Canada’s Liberal Foreign Policy Under Justin Trudeau

On October 19, Canadians surprised everyone by electing a Liberal majority government, pushing out the Conservative after a reign of almost ten years. With more than 184 seats out of 338, the Liberal Party of Canada now has four years to govern and implement their policies.

In this analysis, we will look at their foreign policies and how it will affect Canada’s reputation on the world stage. Although we won’t cover every aspect of the new Canadian foreign policies, we will elaborate on three vital topics:

  1. Arctic
  2. Islamic State
  3. Russia

The new Liberal majority government in Canada will show a major shift in Canadian foreign policy, a marked departure from the long tenure of Stephen Harper’s conservatives.


The Liberal government’s view of the Arctic greatly differs from the Conservative. In fact, Justin Trudeau believes in a social approach over a strong military presence. That said, Trudeau vowed to cancel the precarious F-35 contract in favour of more affordable fighter aircraft. With billions of dollars saved, Trudeau’s plan is to accelerate the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) so Canada can quickly expand its Navy and assure a presence in the Arctic.

Canada needs more icebreakers and surface combatant ships; most importantly the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS). As the Northwest Passage becomes more accessible, Canada will need to extend its security and have a permanent presence to counter piracy and smuggling. That said, the most important asset for the Northwest Passage would clearly be icebreakers capable of operating year-round.

Canada's future AOPS
Canada’s future AOPS

The NSPS also has a non-combat package including new Polar Icebreaker, Joint Support Ships (JSS) and science vessels. Trudeau’s goal is to acquire more icebreakers and combat ships to protect Canada’s coasts. Canada is also desperately in need of  JSS to support its Navy abroad.

Three of the Liberal Party promises were indeed focused on the Navy and its Arctic capabilities.

  1. Fast track and expand the capital renewal of the Royal Canadian Navy.
  2. Launch enhanced icebreakers and new surface combatants for the navy.
  3. Prioritize the acquisition of cost-effective search and rescue aircraft.

“Our commitments will, among other things, ensure that the Royal Canadian Navy is able to operate as a blue water fleet well into the future. By choosing to replace the existing CF-18s with a more affordable aircraft than the F-35s, we will be able to guarantee the delivery of current procurements for the navy,” said Mr. Trudeau. “The Canadian military has a proud history of meaningful and exemplary contribution. From combat missions, to peace operations, to disaster relief, Canada has always been there. And under a Liberal government, it will continue to be.”

The Liberal government will make the Arctic a priority as it was for the last nine years under the Conservatives. However, Trudeau’s priority will also include more social programs for the First Nations in its policies.

Islamic State

CSOR operators training Iraqi soldiers
CSOR operators training Iraqi soldiers

Not even twenty-four hours after being elected, Trudeau kept one of his promises and told US President Obama he was withdrawing Canada’s fighter jets from Syria and Iraq. That said, Trudeau pledged to continue training Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground in Iraq.

The Globe and Mail reported that Trudeau “committed that we would continue to engage in a responsible way that understands Canada has a role to play in the fight against [IS],” he said at a press conference. He didn’t say precisely when he’d withdraw Canadian CF-18s, only that it would be done in a “responsible” manner.

The training mission will most likely continue under the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. Operators from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) and members of Joint Task Force Two (JTF2) will continue the work they’ve been doing so far. As for the conventional forces, it is unlikely that Canada will deploy some sort of Task Force to Iraq.

Canada will also send more humanitarian aid and will accept 25,000 refugees instead of the Conservative’s 10,000 pledge.


Trudeau’s policy against Russia is similar to the Conservative. Trudeau accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “being dangerous” in eastern Europe, “irresponsible and harmful” in the Middle East, and “unduly provocative” in the Arctic.

“If I have the opportunity in the coming months to meet with Vladimir Putin, I will tell him all this directly to his face because we need to ensure that Canada continues to stand strongly for peace and justice in the world.”

The change in Canada’s government could be a turning point in Canada-Russia relations. Although Trudeau finds Putin dangerous, reopening diplomatic channels could contribute to stability and cooperation in regions such as the Arctic.

Russian Ambassador to Canada Alexander Darchiev
Russian Ambassador to Canada Alexander Darchiev

Russian Ambassador to Canada, Alexander Darchiev, was interview by CBC’s Power and Politics on 7 October and was asked if he had any dialogue with Canadian political parties during the 2015 federal elections. He answered “no” and added that he was ready to work with any Canadian leader.

“We will work with any Canadian leader that will be elected at this election. Our best hopes is that we would bring Canada-Russia relations, which are not their best shape, back on track and that’s we hope for,” he told Rosemarie Barton.

He was later asked what would bring the relation back on track.

“I think that we have areas of common interest where we should have dialogue and, you know diplomacy is about talking and its about dialogue. We have common interest in the Arctic, we’re Northern countries, we’re neighbours across the North Pole. We have interest in fighting terrorism and in fighting terrorism, information sharing is pivotal. We cannot afford ourselves to stop talking on that issue and the third major venue is our business ties. You know, Russia is a huge market, Canada is a huge market, we need to have more trade between our countries.”

Ambassador Darchiev also insisted in dialogue and that both Canada and Russia could overcome their differences.

“We need to over come our differences, but to overcome our differences, we need to start talking to each other.”

The Sentinel strongly recommends reopening dialogue with Russia as both nations have common interests in many part of the world. That said, Trudeau will have to broaden his perspective and welcome dialogue; a form of diplomacy that has been successful many times in the past. Under Stephen Harper, diplomatic channels were completely cut between Canada and Russia. The Liberals have the opportunity to reinstate dialogue under its ‘real change’ message during the 2015 federal elections.


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Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.