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Good To See Canada Back On The Global Scene With A Foreign Policy Defined By “Humanitarian Internationalism”

By Bhupinder S. Liddar

In a well coordinated effort, Canada revealed its face to the world, last week, when ministers of foreign affairs, defence and international development, presented their respective policies in Parliament.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced her eagerness for Canada to pursue a policy encouraging “an international order based on rules, in which might is not always right,” She outlined Canada’s priorities as “territorial integrity, human rights, democracy, respect for rule of law and aspiration to free and friendly trade.”

Minister Freeland’s rule-based world order largely entails promoting respect for territorial integrity. Here she takes on Russia, for its expansionist tendencies, especially in her ancestral homeland Ukraine. She expressed concern for Latvia’s two million people, vulnerable to Russia re-establishing its rule. Therefore, it is fitting for Canada to stand firm and express unflinching support for the small and vulnerable Baltic states against what Freeland calls “Russian military adventurism and expansionism.”

In his policy statement Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan also affirmed that “NATO remains essential in the face of renewed Russian aggression, and the rise of violent extremism.” In keeping with this foreign policy objective, Canada, last week, dispatched first of 450 military personnel to Latvia, in the hope of deterring any potential Russian aggression.

Defence Minister Sajjan also announced Canada will expand the Regular Force by 350,000 personnel and the Reserve Force by 1,500 to a ceiling of 71,500 and 30,000 respectively. The defence budget will grow from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27. “It is the first time National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces will have a 20-year funding commitment,” according to the Minister. The new defence policy also mentions enhanced coastal surveillance, Canada’s presence in the Arctic and the ability to operate there.

While International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau did not announce any increase in Canada’s overseas development assistance, she highlighted the priority of the projected $5.3 billion budget’s “first and main focus of action is to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.” By 2012-22, at least 80 percent of Canada’s international assistance will be devoted to this priority.

Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland devoted a significant part of her speech to Canada’s southern neighbour, reminding America that it is the “sole super power” and as such is “an indispensable nation.” But her observation that “our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership” may be premature. While President Donald Trump has pulled his country out of the Paris climate change agreement, has he not just returned from a foreign tour, which included a visit to NATO headquarters, and a pledge to work on a Middle East peace agreement? These are not signs of the United States abdicating world leadership.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister wisely did not poke the U.S. in the eye or rap knuckles, but subtly and firmly passed on some important messages on trade, defence, and, of course, climate change. While reminding Americans of the benefits of good neighbors and free trade she mentioned Canada’s contribution to NORAD, which provides a defence umbrella for both our countries.

Freeland emphatically spelled out that Canada considers “women’s rights are human rights,” saying they are “at the core of our foreign policy.” Freeland also did well to highlight Canada’s continuing commitment “to provide refuge to the persecuted and downtrodden” and cited the example of Canada settling 40,000 Syrian refugees.

According to Defence Minister Sajjan, “The Canadian Armed Forces are an indispensible instrument of Canada’s foreign policy” and International Development Minister Bibeau stated that Prime Minister Trudeau has given a clear mandate to focus international assistance on the poorest and most vulnerable, as well as on fragile states.”

It is good to see Canada back on the international scene, after a decade of neglect and absence, under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Canada’s foreign policy ought to be defined by “humanitarian internationalism” – a term Minister Freeland used, and hopefully will further define and elaborate on as she implements Canada’s foreign policy

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a retired Canadian diplomat and former editor of ‘Diplomat & International Canada’ magazine. He can be contacted at bsliddar@hotmail.com.

Former International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, October 24, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

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