Stephen Harper’s Partisan Foreign Policy Risks Canada’s National Interests


Thoughts:

- Stephen Harper’s hyper partisan attitude permeates every policy portfolio. His Cold-War mentality flows from his political style: no compromise and a Manichean policy morality that blinds him to his own faults.

- Multiculturalism should not be about division, the way the Conservatives argue/envision it. It should be able everyone being Canadian but also have customs and traditions from other countries.

- Diaspora politics is a game all sides are playing. The permanent minority government cycle we have been going through politicizes everything. Though every party is guilty, the Conservatives are the ones making the foreign policy decisions. Stephen Harper should not be making foreign policy decisions based on gaining votes.

- Canada really needs a national dialogue on many issues but while the need is great the dialogue has reached the lowest low.

- Stephen Harper did almost no traveling before he became Prime Minister (he went to Mexico once.) His foreign policy weakness reflects his lack of worldliness. Canada needs a Prime Minister who has traveled and understands the world.

Some Stephen Harper foreign policy failures:

- Intense support for Israel during the 2006 conflict with Lebanon.
- Cutting off money to Palestine.
- Ignoring China for years while the rest of the world engaged China and gained the economic benefits of doing so.
- No recognizing Kosovo right way which brought up the national unity issue.
- Canada is no longer a leader in nuclear isotopes because of the Harper government.
- Being absent on climate change has given Canada an international stigma.
- Not getting an concessions from the EU on the seal hunt issue during trade talks.
- Being completely absent during Russia’s invasion of Georgia.
- Orchestrating a leak to harm Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
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Tories’ bid to woo minority voters alienates the world
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s feather-ruffling approach to foreign policy–at times appearing more designed to win support among minority groups in Canada than to court support abroad–could jeopardize Canada’s national interests, say analysts and former senior diplomats.

Russia, China, Turkey, Greece, Israel’s critics in the Muslim world and most recently Iran have each felt the bite of Conservative criticism since 2006, particularly in the touchy area of human rights.

It is all part of a growing–and some say risky–political competition by all parties to win key battlegrounds in Canada’s cosmopolitan big cities, which become increasingly more diverse as a quarter of a million immigrants and refugees arrive in Canada each year.

“The attempt to win over minority groups (is)a very active policy, and it’s one that is legitimate enough so long as it doesn’t start to hamper our international relations and affect our national interests,” says Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations.

He says the Harper government has gone overboard in several instances, annoying so many countries that Canada could lose out to Germany and Portugal in a 2010 vote for membership on the United Nations Security Council.

“My guess is that we’re still going to get elected, but there is an argument to be made that there’s a limit to the number of people you can disappoint,” Heinbecker says.

Canadian military historian David Bercuson says Canada’s frequent criticisms of Russia on human rights, on its treatment of its neighbours, and on Arctic sovereignty–criticisms popular among politically important Canadian ethnic groups according to one Ukrainian-Canadian commentator– could impair Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan.

“At some point, we need to let it go,” Bercuson, director of the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, says of Harper’s Cold War-style rhetoric directed at the Kremlin.

Canada and its allies in Afghanistan rely on Russian goodwill and assistance to get equipment and supplies crucial in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida.

“At what point are you defeating your own cause by being a so-called hardliner when you really don’t have a lot of impact on the whole situation anyway?”

Bercuson and Carleton University’s David Carment co-edited the book

The World in Canada: Diaspora, Demography and Domestic Politics, a 2008 collection of essays that examine the growing influence of Canada’s multicultural communities on foreign policy during eras of both Tory and Liberal rule.

Diaspora politics was also cited as a crucial factor in issues relating to domestic terrorism concerns as well as big-city gang crime and violence.

Former prime minister Paul Martin was long accused of being too close to Canadian Tamils who helped fund the Tamil Tigers, a brutal terrorist organization that was banned after Harper took power in 2006.

Diaspora influence on foreign aid decisions is also evident. Canada recently created a Top-20 list of “countries of focus” for development spending. The list, which shifted spending away from Africa and toward the Americas, included 18 countries plus the West Bank and Gaza in the Middle East, and the various countries that are part of the so-called Caribbean Regional Program.

Among the targets were countries with large, if not always influential, Canadian diasporas–Haiti, Jamaica, Sudan, Pakistan and Vietnam.

One of the most curious inclusions was Ukraine, the only European country identified and a country ranked a relatively healthy 78th out of 177 countries measured by the 2005 United Nations human development index, which assesses factors such as life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy and income.

But Canadians of Ukrainian heritage number more than 1.2 million, according to Statistics Canada, and are a politically important constituency particularly in Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario.

“We’re only beginning to fully grasp the situation,” Carment said in an interview. “Diaspora politics is the No. 1 issue that Canada will have to confront in the 21st century.”

The Harper government has consistently argued that its foreign policy positions are driven by principle, not political pandering. One Tory insider said on China in particular, the government’s criticism of Beijing has been driven by the personal convictions of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, rather than any political calculation.

“We make foreign policy decisions based on all Canadians’ interests, supporting our common values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Catherine Loubier, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, wrote in an e-mailed statement.

Conservatives acknowledge they are aware criticism of Moscow resonates positively with many Canadians of eastern European ancestry, who still have bitter memories of Russian dominance during the Soviet Union’s Communist empire.

They also acknowledge that many Canadian Jews appreciate Harper’s unwavering support for Israel.

But they said current policy positions relating to Russia, eastern Europe and the Middle East would have been taken regardless of political considerations.

The Tory government’s use of foreign policy to win favour in Canada’s multicultural communities was evident in a 2007 presentation to Tory workers made by Kenney that was leaked to a Toronto newspaper.

The front page of the PowerPoint presentation showed a published declaration of Armenian-Canadian gratitude for the decision to recognize the Turkish genocide. Kenney, according to the document, noted that the party was seeking both to win ridings as well as to dispel ongoing Liberal arguments that the party is anti-immigrant.

Other examples include: – The Conservatives, in addition to angering North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey over the Armenian genocide, also upset another NATO partner, Greece, by currying favour with Macedonian-Canadians after taking power in 2006. The government formally adopted early that year the motion passed by the House of Commons in 2004 recognizing Macedonia as the “Republic of Macedonia” rather than the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”– as it is referred to by many of Canada’s allies. – In the Middle East, critics say Harper blew apart the attempts of previous Canadian governments to take a balanced approach to the ongoing conflict when he said in 2006 that Israel’s bombing of targets in Lebanon, in response to Hezbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers, was “measured” despite the resulting civilian deaths.

The Kenney 2007 presentation doesn’t mention Israel, but said a Tory goal was to “target growth in the Jewish community.” Some Tory defenders have noted that Muslims and Arabs outnumber Jews in Canada, which suggests that political opportunists would not be inclined to support Israel.

But the University of Western Ontario’s Elizabeth Riddell-Dixon, writing in The World in Canada, argued that the Jewish community has been “very effective in speaking with a united voice,” while Arab Canadians are more disparate and, therefore, less likely to agree on policy goals, “especially those toward the Middle East.”

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