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Foreign policy and the Canadian federal election – three weeks to go.

September 25, 2008

With the release of foreign policy platforms by both the Greens and the Liberals, we can no longer claim the parties are hiding their visions for our role in the world. Still, despite the release of these platforms, Jeffrey Simpson seems right to claim we’re acting as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Climate change and Afghanistan — particularly salient issues that we thought would be big in this campaign — have been sidelined as sweater vests and quaintly named corporations capture public attention. Ipsos Reid has even found the environment slipping to a rather distant fourth behind concerns for the economy, health care and taxes. Moreover, Canadians don’t distinguish between Liberal and Conservative leadership on the environment, despite Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion’s passion for Kyoto and carbon taxes. Even Dion is downplaying his party’s green agenda in the face of Canadian indifference. It’s funny then that the Huffington Post claims Canada is a model for elections that focus on climate change – I guess because in our own quest for energy security we’ve thus far left our oceans and protected areas out of the election. It takes so little to be a model these days.

Afghanistan, the other issue that seemed likely to motivate voter choice, isn’t getting any more attention than the environment. Gordon Smith, Peter Worthington and David Pugliese all lament the lack of a real debate on our involvement in Afghanistan, with Pugliese characterizing the electorate’s reaction to defense issues as “indefensible apathy.” In order for voters to make choices based on these issues, however, each party needs to offer comprehensive, straightforward and unique explanations of what we’re going to do in Afghanistan — besides leave in 2011 (much to the disappointment of military bloggers at The Torch). Stephen Harper might actually have to clearly articulate this, especially if he really wants to capture military ridings. Let’s hope.

Or do more than hope. If we let inward-looking, image-conscious voices dominate conversations about the election, we can expect to see a lot more skipped UN meetings as institutional change and reform proceeds apace, without us. We’ll see the increasing marginalization of the Canadian voice and position in international institutions and affairs. And if the US economy does go in the direction of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Merrill Lynch and AIG (this is not an exhaustive list) we may wish we had strengthened ties with emerging economies, in addition to paying attention to the details of hugetastic trade deals with the EU. Even if taxes, our health and our economy really are our main concerns, we’ll need to deal with the world to manage these effectively. So, as Scott said on this blog earlier: vote for the world, damnit.


Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail: “In election 2008, as in 2006, the world just doesn’t exist.”

Andrew Coyne on the Macleans blog: “The crossroads of international trade.”

Gordon Smith in the Windsor Star: “Canada needs to determine its foreign policy.”

David Pugliese in the Ottawa Citizen: “Indefensible apathy.”

Peter Worthington in the Toronto Sun: “Military missing.”

Dave Hart in the IPE Jounal: The Conservative & Liberal Party Platforms: International Perspective, part I

Email me at if there are other interesting pieces you suggest we take a look at.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2008 9:08 pm

    Dion has put himself in a box. He can’t argue against Afghanistan, when it was his support that enabled Harper to extend the NATO commitment, because Dion will be called a flip-flopper if he changes. The only other hint of opposition is “ABC”, anybody but conservative, which is a large and virtually untapped reservoir of disdain for federal politics as usual, and the Greens and NDP are benefitting. The independents and undecided will give their Liberal and Conservative votes to these two parties. Another minority government will finish both Harper and Dion off, and that’s what Canadians really want to see.

  2. September 25, 2008 11:56 pm


    Thank you for the summary of the foreign policy articles. You’re right, there isn’t much to go on here. I’m perplexed by the media’s approach to this election. It just doesn’t make sense when the stakes are so high for media outlets to stay relevant. Their reporting is focused primarily on tracking the daily announcements of the political leaders. Each day I monitor the radio news and so far I have only found one news story that has been driven by voters’ concerns – ie. the cuts to arts funding. I swear, if I hear one more clip about “listening to average Canadians”, I’ll scream.

  3. cwlisa permalink
    September 25, 2008 5:31 pm

    All these links are great – thanks Reilly!

    I completely agree that international issues should be near the top of Canadians’ voting agendas. The problem is that with the media focusing on, as you mentioned, their sweater-vests and poor negative campaigns, the entertainment factor turns politics into some kind of circus. Should anything be done to change media focus? And if so, how can we alter the media culture without infringing on the right to free press?

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