation changing in Ukraine, off goes John Baird, the minister of foreign affairs, along with an exclusive delegation, to sidle up to the temporary administration. As Russia (almost wrote, the Soviet Union) takes a more definitive stance to back pro-Russian sentiments in Ukraine, Canada’s threat bag began to explode – possible sanctions, recalling the Canadian ambassador to Russia, and consideration of expelling the Russian ambassador to Canada.


This was the second visit by Baird to Ukraine. A few weeks ago, in the earlier days of the demonstrations against the pro-Russian president, Baird made a show of walking the streets in support of the pro-Europe side. This seemed to me to be an unusual intervention into the domestic affairs of a foreign country, but there was hardly a ripple of indignation from other parties.


Closer to home, the situation in Venezuela has been escalating considerably with clashes between demonstrators. President Nicolás Maduro, Hugo Chavez’ successor, has been facing growing protests spurred on by economic hardships and demonstrations over the past few weeks which have resulted in about 17 deaths.


Canada’s response, standard by most diplomatic protocol, issued a news release expressing concern about the escalation of violence and calling for both sides to return to peaceful dialogue.


The same positioning can be said of the ongoing civil war in Syria. Aid and support to refugees have been offered along with the condemnation of Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad.


There were also similar diplomatic positioning with respect to events in Africa – the Central African Republic where about 75 people were killed; attacks against the president in Somalia and violence in parts of Nigeria.


These latter “actions” are, in many ways, the expected norms within international relations circles. You express concern, you may offer quiet diplomacy in assisting towards a peaceful resolution, and you provide assistance to those whose lives have been affected and displaced by violent action.


The reaction to developments in Ukraine is more direct and more intrusive.


Here is another odd development. The French president, François Hollande, was recently on a state visit to the United States. It would not be unusual that this would provide an opportunity for a similar or side visit to Canada. That did not happen. Considering the historical relationship between the two countries one would expect this to be the normal course of events.


Now, it is quite likely that arrangements were attempted but schedules could not facilitate such a visit. But I find it remarkable that questions have not surfaced about this. I believe the last French president to visit Canada was Nicolas Sarkozy for the now infamous 2010 G-8 and G-20 summits. There may also be a bad-taste hangover from Charles DeGaulle’s “vive le Quebec libre speech.”


The underscoring question however is: what is Canada’s motivation, goal in its foreign policy? Since Canada failed to gain a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations in 2010, the focus interest has altered. It would almost seem like a child who, having been shunned, goes off to sulk.


But there is more. The Harper administration, under the direction of Jason Kenney, has been massively courting ethnic groupings. The motive there, of course, is to garner a solid bloc of support which would not only fill the coffers of the Conservative Party, but try to win and hold that support through elections. There is a correlation between the groups that are courted and their relationship to their homeland roots. The difference between, say, the Ukrainian and Jewish populations in Canada and the Jamaican population for instance is that the former is more politically active through its organizations, carrying a lot of influence in how they vote in key ridings.


The Bloor West area of Toronto is a significant heart of the Ukrainian population. One of the ridings in the area is currently held by the NDP, both federally and provincially. It will be interesting to watch how the next campaign develops in this area.


The relationships between Canada and the Caribbean and Canada and the African continent have varied, depending on which party is in power. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-Caribbean relationship seemed to have dropped off somewhat.


There was much made of the Jamaica 50th anniversary with the visit of the Jamaican Prime Minister. The problem here is that solidifying that kind of support among the Jamaican community is probably harder to pin down. Jamaicans do not necessarily vote as a bloc. But they do vote.


Like I said, determining the motive and the direction of Canada’s foreign policy is a mystery.


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