October 14, 2010

Canada's diplomatic woes

Canada's international reputation took a beating this week, with the loss of a seat on the U.N. Security Council (the first such loss for Canada since 1945), and being asked to leave its base in the U.A.E. 

Influential magazine The Economist weighed in on the Security Council snub, summarizing Canada's current foreign policy as "better at doughnuts than diplomacy". Ouch. Canada hasn't received such a harsh barb from the venerable U.K. magazine since it labelled then-PM Paul Martin as a "ditherer".

Harper's team immediately blamed the loss of the Security Council seat on opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, saying that his criticism of Harper's foreign policy did not present a united front to the world. After pundits and editorialists rightfully called the blame game both specious and idiotic, Harper stated that Canada lost the vote because "of his government’s refusal to trade policy positions to be popular among UN voters".

Others pointed to the Harper government's decision to effectively neutralize Foreign Affairs, consolidate all decisions and power at the PMO, and its staunch alignment with Israel that played the real parts in Canada's loss of support for the Security Council seat.

The embarassment of not earning a seat on the Security Council means that Canada will not have a voice on the most powerful arm of the U.N. for the first decade since the U.N. was founded. It's a blow to Canada's diplomatic corps, long viewed as one of the world's pre-eminent foreign services. Canada was a founding member of the U.N. and had long distinguished itself as a quiet but stable influence in global diplomacy, exercising its self-appointed role as a "middle power", a status that reached its apex during the Suez Canal crisis, for which Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize. Canada had long pursued a foreign policy position based on quiet but influential diplomacy and a commitment to peacekeeping.

Canada's diplomatic influence is directly related to the global perceptions of its credibility. Clearly the decisions made by the Harper government have negatively impacted our reputation and lessened our ability to influence other countries. Put another way, our country's actions and policies have consequences and for the first time in a lifetime Canada's diplomatic position in the world is in deep trouble.           

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