February 7th, 2013

Rethinking Canada’s approach to international and trade relations

Speech by Tom Mulcair to Montreal Council on Foreign Relations

For nearly a hundred years, Canada's history has been shaped by relationships beyond our own borders. It is on the world stage that our most fundamental values intersect: Peace and security. Prosperity and social justice. Democracy and good governance.

These values have served as the foundation for our country’s proud history of global leadership—and have shaped our identity at home and abroad.

It is these values that must guide our path into the 21st century.

Today our world is more interconnected than ever.

Economic borders have all but disappeared. Information flows more freely than ever before.

And threats that once seemed distant are now all too close to home.

As a consequence, governments across the globe now realize it is impossible to pursue a nation's domestic priorities without a coherent and constructive international agenda.

In the Canadian context, that means a willingness to pursue our constitutional mantra―of “peace, order and good government”―beyond our own shores.

It was this approach that enabled Canada to punch far above its weight as an honest broker in the last century.

And it is the unwillingness to recognize and embrace the power of that legacy that has been the source of some our current government’s most egregious failures.

What we see in Ottawa today is a government that has walked away from a decades-old cross-party consensus on what constitutes constructive foreign policy.

They have turned their back on the open and progressive multilateralism that enabled Canada to be such an effective middle power.

In its place we find inward-looking partisanship designed only to advance the government’s domestic political agenda.

Well-connected interests have been elevated above the public interest and petty politics above leadership and vision.

The fact is, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives love power but they hate governing.

It is impossible, after all, to do the hard but necessary work that comes with constructive diplomatic relations when you see no value in the role of government.

And this ideological short-sightedness has come at a high price.

In 2010, for the first time in our history, Canada failed in our efforts to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The Harper government withdrew Canada's bid just before the final round of voting―not because we thought we would lose, but because we knew we would be humiliated.

Let's be clear: Canada was not defeated in our bid to win a seat on the Security Council because we refused to back down on issues of democracy and human rights, as our current government has claimed.

We were not defeated by a rogue state that curried favour with regional interests, or by a rival power seeking to retaliate for some unpopular but principled stand.

No, we were defeated by Germany, defeated by Portugal, defeated by votes cast by some of our strongest allies.

So how do we explain it?

We are one of the founding members of the United Nations, one of the principal architects of UN peacekeeping.

With a roadmap like ours, it goes without saying that we’ve had a key role to play on the world stage.

And for decades, this role was considered secure.

That is, until our current government turned its back on development in Africa, on peacemaking in the Middle East and on the fight to combat global climate change.

Until our government turned its back on the international responsibilities and achievements that once defined us.

And let there be no mistake, the world is taking notice.

While testifying at the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2009, a group of 18 African diplomats took the highly unusual step of criticizing Canada’s declining role on the continent.

This is, of course, not something a diplomat often does so publicly. But they felt they could not remain silent.

These diplomats expressed concern over the closure of embassies and over our dwindling diplomatic engagement in Africa.

We’ve shuttered our official presence in Gabon, Malawi, Guinea and Cape Town. Tunisia and Cameroon are also on the chopping block.

These diplomats also cited cuts to development aid for some of the poorest countries in Africa.

Despite CIDA’s mandate to focus on poverty reduction, the Conservatives have used the agency to pursue economic opportunities with middle income countries, like Peru.

Those choices have come at the expense of Africa, which saw 8 of its countries dropped from CIDA’s list of countries of focus.

At the same time, purely based on ideology, evangelical groups are now receiving more CIDA grants: more religion, less nutrition.

Is it any wonder that we failed to garner enough support from African nations to ensure our bid for a seat on the Security Council?

Remarkably, the Conservative government is even turning its back on the French language in Africa.

Our government is showing unacceptable complacency.

Africa is the future of the French language—La Francophonie has said so itself.

But instead of working to preserve a linguistic future so closely tied to our own culture the government is reviewing its commitments to La Francophonie.

Not long ago, it decided to cut its contribution to the Conference of Ministers of Youth and Sports of La Francophonie.

That’s wrong and it’s shameful!

It is our responsibility as a nation with a proud francophone presence to be committed partners with other francophone communities.

A New Democratic government will ensure we do just that.

Last year, this government's choice to abandon Canada's commitment to constructive multilateral engagement cost us a seat at the East Asia Summit as well.

Given the current government’s stated commitment to international trade, this is a particularly telling example.

Here was an opportunity to be on the inside of talks with some of the world’s economic powerhouses—China, Japan, India, the United States—as well as with emerging markets like Vietnam.

Yet instead of claiming our seat at the table, we found ourselves on the outside, looking in.

Thanks to the unusually frank assessment of the Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Surin Pitsuwan, we know precisely why.

In explaining this rebuke, he said, and I quote, “The goodwill is there, the name is there but you don’t see the sustained effort of trying to project it out.”

In other words, Canada has failed to protect and maintain the very record of principled leadership that Conservatives claim to personify.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was once asked to explain her success in international diplomacy.

In doing so she paraphrased a rather unlikely source—Woody Allen.

Eighty per cent of success is just showing up.

Our current Conservative government has failed to do even that.

What’s most telling—and most worrisome—is the Conservative government’s reaction to these failures.

This government wore our defeat at the United Nations as a badge of honour.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird went a step further, claiming that the era of Pearsonian multilateral engagement that defined Canada’s coming of age was a mere “parentheses” in Canadian identity.

Consider that for a moment.

The Minister charged with defining our international relations sees Canada’s traditional role as an honest broker middle power as nothing more than an aside.

In his view, rather than a turning point in human history, the last 60 years have been a fleeting distraction from the overarching course of world events.

Mr. Baird, and the government he serves, see the world through the prism of the past.

Where this Conservative government's social agenda is reminiscent of the 1950s, their foreign policy agenda smacks of nostalgia for the 1940s, white hats and black hats, as simple as that.

Two decades removed from the end of the Cold War, our world is far more complex.

But by refusing to acknowledge that reality, Conservatives have abandoned Canada's most effective levers of influence, and neutered our ability to project power.

When we don’t have a seat at the Security Council, or at meetings like the East Asia Summit, when we slash funding for arts programs that engage other nations, or shut down Radio Canada International we not only dismantle our ability to project the best of what we are on the global stage, but we systematically undermine our own interests as well.

Canada's role as a principled, independent member of the international community has been the cornerstone of our greatest accomplishments on the world stage.

That legacy of independence and engagement—now abandoned by the Conservatives—was fundamental to our role as an important middle power during the Cold War.

Regardless of who the government of the day happened to be, Canada could be relied upon to act as an honest broker by both sides.

Relied upon to take principled stands, based on our values and ideals, even when that meant standing at odds with our own allies.

That commitment to principle not only reflected our values, it served our interests.

It was precisely that commitment to a principled foreign policy that also allowed Canada to play a prominent role in the fight to end Apartheid―led by an earlier, very different, generation of Conservatives.

Under their leadership, Canada toughened sanctions, banned arms sales and pushed back against an unprecedented international propaganda campaign by the Apartheid regime.

We did so at no small risk to our relations with our own close allies.

It would have been easier for the Progressive Conservatives of that era to follow the lead of other Western leaders.

But I remember how the Progressive Conservatives worked across party lines with the likes of UN Ambassador Stephen Lewis—a former NDP leader in Ontario.

The Progressive Conservatives of the 1980s were willing to stand at odds with political and international allies like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

They chose to be leaders on the global stage and the results speak for themselves.

Today Canada and the global community face a new set of foreign relations challenges—but our principled, multilateral approach must remain the same.

Non-state actors, revolution, not to mention emerging technology, present not only new challenges but new opportunities.

Nowhere is this more the case than in the Middle East, with the Arab Spring.

Across the Arab world, a generation of young people are making their voices heard.

They have demanded change. They will not accept the status quo.

But whether the dreams and aspirations of the Arab Spring will come to reality still hangs very much by a thread.

Democracy is a lot more than a ballot box.

The dreams of peace, prosperity and human dignity must be met with institutions that nurture them.

Demands for change must also give rise to a political culture that promotes and protects universal values.

The aspirations of the Arab Spring will not be realized if corruption persists.

They will not be realized if minority rights are dismissed.

They will not be realized if women's equality is not ensured.

Canada has managed to maintain peace and prosperity in a federation that has brought together different cultural, linguistic, and regional communities.

The lessons of our success as a nation can be our greatest contribution on the global stage.

We can–and we must–lead by example.

We face a choice.

Will we react with fear or mistrust, and risk deepening division?

Will we sit idly by, and allow emerging democracies to flounder?

Will we shrink from the challenges that stand before us, or will we rise to the occasion?

In the 2006 election―and two subsequent Speeches from the Throne thereafter―our current government promised the creation of a new agency tasked with promoting international democratic development.

What a great contribution such an agency would have been at this time of change, in the Middle East for example.

Not only was this promise not kept, but in the years that followed Rights & Democracy—the closest thing we had to a democratic development institute—was systematically dismantled.

Time and again, Conservatives have mistaken partisanship for principle, and hardnosed realism for narrow-minded self-interest.

They've put ideological purity ahead of practical results.

While this tendency has been evident in our current government's approach to foreign policy, nowhere has it been more clear than in their approach to international trade.

Conservatives like to tout their efforts to expand market access.

To hear them tell it, one would be forced to assume those efforts have been a stunning success.

But even a cursory examination of the public record puts those assumptions quickly to rest.

In the seven years since Conservatives took power, Canada's has been blessed by booming global demand for export commodities.

Yet growth in Canada's natural resource exports has been offset by an even greater decline in our value-added exports.

After inheriting a decade of trade surpluses, Conservatives are now running a $50 billion current account trade deficit―the highest on record.

This precipitous decline in our balance of trade hasn't by been driven by investment from abroad or the acquisition of new capital equipment.

It has been driven by expanding government deficits and exploding household debt.

This is an important distinction―the difference between a family taking out a mortgage to invest in a new home, and a family taking the credit card to pay their monthly grocery bill.

The Conservatives' reckless, narrow-minded focus on a few favoured industries has destabilized the balanced economy that Canada built up since the Second World War.

And while Conservatives have focused on promoting foreign commodity sales to the exclusion of other industries, even their efforts to strengthen our natural resource sector have been plagued by incompetence and mismanagement.

As Canada negotiates a new economic and trade agreement with the EU, there are growing calls in Europe for retaliatory tariffs in response to this government's failure to address climate change.

Failures that were detailed by the federal Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development earlier this week.

As you are aware: As Conservatives dismantle environmental regulations to make way for natural resource projects, those same attacks on environmental protection have given rise to protests that threaten to derail those very projects.

Leaders in the business community have come to realize that—for development to thrive in the 21st century—they require not only a business license, but a social license as well.

Our current government refuses to acknowledge the same—even as they risk harm to the interests they profess to represent.

Nowhere has Conservative mismanagement on international trade been more blatant than in their handling foreign investment.

Approvals plagued by indecision and delay, announcements made in the dead of night, markets thrown into uncertainty and chaos.

Two years after committing to amend the Investment Canada Act to clarify the rules for evaluating foreign takeovers, to this day, Conservatives are simply making the rules up as they go along.

Our Prime Minister has asserted the right to approve foreign takeovers—whether or not they are of net benefit to Canada—under "exceptional circumstances."

There has been no clear explanation of what this means, no legislation brought before Parliament and therefore no certainty provided to potential investors.

Most disturbingly, after 17 years of negotiations on a comprehensive Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement with China, Conservative Ministers seem to have misjudged the impact that their own agreement will have on foreign ownership of our natural resources.

Under the Conservatives' new investment agreement, Chinese state-owned companies would be guaranteed the same rights as Canadian companies to expand their operations and their control of Canadian natural resources.

Once the Canada-China FIPA is ratified, provinces will effectively lose the ability to control the sale of new oil and gas leases―ceding massive control over our natural resources to a foreign power.

In practice, that means the provinces could lose control over the sale of oil and gas licenses.

We will no longer be able to control our natural resources.

When questioned about these provisions in Parliament, Conservatives replied that the Investment Canada Act would still apply to future takeover.

Apparently not realizing that they are required to regulate foreign companies already active on Canadian soil.

We support breaking down trade barriers, lowering tariffs and reducing protectionism.

We also want to hold our companies working abroad accountable and require a minimum level of respect for human rights.

But if we can use trade agreements to create enforceable protections for investors and corporations, then surely we can do the same for labour rights and environmental protections as well.

If we can tear down economic barriers across continents, then surely we can also build up an economy that is fairer, greener and more prosperous.

Not only for today, but for generations to come.

It's fitting that we are here today as Canadian and European negotiators are attempting to finalize a new comprehensive economic and trade agreement.

New Democrats are eager are to deepen and broaden trade ties with Europe.

Europe is Canada’s second largest trading partner and one of our most valued allies.

We share a commitment to high standards, and to improving the quality of life of all our citizens.

Beyond economics, our cultural and historic ties are among the deepest on the planet.

The Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement should be built on strong foundations that represent our shared political and social values.

Canada and Europe should serve as model partners for trading relationships around the world.

The issues at hand in today's negotiations go beyond the traditional boundaries of trade.

They include measures that could have vast implications on health care, intellectual property and food safety.

Some measures run contrary to our country’s longstanding strategies for economic development.

Others could raise the price of prescription drugs for Canadian seniors.

As the Official Opposition, we will seek to ensure this agreement expands our trade with a vital economic partner and does so in manner that reflects our interests.

Four years ago, this government was caught asleep at the wheel by an economic crisis that began beyond our borders.

Today, things are improving.

But the global financial system remains fragile.

We can be optimistic, but we must remain vigilant.

It is extremely important that American authorities succeed in resolving the budget issue before March 3.

Today our economy faces challenges unlike anything we've seen since the Great Depression.

And while these challenges may be driven by global forces, that doesn't mean we're powerless.

What we’re lacking in Ottawa is political will.

Here at home and abroad, New Democrats will continue to be fierce advocates for economic development, as long as it’s sustainable development.

We will be ardent supporters of more robust trade, as long as it’s fair trade.

And of course our team will continue to work with all those who share our vision for a safer, more prosperous world, as long as it’s more prosperous for all.

Thank you.

[Check against delivery.]