According to the University of Calgary’s Jean-Christophe Boucher, some are even advocating a Royal Commission.
I was not comfortable when Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne proposed to “launch a white paper on Canada’s feminist foreign policy” four months ago.
And while I don’t agree that Canada’s Security Council election defeat represents the global rejection of Canadian foreign policy that critics have made it out to be, even if it does, I still wouldn't think that the time was right for a foreign policy review.
Historically, foreign policy reviews conducted under minority governments have sputtered.
Prime Minister Joe Clark tried one in 1979, but it was cancelled when his government fell unexpectedly a couple of months later.
Prime Minister Paul Martin tried in 2005. His review made it to press, only to be archived a few months later when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took power.
It’s also an election year in the United States, and Canada’s close ties to the US – economically, militarily, historically, and geographically – mean that the policy of the next administration will have a critical impact on Ottawa’s international realm.
To conduct a foreign policy review before we are certain of who will sit in the White House and control the Senate next year seems imprudent.
These reasons don’t begin to take into account the logistics of launching a review in the midst of Global Affairs Canada's efforts to deal with the impact of a pandemic while working remotely.
Nor do they consider how Canadians will pay for the findings of the review. (These sorts of exercises always conclude that Canada should do more in the world.)
None of this means that Canadian foreign policy is in a good place.
Critics are correct in suggesting that Ottawa’s searing rhetoric has failed to align with its more guarded international commitments.
But doing something is not the only way to address this discrepancy. For now, the best solution might be to simply cut down on the sloganeering.
Our government could do worse than dispensing with all of its talk of Canadian global leadership; avoiding the further politicization of foreign policy through its deliberate and unhelpful branding efforts; and empowering the outstanding people at Global Affairs Canada and in other departments with international responsibilities to promote and defend Canadian national interests.
We can start thinking more seriously about the future of Canadian foreign policy on November 4th, 2020. But I still don’t see the value of undertaking a formal review until one of our political parties commands a majority in the House of Commons.
If you’re interested in learning more about Canadian foreign policy reviews, take a look at the work of David Malone, William Hogg, John Noble, and Randolph Mank. I wrote something about the origins of Canada’s feminist foreign policy here, but for a real expert’s take, check out the work of Rebecca Tiessen.
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