The Ukraine: Unfinished Business

If John Baird’s upcoming visit to Ukraine is to be successful, it must satisfy two overarching goals. The first will be to  assure Ukraine’s interim leadership that Canada remains committed to supporting an inclusive and open democratic society that is tolerant of all minorities and political parties. The second is to find a way to wean the Ukraine away from  its dependence on an informal economy.  These two  goals are intertwined and go to the heart of Ukraine’s structural problems.

Ukraine remains the only European country deemed  essential to Canada’s bilateral aid program. Even before Stephen  Harper came to power in 2006, the promotion of  democracy in Ukraine was a long standing area of focus for the Canadian government. But clearly these efforts were not enough. There are two reasons for that.

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Canada has a key role to play in Ukraine’s future

As originally published by the Globe and Mail.

If John Baird’s upcoming visit to Ukraine is to be successful, it must satisfy two overarching goals. The first will be to assure Ukraine’s interim leadership that Canada remains committed to supporting an inclusive and open democratic society that is tolerant of all minorities and political parties. The second is to find a way to wean the Ukraine away from its dependence on an informal economy. These two goals are intertwined and go to the heart of Ukraine’s structural problems.

Ukraine remains the only European country deemed essential to Canada’s bilateral aid program. Even before Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, the promotion of democracy in Ukraine was a long standing area of focus for the Canadian government. But clearly these efforts were not enough. There are two reasons for that.

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John Baird’s contradictory digital diplomacy

As originally published by Embassy on 10 February 2014.

For Foreign Minister John Baird, the timing of the revelations that Industry Canada tweets must follow a rigid and systematic set of protocols before being released to the public could not have been worse.

Just a few days after that story broke, the minister made it clear in a speech to California’s high tech firms that Canada was preparing to unleash its digital diplomats on the world in support of human rights and political protest. Baird’s apparent goal is to challenge oppressive governments who undermine freedom of speech by shutting down the flow of information across the Internet.

Placed side by side, the two stories lay bare the fundamental and bizarre contradiction that is Canada’s digital diplomacy strategy.

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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.

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The dangerous game of diaspora politics

As originally published in The Globe and Mail, Feb. 10 2012.

The term “diaspora” reflects the rise of truly transnational populations occupying a key niche in Canadian politics that allows them to influence both home and host government.

Diasporas can exert pressure on their home government from abroad, free from political threats and fear of retribution. And they can lobby their host country to put pressure on their home government to endorse policies ranging from human rights and governance reform to favourable international trade policies and security guarantees. Diaspora politics is seductive and populist. And governing parties can ride the wave of new immigrant support for generations.

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Four reasons why criticisms of Harper’s foreign policy are doomed to fail

As originally published by Embassy.

Over the past year or so, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign policy has seen a barrage of increasingly frank, sharp and clear-cut criticisms in newspapers, blogs and journals.

Most of these criticisms are directed at key items in the current government’s foreign policy agenda, such as the prioritization of trade, the lack of interest in multilateralism and the pursuit of international development through private sector solutions.

There is a virtual cottage industry of scholars who have more or less established themselves as pivotal influential players, whose job it seems is to draw attention to the lack of consistency and substance in the current government’s policies.

While I am sympathetic to those who believe that publicly criticizing the government is a necessary and important aspect of a functional democracy—and I have been one of those who take part in it—I also believe that much of these criticisms are either misplaced, in the sense that they are largely ineffective, or counterproductive.

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Pining for the Fjords

As originally published by Embassy as “Why Twitter diplomacy won’t lead to better foreign policy.”

Several of my colleagues at universities scattered across Quebec have been contemplating the title of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal’s forthcoming special all-French review of Stephen Harper’s foreign policy.

In our conversations about the main themes we wanted to project, I suggested we call the review the “dead parrot” issue, with the underlying assumption that Canadian foreign policy is pretty much dead, and—to paraphrase John Cleese in the famous Monty Python skit—if it weren’t nailed to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies.

Needless to say, my Anglo sense of humour didn’t quite make the mark with my Francophone colleagues, and so I have decided to reserve the title for our subsequent all-English review of Harper’s foreign policy to be released later this year.

My observation that Canadian foreign policy is indeed dead is perhaps an exaggeration, but for many of us who have toiled in the international affairs trenches for decades, the past few years are an unprecedented low point.

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