Your guess is as good as mine as to how much of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s “New World Order” speech will result in tangible political capital by the time the 2019 election rolls around. But, clearly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has once again adapted its playbook to a shifting geopolitical landscape.
The Liberals seem to be road-testing a new, “good cop, bad cop” strategy involving Trudeau and Freeland. She will be saying things that Trudeau, the world’s poster boy for sunny ways and new-style politics, can’t afford to say. If that is true, the son has learned something his father never did.
Freeland already has a reputation as a bit of a brawler. And Trudeau doesn’t want to become one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s default targets as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has – even if that means Trudeau is labelled as an appeaser, as he was recently in Germany’s media.
Examples of tough language in Freeland’s now famous speech include Americans deciding to “shrug off the burden of world leadership” or how Canada doesn’t want to be a “client state” by being dependent on the U.S. for defence and security.
There were three key messages in her speech about Canada’s place in a world in which U.S. power is no longer as dominate as it once was:
– Canada robustly supports the rules-based international order and global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, NATO, the United Nations or the Paris Climate Accord while seeking ways to strengthen and improve them.
– Canada will boost our long-depleted defence budget to defend our interests at home and abroad, including in North America.
– Canada remains a free trader and co-operator regardless of what the Trump administration does. (Read that as moving closer to Europe, and not just because of our free trade agreement with countries there.)
None of those points should be a surprise. What is surprising is the language of a minister who is supposed to be in charge of diplomacy.
She is sending the Trump administration a message that there is a fist inside Canada’s velvet glove, and that Canada is looking ahead to what a post-U.S. world will look like. And, no, Canada doesn’t view trade as a game of winners and losers, which Trump – and far too many in Washington, D.C. – clearly does. To Canada, everybody is supposed to win with heightened trade.
Much of Freeland’s speech was aspirational: those who govern today are just as uncertain about these times as the rest of us. But maybe just as much of it was strategic, with the aim of putting Canada and its Liberal government in the best possible position for whatever does come. Trump may not survive as president but some form of Trumpism likely will.
Looking away from a protectionist U.S. and closer to Europe (at least, the enlightened parts of it) seems like the logical place to begin rebuilding a trade strategy.
On the domestic front, Trudeau is now being lumped in with Merkel and France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, as one of the three amigos of open and healthy democracy. Not a bad place to be.
Not only will the issue of who is the best defence against Trump (or Trumpism) be a ballot issue in Canada’s 2019 election, but voters will be mindful of the messy state of politics in Britain and thus seek stability.
This is why the federal Conservatives aren’t talking much about their cousins south of the border. Nor is their new leader, Andrew Scheer, saying much at all beyond his “Aw shucks, I’m just a boy from Saskatchewan” routine.
A danger in the Liberals’ “big picture” strategy is that Canadian voters could decide their government is a little too worldly. This may be why the Liberals rushed forward in May with an airline passenger bill of rights after Air Canada showed off its genius for upsetting customers.
Increased defence spending is coming at the expense of foreign aid. Millennial voters may not remember the Lester Pearson years of generous foreign policy, but enough voters will to pose a threat of votes leaking to the NDP. The Conservatives almost always gain when the NDP rises. The Liberals are dressing things up as “feminist foreign aid.” But that may not be enough.
Watch for some sort of unity display by Trudeau, Merkel and Macron at the G20 summit in Hamburg on July 7-8.
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