As COVID-19’s profound effects upend economies and international relationships, experts have been analyzing what Canada’s foreign policy should look like post-pandemic. But even as some look to forming new alliances, Canada’s most fundamental relationship—that with the United States—demands more attention, says one of Canada’s leading international affairs scholars and policy analysts.
“The United States will remain the pre-eminent trading partner for Canada no matter what. So we have to get that relationship right,” said Roland Paris, University of Ottawa professor of public and international affairs and founder of the Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS), at a webinar on Oct. 26.
Paris has been a senior advisor on global affairs and defence to the prime minister.
Canada and the United States share the world’s longest border, and Canada sends three-quarters of its exports to that country. Its economic fortunes and financial markets depend to a large extent on the United States.
Regardless of who sits in the White House, Paris says, there’s an opportunity for Ottawa to be a reliable partner for some of the challenges the United States confronts.
“It makes sense for Canada in this kind of a situation to pitch to the United States, ‘Let's work together on this,’ with the argument being that we are already in a largely integrated continental economy,” Paris said. “Having a strategy where we're working together, establishes ourselves and puts us ‘inside the tent.’”
This would go some ways toward easing potential trade tensions and having to ask for tariff exemptions, he explained.
Outside North America
Paris says Canada has to advance relations with key countries that matter most to Canadians—not spend effort trying to have good relations with nearly every country in the world.
Canada has a tradition of being a good partner in multilateral alliances, which historically have served Canada well in advancing its interests. As a middle power, Canada doesn’t have the resources and influence of a super power.
“It made sense for us to try to build structures of cooperation both to stabilize our international environment [and] so that it would be safer and more beneficial for Canada,” Paris said.
Canada-China relations remain largely frozen, and there’s no going back to the way things were, Paris says. He adds that the government’s position on China is gradually hardening due to Beijing’s increasingly aggressive approach in international affairs and domestically.
And dealing with China’s threat in Canada requires a more rigorous framework to, for example, screen state-owned investments in the resource sector, better protect intellectual property, and ensure the Chinese diaspora is not being coerced, he said.
“It’s a no-brainer that Huawei should be barred from providing equipment for the 5G system,” Paris said.
Foreign policy analysts have long regarded the Indo-Pacific as a strategically important part of the world as the centre of global economic growth shifts to that region.
Paris suggests identifying the priority countries in that region for relationship development, such as Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
The United Kingdom and European Union also warrant prioritization, Paris says, after Brexit has weakened them both.
The U.K. is forming an independent foreign policy and the government wants to demonstrate results, he says, noting that “working with Canada to move quickly on whether it's Belarus sanctions or statements here and there provide the U.K. with at least some evidence of action with its newly independent foreign policy.”
But whatever foreign policy challenges arise, Ottawa has to treat the Canada-U.S. relationship as “absolutely critical,” Paris says. “We're going to have to work much harder … to secure Canadian interests in the United States than we had been used to working.”