Canada’s International Role: Four Political Perspectives

Tasneem Jamal

Peter Whelan

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2004 Volume 25 Issue 3

Given that Canadian defence and international security policies are now pursued in the context of minority government, the policies of all four major parties are relevant. The peace and security policies that each presented in the recent election campaign are reviewed here.

 The 2004 federal election platforms

In the 2004 election campaign, the official election platforms of all four major political parties included proposals for Canada’s international policy. All parties agreed that Canada must remain a prominent actor on the world stage, although they differed on specific international issues (the most publicly contested being Canada’s participation in the US missile defence system).

The Bloc Québécois platform, Un Parti Propre au Québec, highlighted the importance of a strong international presence (for Quebec) to strengthen the province’s image abroad in preparation for full sovereignty. According to the platform, “Attaining sovereignty for Quebec is the main reason for the Bloc Québécois’ existence. [Therefore] … it is important to ensure that the views of Quebec on major international issues such as globalization, security, international relations and defence, are known.”

The New Democratic Party’s platform, New Energy – A Positive Choice, stated that Canada’s international outlook must evolve to meet the challenges of the contemporary world: “As the Cold War fades into memory and new security challenges emerge, it’s time for Canada’s security policy to evolve.… Canada should assert our role in the world by working as an effective, trained peacekeeper and peacemaker … and by helping alleviate the problems that trigger crises.”

In Demanding Better, the Conservative Party criticized what it said is Canada’s diminished international stature and proposed to implement a “Made in Canada” foreign policy: “Canada is larger and more prosperous today than it was half a century ago, yet we are playing a smaller role than ever on the world stage. The world has changed and the Liberals are the last to notice. We must demand better leadership in world affairs.”

The Liberal Party also cited the importance of Canada’s international engagement in Moving Canada Forward, seeing Canada’s international influence as grounded in existing national traits: “Our nation is admired as a successful society with sound democratic institutions and a tolerant, multi-cultural population. And the world needs the peace, order and good government that Canada exemplifies. This means that Canada can make a difference.”

Proposed international roles for the Canadian Forces

As part of its international policy, each party outlined proposals for the Canadian Forces (CF). Three of the four (the Conservatives being the exception) cited the importance of the CF being capable of contributing to multilateral Peace Support Operations (PSOs).1 This emphasis is not surprising considering the widespread support Canadians give to their country’s involvement in such operations.2

The Bloc Québécois and the NDP stated that peacekeeping should be the primary role for Canadian troops; however, each set out a different set of criteria for such operations. While the Bloc (p. 4) declared their opposition to “all military intervention that contravenes international rights,” without referring specifically to the United Nations, the New Democrats proposed that “peacekeeping and peacemaking operations under UN auspices” be the priority for CF operations overseas (p. 52).

And, while the Bloc did not refer to specific military capacities for a primarily peacekeeping force, the NDP platform called for the cancellation of “offensive, expensive and unnecessary weapons systems for the Canadian Armed Forces,” to allow for a reallocation of resources towards “personnel and better training and equipment so that they can carry out Canada’s vital peacekeeping and peacemaking roles” (p. 53). This reallocation is based on the premise that the acquisition of “expensive military hardware … won’t do a lot to help a humanitarian middle power such as Canada foster human security” (p. 52).

The Conservative Party’s platform had no explicit reference to peace support operations.3 It did state: “We will work closely with international organizations such as the United Nations and in concert with our most important military allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and NATO countries, to address international security threats” (p. 40).

The Conservative platform provided the most detail about the resources required by the CF to undertake the “difficult and demanding work” proposed by the party. These include a gradual increase of the “Regular Forces strength to at least 80,000”; the procurement of more tanks; the regeneration of the Air Force through new acquisitions and upgrades to present holdings4; and the procurement of “hybrid carriers [to provide] helicopter support and strategic [sea]lift.” Underlying these proposals was the Conservative Party’s plan to immediately increase military spending by $1.2 billion annually (p. 41).

The Liberal platform outlined both the party’s objective of “enhancing Canada’s capacity for peace support,” as well as the Canadian Forces’ “ability to participate in multilateral operations that are consistent with our interests and values” (p. 48). The use of the broader term “multilateral operations,” instead of “United Nations-led operations,” is significant as it allows for participation in a wide range of military operations. In fact, the platform stated that “Canada’s presence in Afghanistan [a UN-authorized, but NATO-led operation] has all the hallmarks of the new type of operation that the Canadian Forces will be expected to lead” (p. 47).

The Liberals call for an increase in the size of regular forces personnel by 5,000, thereby “greatly enhancing Canada’s capacity for peace support” and enabling “our military to assume a bigger role in bringing peace, security and democracy to troubled nations.” The role of the military is placed in the context of the government’s so-called “3D” strategy, which combines the efforts of the Canadian International Development Agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs (diplomacy), and the Department of National Defence.5 “[T]he presence of foreign troops cannot guarantee security unless there is also progress towards a political settlement. But equally, there will be no political settlement unless security is established” (p. 48).

The Prime Minister had earlier described this strategy in the context of Canadian involvement in Afghanistan:

Elements of defence, diplomacy and development are woven tightly together as part of the [Afghanistan] mission. The Canadian Forces, for example, provide the security that, in turn, allows organizations like Canada’s International Development Agency to support Afghanistan’s election process and democratic development.… This ‘3-D’ approach … will serve as the model for Canada’s involvement in international crises in the future – crises that will take many forms. (Martin 2004)



  1. Peace support operations include a wide variety of operations, including peacemaking and peace enforcement, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.
  2. An April 2004 public opinion poll measuring Canadians’ attitudes toward foreign policy revealed that approximately 80 per cent of Canadians polled were supportive (40 per cent strongly supportive with another 40 per cent somewhat supportive) of the continued peacekeeping involvement of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Haiti.
  3. Although the Conservative Party’s official platform does not contain any reference to peace support operations, other party documents and speeches by Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, do refer to such operations. For example, a document entitled Demand Better Security says: “A Conservative government will give priority to strengthening high demand units … that are relevant to operations ranging from domestic disaster assistance to overseas peace support and combat operations.”
  4. The new acquisitions proposed in the Conservative platform included new tactical and heavy-lift aircraft, and new maritime helicopters, as well as further upgrades to the CF-18 fleet of fighter aircraft.
  5. In the Speech From the Throne delivered on October 5, 2004, the Governor-General expanded on this integrated approach by stating that Canada’s “defence, diplomacy development and trade efforts [must] work in concert.”



Bloc Québécois 2004, Un Parti Propre au Québec (English version).

Conservative Party of Canada 2004, Demanding Better.

Governor-General of Canada 2004, Speech From the Throne, October 5.

Harper, S. 2004, Demand Better Security: The Conservative Plan for Defence, May 31.

Liberal Party 2004, Moving Canada Forward: The Paul Martin Plan for Getting Things Done.

Martin, P. 2004, Address by Prime Minister Paul Martin at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick, April 14.

New Democratic Party 2004, New Energy. A Positive Choice.

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