The House

A made-in-Canada foreign policy

This week on The House, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland explains what role her government wants to see Canada play on the world stage. We also get reaction to this week's developments from opposition MPs and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to members of the media following her foreign policy speech in the House on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode49:59

It's Chrystia Freeland's attempt at giving foreign policy a Canadian accent. 

In her speech to the House of Commons earlier this week, Freeland said Canada will step up to play a leadership role on the world stage at a time when the U.S. turns inward.

"I made a real point in working on this speech and preparing it, for this to be a made in Canada speech and a made-in-Canada foreign policy. If you look closely through this speech you'll notice every single reference is Canadian," she told The House.

"What I thought was important to do was to talk about our foreign policy from our perspective, to have a foreign policy that was totally rooted in Canadian soil and took as its starting point Canada's national interest and Canadian values."

Freeland said she drew inspiration from some of the great foreign policy speeches in Canadian history, including Louis St. Laurent's gray lecture back in 1947 where he told the crowd one of the principles of Canadian foreign policy would be "the rule of law in national and international affairs."

Her speech didn't mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name, but she didn't shy away from rejecting some of his policies, including the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, imposing protectionist trade policies, and closing the nation's doors to refugees.

A new approach to rest world. One that's drastically different from that of the United States. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland joins us to explain how she plans to chart a new course for Canada on the world stage. 13:52

"Any Canadian foreign policy must take into account and has to address the United States," Freeland said. 

Following Freeland's statements about the need to use hard power, her cabinet colleague, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, rolled out the Liberal's defence plan, which would see an increase military spending.

"When it comes to our foreign policy, there are and ought to be some big ideas, some big values that we can all agree on as Canadians. And certainly as both as a small 'l' liberal and a big 'L' Liberal I am not shy about saying the use of force is sometimes necessary. Of course it must be a last resort but I really believe in this moment today, when as I said in the speech there are many threats to the liberal international order. It is precisely the democracies, it is precisely the countries that stand for values and human rights that also need to be ready to say we are prepared to use hard power where necessary," she said.

"Otherwise if the only powers that are prepared to use hard force are the cynical, authoritarian, might-is-right regimes, this liberal international order that I belive in so strongly, that I believe so strongly is in our national interest, is not going to last."

The opposition parties were united in saying the government's announcements on both foreign policy and defence lacked details.

"There was big similarities. In both cases, a lot of words and very little action," said Hélène Laverdière, the NDP's foreign affairs critic.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Hélène Laverdière reacts as she begins speaking with the media about the governments foreign policy speech in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday June 6, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

She said one issue that was notably missing from either speech was peacekeeping. The government first announced a new peacekeeping mission last summer, but the details have been on hold for months.

On the government's new defence policy, James Bezan, the Conservative's defence critic, was equally unimpressed.

"It's all delayed, it's more dithering, and it's going to be more disappointment for our troops and for our allies," he said.

Conservative MP James Bezan asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on, October 27, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When pressed on his own government's failure to deliver on its 2008 "Canada First Defence Policy," which was quickly gutted as the financial crisis set in, Bezan said that's the problem with long-term plans that span several mandates.

"Things change, and when none of the spending happens until after the next election, the priorities of the government of the day will change as well."

While the policy spells out a 70 per cent increase in defence spending over the next decade, the biggest jump in the short-term won't come until 2020, after the next federal election.

Opposition MPs James Bezan and Helene Laverdiere discuss the new Liberal approach to foreign affairs and defence. 10:04

Head of NATO hoping to see more of Canada following defence plan

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, greets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday May 25, 2017. (The Associated Press)

The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is hoping Canada will increase its presence on missions now that the Liberal government is promising to spend more on soldiers, ships and fighter jets.

"We are not able to tell exactly today what kind of missions and operations we will have in the five to 10 years, but now we need more Canadian presence in Europe," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told The House.

"There are already many different missions and operations where Canada is participating but of course we hope that they can further strengthen their participation in NATO missions and operations."

When asked if he expects Canada to make additional contributions going forward, including more rotations through NATO exercises, Stoltenberg said "absolutely."

"We are building up our maritime presence both in the Atlantic but also in the Black Sea and other places and we need those Canadian planes, for instance, for air policing," he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomes Canada's new defence policy. 10:19

Brian Pallister goes to Washington

Eight of Canada's premiers, including Brian Pallister, went to Washington this week to, among other things, take trade. (CBC News)

Donald Trump's tough talk on NAFTA prompted eight of Canada's premiers to visit Washington this week, the first time in seven years such a trip has taken place.

The premiers had one shared message: trade is in the best interest of both countries.

"The goal was to get the message to our American friends that we are in fact friends, and that we can build our economies better together than separately," Manitoba's premier Brian Pallister told The House.

The premiers met with officials from the Trump administration, members of Congress, and business leaders over three days. Pallister said the message was generally well-received, but there is a protectionist attitude that must be taken on.

"The attitude that we can buy local and somehow compete with the rest of the world has got to be set aside," he said, noting that nine million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada.

The U.S. has given notice that it intends to renegotiate the 1993 trade agreement, and the Trump administration is expected to signal its negotiating priorities this summer.

Pallister also raised the issue of asylum seekers crossing the Manitoba border in meetings with U.S. officials.

"Some were not aware at all, a couple were aware, and now what I'm hoping to do is to build on the greater awareness to see if we can take action to prevent further deaths and injuries," he said, adding a Ghanaian woman died trying to cross the Manitoba border into Canada at the end of May.

Eight premiers travelled to Washington with one message this week: trade with Canada is good for both Canada and the United States. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister made the trip and he joins us to recap. 8:23

Trudeau's troubles with the Senate

Madeleine Meilleur is no longer in the running to be the country's official languages commissioner. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

Former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur withdrew her candidacy for the position of official languages commissioner this week after a barrage of criticism from opposition MPs for her ties to the Liberal Party.

She also met with with the prime minister's top two staffers, Gerry Butts and Katie Telford, before submitting her application for the job paying $308,700 a year.

Meilleur had initially sought a Senate seat, but said she bowed out after she realized it would be "impossible" given the government's new nonpartisan merit-based application process for the upper house.

"If you're too partisan for the Senate then you're certainly too partisan for one of these jobs," said Toronto Star and iPolitics columnist Susan Delacourt.

"This is a repeated theme with this government. They have a lot of problems appointing and hiring people. I don't know what that is. It took them ages to find staff, it's taking them ages to do appointments. Something is wrong here."

Joël-Denis Bellavance, Ottawa bureau chief for La Presse, said it was clear Meilleur wasn't going to win a vote on her Canadian in the Senate this week.

"So instead of suffering this humiliation in the Senate she decided to withdraw her candidacy, but this is another interesting development for Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Trudeau is bragging about  how the Senate is more independent than ever. Now he has to deal with that," he said.