by Susan Delacourt in Ottawa
The best person to explain the big new-year changes to the federal cabinet’s makeup might well be someone who doesn’t even live here: outgoing U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.
During a visit to Canada a month ago, Biden told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada needs to step up, internationally — comments that were widely interpreted as a gesture of passing the liberal torch from soon-to-be ex-president Barack Obama.
“The world is going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr. Prime Minister. Vive le Canada, because we need you very, very badly,” Biden said in remarks at a dinner during his visit to Ottawa.
While we don’t know how much the world was watching events at Rideau Hall on Tuesday, it is abundantly clear that Trudeau has set his sights on the world. As he told reporters after the shuffle, he needs to take into account a “shift in global context.”
In fact, it’s difficult to remember a Canadian cabinet shuffle so internationally focused — one that set so many parts in motion outside Canada’s borders, especially during a time of tumultuous, global change. Among the changes we learned about Tuesday:
The departing Global Affairs minister, Stéphane Dion, was rumoured to be considering a diplomatic post, possibly in Europe, but at the time of Tuesday’s press conference the former Liberal leader was saying only that he was leaving active politics and considering his next move. My best bet is that this is a difficult conversation still in progress (which probably accounted for the unusual uncertainty about the timing of the shuffle ceremony itself at Rideau Hall).
The speculation about Europe as a landing spot for Dion, however, underlines just how much Trudeau and his team are thinking about what’s going on in the world these days. The Brexit vote to leave the European Union, the refugee crisis, ongoing terrorism threats and the rise of right-wing parties are all large matters of concern to progressive-minded governments.
As Biden said in his Ottawa speech: “I’ve never seen Europe as engaged in as much self-doubt as they are now.”
All prime ministers, sooner or later, become preoccupied with global affairs and their place on the big stage. It’s usually an interest that deepens with tenure, and their increasing confidence in rubbing shoulders with other world leaders.
Trudeau, however, seemed to arrive in office with an intense interest in international affairs; he gave some of his first interviews to foreign media and has spent a lot of time commuting to the United States and other summits around the world. His critics have portrayed this as a lack of interest in his own country, accusing Trudeau of being too busy to even attend question period and thinking himself too important to spend his vacations in Canada.
Granted, it is a luxury Trudeau can afford. With a comfortable majority, Trudeau doesn’t need to be worried about his government falling on a vote in the Commons while he’s abroad, as Stephen Harper was during his first two minority governments.
Not all of this shuffle was outward-looking. Shuffles can be very useful in maintaining government discipline — dangling a few promotions as examples to other ambitious, cabinet wannabes in the backbench, and doling out demotions as a warning to others performing under-par. To borrow from that old Liberal campaign slogan from 2015, shuffles are all about hope and hard work — dispensing it (hope) or enforcing it (hard work).
On that score, this shuffle did deliver. While Trudeau’s office was putting out nice words about Dion and his contribution to the government in a press release, nobody watching the PM’s press conference had any doubts that the PMO had decided the former professor and Liberal leader wasn’t the right man to handle what’s coming with Trump and other big events on the world stage.
Other casualties: Maryam Monsef, now the Status of Women minister, was punted from the Democratic Reform post to which she was proving herself unsuited (to say the least). MaryAnn Mihychuk was ejected altogether from her job as minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
Big promotions were handed out to Patty Hadju, moving from Status of Women to Mihychuk’s old job, and to new ministers Champagne and Hussen. Other MPs will be wondering what they did right — which is exactly what the PMO wants them to be thinking about.
Note, though, that the domestic posts in this week’s shuffle were almost afterthoughts. Trudeau wasn’t doing this shuffle with home-grown concerns at front of mind, or even his prospects for the next election (those changes will come closer to 2019, we can assume).
The election that seems to be front of mind for Trudeau right now is the recent one in the United States — the one that gave Canada, and now Freeland, a President Trump to deal with. And if we’re looking for deeper read of the shuffle’s international focus, Biden’s remarks to the PM may be as good any.
“The progress is going to be made,” Biden said, “but it’s going to take men like you, Mr. Prime Minister, who understand it has to fit within the context of a liberal economic order, a liberal international order, where there’s basic rules of the road.”
Don’t be surprised if words along these lines are in the mandate letters for many of the new ministers.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca
by Susan Korah in Ottawa
Canada’s foreign policy is caught in a precarious balancing act between the “sunny ways” of election promises and the realpolitik of weapons sales to countries with dubious human rights records.
In his new book, Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future, former Senator Hugh Segal suggests a solution that he says is focused, principled, and based on two foundational principles – freedom from fear and freedom from want.
Segal’s expertise in foreign policy was acquired through more than 30 years of involvement in foreign and security policy. This included chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a serving term as President of the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP), a non-partisan think tank and research institution.
Introducing his book at a launch hosted by the IRPP in partnership with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, he explained that while he has the highest regard for some of Canada’s hardworking diplomats and other foreign service personnel, he is concerned that foreign policy is a mess of shifting priorities swinging from right to left, according to the ideology of the government that happens to be in power.
His aim, he said, is to give some clarity and direction to foreign policy, which in his opinion, should not be dependent on party politics.
More foreign aid
Elaborating on freedom from want, Segal said it is in Canada’s interest to see that families, communities and nations around the world live in reasonable prosperity, buoyed by a sense of hope for the future.
“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences, not only for those living in despair, but for their neighbouring communities and countries,” he pointed out, adding that the total absence of hope leads to violent behaviour based on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude.
“Putting those two freedoms – freedom from want and from fear – at the centre of our foreign policy would make it more coherent and the world would understand better what we stand for as Canadians,” Segal said.
He added that if extreme poverty is the root cause of violence, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to diminish this cause.
“I think that both in terms of foreign aid and international development and in terms of doing our fair share militarily, we are not doing enough,” he said. “In the [Prime Minister] Lester Pearson era we contributed 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid, but in recent years our numbers have been much lower.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to boost funding to the global fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, but said Ottawa will not meet the goal to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid anytime soon.
Increase military capacity
Another key point that Segal makes in his book and highlighted at the event, is that Canada needs to reinforce its values-based foreign policy with an appropriate military capacity.
“We have a great military, but we need more of them,” he said. “Canada should probably have Armed Forces of 150,000, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves rather than our present number which is in the 50,000 to 60,000 range.”
He said Canada also needs a 60-ship fighting navy, rather than one that has 20 or 30 ships, that can be deployed on humanitarian and diplomatic missions “to send a clear message about Canadian values.”
Giving some examples of how such military strength could help Canadians and those abroad, Segal said, “We need to make sure the Chinese respect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and other people.”
“Our failure to engage with [Bashar al-] Assad three or four years ago is why we have such a horrendous situation now,” he added, referring to the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Using a Western Canadian expression, he said: “We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action or even the capacity for action.
Decline since Chrétien era
“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy,” he emphasized.
Segal’s central thesis is strongly reminiscent of a 2003 publication While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World by Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen. Both authors lament the decline of Canada’s foreign policy and its military, especially since the glory days of Prime Minister Pearson.
Both consider that it took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Segal points out that in that era, by sending delegations of Canadian business people and politicians around the world to increase trade, it became necessary to tread carefully so that no potential trading partner would be offended.
Both Segal and Cohen call for a values-based approach.
“The notion that this book might contribute to that debate in some constructive way would be my fondest hope,” said Segal.
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by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
The level of trust Canadians have in the federal government is at its highest point since EKOS Research began measuring the key indicator 17 years ago, a new survey shows.
According to the poll, which surveyed 1,176 Canadian adults over the age of 18 on April 14th and 15th, 44 per cent said they “almost always” or “most of the time” trust the new Trudeau government in Ottawa to do what is right, compared to roughly 30 per cent who said the same before the October election, when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were in power, and a low of 22 per cent in fall 2014.
That 44 per cent is the highest number tracked since EKOS began asking “the trust question” in 1990 and is the highest level measured previous to that by Gallup since the mid-1970s.
The poll was conducted more than three weeks after the Liberal government’s first budget, which was tabled on March 22 and reflected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s major, controversial, election promise of deficit spending to stimulate economic growth.
The current numbers also reflect that 53 per cent of respondents say they trust the government only some of the time or almost never, down from a six-year high of 76 per cent in August 2014 and just over 60 per cent in October 2015.
The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
“It’s really quite surprising to see the amount of bouyancy in that number with the current government,” said EKOS pollster Frank Graves. “I would have guessed it would go up but I would not have guessed it would go up that much or that it would have persisted for several months.”
According to EKOS Research numbers, the number of Canadians who said they trust the government to do what is right dropped consistently during the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a low of roughly 20 per cent in 1990.
That time period encompassed the terms of former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, John Turner and Brian Mulroney, with trust levels beginning a slow climb again during the end years of Mulroney and the governments of Kim Campbell and Jean Chretien.
However, starting in 2000 that number became sharply more volatile than in years of the past, rising and dropping during the tumultuous end of Jean Chretien’s tenure and the entirety of Paul Martin’s government, before rising sharply and falling equally sharply between the time Stephen Harper came into and left office.
At the same time, the number of Canadians who say they believe the country is heading in the right direction may be levelling out to post-election norms.
Between April 2015 and October 2015, the number of respondents who said the country was heading in the right direction ranged from between 39 and 50 per cent, while those who said the country was heading in the wrong direction were between 49 and 62 per cent.
In January 2016, just three months after the election, those both reached their respective peaks: roughly 69 per cent said the country is heading in the right direction while roughly 32 per cent said the opposite.
Those post-election reactions appear to be moderating, with 55.2 per cent of respondents saying the country is heading in the right direction compared to 37.5 per cent who say the opposite.
The number of respondents who said the Government of Canada is heading in the right direction — and those who say the opposite — down slightly from where they were in January, with 60 per cent saying the government is heading in the right direction and 33 per cent saying it is heading in the wrong direction.
Given the recent post-oil crash economic turmoil in the country, that’s unusual, says Graves.
“That’s paradoxical because often a very poor economy has a corrosive impact on the public’s sense of whether the government’s moving in the right direction,” he said. “In this case, we don’t see that. We see the opposite. But that patience will not be infinite.”
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
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