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What the Coalition's Foreign Policy Would Look Like

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 > 13:07:49

(Direct from Embassy Mag on-line)

As the NDP and Liberals inch closer to wrestling power from the Conservatives, coalition MPs are saying Canada's foreign policy is heading for a major overhaul.

In interviews with Embassy Tuesday morning, both Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bryon Wilfert and NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar signalled the coalition's foreign policy would emphasize multilateralism, human security and Africa.

And while there exist chasms between NDP and Liberal views on financial questions in particular, Mr. Wilfert said the two parties see pretty much eye-to-eye on most foreign affairs issues.

"From my experience on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and even on defence, we are very similar," Mr. Wilfert said. "The degree may be different at times, but certainly there is a common recognition and support for those values."

Both men emphasized a coalition foreign policy would put a premium on multilateral diplomacy.

"When you see what's happening south of the border, I think many, both Liberals and New Democrats, believe we should be getting behind the change in Washington, and that is multilateralism," Mr. Dewar said.

"Obviously we believe in a much more multilateral approach in the international sphere," Mr. Wilfert said. "I think we're going to see a much more proactive approach dealing with multilateral institutions.

"I think this is very important in reassuring our allies and friends that Canada is back."

Besides a more robust demarche at the United Nations, Mr. Wilfert said a coalition would also take a more active role in other forms such as the Commonwealth and the Francophonie.

Mr. Wilfert also indicated emphasis would be refocused on a package of policies known as the human security agenda, which was advanced under the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien by then-foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy.

"We are the party of peacekeeping, [the ban on] landmines and the International Criminal Court," Mr. Wilfert said. "I think there is certainly a willingness to do more of that."

Another key aspect of the human security agenda was the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, championed at the UN by Mr. Axworthy.

Mr. Dewar said that his party is also a strong supporter of the human security agenda, and would also push for the adoption of the recommendations on the Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility.

The recommendations, aimed at preventing abuses by Canadian companies operating overseas, were placed before the government some two years ago but have yet to be adopted by the Conservative government.

In addition, both Messrs. Wilfert and Dewar agreed Canada should play a greater role in promoting the nascent ban on cluster munitions, which grew out of the Ottawa Landmine Ban Treaty.

Under the Harper government, Canada's foreign policy has shifted away from Africa, largely in favour of a focus on the Western Hemisphere.

This, however, is likely to change if the coalition government becomes a reality.

"The continent of Africa has been forgotten recently, and that's something that is a focus of the new government for sure," said Mr. Dewar.

"Africa has fallen completely off the radar," said Mr. Wilfert, specifically mentioning the need for greater Canadian leadership in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe.

It seems the free trade agreement with Colombia, signed by Mr. Harper last week, could also be dumped in pretty short order. Both the Liberals and NDP have expressed concern over the human rights situation in the country.

"Clearly the Colombia free trade deal would be taken off the table," Mr. Dewar said.

Beyond specific policies, Mr. Wilfert said Canada's diplomats have become "very demoralized" during the Harper years. He attributed this to budget cuts and the short operational leash diplomats are currently kept on. He hinted that, under a coalition government, diplomats would once again play a substantive role in foreign policy decision-making.

"I do believe strongly when you have ambassadors who are not able to get past DG [director general] level in this country to explain certain issues, there's a problem," Mr. Wilfert said.

He added that a coalition would work to "instill a sense of confidence and pride" in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

According to a coalition agreement reached by the two parties Monday, a coalition government would have 24 ministers. Of these, six would be from the NDP, as well as a number of parliamentary secretaries.

As to how the ministerial portfolios would be divided, little is known beyond the fact that the minister of finance and the prime minister would be Liberals. Mr. Dewar said the NDP has not made any specific demands about which portfolios should go to its party.

Neither Mr. Dewar nor Mr. Wilfert would hazard a guess at who the next foreign minister could be.

"I'll leave that to the new prime minister to decide," Mr. Dewar said with a chuckle.



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