The CBC recently reported on a “leaked” document which outlines the possible future direction of Canada’s foreign policy. Before I get into the meat of that discussion, be wary of a couple of things.
I have put quotation marks around “leaked” because, quite frequently, governments or policy advisors put information in the public domain as a means of testing the waters – the proverbial trial balloon. How would the public and, primarily, the elite segment of the population react to certain proposed ideas?
The other part of this proposed policy that one should be wary of is the “draft” stamp. That gives the impression that this policy is in the development stage. That may not necessarily be the case. The document itself may be in draft, but the rudiments of the policy are pretty much in place.
Outlines of Canada’s foreign policies have rarely been the subject of discussions in public. Governments have largely had a free hand in dictating their area of administration.
We have aired our concerns about certain actions taken or faced by governments. One that comes to mind was the debate over a potential role for Canada in the war in Iraq and later, Afghanistan.
Not since the early 1970s were discussion papers – A Foreign Policy for Canadians – about Canada’s foreign policy put in the public domain. One reason for that discussion was to demonstrate and delineate Canada’s relationship with the rest of the world as being different in intent to that of the United States.
The U.S. had adopted a position, engendered by the Cold War, which can be summed up in the phrase “in the interest of the United States”. It was the self-assigned open mandate to meddle in the affairs of other nations in a tense world as capitalism and communism battled for advantage.
Canada needed to establish its own identity, separate from the U.S. that would incorporate the peacekeeper brand and a humanitarian sensitivity.
The leaked draft of the Harper Government’s foreign policy plans can fit in one of two categories. Depending on your point of view, it is either driven by greed or pragmatism. There is, however, a third category: “greed and pragmatism”.
In essence the document, as reported by the CBC, suggests that the Government of Canada be more forceful in developing better ties with the expanding economies of the world – Brazil, China, other markets in Asia and Africa. The CBC quotes from the document:
“Canada’s record over past decades has been to arrive late in some key emerging markets. We cannot do so in the future.”
It goes on to say:
“The situation is stark: Canada’s trade and investment relations with new economies, leading with Asia, must deepen, and as a country we must become more relevant to our new partners.”
The CBC report also points out that such things as human rights and lack of democratic institutions and practice are no longer primary influencers in the pursuit of expanding markets. The ultimate goal is to secure the advantage in the previously ignored economies – economies that, in some cases, Canadian companies have extracted resources in questionable ways.
The view of the African economies is noteworthy. According to the CBC: “The new Canadian foreign policy plan notes that while Africa is rife with ‘many health, education, political and security challenges,’ it also has the world’s fastest growing middle-class of consumers in countries richly endowed with natural resources.”
The report quotes from the document:
“The fact remains that, over time, African countries have the potential to challenge the likes of Brazil and China as major investment destinations.”
For years, these developing nations have pushed for developed countries to be fairer in their trade and investments in their countries. “We have the resources,” they would argue. “You have the means of extracting these resources and the need for these resources. Treat us fairly. Give us a good price for our resources, pay and treat our people well, and respect the environment.”
Those appeals have largely been ignored. Companies sought ways to bypass the demands of governments to gain greater economic advantage.
Now, the tables have begun to turn. The leadership and the people at large in these economies are becoming more assertive. No longer will they allow themselves to be bullied. And that is a good thing. Brazil, for example, is fighting back. Bolivia is fighting back. Their actions have inspired other nations. Perhaps now northern economies will begin to listen.
The crises in Europe should be instructive of the treatment these same countries have inflicted on developing nations over the years. For years, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have made enormous demands on developing countries as a condition for providing support to their economies.
Now these governors are facing pretty much the same demands and they are not happy about it. The unfortunate part of this scenario is that it has engendered a rise in right-wing racism which is taking out its frustrations on African immigrants.
Will the new Canadian direction of greed and pragmatism in its foreign policy lead to fairer treatment? While it is likely that we, in Canada, will pay for it in the end with a higher cost of living, it may be worth it to see these economies come into their own, finally.