Canada has long enjoyed a world reputation as a haven of peace, security and democracy. The work accomplished by Canadian diplomats in defusing the Suez crisis in the 1950s, Cyprus, the Tehran Caper of 1979 and in other hot spots including the Balkans in the 1990s helped the country gain the reputation as a formidable peacemaker and instrument for international good. Although less that the OECD yearly minimum for international aid, Canada has done its share in assisting Africa and other needy zones with technical assistance, food aid and disaster relief when required. Towards the end of the 20th century when international aid gave way to the war on terror, Canada responded by sending its troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO coalition.
A country of immigrants itself, Canada has demonstrated its willingness to take in refugees like the boat people exodus from Vietnam in the late 1970s. More recently, the present government led by Justin Trudeau has brought in more than 40,000 Syrian refuges to date. Those fleeing the new Trump regime in the USA such as the Haitians are now flocking to Canada by crossing the US border near the Province of Québec and claiming asylum. Despite the re-negotiation of NAFTA, Canada remains a rich country with all the attributes of a civilized welfare state where the state of race relations is much less of an issue than in European and US jurisdictions. All of these reasons add to the 150thanniversary celebrations of a country that is the envy of the world. Aside from a tough wintry climate several months of the year, what could go wrong?
However, cracks can be observed in this northern paradise. Serious cracks.
Our story begins with the defeat of the Conservative Party government of Stephen Harper in October 2015. For nine years, this grim, tight-fisted government defied all of the former attributes that made Canada special and recognized abroad. Warlike, Harper and his cohorts reversed course and supported their American allies by sending troops to Afghanistan to kill, not to make peace. In foreign policy, the government threw diplomacy to the wind (along with a seat on the Security Council) and eschewed an even-handed approach whether it was Russian aggression in the Ukraine, the Arab-Israeli dispute in the Middle East or human rights in China. Understandably Canada’s world influence began to wane. Arab states were left dumbfounded by Canada’s new voting pattern at the UN on Palestinian issues. International aid was cut and refugees like the Syrian war victims were left to fend for themselves. On the environmental side, the Harper government ignored the Kyoto agreement that the previous Canadian government had signed and allowed the oil industry to pollute to the maximum using their own carbon emission targets while they scarred the countryside in a ruthless rush for profit.
Inside the country, tensions rose – East versus West, French versus English, new Canadians versus ‘old stock’, conservative versus liberal, religious zealots versus secularists, First Nations against every form of institutionalized political authority, environmentalist against the oil industry. An Ambassador for Religious Freedom was even named at Foreign Affairs and proceeded to pontificate and often scold non-Christian states about internal issues while funding ultra-conservative religious projects in Africa by ignoring the real causes of the HIV epidemic there. Canadians were unaccustomed to looking at themselves in the mirror and seeing cracks. Many longed for the past euphoric vision of goodness and goodwill, nurturing for all and all for one. They would be sorely disappointed.
Then, in an electoral reversal, the country’s foreign image appeared to have been saved from its downward spiral by the arrival of Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party. Determined to undo the damaging Harper legacy, Trudeau promised a New Deal for Canadians, or rather a return to the ‘Old Deal’. For most Canadians, it didn’t matter that much which deal since most were sickened by the incompetence and ineptitude of the Harper government’s foreign and domestic policies. Justin promised to fix the cracks that were beginning to give rise to the tensions inside the country. He would reverse the downward spiral of its foreign policy.
Things started off well. The Liberal promise to bring in more than 20,000 Syrian refugees in a short timeframe actually happened despite some grumbling about not enough security screening and the like. It was magnificent. Then, however the wheels began to come off the Liberal Party platform for renewal. For example, Canadian learned that the promised electoral reform would not happen. This intended reform effort was aimed at enfranchising more Canadians at the ballot box so that governments could not rule as majorities with around 30 -35% of the vote. These ‘minority’ governments acted as majority governments despite the negative verdict of the popular vote. Most experts agreed that some form of proportional representation was required to democratize the electoral process. Not so according to Trudeau who made a unilateral decision to dump the entire process. So much for the popular will.
Then another curious thing happened. The Liberals, in opposition, had castigated the Conservatives for handing over their Afghan prisoners to uncertified and dubious Afghan and foreign authorities. Allegations of torture were rife. A Canadian diplomat whistleblower revealed the practice and testified about the prior knowledge shared amongst Conservative Party Ministers. The bumbling Harper coverup didn’t work. Post October 2015 however, the Trudeau Liberals proceeded to do exactly what the Harper goons did. They canned the investigation pure and simple. So much for the peacemaking hypocrisy.
No electoral reform, no Afghan detainee investigation. What next?
It wasn’t long in coming. Ironically, Trudeau’s photo opportunities with First Nations leaders were and continue to be key to his popularity. Meanwhile, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so reviled and delayed by the Harper government, and designed to unearth the truth about murdered and missing Indigenous girls and possible police impropriety has become a laughing stock. Commissioners have resigned in disgust. Delays and cost overruns have succeeded in discouraging a large number of participants. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has become a painful and public failure under the Trudeau watch. Native Canadians, who voted overwhelmingly for Trudeau’s Liberals, now understand more clearly the white man’s devise ‘he who speaks with forked tongue’. Another promise hits the dust and Indigenous Canadians will have to find other reasons to be happy in their ‘northern paradise’. The world looks on and sees how Canada treats its time-honored minorities. Changing names on government buildings will not erase the shame of what the Trudeau Liberals have done to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Soon other names will have to be removed from official buildings, perhaps even Trudeau’s own if history is allowed to judge.
Nowhere is the deception and disgust worse than on the environmental file. Canada did sign the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change but continues to use the carbon emission targets of the Harper government. The bulk of work and responsibility to implement a carbon tax falls to the provinces. In addition to dumping the environmental file in the provinces’ collective laps, Trudeau’s government has approved a pipeline through pristine lands of the Province of British Columbia, some which belong to the First Nations, to the sea for dirty oil bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands. Is this the look of a government dedicated to a better planet? Its talk about climate change borders on senile. Throughout the country, oil storage reserves are popping up. Our cities, like the east of Montreal, are being transformed into heavy oil transmission belts. When catastrophe strikes and a freighter or pipeline bursts asunder, who will clean up the mess and repair the damage done to our ecosystems.
We could go on – empowering an appointed Senate of which a number of illustrious appointees have demonstrated an ethical intuition similar to that of an alley cat in heat riddled with graft and influence pandering rather than an august Chamber of second thought and reflection, a ruthless and filthy rich banking industry unchecked that remains unresponsive to its consumers, no bill of rights for airline passengers whose complaints are conveniently filed in the infinity file, Trudeau’s own playful hob-knobbing and influence peddling with the Aga Khan and his Foundation in the Caribbean at taxpayer’s expense, the list is ponderous. What is not addressed is almost as bad as the incoherent and dubious decisions taken. Problems are left to wither on the vine, like the sad reality of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
So, you can see that there is a price to living in the past. The cracks nurtured under the Harper government have not disappeared under the stewardship of Justin Trudeau. The cracks are deeper than ever and a hapless and feckless Liberal foreign policy is fast eroding past accolades. The tensions they engender will not subside.
Dr. Bruce Mabley is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau Group think tank based in Montreal devoted to analysis of international politics. Dr Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat and academic who has written a number of analytical and academic texts. In 2016, Macleans magazine featured a story about Dr. Mabley related to the war in Syria and referred to him as 'Canada's Rogue Diplomat'. In 2002, he was decorated by the French Republic as Chevalier des Palmes académiques.