The Liberal government of Canada will unveil its new cabinet Monday morning. Beyond the initial glance of a lineup of 100 or so faces, one thing stands out: the limited responsibility of ministers in the federal government’s foreign affairs department.
Canada’s civilian and diplomatic personnel abroad increasingly enjoy minimal exposure to the realities of our moment. We didn’t have to believe in evolution to watch news reports during Hurricane Florence as communities were deluged with record levels of flooding and death. Nor were we required to trust Trump to put the American people first even when he proposed suspending U.S. tariffs on Canada’s automotive sector.
In contrast, this has been the department’s busiest year in many years, as Canadians have witnessed immense migration flows to our neighbor to the south, as well as significant efforts by Canadian experts to help stabilize both countries. To acknowledge those efforts in its first outing would have been a distinction few would have questioned. But that would not have been in keeping with the Trudeau government’s pattern of political correctness.
Nor would it have been nearly as tasty as the chance for another contrast to be drawn with the Conservatives, particularly the ebullient Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who appears to be off to an unusual start.
Two months into her tenure, we have learned that she removed a warrant issued by her predecessor against convicted Canadian terror financier Omar Khadr from her department’s website because it was “symbolic.” As usual, Trudeau was uninterested in credible outrage over this liberal pander.
We have also learned that Quebec’s Minister of Global Affairs, Christine St-Pierre, is “uneasy about significant body borders,” as her office told me.
Canada is an intriguing model for the kind of place Trudeau wants us to be. He stands for openness, democracy, globalism, and equal opportunity for all. Averse to anything dark or scary, he is blind to terror or those seeking escape from it.
You get the sense that he wants to embrace the idea of Canada, and instill it in Canadians. He’s smart enough to realize how hard this task is. But he can’t put Canada on the map without showing an impressive aptitude in foreign affairs. It’s something, ironically, that Stephen Harper failed to do after he was elected a decade ago.
I know it’s hard to believe, but even as Trump gets more aggressive than our president has before him, Donald J. Trump has emphasized “America First” while M. Freeland, along with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, is Canada’s first dedicated international trade negotiator. I can’t quite believe I am saying this, but who won the trade-offs?
Trudeau has promised that Canadians will have “more confidence” in their government, but what does he really mean by that? Is it statements along the lines of “International Trade is at the heart of our government’s work”? Or does it refer to the esteem Canadian allies have in him?
Trudeau is very smart, he’s also a polished performer. What is lost on him is the opposite lesson of his election and upbringing, which was that your greatest obligation is to yourself and the welfare of your family. In other words, for the Canadian prime minister the only things that count when dealing with foreign issues are the get-right-now, go-now mentality.
So who will be Canada’s next minister of trade? I’m tired of waiting for clues to let me know.
Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, is the principal in Yorkville Advocacy.