The international community’s rejection of Canada’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council is not a surprise. In the below introduction to my new book, House of Mirrors: Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy, published this year by Black Rose Books, I detail how Liberal foreign policy has largely mimicked that of Stephen Harper, who lost a bid for a Security Council seat in 2010.
Justin Trudeau presents himself as “progressive” on foreign affairs. The Liberals claim to have brought Canada “back” after the disastrous Stephen Harper government. This book will demonstrate the opposite.
While promising to “make a real and valuable contribution to a more peaceful and prosperous world”, Trudeau has largely continued the Conservatives pro-corporate/empire international policies. The Liberals have followed the previous government’s posture on a wide range of issues from Russia to Palestine, Venezuela to the military.
In 2017 the Liberals released a defence policy that called for 605 more special forces, which have carried out numerous violent covert missions abroad. During the 2015 election campaign defence minister Jason Kenney said if re-elected the Conservatives would add 665 members to the Canadian Armed Forces Special Operations Command. The government’s defence policy also included a plan to acquire armed drones, for which the Conservatives had expressed support. Additionally, the Liberals re-stated the previous government’s commitment to spend over one hundred billion dollars on new fighter jets and naval ships.
The Harper regime repeatedly attacked Venezuela’s elected government and the Liberals ramped up that campaign. The Trudeau government launched an unprecedented, multipronged, effort to overthrow Nicolás Maduro’s government. As part of this campaign, they aligned with the most reactionary political forces in the region, targeting Cuba and recognizing a Honduran president who stole an election he shouldn’t have participated in. Juan Orlando Hernández’ presidency was the outgrowth of a military coup the Conservatives tacitly endorsed in 2009.
In Haiti the Liberals propped up the chosen successor of neo-Duvalerist President Michel Martelly who Harper helped install. Despite a sustained popular uprising against Jovenel Moïse, the Liberals backed the repressive, corrupt and illegitimate president.
The Trudeau government continues to justify Israeli violence against Palestinians and supports Israel’s illegal occupation. Isolating Canada from world opinion, they voted against dozens of UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights backed by most of the world.
Initiated by the Conservatives, the Liberals signed off on a $14 billion Light Armoured Vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia. The Liberals followed Harper’s path of cozying up to other repressive Middle East monarchies, which waged war in Yemen. They also contributed to extending the brutal war in Syria and broke their promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran, which the Conservatives severed.
The Liberals renewed Canada’s military “training” mission in the Ukraine, which emboldened far-right militarists responsible for hundreds of deaths in the east of that country. In fact, Trudeau significantly bolstered Canada’s military presence on Russia’s doorstep. Simultaneously, the Trudeau government expanded Harper’s sanctions against Russia.
On China the Liberals were torn between corporate Canada and militarist/pro-US forces. They steadily moved away from the corporate sphere and towards the militarist/US Empire standpoint. (During their time in office the Conservatives moved in the opposite direction.) Ottawa seemed to fear that peace might break out on the Korean Peninsula.
Unlike his predecessor, Trudeau didn’t sabotage international climate negotiations. But the Liberals flouted their climate commitments and subsidized infrastructure to expand heavy emitting fossil fuels.
Ignoring global inequities, the Liberals promoted the interests of corporations and wealth holders in various international forums. They backed corporate interests through trade accords, Export Development Canada and the Trade Commissioner Service. Their support for SNC Lavalin also reflected corporate influence over foreign policy.
In a stark betrayal of their progressive rhetoric, the Trudeau regime failed to follow through on their promise to rein in Canada’s controversial international mining sector. Instead they mimicked the Conservatives’ strategy of establishing a largely toothless ombudsperson while openly backing brutal mining companies.
To sell their pro-corporate and empire policies the Liberals embraced a series of progressive slogans. As they violated international law and spurned efforts to overcome pressing global issues, the Liberals crowed about the “international rules-based order”. Their “feminist foreign policy” rhetoric rested uneasily with their militarism, support for mining companies and ties to misogynistic monarchies.
Notwithstanding the rhetoric, the sober reality is that Trudeau has largely continued Harper’s foreign policy. The “Ugly Canadian” continued to march across the planet, but with a prettier face at the helm.
My 2012 book The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy detailed the first six-and-a-half years of Harper’s rule. This book looks at the first four years of Trudeau’s reign. I will discuss the many ways Canadian foreign policy under Conservative and Liberal governments remained the same. Support for empire and a pro-corporate neoliberal economic order is the common theme that links the actions of conservative and self-described “progressive” prime ministers.
Please sign this petition calling for a fundamental reassessment of Canadian foreign policy.
Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.