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The World Needs An Independent Canada In The Age Of Trump

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As we near the hundred-day mark of U.S. President Donald Trump's presidency, many Canadians are concerned about a shift in Trudeau's government's foreign policy. Instead of keeping the promises made by Trudeau for constructive engagement and the return of Canada as a force for peace in the world, Canadians are seeing a government which is obediently following an increasingly unstable and bellicose U.S. administration.

Perhaps no example of this unfortunate tendency is as salient as what happened earlier this month in Syria. Within 24 hours, our prime minister expressed two opposing views on Syria, following in lock-step the about-face of U.S. President Donald Trump on the matter. At first, Trudeau reacted in an admirably measured fashion to the gross and violent chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun in Syria; he called for an independent investigation while condemning the attack. However, less than 24 hours later he very publicly supported the rash and potentially disastrous military intervention of Donald Trump and called for regime change in Syria.


When Prime Minister Trudeau stated in 2015 that "Canada is back," many observers were hopeful that this would mean a Canadian foreign policy in which Canada took its historic place as an honest mediator. The hope was that Canada would help usher in an age of diplomatic solutions and peace: reducing conflict and standing up to tides of war. This path would not only be morally correct, but would also increase Canada's international reputation and influence.

However, what we've seen since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump has put that hope in jeopardy. Trudeau has reshuffled his cabinet, pushing the well-respected and fiercely progressive Stéphane Dion out of the position of foreign affairs minister. He has placed election promises such as re-engagement with Iran on the back-burner, and we stand on the cusp of two years without engagement with Iran while Canadian allies in Europe and elsewhere reap the economic benefits of the Nuclear Deal. He has hinted at greater sanctions on Russia and most recently has supported President Trump's deeply controversial and possibly irresponsible missile attacks on Syria, strikes which may deepen the conflict in the area and cause even more loss of innocent life.

This is in stark contrast to what the prime minister promised when he entered office. Canadians expect their country to chart an independent path in the world as an honest broker and a force for peace and stability in the world; they do not expect us to surrender our foreign policy to our larger neighbour to the south in the hopes of gains which are proving increasingly unlikely to materialize.

justin trudeau
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks about the U.S. air strikes in Syria during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 7, 2017. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Furthermore, to follow this deeply unpopular U.S. administration has its own risks. The first 100 days of Trump's presidency clearly demonstrate that he is unable or unwilling to build bridges and alliances around the world. Therefore, to follow Trump's international line may (or may not) put us on good terms with our largest trading partner in the short-term, but undermines Canada's long-term interests by putting into question our independence in the foreign policy realm.

Canada must go its own way in the foreign policy sphere and look out for its own interests, rather than following a visibly unstable and often irrational U.S. administration. Our leaders must take the long view and think about Canada's place in a post-Trump world. We must not allow our country be bullied by overblown fears of a renegotiation of NAFTA; we must also recognize that the world is changing and that Canada cannot rely on one international partner in perpetuity.

In a world shaken by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and instability in the Middle East and East Asia, the world needs middle powers such as Canada to take a leading and principled role. We must be willing and able to chart an independent path that will allow us to build new partnerships and alliances among the world's emerging powers and weather changes in administration in our neighbour to the south. This is what Canadians are expecting, and what I hope the prime minister will deliver in the coming months and years.

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