At a time when the United States turns increasingly inward and questions the relevance of international institutions, Canada will champion the “renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday in a major speech to Parliament.
Freeland’s speech in the House of Commons set to precede a major defence policy review on Wednesday, set up the Trudeau government’s vision of Canadian foreign policy as the postwar international order faces increasing challenges from the isolationist policies emanating from the White House and an increasingly assertive Russia.
While U.S. President Donald Trump was never mentioned in the address, Freeland made it abundantly clear that her speech is in big part a reaction to his America First policy.
“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” Freeland said. “For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order.”
Supporting rules-based international order
Canada will seek to robustly support the rules-based international order and multilateral forums such as the United Nation, NATO, the G7, the G20, the Organization of American States and the Arctic Council, Freeland said.
The commitment to the Transatlantic Alliance remains a cornerstone Canada’s multilateral agenda, she said.
“Our bond is manifest in CETA, our historic trade agreement with the European Union—which we believe in and warmly support—and in our military deployment this summer to Latvia,” Freeland said, referring to the free trade pact between Canada and the EU.
Canada will be hosting the G7 next year, and is “energetically pursuing a two-year term on the UN Security Council,” she said.
Re-investing in ‘hard power’
Second, Canada the Liberal government will reinvest in the “to not only redress years of neglect and underfunding, but also to place the Canadian Armed Forces on a new footing,” Freeland said.
“If middle powers do not implicate themselves in the furtherance of peace and stability around the world, that will be left to the Great Powers to settle among themselves,” she said. “This would not be in Canada’s interest.”
Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power, Freeland said.
“Principled use of force, together with our allies and governed by international law, is part of our history and must be part of our future.”
While Canada’s geography has meant that it has always been able to count on American self-interest to provide a protective umbrella, that dependence cannot be good for Canadian sovereignty, she said.
“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state,” Freeland said. “And although we have an incredibly good relationship with our American friends and neighbours, such a dependence would not be in Canada’s interest.”
Finally, as a major trading nation Canada will work to promote free trade and counter protectionist policies and sentiments that have taken root in the United States, Freeland said.
“Beggar-thy-neighbour policies hit middle powers soonest and hardest,” Freeland said. “This is the implacable lesson of the 1930s and the Great Depression.”
Canada will work with the U.S. and Mexico to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, and to make “a great trading partnership even better,” Freeland said.
“We will actively seek new trade agreements that further Canadian economic interests and that reflect our values—with the Canada-EU Trade Agreement as our template.”
Feminist foreign policy
Feminism and the promotion of the rights of women and girls are at the core of Canadian foreign and development policy, Freeland said.
“Women’s rights are human rights,” Freeland said. “That includes sexual reproductive rights and the right to safe and accessible abortions.”
To that effect, the Trudeau government is set unveil Canada’s first feminist international assistance policy, which will target women’s rights and gender equality, Freeland said.
Resounding defence of liberal international order
“This is a resounding defence of the core principles of what might be characterized as the democratic, small ‘l’ liberal international order that has been the foundation of the international system since the end of the Second World War,” said Fen Hampson, Distinguished Fellow and director of the Global Security & Politics Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).
(click to listen to the full interview with Fen Hampson)Listen
“We all know that this order is under attack, it’s under attack by authoritarian states that are flexing their power in various parts of the world and quite frankly it’s also under attack with the protectionist policies and some of the recent initiatives that we are seeing coming out of Washington.”
The relatively short speech was more a statement of principles rather than a detailed “laundry list” of government foreign policy goals, Hampson said.
It provided a bird’s eye view of the general direction of the Canadian foreign policy, he said.
“I think it’s going to go down as one of those important statements of principle, much in the same way that Louis St. Laurent in his famous Gray Lecture that was delivered at the University of Toronto in 1947, where he laid out the cornerstones of Canadian foreign policy in the aftermath of the Second World War,” Hampson said.