(You can find my analysis of the first one here.)
This report, written by Senior Fellow Balkan Devlen, is focused on Canadian attitudes towards international organizations.
As I noted last time, I agree with Devlen’s suggestion that Canada must work “with other democracies and likeminded states” to promote its national interests.
Nonetheless, I am concerned by the way he has interpreted the data the MLI has gathered with reference to the United Nations.
The report notes that 54% of Canadians have very positive or moderately positive views of the UN, while 19% feel the opposite.
The UN therefore gets a “net impression score” of +35%, which seems relatively good, until you compare it to the scores for NATO (+45%) and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (+51%).
Devlen concludes from these data that “Canadians are not undifferentiated multilateralists when it comes to international organizations.” They privilege some over others.
But that’s not exactly true. As he notes later in the same report, there is an overwhelming (my word) “partisan divide when it comes to the UN.”
Conservatives give the organization a net impression score of just +1%. Liberals give it a +62%.
If we assume that Green, NDP, and Bloc Québécois supporters are closer to the Liberals than the Conservatives on this one, a significant majority of Canadians are indeed undifferentiated multilateralists.
It’s only a (rather large) group of Conservative partisans who seem to differ.
If you believe, like Devlen does, that foreign policy development should be “a two-way street between the public and the government,” it seems to me that these findings will make it difficult for Canada’s international negotiators to build up the reserves of diplomatic capital that have traditionally enabled Ottawa to achieve its worldwide goals.
Consider some recent history:
The SNC-Lavalin affair’s impact on the Liberals’ 2019 re-election prospects had a notable, even if rarely mentioned, effect on Canada’s international posture.
The Globe and Mail broke the story in early 2019 while Ottawa was ramping up its campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Once the Liberals dropped in the polls, Canadian officials in New York found it increasingly difficult to secure UNSC votes.
The countries we sought support from were not confident that a Conservative government would honour “Liberal” commitments.
I recognize that some readers might not care about whether a Canadian UNSC campaign succeeds; regardless, the broader lesson here is important:
In diplomacy, a country’s word matters.
It is difficult for Ottawa to negotiate effectively on the world stage when our two leading political parties disagree so extensively over the place of the UN within Canada’s multilateral universe.
This is not to say that there is no room for partisan differences in foreign policy. Rather, in more ideal circumstances, those differences would be largely confined to execution.
We cannot develop a long-term strategic vision of Canada’s place in the world without starting from a shared understanding of the national interest (and, by extension, the UN’s place in it).
The MLI’s report should therefore set off alarm bells for all Canadian leaders. The politicization of foreign policy has not left this country in a good place.
Caroline Dunton is doing some innovative theoretical work on Canada and the UN. Her latest article can be found here. On Canadian foreign policy more broadly, it’s always worth taking a look at what The Université de Québec à Montréal’s Justin Massie is thinking.
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