A Canadian foreign policy?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent indecision and embarrassment regarding Canada’s position in dealing with the Islamist militants in Mali only servers to underline the lack of a comprehensive Canadian foreign policy under the Conservatives.
Two weeks ago the Harper government did not tell the Canadian people about our involvement in the effort to support the government of Mali in its counter attack on the Islamist rebels.
It was only when Mali’s President Traore used Twitter to announce to the world that Canada had agreed to send military support to his country that Prime Minister Harper finally admitted to our involvement.
We have sent a C-17 transport plane to assist with deploying French soldiers and supplies to the Mali capital of Bamako. When was Harper planning on telling Canadians? Was he ever going to tell us?
Now Canada has given an extension for the use of the C-17 and perhaps lending another Canadian transport plane to the operation. Harper at the eleventh hour now wants to talk to Parliament about a Canadian consensus on how to stop the Islamist terrorist expansion. In other words Harper is feeling his way through the process without having a Canadian foreign policy position agreed to by the Canadian people to work from.
Canada has stood out over the past 50 years as a country noted for working through the United Nations and focusing on peace keeping, humanitarian relief, and police training. We were seen as largely non-aligned with a focus on ending conflict and helping civilians who are the usual casualties in warfare.
Since the Conservatives have come to power Canada appears to have taken a new foreign policy course based on two ideas. Firstly, increasing foreign trade is the most important priority and such things as human rights or humanitarian aid take a back seat. For example, the recent approval of the $15.1 billion take over of Calgary based Nexen by the Chinese state owned company CNOOC.
Secondly, it appears that Harper wants Canada to become a country to be reckoned with in the world and we are creating the military force to back that goal up. The Harper government wants to purchase 65 F-35 fighter planes for a price tag that has gone from $9 billion to $45 billion. The fact that a country of 34 million people cannot afford these jets is one thing but the other question of what in the world Canada needs the jets for is a greater issue. Who might we need to defend ourselves from or equally as concerning, whom might we consider using the jets to attack. Of course the answer in both instances is no one and if we did get involved in an overseas conflict these jets are too sophisticated to be of much use.
Discussions with other party leaders over our position on Mali is an important first step but what Canada really needs is a national dialogue on what our foreign policy should look like in the decades ahead.
With this as a framework we can then determine what our response might be as events arise around the globe. Who knows, Canadians might even decide that $45 billion might be better spent on hospitals, daycare programmes or old age security benefits rather than fighter jets!