The Sunday Magazine

Rebuilding Canada's foreign service after its "decade of darkness"

Shortly after last October's election, Justin Trudeau sent a message to our allies around the world. "Canada is back," he said. It was a signal that we would once again embrace our traditional role as a peacekeeper, and as a leader in matters of conscience. Former diplomat Daryl Copeland says this is in marked contrast to the foreign policy of the Harper government.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walk from the Oval Office to a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House, March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Canada's international reputation used to be as a middle power with a proud history of peacekeeping, and as a leader in environmental causes.

But according to former Canadian diplomat Daryl Copeland, the damage done to Canada's global presence and influence under Stephen Harper's Conservative government was profound — and it won't be healed quickly. 

We were always...seen as a helpful fixer, a provider of good offices, and a purveyor of fairly progressive ideas....[We] pretty much cemented for ourselves a place in the world as someone that others liked to have at the table. It was thought that we added value. Even if we couldn't bring a great pile of guns or money to the game, we certainly brought a lot of talent. And that was widely appreciated, and under Mr. Harper, widely missed.- Former Canadian diplomat Daryl Copeland

Copeland spent 30 years as a diplomat, posted to Thailand, Ethiopia, New Zealand and Malaysia. He's currently a senior fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and a visiting professor at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and the author of Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations.

"You can't call in an air strike on a warming climate...There are no military solutions to the most profound problems that are imperilling the planet. It's got to be diplomacy," says former diplomat Daryl Copeland. (Emily Chung/CBC)

Copeland says that while he's encouraged by the steps the Trudeau government has taken, the "jury's still out" on whether Canada will truly return to its traditional role as a peacekeeper. 

He spoke to Michael Enright about foreign policy, what it will take to restore Canada's global reputation and why today's problems require diplomatic, not military, solutions. 

Click the button above to hear Michael's interview with Daryl Copeland. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?