Canada elected a Liberal prime minister, ending nearly a decade of Conservative Party rule. This turn to the left is exactly what Canada needs to regain its standing in the international community, respect that was lost due to the increasingly unpopular and neoconservative policies of its Conservative Prime Minister.
On October 19, 2015, Canadian voters brought their Liberal Party to power in Parliament, ending nearly a decade of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party being in government. The Liberal party, led by Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, won a decisive victory. The election signifies changes ahead in Canadian politics, specifically in its foreign policy as Harper’s decisions became increasingly unpopular with the Canadian citizens. Trudeau campaigned on a liberal platform, essentially promising to do the opposite of his predecessor. The foreign policy issues on which Canada is most likely to see reform are in its environmental policy, strategy towards the Middle East, attitude towards the United States, and its diplomatic approach to the rest of the world. Reform is desperately needed in Canadian politics and a turn to the left is exactly what Canada needs to regain its standing in the international community.
Stephen Harper employed neoconservative strategies during his time as prime minister, adopting a “more bellicose foreign policy” than previous Canadian leaders. In fact, Harper is viewed by critics and fans alike as a an “unabashed neoconservative, a nationalist who championed Western values and a more muscular foreign policy overseas” as he seemingly moved away from some of Canada’s signature progressive politics. Harper unconditionally supported the Iraq War in 2003 as the United States launched its invasion. In Afghanistan, Canada provided troops to support the U.S.-led coalition against the resurging Taliban. The Conservative Party supported a “robust Canadian combat mission” when the war first began and continued that role as Harper took office. Keeping in accordance with neoconservative policies, Canada under Harper was committed to “advancing freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” even as the Obama administration in the United States began to diversify its foreign policies. Harper was also a staunch ally to Israel and deeply opposed Russia’s expansionism under its President Vladimir Putin. Keeping in line with neoconservative foreign policies, his interaction with multilateral forums was selective as he was deeply skeptical of the United Nations, but favored the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a trustworthy partner due to its military capabilities. The former prime minister showed his skepticism for climate change and refused to engage in a global forum. Overall, Harper’s foreign policy took on more of an aggressive, militaristic and neoconservative tone than previous Canadian prime ministers. As the election approached, it became clear that Canadian citizens were looking for a departure from Harper’s unpopular policies, voting in a referendum on Harper’s leadership on his “hawkish foreign policy.”
Justin Trudeau campaigned with promises to handle foreign policy differently than Harper. A turn to the left is exactly what Canada’s foreign policy needs to regain its standing in the international community. With regards to the coalition against ISIS, Trudeau wants to withdraw Canadian participation from the aerial bombing campaign as he views the coalition’s strategies as ineffective. As a result, he wants to assume more of a humanitarian role. This tactics will allow Canada to repair its relationship with the rest of the world because the U.S.-led coalition has the military aspect fulfilled. What is missing is the humanitarian dimension of the campaign and who better to take on that role than Canada. This potential role would allow Canada engage in what is natural to its foreign policy, thus effectively gaining more respect internationally. Similarly, with respect to the worsening Syrian civil war and resulting refugee crisis, Trudeau blames Harper for a lackluster policy. Trudeau vowed to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of February as a way to provide more humanitarian support while Harper actually “tightened the rules for refugee settlement.” This, too, will help Canada’s international reputation because Canada will be doing its part. It could also inspire other countries who have been reluctant to assume more responsibility with the refugees to take a page from Canada’s playbook.
Another area that contributed to the damage to Canada’s international standing was Harper’s denial on climate change. Trudeau hopes the climate change conference in Paris will provoke a new attitude in Canada’s foreign policy. Trudeau promises to be more active and vocal participant on this issue as he regards it as a truly global issue. By becoming more active on climate change, Trudeau will help regain respect globally as a change in policy will bring Canada in line with the global consensus. Being on the same page as the rest of the industrialized world by recognizing that climate change is a dangerous and valid issue will only allow Canada to further revamp its global image.
Further attempting to repair key diplomatic relationships, Trudeau realized that good relations with its neighbor to the south are central to a winning foreign policy. As such, Trudeau vowed to restore relations with Washington, which have been bruised by the Harper’s myopic policy view toward the United States’ reluctance to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The United States and Canada share the biggest trading relationship in the world, with 75 percent of Canada’s exports going to the United States. Cooperation with the United States, the world’s lone superpower, will only redeem Canada’s reputation throughout the world because Canada is a “middle power” player in the world order created mostly by the United States. Canada must assure Washington of its willingness to cooperate as one of its closest allies because the two nations’ foreign policies are intertwined; the United States and Canada have a mutual need in order to assure their foreign policies are successful and that the world order that benefits both countries is maintained.
Finally, the new Prime Minister will help Canada regain its international relevancy by revolutionizing its diplomatic approach. Harper was increasingly skeptical of the United Nations and very selective about his use of multilateral diplomacy. This caused resentment toward the UN due to Canada’s failure to secure a seat on the UN Security Council. However, under Trudeau, it is imperative that Canada return to a fundamental part of Canada’s foreign policy: being a consensus-building and multilateral partner. Trudeau, unlike Harper, wants to recommit to the UN because he recognizes that cooperation within the United Nations will only benefit Canada. Trudeau’s ultimate objective is to employ a “more pro-active diplomacy,” emphasizing better relations with Canada’s allies and mend Canada’s blemished global image which suffered under Harper’s leadership as other countries, within and outside of the UN, will recognize Canada as the partner that everyone covets.