Glavin: What’s so wrong with involving diasporas in foreign policy?

Terry Glavin on diaspora politics:

Here’s the thing. Even if these claims are true, so what?

Parliament obtained full foreign-affairs sovereignty from Britain only with the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931. I can’t seem to find the codicil stipulating that foreign-policy jurisdiction was to be transferred only to wheezy Upper Canada diplocrats, yesteryear UN ambassadors, boring Middle Eastern Studies grad students and the twilight alumni of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

Canada is a bustling multicultural democracy. One fifth of Canadians are foreign-born. With dozens of diaspora communities, Canada is blessed with an invaluable foreign-policy resource of experts, global networks, deep wells of human intelligence, and — heaven forbid — ballot-box moxy. Where better to turn for guidance and close consultation?

Three years ago, the Mosaic Institute and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation undertook an in-depth analysis of the potential for Canada’s diaspora communities to more directly and usefully inform foreign policy. The government hasn’t paid it much attention, but what’s worth noticing here is that the authors of the “Tapping Our Potential” study straight away encountered a cynical old-guard view that the whole idea was a bad one to start with. There was a “general skepticism” in foreign-policy circles, “a view, in other words, that foreign policy is best left to the experts.”

Glavin, of course, cites the examples of diaspora politics he agrees with: Ukraine and Israel, but only makes a passing message to those he disagrees with (China).

Ethnic communities have a natural interest in events in their “homeland.” Canada, as a democracy, naturally responds to those interests, as it does to other interests as I argued in my take on diaspora politics (Shopping for Votes Can Undermine Canada’s Fine Balance).

But responding does not necessarily mean adopting wholesale the position of a particular community. This has to be balanced against other Canadian interests.

And what about diasporas that the Government or Canadians do not want to support? What is the criteria? The ideology of the Government of the day? The political strength of the community? The presence or absence of economic or other interests? Do we simply accept the leading community organizations as being fully representative of the community? And how do we balance – or should we – competing diaspora interests?

So, the question is not, as Glavin frames it as turning “away from the talents, insights and leadership in this country’s diaspora communities.” On the contrary, we can and should continue to listen and engage with them.

But the harder issue, which Glavin ignores, is how to balance these diaspora interests against other equally legitimate Canadian interests?

Glavin: What’s so wrong with involving diasporas in foreign policy? | Ottawa Citizen.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

One Response to Glavin: What’s so wrong with involving diasporas in foreign policy?

  1. Victoria says:

    Another way to look at it is to turn it around and see how folks feel about this sort of thing in reverse.

    So, for example, if there are a lot of Canadians in France, should they organize and make themselves heard in French politics with an eye toward influencing French (or even EU) foreign policy? Do they have something to offer? Would French politics and society be better if they participated as Canadians in France? And would Canada get anything positive out of it? Or would it cause problems and tensions?

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