IssuesForeign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

First Published: Oct 02, 2019
Last Updated: Oct 02, 2019
Monitored by: Roberto Chavez


“Canada is Back” is the mantra that has characterised Prime Minister Trudeau’s foreign policy approach following his electoral victory in 2015. The Trudeau Government has focused efforts on increasing Canadian presence in the multilateral scene, with key items being Canada’s nomination for the UN Security Council, participation in the Mali Mission as well as the condemnation of human rights violations.

The objective of Mr. Trudeau’s Foreign Policy was to re-position Canada as a multilateral leader. Three years after, commentators agree that Mr. Trudeau’s Government has taken on a number of measures that align with the United Nation’s multilateral objectives. Many experts also agree that intentions to reposition Canada on the map as a global leader has not been matched in the way of robust measures.

Targeted strategic efforts have been undertaken such as the deployment of troops in Mali, the development of a new funding framework for development assistance, as well as a leading role in the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

That said there have also been a number of international scuffles caused by the promotion of human rights. Canada has had international fallings out with Saudi Arabia on account of criticism of their treatment of the media and women, while Canada still sells arms to the country and buys its oil.  Canada has also had a rocky relationship with the US the past three years, has escalating tensions with China and a tenuous relationship with India as well.

Current Status

Key ongoing items on the Foreign Policy front include Arctic policy, the resolution of the China-Canada affair involving two Canadian detainees, as well as developments in Canada’s nomination for a UN Security Council seat in 2021.


No specific proposals yet.


Scheer’s Conservatives say they would stand up to China in the dispute over three detainees who are seen to be pawns in a game involving the Western world and Huawei, in particular the detainment of the founder’s CFO daughter.

They also have pledged to continue the pursuit of a seat on the UN’s Security Council – a proclamation that has fallen flat with many Conservatives who have been critical of both the UN, the makeup of the Security Council and the obsession by the current government to successfully lobby its way back on to the Council.


The NDP Election Campaign contained a number of measures, in their own words, seeking ‘A better role in the world’ that bring an end to Liberal and Conservative cuts, and help position Canada in the right side of global issues. These include:

  • Support nuclear disarmament;
  • Recommit to peacekeeping;
  • Make sure that Canadian-made weapons are not fuelling conflict and human rights abuses abroad.
  • Work towards a just and lasting two-state solution between Israel and Palestine that respects human rights and international law
  • Boosting Canada’s international development assistance, with the goal of contributing 0.7 percent of our Gross National Income to international aid.
  • Hold Canadian companies to a high standard of corporate social responsibility at home and abroad – and ensure they meet it.

Green Party

No specific proposals yet.

People's Party

No specific proposals yet.

Bloc Quebecois

No specific proposals yet.

October 2, 2019
Roberto Chavez

CPC Leader Andrew Scheer said a Conservative government would reduce foreign aid spending by 25 per cent, $1.5 billion out of $6 billion that Canada currently contributes. Scheer mentioned the reduction would come from middle- and upper-income countries as well as hostile regimes. “We will use the savings to pay for policies that help Canadians get ahead at home and also redirect $700 million to strengthen foreign aid in the countries that need it most.”  Mr. Scheer also attached a dollar figure to the amount the Trudeau government has sent $2.2 billion to high- and middle-income countries: Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, China, Iran, Italy, Mexico and Turkey as well as to the “corrupt regimes” of Iran, Russia, North Korea and China.

According to the National Post, this $2.2-billion figure was compiled from numbers contained in the federal government’s own annual statistical report on international assistance for 2017-18 (the most recent year for which final figures are available.)

Looking closely at the numbers provided by the party, it appears Scheer has combined all amounts provided by Canada to countries for a variety of purposes — some money that does fall under the OECD definition of “official development assistance,” and some that does not, says Liam Swiss, a professor of sociology at Memorial University and the president of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development.

For example, in 2018, Canada provided $2 million to Italy — a G7 nation. But this was not humanitarian aid money, it was money committed by Global Affairs Canada for “international security and political affairs,” according to the government report.

Stephen Brown, a professor at the University of Ottawa who studies foreign aid, said Canada is already “stingy” with its foreign aid so further cuts would only solidify the notion that the government doesn’t do its share.

The Liberal platform says, if re-elected, the party would “increase Canada’s international development assistance every year towards 2030,” but does not say how much the annual increases would amount to.

September 18, 2019
Roberto Chavez

China has repeatedly declined to provide Canada with adequate scientific evidence to justify shutting the door to imports of Canadian canola, the federal government told the World Trade Organization in a new complaint.  Canada this week laid the groundwork for a challenge at the WTO of China’s ban on canola from Canada, which began in March.

The blockage of canola has been tied to a diplomatic spat between Canada and China that’s been traced to when Canadian authorities arrested Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou at the Vancouver International Airport last December.  Losing out on access to China’s market for what had been Canada’s top export to the country has cost the Canadian canola industry about $500 million in the past six months.

“Canada has repeatedly attempted to obtain information from China regarding the scientific basis for its measures and on the process to restore full market access for Canadian canola seed,” the Canadian government said in a Sept. 9 filing to the WTO.

September 13, 2019
Roberto Chavez

The Canadian government will support Taiwan’s efforts to join a key triennial gathering of civil aviation authorities in Montreal at the end of September.

The Taiwanese government has heavily lobbied Canada and other countries to back its effort to participate as a guest at the 40th assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the United Nations that co-ordinates safe and secure international air travel.

The Sept. 24 to Oct. 4 summit offers a forum for member countries to discuss the latest issues concerning global aviation. Since 1971, Taiwan has not been a UN member, which is needed for full participation at ICAO, but the self-governing island has pushed for guest invitations to ICAO meetings.

It most recently attended the 2013 assembly but was not offered a ticket to the 2016 gathering, with Beijing’s consistent opposition to its participation in international bodies largely believed to be the reason.  The move by the Canadian Government will not be well-received by China. However, the move itself is no more than posturing from the Canadian Government. It remains to be seen whether China takes retaliatory measures.

Scott Simon, who holds a co-chair in Taiwan studies at the University of Ottawa, said it is not the first time Canada has supported Taiwan’s participation at ICAO, but as the host country, it sends a message to the world that a practical approach should be taken on the issue.

“It’s not as if we’re creating diplomatic relations with Taiwan. There’s nothing radical going on, it’s just that (Canada is) being very pragmatic here,” he said. Simon said despite Canada’s support, it’s unlikely Taiwan will be able to attend the meeting due to China’s objections.  Asked for comment on Canada’s position, the China’s embassy in Ottawa referred to its response to the Globe. In it, the embassy said “China’s position is consistent and clear.”  “The issue must be handled in accordance with the one-China principle,” it said. The policy dictates that mainland China must be the only China recognized in the diplomatic sphere.

September 5, 2019
Roberto Chavez

NAFTA panel says U.S. can’t show harm from Canadian softwood industry.  A joint NAFTA panel has given the United States three months to rethink its tariffs on imports of Canadian softwood lumber.

The five-member panel of Canadian and American representatives says there is no evidence that Canada's softwood industry has harmed United States softwood producers.

The most recent softwood agreement between the two countries expired in the middle of the last federal election.

Eighteen months later the U.S. imposed a new round of import duties, arguing Canada unfairly subsidizes its softwood producers by underpricing lumber cut on government-owned land.

Canada has filed complaints under both NAFTA and World Trade Organization rules.

The Canadian industry is struggling with numerous mill closures and layoffs amid the tariffs, depressed prices from lower international demand and supply issues in Canada related to forest fires and pest infestations.

September 5, 2019
Roberto Chavez

After 220 days with no Canadian ambassador to China and relations between the two countries seriously strained, the Trudeau government named Dominic Barton — the former head of Justin Trudeau's economic advisory council —  to the post. Business leaders cheered the news.

Beijing was given a heads up about the Barton pick by Chrystia Freeland last month. The foreign minister spoke with  her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at the ASEAN summit in Bangkok last month and floated Barton's name to make sure Beijing wouldn't oppose his appointment. That's more notice than the Liberals gave the NDP or Conservatives opposition parties, who were kept in the dark despite the announcement coming just weeks before the federal election.

September 5, 2019
Roberto Chavez

The federal government has enlisted former prime minister Joe Clark and former Quebec premier Jean Charest to attempt to persuade foreign governments to support Canada in its bid for a much-coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Marc-André Blanchard, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, said the pair will serve as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special envoys for the UN Security Council mission. Mr. Clark and Mr. Charest are travelling the world to advocate on behalf of Canada’s campaign for one of 10 rotating, non-permanent seats on the UN’s most powerful branch in 2021-22.

“Their role is to convey an official request by the Prime Minister asking for the support of the country that is visited for Canada’s candidacy for an elected seat of the United Nations Security Council,” Mr. Blanchard said.

Mr. Clark, who was most recently appointed to the role, was in South Africa on Tuesday, where he met President Cyril Ramaphosa and the country’s foreign-affairs minister. He will travel to Angola later this week to meet its leader. Mr. Charest, is campaigning for Canada in Panama, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago this week.

Mr. Charest also visited Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates over the summer, where he hand-delivered a letter from Mr. Trudeau to Government leaders in all these countries.

Mr. Clark and Mr. Charest are not to be paid a salary for their work as envoys, but their travel expenses are covered by the government.

Mr. Blanchard said Canada will appoint more envoys in the weeks and months to come, but did not say who.  Canada is in the final year of its campaign for the 2021-22 Security Council seat, as 193 UN member states prepare to vote next June.

September 5, 2019
Roberto Chavez

A day after the U.S. imposed new tariffs on goods from China, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said it lodged a complaint against the country at the World Trade Organization.

The latest tariffs actioned by the U.S., escalated the trade war with China by imposing 15 per cent tariffs on what China says will affect $300 billion of Chinese goods, violate the consensus reached by the countries’ leaders at a meeting in Osaka, the Commerce Ministry said. As Reuters reports, the lawsuit represents the third that Beijing has brought to the WTO to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump’s China-targeting tariffs.

Trump warned China last week that he would be “tougher” on China if trade talks dragged on into a second term. Negotiators from the two countries are supposed to meet in Washington to attempt to defuse the trade war, but as Reuters points out as well, no precise dates have been set yet.

August 28, 2019
Roberto Chavez

Canada rejects calls to end trade talks despite Brazil's stand on Amazon.  International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr's office says Canada will continue its trade negotiations with Mercosur, the South American trading bloc that includes Brazil, despite demands to call a halt to the talks until more action is taken to protect the Amazon rainforest.

On Friday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called on the Trudeau government to follow the lead of countries like France and Ireland, which are refusing to support the ratification of the European Union's trade agreement with Mercosur because of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro's failure to respond to international concerns about the global environmental impact of deforestation.

Bolsonaro favours developing, not protecting, more of his country's forested land.  But so far, Canada isn't letting this issue stand in the way of its trade diversification goals.

In a statement to CBC News, the Minister's office said Canada's negotiations with Mercosur have made "good progress" since they were launched in March 2018. Ottawa hosted the most recent negotiating round, which concluded on August 2.  It is still "early in the negotiations," the statement said. Comprehensive trade talks regularly take years to conclude.

August 28, 2019
Roberto Chavez

New results from a Mainstreet poll for iPolitics suggests Canadians believe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the best able to stand up for the country on the global stage, but think Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer would get along better with the Trump administration.

Results of the 2,463-person phone survey, conducted between July 30-31, show that 35.7 per cent of respondents selected the Liberals’ Trudeau as the best fit to represent Canada internationally, with Scheer not too far behind at 31 per cent and 12.7 per cent not sure. The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh was the next popular selection at 6.1 per cent, followed by the Greens’ Elizabeth May (5.4 per cent), the People’s Party of Canada’s (PPC) Maxime Bernier (3.8), “someone else” (3.1 per cent) and the Bloc Québécois’ Yves-Francois Blanchet (2.1).

August 28, 2019
Roberto Chavez

Previous Interim CPC leader Rona Ambrose disagrees with CPC Leader Andrew Scheer’s assertion that Trudeau caved to Trump on NAFTA.Ms. Ambrose, who was interim Conservative leader after the party's 2015 election defeat, says Canada did make some concessions to get a deal but it also made some important gains.

In terms of its impact on the economy, she says the new North American Free Trade Agreement is pretty much "a wash" for both Canada and the United States while Mexico got hardest hit.  Ambrose was a member of a panel Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked to provide advice and help create a united multi-party front during negotiations with the mercurial U.S. president, who repeatedly threatened to tear up NAFTA if a new deal favouring the U.S. could not be struck.

Andrew Scheer, who took over the Conservative helm from Ambrose in 2017, has called the new NAFTA a "historic humiliation" that exposes Trudeau's weakness on the world stage.  Former Conservative cabinet minister James Moore was also on the advisory panel but he's refusing to comment on Scheer's contention that Trudeau caved in to Trump.

August 26, 2019
Roberto Chavez

The Trudeau government outlined five-year, $148-million plan to attract more foreign students to Canadian universities. Concerned that more than half of the international students in Canada come from just two countries, China and India, the federal government has pledged nearly $30-million over the next five years to diversify global recruiting efforts in the postsecondary sector.

The government is targeting countries with a large and growing middle class that may not yet have the higher-education capacity to educate all their students, or where the prospect of a Canadian education in English or French holds appeal.  The government said the initial focus of its marketing efforts will be in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Morocco, Turkey, France and Ukraine. It will also aim to attract students to schools outside of Canada’s largest cities, bringing economic benefits to provinces and regions that have tended to receive fewer immigrants.

The government’s efforts to broaden the source countries of international students are part of a five-year, $148-million international education strategy released last week.  The strategy also allocates $95-million to encourage Canadian students to study and build ties abroad, particularly in Asia and Latin America, rather than the common destinations of the U.S., Britain and Australia.

August 26, 2019
Roberto Chavez

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a shot at Canadian conservative politicians at the G7 summit in Biarritz on Monday when asked at a press conference about reports of U.S. President Donald Trump skipping a discussion on climate change.

“The President has made his perspective on climate change very clear,” Trudeau said when quizzed about Trump’s absence from talks that included the issue of Amazon rainforest fires. (Trudeau committed in his remarks to providing $15 million to the cause.) “We believe that climate is a real and existential threat to our planet,” he continued, citing his government’s carbon tax, phase-outs of coal and plastics.

“You cannot have a plan for the future of the economy unless you also have a plan to fight climate change,” he said. “Now, the president — and even some conservative politicians at home — seem to disagree with us on that, but I’m very much looking forward to the election, in which we get to have this conversation with Canadians.”

Climate change is gearing up to be a hot-button issue in the coming election, with the carbon tax especially emerging as a key dividing point between Trudeau and conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who has repeatedly pledged to scrap the levy.

August 20, 2019
Roberto Chavez

China’s move to stop buying several Canadian agricultural products has punished beef, pork, canola and soybeans farmers, and now industry leaders are worrying about the prospect of a broader threat — an eventual U.S.-China trade deal.

But a few Canadian crops have had stronger sales to China over the past year. The trade fight between the world’s two largest economies has, for example, helped contribute to a surge in Canadian wheat exports to China since Beijing imposed tariffs on American products. There are industry fears about what could come next — what will happen to Canadian farm exports if U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping eventually strike a deal?

“If Trump forces China to buy a lot of American agri-food products, we won’t be selling Canadian agri-food products to China,” said Brian Innes, president of the Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance. “Canada may benefit in the short term, but we’re going to get whiplash if Trump makes a deal with China.”

Innes said Trump has been clear that any trade agreement would feature major agricultural purchases by China from the U.S. At the moment, there are few signs of progress in U.S.-China negotiations. The trade war has grown increasingly bitter in recent months.

The two sides have hit each other with levies on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods. Last week, China announced it would stop buying American farm products in response to Trump’s threat of fresh tariffs on Chinese imports.  On Tuesday, however, the U.S. Trade Representative softened its position by announcing it would remove some Chinese products from a tariff list over “health, safety, national security and other factors.” Robert Lighthizer’s office also decided to delay the application of duties on certain products until Dec. 15, instead of the previous start date of Sept. 1.

Negotiators are expected to meet next month in Washington for another round of talks. Between January and June, federal numbers show Canada exported $335 million worth of wheat to China — an increase of more than 60 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.

August 13, 2019
Roberto Chavez

Despite the continuing diplomatic feud, China’s embassy in Ottawa says relations with Canada will “eventually be on the right track” and expressed willingness to increase co-operation with Canada’s military.  The softer-toned comments, found in a post on the Chinese-language version of the embassy’s website, stand in contrast to comments Beijing has made regarding the Huawei affair in recent months.

For example, the Chinese foreign ministry had warned Canada in June not to be “naive” to think its allies could put pressure on China regarding the detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

However, the post on the website details a rather warm reception held at the embassy on July 30, celebrating the 92nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, the name of China’s military.

The event was attended by the embassy’s charge d’affaires, Chen Mingjian, as well as defence experts and professionals, overseas Chinese, representatives from Chinese-funded institutions, and Canadian MPs and military officials.

Wu Junhui, the military attache at the embassy, gave a speech at the reception. According to the post in Mandarin, he said the “Chinese military is willing to work closely with the Canadian military to enhance understanding and strengthen co-operation in various fields.” He said China-Canada relations face difficulties and challenges but that relations will eventually normalize.

“As long as the two sides adhere to mutual respect and equality, and value each other’s core interests and major concerns, relations between the two countries will eventually be on the right track, and the relations between the two militaries will remain stable and develop,” Wu said, according to the post.

The post also said attendees expressed optimism about the “long-term development prospects of China-Canada relations.”

Asked about Canada’s military relationship with China, a Department of National Defence spokesperson said, “Canada’s relationship with China remains a priority, and we continue to engage on defence and security issues. In complex bilateral relationships, there will be difficult moments, but we will continue to look for ways to move forward,” the spokesperson said.

August 9, 2019
Roberto Chavez

Minister Chrystia Freeland met with the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Domminic Raab in his first stop visit to North America. Mr. Raab is on what The Guardian calls “a symbolically important trip to North America,” which peaks with important Washington meetings Wednesday. Mexico after that. Of course it’s symbolically important because Raab is the foreign secretary in a government that is determined to exit the European Union in 85 days. However, with an election looming in Canada and with all the oxygen being sucked by Brexit on the UK side, there was no talk on new trade terms post-Brexit.

Freeland mentioned that the two discussed: shared concern over the situation in Hong Kong, the crisis in Venezuela, the genocide of the Rohingya and Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea, she also thanked the Foreign Secretary for the U.K.’s strong support of the two Canadian citizens arbitrarily detained in China.

August 9, 2019
Roberto Chavez

David MacNaughton, the U.S. ambassador who became the fulcrum of the federal Liberal government's strategy for managing relations with an impetuous and unpredictable White House, announced on August 8th that he plans to step down from the post at the end of the summer.

MacNaughton, who is vacating the job just weeks before Canadians go to the polls Oct. 21, said he intends to return to the private sector in Toronto. He'll be replaced on an acting basis by Kirsten Hillman, his deputy since 2017.

MacNaughton was a central player in the ensuing 13 months of talks to renegotiate the outdated trade pact, talks that culminated in a slightly retooled "new NAFTA" christened by Trump as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That deal has been approved in Mexico, but still awaits ratification in the U.S. Congress and on Parliament Hill.

August 2, 2019
Roberto Chavez

Conservatives, if elected, would work to restore ties with Saudi Arabia. On August 2nd, 2019 Erin O'Toole, the Conservative critic for foreign affairs, said in an interview they would try to "win some trust" with Saudi Arabia by focusing on improving commercial ties and by offering more aid, development and refugee support in the Gulf region.
The Conservatives, O'Toole said, would try to re-engage with Riyadh even though it has earned international condemnation over last fall's killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

"Once you have a relationship, you can then work on issues related to human-rights concerns about the actions of Saudi Arabia vis-a-vis the Khashoggi incident, democratic reforms, all these sorts of things," said O'Toole, adding a Conservative government would seek out common ground in a similar way with China, India and the Philippines.

"If you have zero relationship, we're basically just yelling into the wind. We're not having any impact on them." O'Toole acknowledged that for some Canadians, re-establishing ties with Saudi Arabia will be a tough sell following Khashoggi's death.

July 30, 2019
Roberto Chavez

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today his office did not pressure a former Canadian ambassador to avoid recommending that Canadians cease non-essential travel to China."I can confirm that the PMO did not direct that to happen," Trudeau said during a media availability at the Kitsilano Coast Guard base in Vancouver Monday afternoon.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney said he had been instructed by an official with Global Affairs Canada to clear any public comments on Canada's China policy with the department beforehand. The official reportedly cited the "election environment" and said they were passing on a request from the PMO.

Mulroney told the Globe that the Global Affairs official also cautioned against telling Canadians to suspend non-essential travel to China. Mulroney told the newspaper he found the request troubling and said the department official implied he should soften his tone. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said last Thursday that neither she nor the PMO had pressured the former diplomats over their comments on Canada's China policy.

The House of Commons committee on foreign affairs meets Tuesday July 30th to vote on whether to study allegations that federal officials have pressured two former diplomats. The Liberals hold five of the committee's nine seats. More to come.

July 29, 2019
Roberto Chavez

The U.S. House of Representatives began its summer break, leaving the ratification of the new North American trade deal hanging.  Trade experts are divided on whether Trump may be driven to invoke the six-month notice period to withdraw from the current North American Free Trade Agreement — a threat he repeatedly made during the renegotiation of the pact with Canada and Mexico. Lawrence Herman, a Toronto international trade specialist, said it is unlikely Trump would pull the plug on the new NAFTA so close to his own election campaign because it would sow economic uncertainty that wouldn't benefit him politically.

Dan Ujczo, the Ohio-based trade specialist with the firm Dickinson Wright, said it is unlikely Trump would serve notice to withdraw, but even if he did, Congress or the courts could step in to delay that. "The NAFTA will be in place through 2019. It is unlikely that companies will face a scenario where neither the NAFTA nor USMCA is in place during 2020," he said.

Mexico is the only country to approve the new deal, with Canada awaiting to see what the U.S. Congress will do. With the Democrats controlling the lower House, no ratification bill was tabled before lawmakers broke for their five-week summer recess— a scenario Trump and his cabinet worked hard to avoid.

The Democrats want changes to the USMCA's provisions on labour, environment, patent protection for drugs and enforcement, and have been working hard with Trump's trade czar Robert Lighthizer to move forward. But they haven't reached an agreement that would persuade the Democrats to bring a bill forward in the House.That makes it all but certain that U.S. lawmakers won't be in a position to take even the most tentative steps forward on the deal before the start of Canada's federal election campaign, which is set to begin by mid-September at the latest.

For some, that could mean fireworks for the Canadian campaign — ignited by a petulant Trump.

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