OOOOHH Canada, Really?


The election of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son Justin to the Prime Ministership is a sad outcome for a number of reasons. Firstly, despite the majority of Canadians believing they have a moral and ethical superiority, obtained through universal healthcare and gun-control, they have shown politically that they are not. In an era of repeating Clintons and Bush’s, like last night’s dinner that is there for left-over lunch the next day Canada now has its own dynastic leader. The inability of a Canadian public that desired change to take the next logical and substantive step of accepting a national New Democratic Party leader, with a developed national platform and leadership experience, over a corrupt, secretive and furtive Conservative Party, speaks volumes about the low-level of political awareness throughout the nation’s voting public. Instead, the majority of Canadians, which were of course from the unproductive “have-not” Provinces in the Maritimes, along with Quebec and Ontario, anointed an inexperienced, unproven political “royal” to the nation’s highest post because “they knew him”. The reality is that Canadians and the world at large know nothing about the new Canadian Prime Minister. Largely that is because, at the age of 43 he has done little that is worth knowing about, apart from become part of the Quebec Liberal Party machine and their emotional posterchild. An incompetent Tory campaign and ten years of autocratic, manipulative and narrow-minded policy making, sprinkled with a liberal dose of corruption, made this a case of “not sure what we want we know what we don’t want”, election result. For other nations, what now can they expect from the new Canadian government and its leader as far as international relations and security are concerned?

The answer is even less than has come to be the norm under the Harper Governments. The Canadian military will not be sleeping easy in the aftermath of this result. Quebec-spawned Prime Ministers have historically been isolationist, parochial and almost completely devoid of any real desire or commitment to presenting Canada in a leadership role internationally. Their first and foremost imperative is domestic policy and minimizing the influence of external factors on Canadian politics to avoid any rise in a unifying nationalism. Regionalism is the Quebec Prime Minister’s weapon of choice, and so to create as much regional friction as he can in order to ensure the Maritime/Quebec/Ontario axis is secured, outsiders can look for the Canadian government to minimize its relations with America, NATO and any other partners, who would desire Canada make an open and obvious commitment that required a unified national will. Trapped by Lester Pearson and a history of Canadian engagement many moons removed now from the current Canadian political landscape, involvement in wars or conflicts in faraway places will not be something this Liberal leader will want to see Canada continue. In the 1970s his father had to be badgered and embarrassed by the Americans into fulfilling Canada’s commitment to GDP expenditure on NATO, resulting in the purchase of German Leopard Mark 1 tanks, a circumstance Trudeau senior never forgave the Americans for. The new Trudeau Mark 2 will have a similar desire to avoid spending on the military, as well as security agencies of all kinds, especially those oriented towards external relations or activities. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will do well, the Canadian Intelligence Security Services (CISS) probably less well. Relations with the United States are likely to become more difficult on defence and security matters, and certainly a need for an independent Canada in this regard will become a bigger part of the foreign policy narrative. Like his father, Justin Trudeau will no doubt see what the economic and political realities are when it comes to US-Canadian relations especially at a time of a Chinese economic down turn. With less India and Chinese investment and purchasing taking place, Canada’s resource-driven economy is vulnerable once again to market forces that it cannot control.

The need to re-construct the Canadian Armed Forces, in terms of the procurement of new land, air and maritime platforms will come under quick and painful scrutiny. Any programmes that had an international justification and not a simplistic and parochial sovereignty or national rationale, should be very concerned about their future. At best Arctic-oriented aspects of security and defence might hold some attraction, mainly because domestic jobs will be created in the Maritime, Quebec or Ontario, where shipbuilding and high technology companies are able to profit from government contracts. However, given the depleted condition of Canada’s defence industrial-base, and now a government that will not wish to buy off-the-shelf any large ticket items, the steady decline of Canadian defence capability of the next four years is to be expected. This further four years of neglect and perhaps even outright prejudice by the government against Defence, should just about eliminate Canada from any serious consideration for anything other than low-intensity operations. Thirty year old and counting equipment in all three domains makes the Canadian contribution to anything other than low level operations, or peace support, peace keeping, peace enforcement operations as much as can be expected. That, however, is predicated on a very big IF, on the part of this inexperienced and naturally left-leaning, isolationist leader to actual be able to generate enough caring to do anything as far as committing Canadian resources to international operations.

What can be expected from the Canadian government, along with university talking-heads, think-tank professionals, and others is a great deal of rhetoric and moralizing about Responsibility To Protect (R2P) and other fluffy, unrealistic international security policy left-overs from the last of the Chretien days in government. There are just about enough old senior Liberal Party members with some memory of such things still around. They will certainly be reminded of the R2P-type thinking towards international relations by the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto intellectual, double frappachino, café chat, international relations professional types that have made a career out of talking and writing about such things over the last ten years while they have wandered the political wilderness out of power. Now back in positions of influence and agency, a veritable flood of such escapist foreign policy suggestions will come flooding forth. The problem of course is that it is all talk and Canada has and will continue to be unable to be responsible in helping protect anyone, apart from itself. What Trudeau Mark 2 has to bear in mind is that for most of the world, in terms of international relations and affairs, Canada is irrelevant. Given that there is no serious ability for Canadian politicians to think in terms of international affairs and strategy, nor is there an expectation of strategic thinking being a necessary attribute, nor is there any serious capacity for it to occur within Canadian intellectual and academic circles, to say nothing of the inability of the professional civil service usually intrusted with such duties to perform such a task, the New Trudeau enters into a pit of despair as far as being able to formulate anything other than “business as usual” for a Canadian foreign and security strategy. So, business as usual with less should be the flavour of this government’s approach to such issues: benign (if you are lucky) neglect.

If that is something that he finds distasteful upon his first bites of power once in office, then Prime Minister Trudeau’s agenda for change is broad enough to allow him to try and raise the nation from its newly found bargain basement security partner position. Anyone, be it within or from without Canada, that feels now is the time for Canada to begin to climb out of the international relations and security morass into which it has fallen should strike while the iron is hot. Bombard the new leader and his close associates with as much international interventionism, international liberalism, realism, constructivist, or anythingism besides the old clap-trap of Canadian national security-ism. Open his eyes to the broader world and not just the Quebec-Ontario-Maritimes world view. If the canvass is still relatively blank, then who knows what ideas, narratives, or concepts might just take root in the virgin soil.

However, nations wishing to see any such change from Canada should not get their hopes up. With first having to learn how to govern, then establishing over the next year or two why he wants to govern, he will be into re-election mode by the time he realizes what he wants to govern. The good thing is, it won’t take much to make him better at international relations and security than his father, who was a completely inconsequential and irrelevant actor in this regard. If there is some Freudian father-killing aspect to Justin Trudeau’s political decision-making processes with regard to Canada’s international affairs, and there are signs this Liberal Government may be interested in internationalism of consequence, not just verbiage, other nations should immediately reward those small steps with praise and encouragement. For such an inexperienced and impressionable leader, such encouragement and reassurance could go a long way to fostering further confidence in travelling along such a path.

Image: Justin Trudeau at Canada 2020 on June 22, 2015, speaking on rebuilding the Canada-US relationship, via flickr.

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