The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: foreign affairs

Canada Abandons a Former Partner

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Jane with an observer from the European Union during the South Sudan referendum

The following in my Huffington Post piece regarding the news that the Government of Canada has opted to significantly remove its presence in south Sudan during one of that country’s worst crises.  You can view the original article here.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

It won’t be easy. It’s never been simple. But for over 15 years a large number of Canadians have been investing in such initiatives, even during some of the worst years of the now-concluded civil war. During those early occasions, Canada’s reputation had been sullied by the presence of a Canadian oil firm that, in Southern Sudanese eyes, was making a fortune out of their misery. Eventually the firm pulled out and we sensed a warming to Canada as our government invested more deeply in peace initiatives and relief efforts, and as it became clear that we weren’t just interested in financial gain.

Some very capable Canadian diplomats were of key assistance in constructing and funding some of the key efforts required to end the war between north and south Sudan following so many decades. And Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which had provided such stellar service during the war years, assisted in helping the Southern Sudanese move forward as they peacefully achieved independence and became the world’s newest nation. For years, the Sudanese conflict had remained high on the radar for successive Canadian governments, who worked in conjunction with many of their international partners in that deeply troubled part of the world.

But being a new nation with limited resources doesn’t make for an easy transition into good governance. Tribes that had held together to fend off the incursions of north Sudan during the lengthy war have started to come apart over the problems of administering the peace. The recent troubles in the south that sprung up only a month ago, and the instability that has resulted, has pressed that African region to the precipice. Western nations that had so greatly assisted in early years but who had moved on to other regions are quickly returning with new initiatives to assist the south in holding itself together as it journeys towards adulthood as a nation.

Sadly, one of those countries will not be Canada. For well over a decade, Sudan had been a Canadian priority. But just this week, the Harper government, through its Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has recommended, “that Canada consider downgrading its development program (in Sudan), or exiting entirely.”

CIDA correctly figured that it was going to prove difficult to administer aid in the south. But that’s the way it has been for decades. Some of Canada’s most effective investments occurred during the civil war’s costliest years. This country, along with the U.S., Britain, the European Union, and others, kept their eye on the ball, slowly but progressively nursing that troubled country into an era where peace became a possibility.

What’s the reason for Canada’s change of heart and focus? According to an internal reportacquired by the Globe and Mail, Sudan is no longer an area of “strategic importance” to this government. Both Foreign Affairs and CIDA have been instructed to implement a new era in international intervention, primarily focused on what’s best for Canadian business. At the moment, little such opportunity seems apparent in Sudan and downgrading this country’s historic investment has been recommended.

All this is transpiring just as Sudan requires not only Canada’s ongoing partnership, but its influential diplomatic expertise. The Globe and Mail’s release of the internal report reveals that all this couldn’t have come at a worse time. In preparation for our trip to South Sudan in a few days, we learned that numerous contacts at various levels have been taken aback by what for them is even more fulsome evidence that Canada has lost its way in recent years.

While the United Nations has put out an emergency appeal for one billion dollars from donor countries to assist the Sudanese effort, tongues have already begun to wag in capitals throughout the West about how Canada appears to have gone AWOL. As one American government official told me today, “It’s now difficult to know how to involve your country in these important security and development issues anymore.”

All this will be embarrassing and not a tad sad to speak about with the Southern Sudanese. But, as with those earlier times, we will remind them that the people of Canada will continue in their interest and investment in a troubled country even as our own government loses interest. But hanging over all of us will be the understanding that Canada is leaving the southern Sudanese to their own fate, in this, their adolescent years as a new nation. Some investment will continue, but our government’s imagination is gone. This is not our finest hour.

Capitalist Diplomacy

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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.

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