Canada’s foreign policy needs a course correction

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Constantine PassarisCanada’s foreign policy has strayed from its traditional path, losing the traction it once had on the world stage.

Canada’s last two attempts to secure a seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council failed. Our international standing as a neutral middle power and an honest broker has lost its shine. Our reputation has slipped with many developing countries.

Our foreign policy is in urgent need of a reset. It’s time to reclaim Canada’s traditional place as a major global player. We need to up our game as global advocates for fairness, equitable treatment and human rights. We need to stand out as role models for the elimination of racism and discrimination.

With the world facing a myriad of political, social and economic problems, the global stage needs more Canada, not less. But it also needs a Canada that speaks with old-fashioned Canadian identity. That identity once garnered the admiration of the international community of nations because Canada spoke from collective experiences and foundational values.

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Our experiences as a colony of France and Britain contributed to our savoir faire on global issues. Colonial rule also gave us a special diplomatic currency with developing countries. Those experiences have allowed Canada to be an honest broker and peacemaker in international disputes. They allowed us to be a trusted neutral arbitrator in conflicts between superpowers and the developing world.

Canada’s iconic image on the global stage was reflected in our core values, our humanitarian outreach and our diplomatic integrity. When Canada spoke, diplomats around the world listened. Canada was widely acknowledged for punching above its weight on foreign policy.

It started with John Peters Humphrey, a law professor at McGill University who was tasked by Eleanor Roosevelt to write the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Then came Lester B. Pearson, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his peacekeeping model in the Middle East that helped defuse the Suez Crisis.

It included Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s unconventional diplomatic outreach to China and Cuba.

Also of note was Brian Mulroney’s relentless pursuit of sanctions against South Africa that ultimately resulted in the demise of apartheid.

Canada was also instrumental in establishing the International Criminal Court, and proposed the treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines and the United Nations Responsibility to Protect initiative.

We need to reclaim our place through a renewed and innovative foreign policy that reflects our foundational Canadian values. It must underscore our commitment human rights and trumpet our constructive engagement in global affairs. This foreign policy would embrace the diversity that created in Canada a country of the world and the world within a country.

Navigating the contemporary geopolitical landscape isn’t going to be a walk in the park. The future is unfolding in a very tumultuous, unpredictable and uncertain manner.

But never have the stakes been so high. We can’t simply watch global events unfold. We have a valuable contribution to make and we’re up to the challenge.

The appointment of Bob Rae as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations is an opportunity for our foreign policy to undergo a course correction.

COVID-19 has forced us to embrace a model of governance that redefines federal-provincial relations – call it a collaborative confederation. This model resonates with our ambition for a renewed foreign policy. It allows the provinces to become partners in shaping our foreign policy.

Provincial governments face hot-button issues directly related to Canada’s foreign policy. These include the reopening of the Canada-United States border, the sale of our natural resources around the world, addressing climate change and diversifying our international trading partners.

Canada’s effective diplomatic engagement is directly linked to our domestic prosperity. We are a trading nation and our foreign policy empowers the provinces to succeed in international trade.

Our success at creating jobs, growing our provincial and national economies, and maintaining our standard of living are direct reflections of the efficacy of our foreign policy.

Most countries scrutinize the character, integrity and ethics of our foreign policy before signing on to new trade agreements.

Canada’s foreign policy needs to reflect our status as a non-aligned middle power with considerable empathy for global grievances and support for international aspirations.

We need to rediscover that our diplomatic strength lies in our soft power, which embraces our principled approach and the power of persuasion.

Dr. Constantine Passaris is a professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick.

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