Canada Under a New Government

John Siebert

John Siebert

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2006 Volume 27 Issue 1

The only things you can really know about a person can be determined from what they say and what they do. The rest is speculation. The same holds true for governments.

A minority Conservative Government came to power in the federal election on 23 January 2006. On the foreign and defence policy issues that Project Ploughshares closely follows, Stephen Harper and other Conservatives have committed little to paper and said not much more. And by virtue of the newness of their mandate, little has been done. So we do not know much at this point about what the new Prime Minister and his Government will do on conventional arms control, nuclear disarmament, peacebuilding, and the reduction of reliance on the use of force.

In May 2005 the previous government tabled Canada’s International Policy Statement in the House of Commons. In this statement the government presented a human security framework positioning Canada’s role in a post-Cold War world. The internal restructuring of the Foreign Affairs and Defence departments to align with IPS conclusions is still in progress.

Will the Conservatives launch a new policy review? Will the current restructuring at Foreign Affairs and Defence be stopped, reversed, or redirected? The Conservative platform states that it will “complete the transformation of military operations and defence administration” in the Defence Department. And, while there is no indication that dramatic structural changes are planned, one change in Foreign Affairs has taken place already. The reintegration of the International Trade Department into Foreign Affairs, while retaining two Ministers, was announced when Prime Minister Harper’s Cabinet was sworn in on 6 February 2006. This move could be seen as favourable on the very narrow grounds that it increases the possibility that final authority for permitting military export permits will rest with the political policy side rather than the trade side because of the primacy of human rights considerations.

The section of the Conservative platform entitled “Advancing Canadian values and interests on the world stage” identifies primary Canadian values as freedom, fairness, and compassion. This list is then expanded to include democracy, the rule of law, human rights, free markets and free trade, and compassion for the less fortunate. Implementation of foreign policy by the Liberal government was criticized for compromising democratic principles to appease dictators, “sometimes for the sake of narrow business interests.” If maintained, this perspective on foreign policy could be useful when the Conservative government addresses the sources of conflict in some countries.

The Conservative platform is more specific on defence, advocating an increase of 13,000 regular forces and 10,000 reserve forces; an increase in spending by a further $5.3-billion over five years over the increases previously announced by the Liberals; purchase of new equipment to support “a multi-role, combat-capable, land, and air force” for national surveillance and control, and counterterrorism; increased capacity and presence in Canada’s Arctic and British Columbia; and better treatment of veterans.

The Conservative platform commits the government to “increase spending on Overseas Development Assistance beyond the currently projected level and move towards the OECD average level.” Any increase in ODA is welcome, but this commitment certainly falls well short of the Make Poverty History campaign that calls for an increase of ODA to 0.7 per cent of GNP by 2015 to help meet the Millennium Development Goals. Offering insubstantial increases in ODA, how can Canada hope that increased military spending will by itself address the human security needs of people in conflict zones?

Canada will continue to grapple with the questions of how vulnerable people outside its borders should be protected, and what the role of multilateral military intervention should be under the doctrine of the responsibility to protect. The Canadian Forces will need certain kinds of military capability if they are to assist in preventing a repeat of a Rwanda genocide, or to take on an enhanced UN role in stopping the ongoing atrocities in Darfur. Should Canada adopt a niche approach to military training and equipment? If so, what are those niches and how can Canada make the best use of its resources?

In fragile states such as Sudan, Haiti, and Afghanistan and failed states such as Somalia Canadian resources have been targeted to assist in creating a level of physical security and rebuilding a state apparatus that is democratically accountable and enables development. Stephen Harper has praised the work of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, presumably in both of their primary roles to create security and combat counterinsurgency. But are these roles compatible in any long-term strategy to achieve stability within a human security framework?

On 2 January 2006, Stephen Harper said, in an interview with the Canadian Jewish Congress, “In terms of Darfur, this has been a concern for us for a long time. I regret that the government did not see fit to label the situation in Darfur a genocide. It is a genocide. The United States has said so and the government of Canada should say the same. In terms of action, Canada’s ability to act unilaterally in this kind of region is very limited. But Canada could show more leadership on this issue. But in terms of acting, of really acting, not just in Darfur but in many other cases, Canada needs to have more capacity and our capacity to participate in action, in reacting to crises like this one.” Now that Mr. Harper is Prime Minister, these statements need to be revisited, both in terms of Canadian action on Darfur and the military’s more general capacity to address this type of crisis.

Conservatives have said little on non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. Although under the nuclear umbrella of NATO, Canada has worked long and hard on this front. However, much remains to be done by Canada and other nations of good will to break the diplomatic stalemate on the Non-Proliferation Treaty and at the Conference on Disarmament.

Although ballistic missile defence (BMD) is apparently being starved to death by the US Congress, Mr. Harper has said that if the US Administration made a specific request to Canada on BMD, he would submit the issue to a free vote in Parliament. Project Ploughshares has provided analysis on the inherently destabilizing nature of BMD and its other faults and will participate fully in the battle of ideas should this issue re-emerge under a Conservative government.

The initiative to create an international regime to control the availability and use of small arms can take a major step forward at the June 2006 UN Small Arms World Summit. Canada has provided leadership on the world stage in the preparatory meetings leading up to this Summit. We know that the Conservatives have made a commitment to cancel the federal gun registry. Does this step portend a retreat by the new government on controlling conventional arms transfers, including small arms and light weapons? Project Ploughshares will continue to work nationally and internationally with a wide array of organizations and governments to bolster Canada’s leadership and push harder to choke off the supply of small arms in conflict zones.

The government in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Minister Peter McKay, and Defence Minister Gordon O’Conner now provide leadership will determine if Canadian foreign and defence policies will remain substantially the same or undergo dramatic changes. The job of Project Ploughshares is to engage the Government and policymakers on the basis of our research and policy analysis in order to advance policies and initiatives that will enhance our common security internationally.

Spread the Word