Is Ottawa losing its global voice?

Géopolitique — Proche-Orient

EDITORIAL - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative party urged voters to Stand up for Canada in last January's federal election. His platform promised "to ensure that Canada's foreign policy reflects true Canadian values and advocates Canada's national interests."
Yet six months later, Harper and the Conservatives appear to be more interested in currying favour with U.S. President George Bush's Republican administration, which is deeply unpopular on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, than with carving out a truly meaningful and independent role for Canada on the international scene.
Indeed, Canada's once-distinct voice is becoming harder to distinguish from that of the United States.
That was not the case under former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien, who rightly kept Canada out of the Iraq war. But his successor Paul Martin came to power with an eye to repairing Canada-United States relations that were perceived to have become frayed. And the election of Harper and his Tories is taking Canada further down that road.
Now, increased Canada-U.S. co-operation in Afghanistan, the Mideast conflict and other issues are seen in many parts of the world as eroding Ottawa's role as an honest broker in relations between the White House and countries at odds with U.S. policies.
Harper cynically rushed Parliament into a vote without proper debate to extend Canada's military presence in Afghanistan for three years, in part to allow the U.S. to leave that strife-torn country and focus on Iraq.
There is mounting unease that Canada has embraced Washington's counter-insurgency agenda and has abandoned diplomacy, peacekeeping and rebuilding, once the cornerstones of Canada's foreign policy. Indeed, most Canadians now oppose the Afghan mission.
Canadians are deeply split as well on Harper's tendency to view the Mideast through Washington's prism, especially in the past two weeks since the current conflict erupted between Israel and the Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon. Harper was correct in saying Israel has a right to defend itself, but he was wrong not to caution restraint on Israel's part.
And Washington was delighted Harper carried out his promise to increase spending on our cash-strapped military. Harper was right to raise defence spending, but should have hiked foreign aid at the same time.
There is other evidence that the Conservatives view the world through a narrow Washington-friendly lens that departs from our traditional policy of taking a wider perspective.
Some in the Conservative government, like many U.S. Republicans, disdain the United Nations and multilateralism. To beleaguered Canadian lumber producers the softwood deal looks like a cave-in to U.S. interests. And the Harper Conservatives share Washington's skepticism of the Kyoto Protocol, which aims at curbing climate change.
Academics speak of Harper's North American "continentalist" vision, to distinguish it from the independent global activism championed by Liberals such as Pierre Trudeau and Lester Pearson, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Suez Crisis of 1956, which involved the first effective use of U.N. peacekeeping forces.
Until recently, successive governments in Ottawa for 20 years have spearheaded international initiatives and developed a role that gave us credibility abroad. Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney led the push for sanctions on South Africa, which helped bring about the end of apartheid. And former Liberal foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy championed the International Criminal Tribunal to probe war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and the fight against land mines.
Obviously, provided our interests coincide, there is nothing wrong with Canada and the U.S. having similar policies on critically important issues, such as cross-border trade, security and the environment. Canadians do not have to be anti-American to prove we are independent. We share many priorities and our relations should be cordial and constructive. Since 9/11, Al Qaeda's threats and attacks have driven us closer.
But many Canadians do not share Bush's views on Afghanistan, the Mideast, softwood or Kyoto. They do not see the Harper government making good on its pledge to champion core Canadian values and interests.
The Star believes there is good reason to be concerned that Canada's traditional support for the United Nations, multilateralism, peacekeeping and international law and treaties will wither under this government. And we are concerned about whether Canada's foreign aid will be meaningfully increased and spent on the very poorest, and whether Canada will accept its responsibility to protect civilians swept up in political chaos and violence in places such as Haiti, the Middle East or Darfur, Sudan.
Just as important, we believe that if we continue on this path, Canada will no longer be seen by much of the world as a positive agent of change, a voice for social justice and an honest broker.
In fact, it is in Washington's own broader interest to have, in Canada, an ally that has credibility in the world. As Washington canvasses for allies abroad, Canada can play a useful mediating role, provided our credibility is high. In an increasingly divided world, Canada's wealth, global connections through our diverse population and vast energy resources should empower us to exert more influence, not less.
For the world needs both a superpower and it needs a peacekeeper.
The U.S. is the superpower, which allows it, in the right circumstances, to be a positive force for change that can bring stability, prosperity and freedom to lands troubled by armed conflict, poverty or natural disasters. And Canada can be the peacekeeper, a role we once performed with pride.
These are all issues the Liberal party must debate during its current leadership race. They are also issues all of us must ponder because they are critical to Canada's independence and image in the world.

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