The minister told Kapelos that she sought to increase Canada’s influence on the world stage:
“What we’re seeing is that the world’s power structures are moving, and therefore we need to be there to defend our interests without compromising our values, and we need to increase our influence.”
The minister’s focus on influence is puzzling.
If Canada had more influence in the world today, we wouldn’t have a lot of use for it. With our feminist foreign policy seemingly relegated to the international assistance realm, there is little to distinguish our worldview from that of our more powerful allies.
We aren’t disputing the way that NATO is supporting Ukraine. We don’t disagree with Western efforts to reduce our collective reliance on Chinese imports, especially at the strategic level. We are onside with President Biden’s support for multilateral solutions to global problems. We support and are working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
When Prime Minister (and minister of external affairs) Robert Borden demanded greater influence into the Empire’s war strategy in 1917, an arrogant British general officer corps was sending tens of thousands of Canadian soldiers to their deaths because of shoddy war-planning.
Borden argued that Canada’s military contribution gave it the right to a say in how the battles were fought.
When Ottawa demanded greater influence on the some of the Second World War’s US-UK Combined Boards in the early 1940s, it was reacting to the tendency of the United States and Great Britain to take Canada’s extensive economic contributions to the Second World War for granted.
Today, our contributions to world affairs are meaningful, but they are not so great as to merit extraordinary influence, regardless of whether there are changes in direction we seek to advocate.
Joly is right to be concerned about the state of Canadian foreign policy, but the problem facing Canada today is not a lack of influence – it’s a lack of relevance.
Experts inside and outside of government have noted the increasing tendency of some of our most significant partners to exclude Ottawa from strategic conversations.
These exclusions are manageable when the West is united, but they might not be under a different American administration.
Fortunately, achieving relevance among our allies is straightforward – you pay for it.
In 1917, the cost was measured in the lost lives of Canadian soldiers. In the 1940s, Canada’s economic contributions to the war and postwar reconstruction were what counted most. Today, the price seems to be an increase in defence spending.
In this context, it would be prudent for the leadership at Global Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence to speak with a single voice at the Cabinet table.
Fellow ministers need to understand that now is not the time to give up our ability to advocate.
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