Foreign Policy: Harper the Best Choice for a Strong Canada? Part 1

The election on October 19 could drastically change Canada’s foreign policy. While a vital matter, foreign policy has not been very popular during election campaigns. The parties keep its policies vague fearing it could play against them. Between the three main parties in Canada, is Harper’s Conservative the best choice for a stronger Canada?

This 2-parts analysis will explore Canada’s options when it comes to foreign policy. Part 1 is about Russia and the Arctic. Part 2 will focus on terrorism and Canada’s contribution to NATO.

At this time in the campaign, Harper’s Conservative Party seems the best choice when it comes to foreign policies (FP). That said, the 78 days campaign could be full of surprises.

Although the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have taken position on Harper’s policies, neither of them has offered a valid solution that could be implemented quickly and efficiently.

Mr. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, is trying to recreate the “Jack Layton’s effect” but seems to be falling short. Despite Mr. Mulcair’s protectionist and peaceful policies, his hot temper could become a big issue when it comes to foreign policies or critical situations.

As for Mr. Justin Trudeau, leader of the LPC, his inexperience will undoubtedly play against him when it comes to deal with world leaders, especially when dealing with international security. Mr. Trudeau is clearly not ready to become Canada’s next Prime Minister. His academic background and his two-year tenure as leader of the LPC have not given him enough tools to be able to run a G7 country.

However, Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), has been Canada’s Prime Minister since 2006 and his policies have been clear: Canada will support its allies and will contribute to the fight against terrorism. Its C51 bill gave new tools for Canadian law enforcement and its intelligence service to monitor potential threats abroad and at home.

Russia-Canada Relations

One of the main topics when it comes to Canadian foreign policy is the situation in Ukraine. Since the annexation of Crimea, relations between Canada and Russia have completely collapsed. Canada’s stance on Ukraine has been firm and Mr. Harper even told Russian President Vladimir Putin to “get out of Ukraine,” during a handshake at the last G20 summit.

Canada has been one of the most vocal country by criticizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support to the self-proclaimed Donestk and Lugansk Republics. Canada has imposed many sanctions on Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs.

Despite that Canada’s military is not a match for Russia, Canada is proudly keeping its head up and continues to contribute troops to NATO‘s exercises in Eastern Europe.

PM Harper face Putin and tell him to "get out of Ukraine," during the last G20 summit.
PM Harper face Putin and tell him to “get out of Ukraine,” during the last G20 summit.

Mr. Trudeau’s stance on Russia is similar to Mr. Harper’s. In fact, the LPC agreed to send non-military equipment, which included equipment used on the frontline, and supports a training mission in Western Ukraine. Under a Liberal government,  Canada would most likely review its position on Ukraine while keeping a minimum of troops in Eastern Europe under NATO’s flag.

Mr. Mulcair’s stance greatly differs, however. A strong pacifists, he believes that since Ukraine is not a NATO members, Mr. Harper is creating a dangerous precedent.  Even if he agrees that a training mission would help stabilize the region, a quick escalation between Canada and Russia could mean disaster and fears a provocation. With a NDP government, Canada would most likely withdraw troops from Ukraine and completely review its position on Russia. Canadian soldiers deployed with NATO would probably head home aswell under the pretext of ending provocation towards Russia, a sign of weakness.

Arctic Policies

As an Arctic country, Canadians support its sovereignty and its development. Northern Canada is a vast land that still needs to be fully explored. Vast resources remain untapped and its potential could bring a considerable amount of money to the Canadian economy.

The Conservative’s main focus it to protect its sovereignty by having Canadian soldiers conduct Arctic sovereignty exercises. The CPC believes that a strong military presence enhances economic development. The construction of the Nanisivik Naval Facility will enable the Royal Canadian Navy to stay at sea for a longer period and the newly established Canadian Armed Forces Arctic Training Centre (CAF ATC) in Resolute Bay opens new possibilities to Canadian soldiers in Northern Canada.

PM Harper announcing the Nanisivik Naval Facility in 2007
PM Harper announcing the Nanisivik Naval Facility in 2007

The construction of Canada’s largest icebreaker will contribute to keep the Northwest Passage navigable. By having the Passage navigable all year-round, Canada is putting emphasis on economic development and new infrastructure. The creation of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency will solidify Northern Canada’s economy and create jobs for the region’s population.

Mr. Harper also focuses on environment by extending national parks by more than 70,000 square kilometres to Canada’s Northern protected areas network. “Canada has made significant progress in establishing protected areas in over 10 percent of our North, designating 80 protected areas covering nearly 400,000 square kilometres. These areas include 11 national parks, six national wildlife areas and 16 migratory bird sanctuaries and will protect habitat for a wide variety of species.”

The LPC Arctic policy also focuses on sovereignty by stationing more ships and search-and-rescue elements in Northern Canada. Mr. Trudeau focuses on the environment and economic development. However, the LPC has no plan to further enhance Arctic sovereignty exercises.

The NDP, however, believes that Northern Canada doesn’t need more military spending. Mr. Mulcair is convinced that focusing on the needs of the people who lives in the area is the way to go. In fact, the NDP would focus on building more docking stations, fixing the housing issues and refocusing on literacy. According the Mr. Mulcair, only international law can solve Arctic claims thus putting Northern Canada in the hand of the United Nations. In August 2014, Mr. Mulcair said that: “So if we’re strangers to the system of international law, as we are under the Harper Conservatives — hectoring the United Nations, berating them — we might have a little problem. Because it’s only under international law that these issues are going to be solved, whether they involve Russia on one side, or Denmark through Greenland on the other.”

Whilst Russia and the Arctic are among the most vital subjects when it comes to foreign policy, terrorism remains the number one priority under Mr. Harper. In part 2, we will go in depth about terrorism abroad and at home. This will include the highly-criticized C51 bill that aims at protecting Canadians.

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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.