Liberals to lay out foreign policy vision in major speech by Freeland

U.S. President Donald Trump and his policies are expected to cast a long shadow over what Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says on Tuesday in the Liberal government's first major foreign policy statement.

A former UN ambassador says, 'Job 1 for Canadian foreign policy is relations with Washington'

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will address Parliament Tuesday in a foreign policy statement about Canada's place in the world. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

His name may not even appear in the text of the speech, but U.S. President Donald Trump and his policies are expected to cast a long shadow over what Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says on Tuesday in the Liberal government's first major foreign policy statement.

The long-anticipated address to Parliament, which government insiders have suggested could be an annual thing, is expected to lay out in broad strokes where Canada's interests are in the world.

And "foremost among them is managing relations with our most important ally and trading partner, the United States," said Roland Paris, a University of Ottawa professor and former adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Liberal government has done a pretty good job, in the estimation of former United Nations ambassador Paul Heinbecker, dealing with the unpredictable Trump administration.

"Obviously, Job 1 for the Canadian government and Job 1 for Canadian foreign policy is relations with Washington," said Heinbecker.

Experts say Freeland's speech will almost certainly be different than the one the Liberals would have given before U.S. President Donald Trump was elected. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press)

Both experts say the speech Freeland will give is almost certainly not the one the Liberal government would have given a year ago, prior to Trump's election victory.

"I think every country in the world is readjusting now in the face of a mercurial president," said Paris. "The challenges of dealing with the Trump administration are significant. And it is understandably absorbing a great deal of the time and attention of policymakers in the federal government."

Next up: defence review

Government insiders have tried to position the speech as the door-opener for the even more highly anticipated defence policy review, which will set the direction for the military both in fiscal and equipment terms.

That is slated to be released Wednesday by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan after months of pondering and consultation. It is expected to be a weighty document that the Liberals have proudly signalled will come with an itemized costing of its commitment.

By contrast, there has been no detailed foreign policy review, which Heinbecker says should not be a surprise because the portfolio is 90 per cent reactive and 10 per cent proactive.

The previous Conservative government had — at one point — been working on its own global affairs policy but after years of work behind closed doors, it never saw the light of day.

What we can expect to see in Tuesday's speech — when not focused on machinations in Washington — are extensions of the Liberal government's articles of faith on climate change, working with multilateral institutions and championing equality and diversity.

Heinbecker says establishing priorities in foreign policy is important because without them Canada will get very little done on the world stage over the next few years.

Return to the 'Three D's'

During the last couple of weeks, government insiders have suggested the emphasis will be on the so-called Three D's: diplomacy, development and defence.

That has been a popular buzz phrase in government for over a decade.

But all three suffered — inarguably — from cuts during the Conservative-era drive to balance the budget in 2015.

What experts are hoping to see, aside from political window-dressing on Canadian values and aspirations, is a clear plan to rebuild diplomatic ranks.

There is also the expectation of some clarity where it appears policy has been adrift.

The most high-profile example is the Middle East, where some observers have argued the Liberal government has simply continued with Conservative-era policies without much thought or intervention.

Canada's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council is something that is hanging out there, but it is not expected to be a major theme.

Resurgent Russia

There has been speculation in foreign policy circles that the arrival of Freeland as foreign affairs minister last winter was a signal Canada was prepared to take a harder line on a resurgent Russia.

Freeland is banned from travelling to Russia because of her unsparing comments on the annexation of Crimea.

Paris says he doesn't believe the situation in eastern Europe will play more prominently with Freeland in charge.

He says the Liberal government, even under former affairs minister Stéphane Dion, maintained a tough but constructive position with Moscow and that is unlikely to change or figure prominently in the outlook.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


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