Tag: canadian foreign policy

Snipers and Democratic Control of the Military: More Oversight Please

I hinted at some politics when discussing the longest recorded sniper shot in history.  That the Canadian government might not love this news because it would remind folks that there are Canadians engaged in combat in Iraq.  And now, ta da:

 

 

 

In a letter Friday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, [NDP leader Thomas] Mulcair says the incident “seriously calls into question your government’s claim that Canadian forces are not involved in direct combat in Iraq.”

“Will you now confirm that Canadian troops have engaged in ground combat since your government took office?” he wrote. “Why have you not declared that the current military operation is now a combat mission? Why has there been no debate in the House of Commons regarding this change of mission?”

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Happy Anniversary, Canada!

This week is the 10th anniversary of the start of Canada’s combat mission in KandahaAdapting coverr.  This was the most stressful Canadian “expedition” since the Korean War, as Canada skipped Iraq 2003 and Vietnam.  Today also happens to be the third anniversary of the rejection of an access to information request (Canadian for FOIA)–I had asked for the report detailing the Lessons Learned from the war.  While armed forces create such reports all the time, this was a first for the government to consider how the various agencies performed.  The report got buried, not just so that I couldn’t see it, but that no one in the Canadian government could see it.  And that is a problem because lessons learning requires not just research and analysis but also dissemination of those lessons.

 

 

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Cana-dammerung: A belated final post on the Canadian Election

Cry the beloved country.

Well it’s been just over two weeks since the Canadian Election – and I am much overdue for the long promised third installment of the snoozefest series that I started. In some ways I’m glad I waited to write my reply: first, because I was contemplating throwing myself off of Tower Bridge. In a moment of panic on the morning after the election I formed the Government of Canada in Exile (please join!) but I think I have calmed down now and have a new appreciation for the UK visa renewal process. Second, because I wanted to actually spend some time thinking about the implication of Canada’s first majority government since 2006.


So, what did I think?

Basically nothing. I actively ignored it. I’ve been bogged down with exams, international affairs (that OBL thing) and not quite willing to face up to the fact that Canada just handed this guy a majority mandate.

So, what am I making up off of the top of my head?

Lots!

Canada before/after 2011 election

(For the too long/didn’t read crowd, this graphic should sum up everything up nicely.)

As a re-cap (just in case you were, for some reason, more interested in the bin Laden shooting) The centre-right Conservatives (Tories) got a solid majority government. The Liberal Party of Canada, lead by academic/public intellectual/did-not-come-back-for-you carpet bagging Michael Ignatieff, had its worst showing in its party history with only 40 seats. By comparison, in 1993, the Liberal Party had 177 seats (177!). Canada was one big red party. Instead, the New Democratic Party, lead by Mustachio-in-Chief Jack Layton, is now the leader of the Opposition which has never happened before and giving unfortunate choices in facial hair a new lease on life.

Finally, and perhaps the best news for Canadian nationalists since “money and the ethnic vote” helped keep the nation together, the Bloc Qubecois were completely decimated – going from 54 to 4 (FOUR!) seats. My extremely superficial comment on this would be that you can only be a one trick pony for so long, BQ; People want other things too.

Oh, and Elizabeth May, (a Yankee!!!)  the leader of Canada’s Green Party, won a seat , but the party did not do well overall as progressives apparently lined up to vote for the NDP instead.

A couple of interesting things here

Our new Official Opposition

  1. Harper won his majority government with 40% of the vote. The split ‘left’ vote (now into three parties: Liberal – though there are centre-right Liberals as well – NDP , Green) may mean that Conservatives will have an advantage to come…
  2. …so long as Harper can keep his party together. While he did not have a majority, he had an excuse not to move on socially conservative legislation. We’ll see if he does now. Certainly, I think we can expect foreign funding for issues that social conservatives do not like (birth control, abortions, etc) to be cut further as a pacifying measure. However, last week there was a large demonstration against abortion rights on Parliament Hill (admittedly an annual event). To what extent will Harper listen to these individuals (many from the west) in his caucus? An article in the Globe and Mail pointed out that Harper now has more MPs from Ontario than Alberta – will he have to take (more libertarian) Ontario more seriously now?
  3. Many of the new NDP candidates are just as surprised to be elected as many Canadians are to see them. It seems quite clear that many figured they did not really stand a chance in the election – particularly in Quebec. Yet, with the “Layton surge”, they have found themselves wisked into the House of Commons with some interesting results:
    a) Several of the candidates are university students (some who have been taught by co-Duck blogger Steven Saideman at McGill). Canada just elected its youngest MPs – it will be the first time that those under 25 will be so well represented… although all in the Opposition benches.
    b) To show you how bizarre the situation has become, we have the story of Ruth Ellen Brosseau. Don’t let the French name fool you! Despite the fact that she represents what seems to be an entirely francophone district, she doesn’t actually speak French. She may actually have never been to the ridding (electoral district for you who keep asking me what a ridding is and saying “that’s so cute”. >:-( ) and she spent much of the election in Las Vegas. While she’s already been a focal-point of criticism, I think this story implies much that might happen in the next Parliament…
  4. It’s Amateur Hour. And that might be a good and bad thing. The bad is obviously that the NDP has never had to be ‘responsible’ before in a national government. They’re not going to know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of the system in the same way that, say, the Liberals do. They have many new people and Layton is going to have to organize a shadow cabinet for the first time that represents Canada. There are going to be a lot of mistakes made. That being said, the good is that these new individuals are going to be full of enthusiasm. They are not career politicians, but fresh faces of people who were hopefully motivated for the right reasons. Perhaps this means that they are going to do a good job of holding the government to account. While experience is valuable, things can also get stale.
  5. The long and painful Liberal demise. I don’t have enough time, space, hair-to-pull-out to go into a lengthy discussion here. (Check out Taylor Owen and Dave Eaves on this, he’s had some earlier op-eds too.) Needless to say, the party needs to find a balance between starting from ground zero and drawing on past traditions that have brought the party success. Good luck with that.
For those of us who are (admittedly) anti-Harper (I’m guessing you’ve already figured that out), it may not be as bad as it seems. There was a lot of speculation that Harper might calm down once he got the majority government he craved. (This was the opinion of the Economist, and Globe and Mail.) He might. Apparently we’re back to calling the government the “Government of Canada” rather than “the Harper Government”. That’s nice. I hear Mubarak-style branding ain’t going very well anyways.

Additionally, beside the NDP, the Tories elected some new and interesting MPs – in particular Chris Alexander, the former UN-Representative and foreign affairs wunderkind. I only briefly met him once when he gave a talk in London, but those who know him better than I say very good things about him.

Yet after yesterday’s cabinet was unveiled, it’s clear that Harper has just kept pretty much everyone in the same place. Including – shockingly – Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda in place. (Not much space here to go into the story – suffice to say she was found guilty of lying to Parliament, political interference into an evaluation process and really just being terrible.) Given that he has elected talent like Alexander, I find this HUGELY disappointing. My only hope is that he wants to get Alexander warmed up in his job as MP before he receives a government position in the next shuffle, probably in 12-18 months.  

As for the one of the only big changes: John Baird, the Tory rabid-seal-insta-shout-hack-attack-machine-on-two-legs, you can read my hysterical reaction here. Poor DFAIT. Pity the workers there, my internet friends. The only hope here is that Baird’s good relationship with Harper means that we might actually get something of a coherent foreign policy – a much neglected portfolio

In effect, all of this means that he’s opted for continuity (and I would say incompetence) rather than change.

More griping to come, I’m sure. In the meantime, I will probably keep most of my Cana-blogging over at the Cana-blog while the drinking struggle continues. 

The 2011 Canadian Election: Lessons Learned and Mindless Amateur Speculation

Canadian democracy rests in this man’s hands.

Yesterday I provided a fully superficial background and survey of developments regarding the 2011 Canadian Election. The short version is 1) We’ve had a series of minority governments. 2) Stephen Harper probably thought he could get a majority, and now that does not seem likely though it is still possible. 3) The NDP has ‘surged’, probably at the Liberal’s expense, but also very much at the expense of the Quebec nationalist/separatist Bloc Party and possibly even that of the Tories (who may have expected disappointed Liberals to flock right rather than left.)

In other words – no one has any idea what is going to happen. ThreeHundredandEight has a post on what would happen if the parties achieved their ‘vote ceiling’ ie) how many seats they would get if everyone who says they are going to vote for them actually does. So a majority government for the Tories is still possible (they have a pretty dedicated party followers. One might say rabid, but that is unkind. Just don’t date any…)

So, based on the fact that we are in electoral terra incognita if the polls are right, what can we possibly say we have learned from the election?

This is a horrible lie.
  1. As I have been periodically moaning about, (and is most important for Duck readers) foreign policy does not matter in elections in Western democracies unless something has gone, really, really wrong. I posted a list of 12 questions I would like to see answered by the parties – and that still stands outside of an election. Let’s see what’s in the new Speech from the Throne (which is the government agenda which sets the tone for all policies). My fellow blogger Steve Saideman has some speculation here as to what might happen in the future. Also, James Joyner at Outside the Beltway wrote a good response to my post. 
  2. The Liberals have not been able to present themselves as a good alternative to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. This is rather obvious considering the position they are in. But the point is that they have not really presented themselves as anything other than a less-right-wing version of the Tories. And Ignatieff has simply not been able to convince individuals that he would make a good leader. I think suspect that Iggy will be exiting stage-right (left? centre?) from Canadian politics in a few days.
    I wonder why this didn’t work out? I have a few ideas – the damage of a decade of political in-fighting to be sure. Additionally the Liberal Party is broke and does not have a lot of money to draw on to fight – and it has had to fight three times in the past five years. It just doesn’t have the resources to launch a massive against the Conservative electoral machine (affectionately known as the ‘war room’). A lot of it may have been Iggy’s inability to fight a characterization of him as a carpet-bagger or (*shock*) intellectual.
  3. Do Canadians like intellectuals? This is more of a question than a lesson learned. I had always thought that Canadians were more open to “smartypants” than their neighbours to the south, but this may be a mischaracterization on both fronts. For instance, a few years ago I had a (very partisan) Tory friend tell me that unlike that over-educated professor (I forget if it was Dion or Ignatieff – both have PhDs), Stephen Harper was a ‘real’ Canadian who could identify with him and his problems. I did have to point out to said friend that Stephen Harper has two university degrees and is writing a book on the history of hockey in his spare time. It ain’t exactly clearing brush in Texas. Yet it’s only recently that Harper has been portrayed by the Tories as a ‘trained economist’ that can help Canada grow. Harper is a smart, smart man. He may not openly pontificate like Ignatieff, but he’s clever and well educated. Why hide that fact?
    Perhaps I’m reflecting wrongly on the nature of Canadian Prime Ministers, or the legacy of Pierre Trudeau, our “philosopher king” who was a very long serving Prime Minister. I always thought his persona as an intellectual added to his mystique, which seemed very good at getting him elected over and over and over. Maybe Canada is tired of Trudeaus? Maybe not? It will be interesting to see how this pans out. As a final note here, I would just argue that I do not detect much presentation of Layton as an ‘intellectual’ in the NDP campaign. He’s running on experience, and as a career politician, he has lots of it – though not much in actual power…
  4. Canadians do not seem to care about the mis-management of government. I made this point yesterday. But the point stands. There have been so many government scandals in the past five years that I have lost track. The Tories were elected back in 2006 on the idea that they would bring transparency and ethical behaviour back to government after the sponsorship scandal affected the Liberal Party. So much for that! Yet it does not seem to bother many Canadians. How else can you explain Harper’s leadership ratings? Or the fact that despite the fact that he has literally been held in contempt of Parliament, his ministers have been caught in bare-faced lies (yet not forced to resign) and he continuously shuts down any independent monitoring of his government actions (not to mention it would appear that the G20 summit funding went insanely out of control) that his party will still likely be the government next week.
  5. Finally, there are Maclean’s writer Paul Wells’ Rules of Canadian Politics
    1. For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome.
    2. If everyone in Ottawa knows something, it’s not true.
    3. The candidate in the best mood wins.
    4. The guy who auditions for the role of opposition leader will get the job

Of these four rules, I would say number one is definitely out – I haven’t been this interested in AGES. Number two is probably true but doesn’t apply. Number three seems to be where it’s at. Is Harper in the best mood? No. Smiling would break the man’s face. Layton is in the best mood (and why wouldn’t he be? His party is doing better than it EVER has. He may not win, but he is winning.

As for number four – I’m not even sure that Michael Ignatieff is going to get that job.

Michael Ignatieff after Monday.



Finally – What We May Speculate Uselessly and Far Removed From the Situation

First, of our four national parties, three will have new leaders by the end of the year – IF:

  1. The Tories get a minority government with less seats than they presently have (possible)
  2. The Bloc fair horribly in Quebec (seems likely)
  3. The Liberals fall to third place (very possible. Likely even.)

Second, some controversial thinking: Will the NDP be like the LibDems in the UK? Possibly. I speculated a bit about this on Twitter – and got a mixed response. But I think there are a lot of similarities:

a. Popular leaders of national parties that can attract a lot of soft-left votes
b. Ability to present the party as an alternative to the mainstream
c. Will likely be responsible for a Conservative government shy of a majority.

What’s the difference here? The LibDems made the fateful decision to actually enter into power with the Conservatives. I’m pretty sure this will not be possible in a Canadian scenario – the Conservatives and NDP are very far apart on a number of issues. They are on opposite sides of the admittedly (narrow) political spectrum. And I think most NDP supporters would just rather stab their eyes out with a rusty spoon.

This leaves two options: the Liberals could form a coalition with the Tories – which would be hilarious, awful and INSANELY hypocritical concerning all of the campaigning Harper did against (perfectly legitimate) coalitions. Or the Liberals and the NDP, if they have enough seats, may try to form a coalition (or understanding) without the Bloc (who seem destined to do badly, unless they get their supporters out in a BIG way). This is what the Tories have warned though – and considering that the Liberals would (humiliatingly) be the junior partner, I think they would sit this dance out. But it’s not certain….

There have been some stories in the press that Harper will not comment on what he will do if his party does not have a majority, or if the NDP and the Liberals do decide to form a coalition. There has even been some speculation that he will not re-establish the government back to Ottawa. Given the fact that he is willing to prorogue parliament – twice – to stay in power, I think this is a possible outcome. But ultimately, I’d like to think it is an unlikely one. We don’t need Canada turning into Belgium. And I would hope that the man who puts so much emphasis on his ability to lead a ‘stable’ Canada would not do anything so foolish.

Next post on Tuesday: The fall out. Things be changing? Maybe? Possibly?!

Why we need to debate foreign policy in elections: Lessons from the UK 2010 General Election

FYI: I am blogging on Canada-related issues at the Cana-blog. It basically satiates my desire to engage with Canadian issues without boring Duck readers to death about our various neuroses from North of the 49th Parallel. Do check it out though, eh?

Last year I blogged about the UK General Election as a “Johnny Foreigner”. I thought it would be a very dull affair, but it ended up being pretty interesting with the first televised election debates, “Cleggmania” and the subsequent coalition discussions. What didn’t the election have? Foreign policy.

In fact the only foreign policy-related items that really featured at all were brief disagreements over relations with Europe (more about the transfer of Westminster powers), climate change and a really, really dispiriting debate on immigration (especially if you are said Johnny Foreigner).

Depressing immigration debates aside, this makes sense. The UK was hit hard by the recession and the debate was largely about the economy. Foreign policy, seldom a popular topic in elections anyway, was even less important. It’s the kind of thing that won’t help you win an election – only lose one.

Lo and behold, it’s 2011 and Canada finds itself in a national election. And what’s not on the agenda? Foreign policy. Why? The economy. And healthcare (which always ranks as important in Canadian elections).

Foreign policy has not and will not play a large role – even if Canada is in Afghanistan and helping to lead the NATO mission in Libya. (Although, to be fair, Carl Meyer at Embassy Magazine has a good article on the ways that foreign policy may feature in the election.) In this sense, there is a certain amount in common with the UK 2010 General Election – at least in terms of the downplaying of foreign policy issues to domestic ones.

But is this something that us IR-wonks should learn to live with? Is there anything we can learn from the UK experience?

In short: yes. After the UK foreign-policy-free election, the coalition has made major and significant policy decisions which affect foreign relations. Some of the significant ones include:

There was no debate on any of these issues. For Afghanistan, all that the leaders spoke of was their trips there and meeting the troops. It could not be said that there was a major debate about the scale, scope and vision of the mission. So should there have been a debate on the UK’s foreign policy priorities and its role in the world? And why wasn’t there one?

There are a number of factors which may have prevented a foreign policy debate.

First, quite frankly, it may have been something that the political parties just didn’t want to confront. It’s not an easy question and, as argued above, it was simply not a priority for them or the voters. Additionally politicians may want to avoid saying anything inflammatory about allies or policies during the election which may come back to haunt them later.

Second, in the parliamentary system, where cabinet ministers sit in the legislature (and owe their position more to patronage and party balancing than expertise), there were not necessarily any obvious foreign policy spokespersons. Certainly there were politicians with interest (such as Rory Stewart). But while positions are fluid and unclear, it’s not obvious that there were any obvious persons to debate the issue.

Third, foreign policy events are unpredictable. While some things are constant – NATO, the EU, relations with the United States – no one could have possibly predicted the uprisings in the Middle East or the fact that NATO would be bombing Libya as some kind of R2P operation. So, for example, while Bush and Condoleezza Rice wrote about not using the 82nd Airborne for nation building in 2000, he ended up spending most of his presidency doing just that. Events may distort or even dictate policies – and this is why they are not carefully outlined (other than broad, vague ideas at best) in elections.

Finally, foreign policy is just something that politicians feel that international affairs are best debated in Parliament rather than on the campaign trail. (Although the debates may sometimes be lacking as well.)

But there is a lesson here for Canada (and other democracies) that tend to not debate foreign policy in elections: governments are going to have to deal with foreign events, and without some kind of guidance, or debate or understanding of what our interests are and what our priorities should be, then there can be major surprises later on.

Even if it must take place in terms of vague generalities, a foreign policy debate is worth having. It is worth knowing where political parties stand on R2P, development, the United Nations (and UN Security Council) international organizations, etc. Broader ideas and goals should be outlined even if, inevitably, events cause change and reversal later on. While I do not anticipate huge cuts to Canadian defence spending nor a major change on our alliance policies, it would be nice to know what the Conservative (UK and Canadian) line on “the Responsibility to Protect” is – since we seem to be doing a lot of it lately.

EDIT: James Joyner has a great post on the US take on this at Outside the Beltway.

Debates in Canadian Foreign Pol… Wait! Don’t leave!

I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland this week for the Political Studies Association Conference so my attention to all things blogging and internet is a bit short. However, as the Duck’s official Canadian ex-pat guest-poster, I did want to post this video (transcript here) of Robert Fowler, a former senior Canadian diplomat who gave a rather scathing critique of Canadian foreign policy at a conference this past weekend in Montreal.

No wait – don’t leave! Trust me on this one.

In it, he basically blasts both major political parties for their failure to enact any worthwhile international policies beyond that of short-sighted, narrowly defined and selfish national interest. It’s kind of like the equivalent of zombie Adlai Stevenson standing up at the Democratic National Convention and telling all of the politicos that they are full of it. (Although I don’t think that Fowler has ever run for office.)

Okay, I realize that controversies in Canadian foreign policy ain’t exactly an easy sell (or at all interesting) for non-Canadian (or even Canadian) audiences. But there are some really interesting points here for the politics of middle powers and IR theory/policy generally.


  1. Fowler is making a clear case for an idealist-driven foreign policy. He’s an experienced diplomat who helped to bring about the Kimberly Process to help curb trade in blood diamonds. He also spent a good chunk of the last two years being held hostage by radical Islamic groups in Western Africa. He’s not naive. Yet, to his credit, I think he asserts his case in a powerful and pragmatic way.
  2. His argument rests on the idea that Canada does have an international role to play and a duty to the international community. Certainly, Fowler is not the first to put this argument forward, but he’s the first Canadian leader I’ve heard really articulate it in a long time. (Whether or not it’s true, however, is another story.) While the US often speaks of its leadership role, I can’t think of an American politician speaking of duties in this way. Is this just a Canadian thing? (Like when Dean Acheson called us “the stern daughter of the voice of God”?)
  3. Fowler says that Canada and its western allies simply do not have the ability to stomach the losses and resources required to win in Afghanistan and therefore the war is lost. He suggests that basically that we should cut our losses and leave – but turn our attention to Africa and international development, suggesting it is the only way to really stop al-Qaida from spreading. I find this interesting, because in some ways development in Africa is surely as difficult (if not more so) than nation building in Afghanistan. Certainly we’ve been trying to develop states there for years without much to show for it. I’m not sure he made the case that this is any more realistic or a viable alternative.
  4. Fowler is staking his own version of the “Israel Lobby” in the speech – suggesting that the Tories (the current political party in power) are supporting Israeli policies over the traditional “balanced” view that has been taken by Canada in the Middle East. He suggests that this is because the Tories are trying appeal to Jewish voters (and that the Liberals are also guilty to some extent here as well.) To Fowler, this means that Canada cannot play a useful role in the Middle East. I’ve heard this complaint from Canadian diplomatic-types before (that we were undermining our position), but this is the first major statement I’ve heard spoken so prominently. However, I do have to wonder if Canada (other than the Suez crisis) has ever really played a useful role in the Middle East? I must profess some level of ignorance on the subject here.

There is plenty more in the speech, but I’ll leave it on those four points. He has, so far, received praise from both the left and the right in the press. But also some really harsh criticism.

I have a lot of respect for Fowler, even if I feel inclined to disagree with him on Afghanistan (and possibly his arguments on the Middle East). I had the opportunity to meet him once when he was Canada’s representative on the UN Security Council in 1999. One very much had the impression that he was very interested in African issues then as much as now and that he was proud of his work in trying to stop blood diamonds.

But the fact that this speech, coming from someone who was also a senior UN diplomat, is so critical about Canada, Canadian foreign policy – at a time when Canada is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council may actually put a serious damper on any attempt to actually get it. He openly says that Canada does not deserve the seat – and I would think that all Portugal would have to do would be to show this speech around in order to bolster its attempt to get on the Council.

It’s probably the best case I’ve heard put forward for an idealist-driven foreign policy – even if it is in scathing terms (the line about “Own the Podium” – OUCH!). If nothing else, it was a speech that was honest and informed – something that always seems to be lacking nowadays.

So if you’re just dying to know how a middle power debates its foreign policy – you’re welcome.

As for me, I’ll probably be returning to my regularly scheduled program of blowy-uppy-things next week.

But first I am going to have to try and survive the crazy weather up here.

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