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CICC Conference Summit on Canada's Global Leadership

Panel on Modifying Canadian Foreign Policy for the new World Order

Opening remarks by Randolph Mank

November 28, 2019

I've published several papers over the past year: on doing business with Asia, on relations with China and the Huawei affair, on the need for a new kind of Quantum Diplomacy to manage cyber and technological threats, on the emerging Cold War II, and on the need for a Canadian foreign policy review. I want to pick a few threads from those to add to today's discussions.

The overarching point is that the world is changing fundamentally and requires brave new thinking. The Trump presidency has been a major catalyst of course.

Mr. Trump doesn't believe that the post WWII system - which the US created - is in its best interests any longer. In that system the US plays world policeman and pays the lion's share to keep international sea lanes open and to guarantee the security of its alliance system through the UN, NATO and a series of bilateral arrangements. In exchange, most of the rest of the world has, theoretically at least, agreed on an ever-changing set of global rules governing free and open trade.

In the face of large trade deficits and massive debt - and more pointedly the rising challenge for supremacy from China - the President thinks it's a bad deal. With a budget deficit over $1 tril, and federal debt accelerating past $23 tril, most realists would concede his point.

Whether we concede it or not, we have to deal with it. With our cart tied so closely to the American horse, not to mention our basic geography, we have to react.

The previous Trudeau government did its best to handle NAFTA renegotiations but was ultimately snookered when the US negotiated a bilateral deal with Mexico and presented it as a take it or leave it proposition to Canada. That was a display of US interests-based foreign policy at its starkest. We're left trying to save our pride by insisting on calling the new deal CUSMA rather than USMCA.

Could Canada pursue its interests in a more pointed way? I believe we could. Let's look briefly at what our interests actually are. As always they can be divided into the bilateral and multilateral.

Our primary bilateral interest is ensuring the benefits of our relations with the US, of course. That remains at the core. We’re well practiced at this, even though we’ve got a tiger by the tail at the moment. Yet, even though we all know it, I can tell you from personal experience that it was surprisingly difficult to convince the government during the last foreign policy review, begun in 2000, to make US relations the front and centre headline in our foreign policy. It’s not a vote-getter. 9/11 was the convincer back then. It’s a shame that it took such tragedy to make us admit the obvious.

Mr. Trump has helped us face reality again. Because he has done so, our secondary bilateral interest must be diversifying our trading relationships. The US is now a competitor in the energy sector, which changes things fundamentally as well. So we have to hedge our main bet. We’ve said it a thousand times before, but we’ve had trouble making it happen.


And no wonder it’s been difficult when you consider the obvious targets for diversification: China, India, Japan, South Korea, the EU, ASEAN as a group, although relationships with groups are fuzzy and lead to imprecision.


Our relations with China are caught up in the US-China confrontation over Huawei and bilateral trade. The Hong Kong uprising is driving another wedge into relations, deepened yesterday with President Trump’s signature of the legislation backing Hong Kong protestors. Given that the two sides have nuclear weapons pointed at each other, I believe the clash is unfolding as a new, yet different, kind of Cold War.


Cold wars aren’t good. But they aren’t all bad either. They’re certainly preferable to hot wars. The US-Soviet competition led to some remarkable technological advancements in space travel, computing and so on. That’s what will happen this time around too in 5G, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, sustainable energy alternatives, and so on. But Cold Wars are dangerous for countries caught in the middle, such as Canada is now.


The EU economy is in poor health and Brexit is making it worse. We have a bilateral trade deal in place. We also have a trade deal with Japan by virtue of the TPP, and another with South Korea bilaterally. Those are huge opportunities that need to be seized.


We do not yet have a trade deal in place with ASEAN, which means we don’t get to participate in the massive RCEP negotiations, nor the East Asia Summit, Those are gaps that should have been filled long ago. Not having done so is an obvious failure of our foreign policy, again despite repeated advice to the political level.


There are many other gaps and shortcomings of course. Government trade policy is meaningless if corporate Canada doesn’t see benefit in new markets. So forging deeper bilateral relationships beyond the US remains a challenge.


As for our multilateral interests, our current feminist foreign policy represents a noble and important expression of our values. But it doesn’t really advance our geo-strategic interests in this changing world. We are seeking a seat on the UNSC. But what do we hope to achieve with it?


Though we seem to believe it’s only about promoting values, meaningful multilateralism is really about setting international rules that advance or protect our interests. There’s no shortage of meaningful areas where we could play a more substantial global role. Initiatives to govern cyber threats, to manage the growing global debt problem, to address the growing wealth gap, and so on, are all desperately needed and within our capabilities.


During an early posting in 1983, I was a junior delegate to the post-Helsinki Stockholm conference, which saw Canada take a strong role in NATO’s efforts to negotiate confidence-building measures with the Soviet Union. The goal was to avoid inadvertent global conflict. We need to start thinking about how we can help do something similar in this new age.


Time is short so I won’t go deeper. But I have been among those calling for a foreign policy review. And, yes, I  still think we need it. But I admit that a minority government may not be the best time to launch one. Which doesn’t mean they won’t. Some have called for a Royal Commission. That’s an effective delaying tactic. But in my view it can also be a recipe for pablum, usually served cold. We have deep expertise at GAC and other government departments and they can handle a review when the time comes, recognizing the need for broad stakeholder consultations of course.


But we have a much deeper problem than just minority government. If the default position of a nation-state is nationalism, this past election reveals a core weakness: we are actually a nations-state (plural). And we’re a deeply divided one at that. Of course, we’re not the only such state. But we have separatists in our parliament again, coupled with growing Western alienation, and those should be matters of deep concern. Finding agreement on overarching national and international interests is an obvious challenge under such circumstances.


We also have extremely valuable but stranded energy resources in our western provinces. This undermines pursuit of some of our most obvious foreign policy interests. Diversifying our trade relationships would be greatly aided by exporting energy resources to the Far East. Our environmental interests would also be advanced by getting China and India off coal. Our strategic interests would be strengthened by making other powers more dependent on our energy and agri-food supplies and, in the case of Europe, helping relieve its energy dependency on Russian and Middle East supplies.


If reconciling all this is too much to ask of a minority government, we should at least review the instruments of foreign policy in the meantime.


The McDougall Commission on conditions in the foreign service was tabled some forty years ago. Much has changed since then. Global Affairs Canada has been restructured so many times, it’s hard to keep track. One thing is clear: its HR function has become completely dysfunctional. Hundreds of positions lie vacant. Duty of care for staff delivering programs around the world has become ever more challenging. Properties have been sold off in a disastrous penny wise pound foolish process. Staff morale is very low. And that’s just at GAC.


Defence, international development and immigration have always been key components of our foreign policy. Frankly, in the brave new cyber world we are facing, the intelligence function has become ever more integral to the diplomatic function as well. In fact, these days, every government department has international dimensions. How do we revitalize these functions and make them work in concert, especially in the midst of exponential technological change?


So I would call on the government to launch a new McDougall Commission with a broader, more inclusive mandate of reviewing not just the conditions of foreign service but the instruments of it as well. Minority government poses no obstacle to this. We now have two very skilled diplomats – Peter Harder and Peter Boehm – in the Senate. It would make a great deal of sense to draw on their leadership and the Senate’s resources. It would also make sense to leaven their experience with some outside the box thinkers.


I hope the government will take up this recommendation. And I thank you for listening as well. I look forward to a good discussion.

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