Politics

Trapped in the 'bubble': Why has the 2019 campaign ignored foreign policy?

This week on The House, we hear from international-relations experts who lament the lack of attention foreign policy issues have gotten during the federal election campaign. We take a look at the fight for votes in Winnipeg, Calgary and on Vancouver Island. And our CBC reporters help make sense of a 40-day campaign that looks like it will end in a minority government.
Top row, from left: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Bottom, from left: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, BQ Leader Yves-François Blanchet, People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier. (CBC News)
Listen to the full episode48:07

The morning after he led the Liberals to a stunning victory in 2015, Justin Trudeau had a clear message for those who believed Canada had relinquished its role on the world stage: "We're back."

But four years later, the world beyond Canada's borders hasn't received much attention during this 40-day election campaign, according to a leading expert on international relations.

"It's stunning that this election campaign has really not dealt with foreign policy, has not dealt with the world," said Janice Stein, founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

"I call this the bubble election. We're living in a bubble, we Canadians. We talk about ourselves as if the world isn't impinging on us but it's impinging on us on every single issue that matters to us — the environment, energy, exports, trade, security," Stein told The House.

It's not like the world is a particularly stable place right now. Turkey's invasion of northern Syria is sowing chaos, tensions are still simmering with China over trade and the detention of three Canadians, and the Brexit project has profound implications for the future unity and stability of Great Britain — and that's just the short list of major foreign policy concerns likely to land on the desk of the person Canadians choose to be their next prime minister.

"It's a messier world and it's a meaner world," former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson told The House.

"Under (U.S. President) Donald Trump, we don't have the friend we thought we had, that reliable partner both on security and trade. And so, we are having to manage on our own."

When the campaign kicked off last month, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer attacked Trudeau's record on foreign affairs.

"He has clowned around on the world stage, he has backed down to Donald Trump on NAFTA negotiations, offering concession after concession after concession, and he has done nothing since January to stand up for Canadians who are being imprisoned by the Chinese government as the government of China blocks our  exports on key areas," Scheer said.

Trudeau raised the issue of the detained Canadians directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the two attended a G20 summit in Japan in June.

"If I'd been Trudeau and I heard Andrew Scheer say, 'Let's be more muscular,' I would have taken that on and said, 'What do you mean? What leverage do we, a country of 35 million people, have with China?" Stein said.

"This fantasy that we can get tough with China is, frankly speaking, nonsense."

Key battles in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba

With the election now just a few days away, The House checked in on key races in three western provinces: British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

Elizabeth May calls Vancouver Island "ground zero for the Green Party." And with polls suggesting climate change is an important issue for voters, she is hoping to win a larger footprint in Parliament, where the Greens held just two seats at dissolution.

In Alberta, red-hot anger at the Liberals over pipeline delays and new rules for reviewing major energy projects could help the Conservatives paint the province blue, including in Calgary, where Liberal incumbent Kent Hehr is hoping to hang on to his seat.

Meanwhile, in Manitoba, Canada's middle-of-the-road middle province often serves as a bellwether for the national results. The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats are all fighting to hold their ground.

Illustrating the early lives of party leaders

When cartoonist Kaj Hasselriis was nine years old, a political candidate knocked on the door of his family's home in Winnipeg.

That chance encounter ignited an interest in politics that persists to this day.

But Hasselriis also loves comic books. And so, at the start of this campaign, he brought his two passions together to create Politikids, a new comic aimed at children who want to learn more about the early lives of the politicians they've been seeing and hearing from during the campaign.

"Politikids focuses on key personal moments in the childhoods of our main political leaders, moments that sparked them into action and moments that explain the leaders they have become," Hasselriis told The House.

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