How Harper has failed to transform Canada’s foreign policy: a response to Ibbitson.

The piece was a tad  haphazard and  it would be possible to take issue with  any number of his points but here are the four fatal flaws in Ibbitson’s article “How Harper transformed Canada’s foreign policy.”

Populist does not mean more democratic. A government that panders to the electorate and shapes a foreign policy accordingly  is not necessarily engaging Canadians in the foreign policy process. A government that is in constant election mode will in fact make sure every policy is carefully crafted to maximize political impact. That is neither statecraft nor  grand strategy; it  is merely the new political governance . Small ball as some would call it. Slice and dice as others would describe it.

Gone are the days of elitist foreign policy. That means you too Mr Ibbitson. Haven’t you noticed? Harper doesn’t need the mainstream media around. He goes right to the people and doesn’t need or want the spin  and counterspin from journalists (and academics). He has his political staff and advisors  to do all that for him.

Ibbitson has provided no proof that a Harper foreign policy produces better outcomes for Canadians. In fact neither has the government. Debates over WHO can produce the better outcome are purely  ideological. Hardly the pragmatic stuff Ibbitson believes is at the core of this transformation.

Harper has presided over the longest war in Canadian history and yet there is not a single moment  during that war that we would clearly  associate Harper  with decisive leadership  in defence of the national interest. Not exactly the catalyst for change that Canada needs.

There are other claims one could take issue with. For example whether bilateral trade agreements are really trade creation or merely trade diversion – assuming that a majority of these relatively tiny trade deals have actually resulted in something tangible – which remains open to debate. Or that Ibbitson fails to point out that the provinces are outpacing the federal government in shaking up the economic landscape  by making trade deals that really work for Canadians (for example CETA has its origins in Quebec-France relations and draws its impetus from that long standing relationship). Or that both the Canada-India and Canada-China free trade deals are still far off, essentially stalled and so far are not working out as planned. Or that, despite making trade a priority, our economic relationship with the US is not nearly as  strong as it should be (witness the delays on Keystone for example). These are points that I will take up in detail at a later date.

David Carment
Professor of International Affairs,
CDFAI Fellow  and Editor  –  Canadian Foreign Policy Journal

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