This was my Huffington Post contribution for today on how Canada’s new foreign policy mandate has everything to do with business and little to do with diplomacy or development. Here’s the link directly to the piece.
At first blush, the recent decision of the Canadian government to shift its foreign affairs focus from diplomacy to servicing private industry came as something of a shock to many. What about our past record of being facilitators for peace? What became of our vaunted reputation in the quiet corridors of the United Nations, where we had once been effective collaborators for humanity and development?
The reality is that those days have been gone for some time. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to link everything foreign to our domestic economic interests should have been obvious when he altered the Canadian foreign aid and development architecture to focus on helping Canadian firms in distant lands instead of focusing on getting families out of poverty, of assisting women to get into leadership positions in their respective communities, and for training local indigenous communities to learn how to grow sustainably, with a clear eye towards environmental consequences. Those days are now in our past, and in their place stands just another institution dedicated to globalization.
So, while the move to take the intricacies of soft power diplomacy out of foreign affairs and replace them with the corporate business mindset was expected by many, the implications are already changing how the rest of the world views our legacy. We have become just another nation interested in building up its own wealth at the expense of being an effective influence in the larger struggles facing the globe — poverty, climate change, localized conflicts, and a general breaking down of democracy’s legitimacy. Colonialism is being revisited.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has titled their new agenda The Global Markets Action Plan. That says it all right there. It’s taking the TSX more global, regardless of the sophisticated dynamics of international relations. Someone in the department that I knew well in my time as a Member of Parliament told me of her discouragement at the new development. “We’ve become just like everybody else. It’s not about diplomacy, but the dollar.” She is not alone in that sentiment among her co-workers.
It’s not as though the government is being coy about its purposes. They have put it right out there in statements like, “All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshaled on behalf of the private sector.” Did you get that? “All” of our diplomatic assets. In other words, for the top right on down, the department is being redesigned as a facilitator of globalized capitalism. It’s all there right in the statement: “on behalf of the private sector.”
Well, what about the public sector, or the people of Canada, or the countless groups working in difficult regions around the world in order to bring conflicts into peaceful resolutions and who have depending on Canada’s historic diplomatic framework to pursue and support their more altruistic purposes?
According to the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson, numerous senior officials in the department gave push back, complaining that it was no less than a “culture shift” that would take Canada out of its historic legacy which had earned this country sustained plaudits. Ibbitson quotes one official describing the change as, “Take off your tweed jacket, buy a business suit, and land us a deal.”
In a time when every Western government stands accused of bonding too closely with the corporate business agenda, the identity of those on the advisory panel for these changes can only enforce that perception: former Liberal minister John Manley, now serving as head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; Catherine Swift of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business; former Conservative minister, Perrin Beatty, head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce; and Jayson Myers, CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. With counsel from such individuals, the final conclusion was already pre-determined, and it will only serve to alienate even more Canadians from the status-quo corporate agenda of this particular government.
Will all this mean more jobs for Canadians? Unknown. But it will put more wealth in the financial accounts of the 1 per cent. The real effects of this shift will be felt in all those regions around the world where Canadian influence often spelled the difference between peace or war, education or ignorance, poverty or self-sufficiency, and patriarchy or true gender equality.
By serving as the head waiter for the international corporate community, Canada has lost its opportunity to build on a profound legacy of service to the world. In an increasingly troubled global community, Canada has become just another nation of gold diggers.