Freeland rejects Trump's nationalist policies, says Canada will step up to lead on world stage

Canada will step up to play a leadership role on the world stage as the U.S. turns inward to focus on its own national interests, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says.

Foreign affairs minister says U.S. is questioning its past 'mantle' of global leadership

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers a speech on Canada's foreign policy in the House of Commons Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Canada will step up to play a leadership role on the world stage as the U.S. turns inward to focus on its own national interests, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a major policy speech today.

While never mentioning Donald Trump by name, Freeland rejected many of the U.S. president's policies, including the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, imposing protectionist trade policies, and closing the nation's doors to refugees.

"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," she said.

"For Canada, that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order. We will follow this path, with open hands and open hearts extended to our American friends, seeking to make common cause as we have so often in the past."

In a lengthy foreign policy speech delivered in the House of Commons, Freeland praised the U.S. for the "outsized role" it has played in the world in past, and urged the country not to veer off that course.

"We seek and will continue to seek to persuade our friends that their continued international leadership is very much in their national interest — as well as that of the rest of the free world," she said. 

Freeland praised the U.S. for being the "indispensable nation" for the last 70 years, paying the "lion's share" in blood, treasure, strategic vision and leadership in promoting peace and prosperity. But she said many of the voters in the presidential election cast ballots "animated in part by a desire to shrug off the burden of world leadership."

"To say this is not controversial. It is simply a fact," she said.

Freeland unveils foreign policy statement

5 years ago
Duration 1:05
Freeland unveils foreign policy statement

'Deep disappointment' with U.S.

Freeland expressed "deep disappointment" with the U.S. position on fighting climate change, and also took at aim at American protectionist policies, saying rising trade barriers will curb growth, stifle innovation and kill employment. 

Speaking to reporters later, Freeland said the only foreign minister she briefed ahead of the speech was U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom she spoke to Monday.

Freeland's speech comes the day before Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is set to release a comprehensive roadmap for Canada's military. She said Canada can't get a free ride from the U.S. simply because of our geography, warning that Canada can't rely on its neighbour for military power and protection.

"To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state. And although we have an incredibly good relationship with our American friends and neighbours, such a dependence would not be in Canada's interest," she said.

Freeland is congratulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and party members after delivering a speech that set out a future course for Canada's foreign policy. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Hinting that tomorrow's defence plan will make significant investments and make Canadians "justly proud," Freeland stressed the need for a robust, well-funded professional military that is ready, trained and equipped to go to battle when needed. 

"To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power," she said. "Force is, of course, always a last resort. But the 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. To have that capacity requires a substantial investment, which this government is committed to making."

Conservative Foreign Affairs critic Peter Kent said the only meaningful part of the minister's speech was her reference to a need for "hard power." He said he hoped it will be followed up with significant promises from Sajjan tomorrow.

He accused the Liberals of dragging Canada back on the world stage since taking office, and criticized Freeland's speech in light of what he called "erratic" foreign policy.

'Public relations device'

"It's really been a public relations device, a rather clumsy one, to provide a Trojan horse motion that would give the minister a pulpit on which to review — through what I would have to say is a myopic Liberal lens — any number of historic truisms and future wishful thinking," he said.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said the government must take a stronger stand against Trump's policies, including immigration and human rights, in all international forums.

"The message we have to give to the Trump administration is not only through the House of Commons, but through our decisions and actions on the international scene day after day," she said.

Freeland framed her speech on the changing global order and the shifting balance of power, and the role Canada can play in the future.

Seeing Africa, Asia, Latin America and Caribbean countries on the rise with increased living standards is not a trend to be feared, but to be embraced, she said.

"Let us recognize that the peace and prosperity we in the West have enjoyed these past 70 years are desired by all, and increasingly within reach of all. And, as Canadians, let us be agents of that change," she said.

Embracing multiculturalism

Freeland also said Canadians embody a way of life that works, embracing multiculturalism and diversity.

"We can say this in all humility, but also without any false self-effacement: Canadians know about living side by side with people of diverse origins and beliefs, whose ancestors hail from the far corners of the globe, in harmony and peace," she said. 

Freeland said while it is not Canada's role to play the world's policeman, it must take an active role in providing asylum to the persecuted, and set a standard for treatment of women, gays and lesbians, transgender people, and racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious minorities.

She also said the government is preparing to present its first international feminist assistance policy that will boost women's rights by improving access to abortion and empowering women.

"We will put Canada at the forefront of this global effort," she said. 


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