Foreign Policy the Forgotten Election Campaign Issue

Conservatives provide most detailed proposals of any political party, toughest on China’s aggression
By Rahul Vaidyanath
Rahul Vaidyanath
Rahul Vaidyanath
Rahul Vaidyanath is a journalist with The Epoch Times in Ottawa. His areas of expertise include the economy, financial markets, China, and national defence and security. He has worked for the Bank of Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., and investment banks in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles.
September 1, 2021Updated: September 2, 2021

News Analysis

Foreign policy has hardly been discussed amid the election campaign despite evidence of a more interconnected world facing a medium-sized open trading nation like Canada.  

Communist China primarilywith its economic espionage, military modernization, foreign influence, and “hostage diplomacy” in its detention of two Canadian citizens, among other aggressionsbut Russia as well, are increasingly recognized as the greatest threats to world security, posing risks in multiple spheres. Other key foreign policy issues include the ongoing pandemic and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

“If Canada continues to marginalize the vital role of foreign policy discussions at home, it risks diminishing its ability to secure its way of life and prepare for an increasingly uncertain world,” said an open letter sent on Aug. 23 by a Canadian non-partisan think tank to the five party leaders who have representation in the House of Commons.

The letter from the non-profit Institute for Peace and Diplomacy (IPD), signed by 40 scholars, experts, and former diplomats, urged the party leaders to recognize the importance of foreign policy issues during the campaign and specifically referred to the Canada-U.S. relationship, China, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then on Aug. 30, a commentary by a panel of foreign policy experts published in The Globe and Mail pointed out that “foreign policy does not seem to feature on the agenda of our political parties.”

It questioned the United States’ commitment to working with allies to uphold the international order and said the onus to address burning international issues falls on the rest of the democratic world.

“Canada should draw on the important relationships we have developed over decades of diplomacy and forge new ones, in order to exercise collective leadership,” the commentary stated.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, tweeted on Aug. 27 that “the Afghanistan crisis shows how much we’ve retreated from the world,” adding that “Covid hasn’t helped, but far more serious is the govt’s cynical preference for theatre (costumes included) over policy, capability, competence, effort, commitment.”

Popular opinion of Canada’s recent evacuation operation in Afghanistan has been largely negative, according to an Aug. 30 Angus Reid poll.

The poll found that, though 41 percent say it has gone as well as it could have, just 2 percent of Canadians say the government’s efforts have been a success while 37 percent say it’s been a failure.

Party Platforms

“We need to have a coherent foreign and defence policy strategy centred around our interests and invest in our capabilities in areas of strategic importance for Canada including in the Arctic and Pacific,” Bijan Ahmadi, IPD executive director, told The Epoch Times.

The Conservatives have by far the most detailed foreign policy platform, while the NDP and People’s Party of Canada (PPC) have more modest proposals. The Greens haven’t commented on foreign policy during this election campaign.

Foreign policy in the Liberals platform, released Sept. 1, is very much a secondary consideration and is focused on democracy, human rights, diversity, and inclusion.

“Canada’s foreign policy is more important now than it has been in a generation,” the Conservatives state in their “Canada’s Recovery Plan” election platform.

Dealing with threats from China has become one of the primary focuses of Canada’s foreign policy since the 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and the subsequent detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in what is widely regarded as retaliation.

The IPD letter highlighted the rise of China as one of the key quandaries for Canadian interests. 

The Conservatives have always proposed taking a harder line on communist China than what the Liberals have adopted. The NDP is also talking about standing up to Beijing and working with Ottawa’s allies to lead a “coordinated international response to China’s disregard of the rule of law.” 

The Liberals’ campaign platform mentioned China just once, alongside Russia and Iran, as “authoritarian states” in a subsection on “combating authoritarianism and foreign interference.” The PPC does not mention China in its foreign policy statement.

The Conservatives provided detailed plans for securing and promoting national interest in terms of defence and international development, including providing specific objectives for key regions such as the Arctic and Indo-Pacific. They also said they’d ban Huawei from Canada’s 5G infrastructure, strengthen protections against the takeover of Canadian companies by Chinese state-owned entities, and rebalance trade priorities away from countries like China and toward “free countries that safeguard workers’ rights and the environment.”

The NDP is in favour of multilateralism as a basis for Canadian foreign policy. Contrary to the PPC, which would phase out development aid and focus on emergency humanitarian action, the NDP would also contribute 0.7 percent of gross national income toward international development aid and waive intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines, something the Liberals were reluctant to do. The Liberals are also keen on increasing international aid.

The PPC would have Canada withdraw from all United Nations commitments and reduce its presence in UN institutions to a minimum, stating that there is a “growing trend to dilute national sovereignty.”

The IPD characterized the world as “multipolar” featuring “an accelerating contest between great powers” that is acting to “impose constraints on Canada’s ability to define and secure its interests as a sovereign country.”

The most significant tribulation in the world in the last two years is, of course, the pandemic, which has forced Canada to engage further with the international community.

“With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more clear that Canadian life is inextricably linked to global affairs,” said the IPD letter.

Rahul Vaidyanath
Rahul Vaidyanath is a journalist with The Epoch Times in Ottawa. His areas of expertise include the economy, financial markets, China, and national defence and security. He has worked for the Bank of Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., and investment banks in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles.