Munk leaders' debate tonight to focus on foreign policy issues

The Syrian refugee crisis suddenly put foreign affairs at the centre of Canada's federal election campaign, and the leaders' debate will dig deeper into issues including climate change, security, trade and the country's place in the world. Here are some of the main parties' foreign policy positions so far.

Major party leaders will dig deeper into security, trade and Canada's place in the world

Leaders prep for Munk debate


6 years ago
CBC's Julie Van Dusen on what to expect from tonight's debate on foreign policy issues 2:00

Tonight's Munk debate on Canadian foreign policy will dig deeper into the issues of security, trade and Canada's place in the world. 

A few weeks ago, the Syrian refugee crisis put foreign affairs at the centre of Canada's federal election campaign, which for weeks had been focusing on economic growth and jobs. If talks conclude successfully later this week, a game-changing Pacific Rim trade deal could give the Conservatives a feather in their cap heading into the home stretch.

Here's a summary of what has happened so far on some of the key issues expected to feature in tonight's debate:

Follow the debate with CBCNews.ca

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau face off on foreign policy tonight in the fourth of five election leaders' debates: This one is hosted by the Munk Debates at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall, starting at 7 p.m. ET.

CBC News will host a special live blog featuring debate highlights and analysis, at CBCNews.ca/Canada Votes.

The Munk Debates will offer a live stream for the bilingual event, with translation. Tonight's debate will also be live streamed on Facebook and carried on CPAC (the Cable Public Affairs Channel) and CHCH.

Climate Change

In just over two months' time, when the United Nations Conference on Climate Change gets under way in Paris, Canada's position may differ significantly depending on who wins the Oct. 19 election. The Conservative approach to greenhouse gas emissions has been at odds with the NDP and Liberal approach.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair released more detail Sunday on his party's promised national cap-and-trade system to make big polluters reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It aims to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. An NDP government won't impose that national plan on provinces like Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec that have developed their own systems to control emissions.

In this respect, the NDP approach is similar to the Liberal plan, which would work with the provinces to set targets but keep the mechanisms for reaching them flexible, open to different strategies in different parts of the country.

The Conservatives have taken a sector-by-sector approach to emissions targets, but have faced criticism for the length of time it has taken to implement those sector-specific rules. For example, there are no national regulations yet to control the country's largest source of emissions — the oil and gas industry.

Syrian refugee crisis

After weeks of pressure, the Conservatives announced they would speed up refugee applications, send more immigration officers to the region and waive the requirement for a UN designation for refugees.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says the government will bring 10,000 refugees to Canada by September 2016 — 15 months faster than originally promised. The Conservatives have also pledged to bring in an additional 10,000 refugees from Syria in four years.

The Liberals and NDP had already been calling for the government to increase their commitment. The Liberals are calling for 25,000 Syrian refugees to come to Canada by Dec. 31.

The NDP presented a plan for bringing 10,000 refugees to Canada by the end of this year and a total of 46,000 by 2019.

Terror threats

The Conservatives have taken the most hawkish position on international threats. In August, they announced a policy of travel bans to and from "declared" areas with terrorist activities. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has repeated that his party won't abandon Canada's mission to degrade and destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Canadian military is currently involved in airstrikes and training local ground troops.

Mulcair says his party would withdraw from the combat and training mission on its first day in office if elected. The NDP says the Conservatives have overlooked the importance of anti-radicalization efforts at home. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says his party would withdraw from airstrikes, but would continue to provide humanitarian assistance and train local soldiers to fight ISIS.


The Conservatives say they have the best record on trade because they have signed 39 trade agreements since they've taken office.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, left to right, will debate foreign policy at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall on Monday night. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The master stroke was supposed to come with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would give Canada access to 11 other Pacific Rim countries, including the U.S., Mexico, Australia and Japan. That agreement is still being negotiated with sticking points including ending supply management for dairy farmers and regional content quotas for the auto industry.

The NDP says it would fight to protect the dairy and automotive sectors, and are calling for the Conservatives to be more open about what they would give up.

Trudeau says Canada has been able to protect those industries in past agreements, and it should be no different in this case.


Trudeau says the Liberals would scrap the controversial F-35 fighter purchase plan, and run a new competition to replace Canada's aging CF-18 fleet.

The Conservatives say they'll stick with the current plan to eventually sign a contract for purchase of the F-35s, and warn that withdrawing could hurt the domestic aerospace industry.
Quebec farmer Réal Gauthier is among dairy industry members awaiting the outcome of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between Canada and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. (Tanya Birkbeck/CBC)

While Mulcair says the F-35 procurement plan was flawed, he said he would still consider buying the jet once he reopens the competition to replace Canada's fighter fleet.

The Liberals say they would maintain planned increases in military spending and reinvest savings from the F-35 program into the renewing the navy's fleet.

The Conservatives have announced they will spend $75 million to expand Canada's special forces, which are currently involved in the training mission against ISIS in northern Iraq.

Canada and the world

Mulcair and Trudeau refer to "restoring" Canada's reputation in the world after a decade of Harper leadership, usually referring to the Conservatives' position on climate change and humanitarian assistance to refugees. 

The Conservatives say Canada is one of the most respected countries in the world, according to international polls. Harper says Canada will continue to stand with its allies, such as Israel and Ukraine, against hostile neighbours. He has made the point of mentioning Russian President Vladimir Putin in his stump speeches.

Mulcair has previously called Russia's actions in Crimea "criminal." Last year, Russia was ready to bring its nuclear weapons into a state of alert during tensions over the Crimean Peninsula and the overthrow of Ukraine's president, Putin said in March.

Trudeau says Canada should work with international partners to respond to aggression in Ukraine.


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