Montreal 17 September 2022 -Canada
By Simon Pascal Alain HANDY,
Global Affairs Political Analyst- Graduated in Political Sciences and Strategic
Senior Executive Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government (SEF, spring 2011)-
Chief Executive Officer- Handy Concept for Connecting People -HCCP-Global Think Tank
The current electoral season in Canada offers a perfectly reasonable opportunity for the country to articulate an ambitious foreign policy strategy in a tumultuous international political and security landscape. In this context, fraught with perils abroad and at home, Canada should be the voice of reason, peace, and hope. It has been a while since Canada has proposed an ambitious, internationally renowned, and universally accepted concept. Indeed, Canada has it within itself to begin Pearson’s legacy again.
As a founding member of NATO, Canada championed the idea and proposed a political role for the transatlantic defensive Alliance. Canada contributed heavily to the drafting of the 14 articles of the nascent military Alliance. The Time is long gone; when speaking at the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, D.C., 4 April 1949, Lester B. Pearson boldly declared: “This treaty is not a pact for war, but a pledge for peace and progress.”
Furthermore, the landslide victory of Pierre Poilièvre, a Prime Minister in waiting by Canadian political standards and who is now firmly at the helm of the Conservative Party, constitutes another reason for Canada to reset its foreign policy, start a new course and initiate a global vision that aligns with its core principals. This moment in history is ripe for articulating a principled foreign policy with the pursuit of peace at its center. That is what the majority of Canadians believe in and deserve. It remains to be seen if Mr. Poilièvre can move from a proselytizer and anger merchant to a world class Statesman. We believe he can and he will!
For that to happen, he needs to move Canadian foreign policy away from the easy oversimplification of benign peacekeeping operations abroad to a more subtle brand of politics: “a facilitator friend with the weak as well as the strong, a go-between and not gung-ho aficionado of trigger happy politics and warmonger- A soldier-Diplomat in the Pearson tradition ready to fight as a last resort but always poised to exercise and apply the awesome resources of diplomacy (“diplomatie fine” dear Ms. Michaelle Jean) – neither weak nor a bellicose bully-.”
There is no need for that as the country has its southern neighbor that perfectly fits the job description for international interventions and delivers continuously. Unfortunately, Poilievre’s foreign policy platform is short, meager on details, and scant on vista. From making Canada the most unrestricted county to slapping senseless sanctions on Iran while banning oil imports from a “polluting dictatorship” can hardly form the basis of an ambitious foreign policy and need a solid national participatory beefing-up exercise Jean Chrétien’s comment in the Globe and Mail on September 12, 2015 lamenting Canada’s lost glory was a scathing but accurate indictment largely shared within the global community as a “secret de polichinelle”. Why the Harper government has engaged in what appears to be a GMO-like (genetic modification) of Canadian foreign policy remains something of a mystery to those of us watching from the outside.
It is long gone the era during which Canada reigned supreme as a peacekeeping rules-based international order juggernaut. The embarrassing failure amid the Prime Minister frantic midnight calls to secure a UN Security Council seat on 18 June 2020 against Norway and Ireland may well have put the last nail on the coffin of the “Canada is back” vow made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when the Liberals won in 2015. The government debacle before the world body did not need to happen for the world needs an engaged Canada. However, this is the direct consequence of the government of Canada careless disregard for Africa’s political value and lack of understanding of the inner workings of the UN General Assembly. This miscalculation was indeed oblivious of Africa as an ascendant and key UN voting bloc. The black continent has been kingmaker of sorts with its 54 voting countries for some time now in the secret ballot at the UN General Assembly’s 190-plus countries.
The DNA of Canada’s foreign policy could once be epitomized as a friend of the powerful as well as the powerless, attuned to the use of quiet diplomacy, a mediator, a facilitator and a peacemaker. This DNA matched Canada’s national temperament and middle-power status, living next to the American hegemon. Peacekeeping and soft power were the twin strands of that DNA. Its influence on the world stage was measurable.
As far back as 1946, Canadian missionaries received support from their government in creating the first elite institution of higher learning in Cameroon-Central Africa (Sacred-Heart College, in Makak). In three to four decades that institute educated about 70 per cent of the country’s elites and influencers. The political impact it achieved is still alive and well. Canada went on to invent modern peacekeeping through the Pearsonian legacy of peaceful security, an achievement that became the face of the nation as seen by the world. Following the demise of the soviet empire, the Government of Canada established the Pearson Peacekeeping Center in Cornwallis Nova Scotia, with a world-class teaching faculty and cutting-edge programs.
Then came Harper’s Conservatives. The Pearson Center was shut down in 2013 due to fiscal starvation from the federal government. In the same vein, and as a blatant negation of Descartes’ famous statement “cogito ergo sum”, the North-South Institute, a source of intelligent analysis on international development met its demise in 2014. Stephen Harper and his supporters bought into the “hard power über alles “ mentality that prevailed during the Bush years. Canada has since embarked on a journey to hawkishness, warmongering and antagonism in world affairs. From quietly pulling out of the UN anti-drought conventiontodenouncing a resolution to recognize a Palestinian state, the laundry list of international misdeeds is staggering. The partisan divide and the merit of the case against Harper mustn’t be oblivious to the few foreign policy successes. A recent example is the election of Michaëlle Jean as Secretary-general of la Francophonie. The first North American and the first woman to hold the position, Ms. Jean epitomizes the Canada that most Canadians want to portray to the world. It should be noted that her election was no slam-dunk.
African member countries have a residual mistrust of North America and good reason to question Canada’s recent interest in African affairs. The head of states of la Francophonie were unable to achieve consensus and it came down to some hard bargaining between the five countries whose citizens were standing for election.
The inherent weakness of the other four candidates, some of who had assumed power through violent means, was no match for the appeal of Ms. Jean. Her intense lobbying prior to the summit and the personal involvement of Canada’s Prime Minister helped to defray the Africans’ mistrust. Harper, a notorious absentee during UN General Assemblies and many other international conventions, took a front row seat at la Francophonie’s summit. Not leaving anything to chance, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant also attended to present a united front.
Canada’s securing of this important leadership role at la Francophonie signaled a renewed belief in the value of “diplomatie fine”, and a renewed interest in West African development. But the average Canadian is probably scratching his or her head to remember what the International Organization of la Francophonie is, and wondering why it matters to our Prime Minister. Numbers matter.
Canada is the organization’s second largest funder, after France. La Francophonie has 77 full and associate members, which translates into the potential backing of 77 out of 193 states at the United Nations (UN).
It was the support from la Francophonie that helped Canada fend off Qatar’s recent bid to move the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) from Montreal to Doha. And with the endorsement and support of la Francophonie, the Harper government’s primary international development initiative for Maternal and Child Health could to get some real traction at the UN and in other forums (even though some cynics see this program as a as a “cache-sexe” to cover up an abysmal foreign policy record).
Taking a leadership role in la Francophonie may pave the way for Canada to regain the legacy squandered by the Conservative government. During its history as a peacemaking and peacekeeping nation, the country contributed a score of high caliber international civil servants including Louise Fréchette, the first Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations; Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; Carolyn McAskie, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the UN Secretariat; and Romeo Dallaire, Force Commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), and to name but a few.
Those of us who have grown to love and respect Canada for its willingness and ability to punch above its weight on international affairs have watched with dismay at the radical shift in Canada’s foreign policy since 2006.
As Canada turns its back on a long tradition of peacekeeping, what was once lauded around the world has all but evaporated. It is the responsibility of Canada’s newly upcoming elected leaders to craft a foreign policy dictated by pragmatic empirical realities, informing the country’s interests, and to be held accountable when things go awry.
By Simon Pascal Alain HANDY,
Global Affairs Political Analyst- Graduated in Political Sciences and Strategic
Senior Executive Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government (SEF, Spring 2011)-Chief Executive Officer- HCCP-Global Think Tank
Simon P. Alain Handy is the Executive Director of the HCCP-Global Think Tank established in Brussels on 20October 2021 by a Royal Decree. The Handy Concept for Connecting People launched its activities at the Royal Club Chateau Sainte-Anne on 16 June 2022 in Brussels. Mr. Handy was a Visiting Scholar at York University Department of Politics, a Global Political and Policy Analyst at the United Nations for 23 years and a specialist on issues of peace, post-conflict reconstruction, mediation and international security. He is a former Young Associate Expert at La Francophonie, a former Visiting Fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS, Paris in 2009) and a Senior Executive Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Government (2011). In 1998, following an executive program at the Pearson Peacekeeping Center in Cornwallis Nova Scotia, he wrote his post-Graduate thesis at the Paris Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (IRIS) entitled “Peacekeeping operations: A foreign policy strategy for Canada”.