The Conservatives’ 2021 election platform, Canada’s Recovery Plan, dedicated significantly more space to international relations than the Liberals’ Forward, For Everyone. And while I did not agree with every promise, the package as a whole struck me as thoughtful, and serious.
In that context, I am particularly disappointed in Mr. O’Toole’s recent foreign policy musings.
According to the CBC, just over a week ago, at a virtual meeting with Nova Scotia chambers of commerce, Mr. O’Toole criticized the current government in a manner that was not only over-the-top, but also suggested a profound ignorance of how Canada-US relations work.
“We have never seen, in modern Canadian history, Canada-U.S. relations at such a low point,” he said.
“We just lost a recent trade battle with respect to supply management – we’ve been losing on agriculture. We’re losing on forestry products. There’s been steel and aluminum tariffs and Buy America that has us losing on manufacturing.”
“It’s easy for the U.S. to dominate, easy for the U.S. to win with the current prime minister,” he added.
I see two problems with these comments.
First, to suggest that Canada’s relations with the United States are the worst in modern history because of a series of ongoing trade disputes is rather silly.
Every recent prime minister has struggled to deal with Washington.
Check out the late Jim Prentice’s memoir, Triple Crown: Winning Canada’s Energy Future, for a sense of the disdain with which the Obama administration viewed the Harper government.
Or recall that, after the combination of the ballistic missile defence fiasco, and the Martin government’s decision to attack the United States’ (superior) environmental record just before the 2006 election, the Bush administration was all but counting down the days until the Liberals were defeated.
Going back a bit further, the Americans were flabbergasted by Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program in 1981, and Ottawa was equally taken aback by the Nixon shock in 1971.
I could go on…
More important, to suggest that Canada-US relations are about “winning” is unbecoming of a leader who surely must know better.
The goal in preserving what the Conservatives themselves called an “indispensable alliance” in their election platform is not to win.
Rather, to paraphrase Canada’s Recovery Plan, it is to work with our US partners; to share responsibility for the security of North America; and to benefit jointly from our integrated economies.
When it comes to the bilateral relationship, Canada does not win when the Americans lose, and vice-versa. Nor can any Canadian government set the priorities of a US administration, or even just prevent Washington from enacting self-defeating protectionist policies.
This is not to say that the Liberals’ foreign policy record has been flawless.
For an effective critique, take a look at this recent article by Rita Trichur of the Globe and Mail.
Trichur has been tracking Ottawa’s disappointing performance on an issue that, ironically, the Conservatives recognized as important in Canada’s Recovery Plan: money laundering.
Apparently, the Trudeau government is backsliding on its commitment to make Canada’s forthcoming beneficial ownership registry publicly accessible.
The most recent mandate letters issued by the Prime Minister’s Office reiterated a promise to create the registry, but omitted the original guarantee of public accessibility.
As Trichur notes, without a commitment to public accessibility, “Canada’s forthcoming beneficial ownership registry will be a guaranteed flop.”
The Globe has been following up with Ottawa to see whether the mandate letters’ omission was deliberate, and has thus far been denied a clear response.
Trichur is to be commended for her diligence, but a serious opposition party should be all over this. Instead, Canadians have been treated to hyperbole and oversimplifications.
Mr. O’Toole and his party can do better.
Perhaps the leader of the opposition just had a bad week. Others have been equally critical of his recent criticism of the Liberals’ domestic policy. And as for those Liberals, I continue to struggle to understand how a government that has been so good at procuring vaccines for, and distributing them to, Canadians is struggling do the same for countries of lesser means. This pandemic won’t end here until it ends everywhere.
To be notified of my next post, follow me on Twitter @achapnick.
You can subscribe to my newsletter at https://buttondown.email/achapnick.