John Ivison: Prioritizing romanticism over realism: Where Trudeau went wrong in Canada’s foreign policy – Anonymous former diplomats

While I agree with many of the criticisms (e.g., oversized role of diaspora politics), some less so (e.g., overly focussed on the US, the main Canadian national interest), a good survey of former ambassador assessments.

But what I find hard to understand is why former ambassadors refuse to make these statements on the record, hiding behind anonymity.

Being retired gives one the freedom to express one’s opinions publicly. There are good examples: Paul Heinbecker, David Mulroney, Dennis Horak, Ferry de Kerckhove and Mike Malloy have all played, and continue to play, an important role in public discussion on foreign policy.

Making anonymous comments, whether on social media or in interviews, has less impact and, I would argue, less credibility.

So to my former colleagues at DFAIT/GAC, if you have something to say, say it but with the personal and professional accountability that comes with being named.

Welcome any contrary opinions, of course:

Rhetoric is no substitute for reality, as the American social theorist Thomas Sowell said. It is the besetting sin of the Trudeau government that it has not lived up to its promises in so many fields of endeavour.

In foreign affairs, this week gave us another reminder of the gap between what Justin Trudeau said he would do — a “new era of Canadian international engagement” — and the state of affairs in the real world.

The Hindustan Times reported that India has informed Canada that there is little prospect of warming the frosty bilateral relationship unless Ottawa takes action on the burgeoning activities of groups seeking an independent Sikh homeland in the Punjab region.

The relationship with India has cooled since Trudeau’s disastrous visit last year, largely because the Indians believe the Liberal government is taking a position that is deliberately ambiguous for domestic political reasons (the Sikh population being a particularly coveted voting bloc at the next election).

The problem is not specifically Trudeau’s lack of credibility with Narendra Modi’s government, though India is an important Commonwealth partner.

The larger issue is that it is just one example of Canada’s continuing evisceration of its foreign service, its subjugation of relations with regional powers to domestic politics and of the millenarian belief that Canada should be regarded as a moral superpower.

Policy has been diaspora-driven in the case of the Sikhs, Tamils and Ukrainians. “We are trying to win votes in Surrey, B.C. That’s not adult. It’s not G7 behaviour,” said one former ambassador.

Another senior diplomat, with two decades of experience in Asia, said the Liberals seems to believe that foreign governments will buy their progressive talking points just as its political base does.

“I spent decades working with these highly educated and sophisticated people and I would be embarrassed to be defending current policies. We have never before had strained relations with all three of the world’s strongest powers,” he said.

The Post spoke with a handful of former senior diplomats, all of whom lamented the current state of Canada’s foreign relations.

They talked about a missed opportunity after the Harper years, when the Conservative government turned away from multilateralism and refused to “go along just to get along.” Trudeau tried to rebrand Canada as a more sympathetic, co-operative country, and said he wanted to share a “positive Canadian vision.”

When he visited the renamed Global Affairs Department in Ottawa’s Lester B. Pearson building he was greeted like a rock star by staff who were open in their jubilation at the demise of the Conservative government.

“Harper made no secret of his open disdain for the bureaucracy, which he thought was staffed by a bunch of Liberals,” said one former ambassador. “That wasn’t true — people had served previous Conservative governments loyally.”

There were high hopes that Trudeau would revive the foreign service but by all accounts, that has not happened.

“For a government that evinced such appreciation of bureaucrats at the beginning — which was embarrassingly reciprocated — Trudeau’s government has shown little appreciation for the actual institution of Canada foreign policy. Was this because the institution didn’t deliver, after the years of Harper starvation; because the Harper model was there and was so easy to fall back on; because of the press of crises; or because of personality?” asked another former ambassador.

The answer is probably a combination of the above. But what can be said with confidence is that allowing the foreign service to atrophy further has had real world consequences.

Naiveté, myopia and bad advice contributed to the debacle in Beijing in late 2017, when Trudeau arrived in China expecting to launch talks on a free trade deal and left empty-handed. Old Foreign Affairs hands shake their heads at the expectation that China would change its labour laws to accommodate Canada’s progressive trade agenda, blaming former ambassador John McCallum (one of a number of political appointees in key embassies) for not warning the visiting prime minister. “The Liberal establishment is in bed with the Chinese and they were slow to see that Xi is different and the romantic vision of China is no longer true,” said a former ambassador.

The consensus on Trudeau’s trip to India is that foreign service advice was either ignored or overruled. The logic appears to have been that dressing up in flamboyant costumes for pictures that would appear in constituency mail-outs at election time should take precedence over fostering more harmonious relations with the world’s largest democracy.

On relations with the U.S., there is a sense that Trudeau has performed more adroitly. “I’m careful not to carp about the swimming stroke of a guy caught in a white water cascade,” said one former ambassador, referring to the problem for any Canadian government dealing with Donald Trump.

The main criticism was that the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement has dominated the agenda, leaving little time for the rest of the world.

Chrystia Freeland, the global affairs minister, is given credit by foreign policy veterans for getting the free trade deal with the European Union across the finish line.

She is also commended for backing the Lima Group, a collection of 12 countries intent on creating a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela. “It’s one of the best initiatives to come out of this government,” said a former ambassador with experience in Latin America. “It’s flexible, not the usual suspects and pragmatic.”

But Freeland and Trudeau are given more failing marks than passes for prioritizing romanticism over realism in Canada’s foreign policy.

The Trudeau government’s idealistic crusade to promote democracy and reduce inequities has blinded it to the realpolitik that puts national interest ahead of all other considerations.

An example would be the tweet by Freeland calling for the release of two women’s rights activists, including Samar Badawi, sister of imprisoned writer Raif Badawi, which provoked an angry response from the peevish Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The prince called the intervention “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs,” expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze bilateral trade, and dumped Canadian assets. For their part, the Trudeau Liberals were able to engage in their particular brand of pulpit diplomacy. But it came at a cost and Canada’s former Saudi envoy, Dennis Horak, was quoted as saying Freeland’s tweet was a “serious overreaction” and “went too far.”

One of the former ambassadors interviewed concurred. “If we confine relations to like-minded countries, we’ll have ever fewer relations,” he said.

Freeland could claim to being on the side of the angels when the Saudis murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their consulate in Turkey in October 2018. But Samar Badawi is still in detention and is less likely to be released after Canada’s involvement than she was before. The incident revealed that Canada is impotent when it comes to transforming the behaviour of other states, yet retains an unrealistic sense of utopianism that offers the mirage of power and influence.

Meanwhile, Canada’s foreign affairs department continues to disintegrate — quite literally. There has been no ambassador in Moscow for over a year and the roof of the embassy is falling in, such that staff are set to move into the basement and backrooms of the British embassy.

Canada promised to be “back” but the re-emergence on the multilateral stage has fizzled. On arms control, aid, peacekeeping and security, the Trudeau government has disappointed. The government took a long time to commit to a year-long engagement in Mali and the eight helicopters and 250 personnel are due to come home at the end of this month — nearly three months before their Romanian replacements are in theatre.

None of this bodes well for Canada’s attempt to win a seat on the UN Security Council next year, against strong opposition from Ireland and Norway.

Failure would bring uncomfortable comparisons with the prime minister’s father, who was in power when Canada held a non-permanent security council seat in 1977.

“Justin has a domestic focus to his foreign policy, compared to his father, who was a factor on the world stage,” said one eminent former ambassador, who spent 35 years working on four continents.

I asked him if he thought Trudeau, who travelled extensively with his father as a boy, was a student of geo-politics. “I don’t think so. When engaging with world leaders, he’s not talking about Middle East peace or Iran, I’d suggest he is engaging on issues like income inequality, women in leadership roles and the environment,” he said.

The consequence of these skewed priorities, according to my informal panel of ambassadors, is that in many areas of foreign policy, not only is Canada not back, it is positively AWOL.

Trudeau will pay the price if he wavers on Trump: Martin, Hébert, Glavin – The Globe and Mail

Tricky balance for the government to navigate, one that will likely only become more challenging:

Exaggerators, overreactors, alarmists, wolf criers. They make up the ascendant, paranoid right in politics. Canadians, by contrast, show an opposite lean. We’re more inclined to equanimity, seeing things in the round.

It’s one of our finer qualities and it was manifest following Donald Trump’s action against Muslims and refugees, as well as the Quebec murders allegedly perpetrated by a lone-wolf screwball.

Justin Trudeau was out before other world leaders with the message that the excluded were welcome here. Many Conservatives, Jason Kenney included, took issue with the Trump edict as well.

Following the horror in Sainte-Foy, there were no overheated calls from Mr. Trudeau or opposition leaders for a security crackdown on freedoms. Instead, there was this statement by the Prime Minister: “We will not meet violence with more violence. We will meet fear and hatred with love and compassion. Always.”

That, of course, runs directly counter to the Archie Bunkerish proclivities of the new U.S. President and his Visigothic sidekick, Stephen Bannon. Mr. Trump has just come to power and already cross-border relations are rocky. We should get used to it. A long run of bilateral warfare is likely in the offing.

The initial idea, a reasonable one, was to wait before jumping to conclusions about where Mr. Trump was headed. Maybe a lot of his campaign demagoguery was just P.T. Barnum bluster. But it took only a week of announcements – Mexican wall, Muslim wall – to show that he was fully intent on implementing his agenda.

We’re in completely new territory with this U.S. administration. There has never been one like it – and never one so unlike our own. The John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy fissure was based on less. So was the split between Richard Nixon and Pierre Trudeau. The divide today extends to trade, immigration, climate change, social justice, foreign policy and much else. It also extends to temperament, world view and philosophy.

Some say we should bury our differences because relations with Washington are simply too important to let sour. Others say you can suck up to power or you can stand on principle. The Trudeau government would like to find a middle ground. It may be able to work out an accommodation on trade issues. But events are dictating – and likely will continue to dictate – a wide divide.

Global protests greeted Mr. Trump’s actions, with Mr. Trudeau being saluted for his initial statement. Many see Canada as playing a leading role in countering “America First” naiveté.

The country is well-equipped to take on such a challenge. Our unity has rarely, if ever, been stronger than it is today. Regional discontent is at one of its all-time lows. The spirit of positivism that Justin Trudeau has ushered in to contrast the bunker mentality of the Conservative decade has weakened somewhat owing to his recent stumbles.

But to get the measure of how well, comparatively speaking, this country is doing, one need only look at what have been seen as the big controversies stirring in Ottawa. There was the Prime Minister’s Christmas holidaying with the Aga Khan. Horrors. There was his self-admitted slip-up in answering a question in French instead of English. A barn burner, to be sure. There’s been the endless, tedious debate over the issue that most Canadians could not care a fig about. Electoral reform.

Many times in the past our government has had to stake out positions running directly counter to Washington’s. Jean Chrétien’s run-ins with George W. Bush are one example. Pierre Trudeau’s handling of Mr. Nixon constituted another. On neither occasion did we pay too big a price. As for Mr. Trump, he can’t put up walls everywhere. He can’t go about alienating every economic partner.

Mr. Trudeau should make it clear in his coming meeting with him that there will be no relenting on Canada’s contrary beliefs. He and the President are going to have to agree to very much disagree.

If he sells out to Mr. Trump, Canadians will make him pay. And so they should.

Source: Trudeau will pay the price if he wavers on Trump – The Globe and Mail

Chantal Hébert in the Star:

Canada would not even beg to differ in public with Trump’s outlandish assertion that keeping out refugees, visitors and immigrants including green card holders from some Muslim-majority countries was necessary to keep the U.S. safe from attacks.

Given that we share the same continent, it is hard to think of a government leader better placed to offer a rebuttal of that narrative than Canada’s.

But while Trudeau and many others in his government spent the past weekend reaffirming their attachment to Canada’s diversity and their determination to continue to enrich it, they all steered well clear of rebutting the premises of the U.S. ban.

That task fell to non-Liberals such as former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney. In a series of tweets on Saturday, he described Trump’s executive order as “a brutal ham-fisted act of demagogic political theatre” and called on Republicans in the American congress to challenge it.

In a statement issued on behalf of all Canadian universities on Sunday and calling for the ban to be ended immediately, their association pointedly noted that this was an issue “that was too important to stay quiet on.”

Asked point blank to address the ban issue in question period on Monday, the prime minister skirted NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s question and stuck to touting Canada’s diversity.

The problem with Canada’s tongue-biting approach is that some actions speak louder than others, especially when they are those of a U.S. administration that is using the office of president as a bullhorn to equate Muslims with security threats.

The refusal to engage beyond the very narrow scope of securing Canadian exemptions from measures that have negative planet-wide implications leaves the field wide open to those — starting with the new administration — who are only too eager to distort facts for their own purposes.

Surely Trudeau did not see the White House’s appropriation of the Quebec City tragedy as fodder for its controversial entry ban coming. Chances are this will not be the last time he is blindsided by his U.S. vis-à-vis.

It was always a given that there would be limits to the lengths the Trudeau government could go to in its quest for a transactional relationship with the Trump administration. But few expected those limits to be reached over a matter of little more than a single week. And yet they have.

In wake of mosque shootings, Trudeau silent on Trump’s ban on Muslims: Hébert

And Glavin calls for action on Syrian refugees turned away by Trump:

This is just one small, brave thing that Canadians can do that would be rather more useful than being entertained by their politicians composing tweets about what a nice country Canada is. We could take in at least some of those refugees that Trump has turned away.

Over the Christmas holidays, Hussen’s predecessor, John McCallum, quietly capped the 2017 quota of privately sponsored Syrian refugees at 1,000—this after Canadians privately sponsored nearly 14,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. There are about 25,000 Syrian refugees still in the backlog for resettlement in Canada in 2017. Hussen could lift McCallum’s cap on private refugee sponsorships. This is more or less what the Canadian Council for Refugees proposed on Sunday.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 18,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States during Barack Obama’s presidency. Canada has taken in more than 40,000 since November 2015. The United States was set to take in 3,566 Syrian refugees during the first three months of this year. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, 1,318 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States between Jan. 1 and last Friday, when the American door slammed shut. That leaves 2,248 innocent Syrian refugees immediately “stranded,” indefinitely, by Trump’s idiocy. We could take them, at a minimum. We could do this.

Either Canadians are the big-hearted and welcoming people our politicians claim we are, or we’re not. Either diversity is our strength, or it is not.

Piety is one thing. Brave policy is quite another.

It’s time for Justin Trudeau to do brave things

The New Cabinet: Diversity, inclusion and achieving parity

Election 2015 - VisMin and Foreign-Born MPs.002
The chart shows the overall representation of Canada’s new Parliament (the 2011 Parliament equivalent is shown below).

Election 2015 - VisMin and Foreign-Born MPs.001

In addition to gender parity, visible minorities are slightly over-represented (16 percent) in relation to their share of the population who are Canadian citizens (15 percent).

However, Canadian Sikhs predominate as four out of the five visible minority ministers are Sikh: Navdeep Bains, Harjit Sajjan, Amarjeet Sohi and Bardish Chagger (the only non-Sikh is Maryam Monsef, an immigrant from Afghanistan). Likely that geographic factors played a role.

Two out of the five are women. Three are foreign-born.

Two have senior portfolios: Harjit Sajjan in Defence, Navdeep Bains in Innovation, Science and Economic Development (the rebranded Industry Canada).

The choice of John McCullum for the renamed Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department suggests that an experience minister was wanted to move the priority files (in addition to his previous experience in a number of portfolios and was previously the Liberal critic for citizenship and immigration). So very likely that he will hit the ground running.

And the best illustration of how the overall philosophy and approach has changed can be seen in the creation of a Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, with a mandate to:

Considers issues concerning the social fabric of Canada and the promotion of Canadian pluralism. Examines initiatives designed to strengthen the relationship with Indigenous Canadians, improve the economic performance of immigrants, and promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.

Will Justin Trudeau keep fighting Stephen Harper’s court battles?

Likely that a number of these kinds of cases will be dropped, presumably to the relief of Justice Canada lawyers (given that at least part of the Harper government’s motivation appeared to be more scoring of political points than enforcing the law):

Bahareh Esfand couldn’t vote for Justin Trudeau, but she sees the prime minister-designate’s victory reflected in her own Federal Court battle

For the past year, the Coquitlam, B.C., woman has locked horns with a Conservative government bent on winning the right to remove her permanent resident status.

It’s a complicated story: Esfand came to Canada from Iran in 2006 with her political refugee husband, but the minister of citizenship and immigration wants to strip her of refugee status for returning to see her ailing mother.

Regardless, the battle is almost pointless, because even if the government won, it’s unlikely they could deport a hard-working, non-criminal mother of a Canadian-born child and wife of a newly minted Canadian citizen.

As if to put a fine point on all of that, Federal Court Judge George Locke sided with Esfand this week in a scathing decision that suggests the outgoing government was “more concerned with removing refugee status than granting it.”

‘They’ve got a lot of decisions to make’

Esfand claims Stephen Harper’s government threw her life off balance in a bid to score an ideological point.

In that, she wouldn’t be alone. Canada’s courts are packed with claimants alleging their rights were violated by an agenda that purported to be tough on bogus refugees and tough on crime.

But her case also raises a question. What next? Even before Locke handed down his decision on Esfand, Ottawa announced plans to appeal if they lost.

But will Trudeau want to continue fighting Harper’s battles?

“They’ve got a lot of decisions to make,” said Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“They’re going to have to take a good, hard look at the whole suite of laws that have been passed by the current government and the legal challenges that are out there and figure out what to do.”

Broadly speaking, the cases in front of appeal or Federal Court judges involve either broad Charter of Rights challenges to legislation or specific cases where the application of policy allegedly undermines the intent of a law.

Issues range from mandatory minimum sentences, victim surcharges, the Fair Elections Actrefugee health care and Bill C-51 to the controversial niqab issue — just for a start.

Source: Will Justin Trudeau keep fighting Stephen Harper’s court battles? – British Columbia – CBC News