Canada

THE MANLEY WAY

Canada's foreign minister is emphasizing realpolitik over humanitarianism

JULIAN BELTRAME June 4 2001
Canada

THE MANLEY WAY

Canada's foreign minister is emphasizing realpolitik over humanitarianism

JULIAN BELTRAME June 4 2001

THE MANLEY WAY

Canada's foreign minister is emphasizing realpolitik over humanitarianism

Canada

JULIAN BELTRAME

Let’s get this out of the way quickly. John Manley is bland. How bland? So bland he doesn’t drink coffee. Instead, he sips hot water when in need of a pickerupper, which may explain why he seldom appears wired. He favours blue suits—grey when he really wants to cut loose. His helmet-head hair is so tighdy coiffed a windstorm couldn’t muss it. Last year, he celebrated turning 50 by running a marathon. Friends and colleagues scratch their heads

when asked to recall the last time Manley lost his temper or caused a political storm. The word they most often use to describe the Ottawa-born foreign affairs minister is “pragmatic,” or sometimes “practical.” Contrast Manley, who was named to the prestigious cabinet post last October after seven uncontroversial years at Industry, with his predecessor Lloyd Axworthy. From 1996 until he quit politics last fall, the volatile Winnipegger put his stamp on the august department like no one before

him since Lester B. Pearson. Building on Canada’s peacekeeping reputation as a fair player, Axworthy tested the boundaries of principle-based “soft power,” irritating the United States over issues like nation-building, nuclear arms, Cuba, and Washington’s proposed National Missile Defence program. He put Canada on the international affairs map by successfully spearheading the drive that culminated in an historic anti-land-mines treaty in 1997.

On the surface, the transition from Ax-

worthy to Manley seems to be from dynamic to dull. But something more profound may be happening. Manley seems to be pushing Canadas foreign policy towards a new phase dominated by realpolitik concerns, where trade and economic interests override idealistic initiatives aimed at making the world more humane. Sentimentality also appears to get short shrift—witness the ministers recent dismissal of the monarchy as an outdated institution for Canada. And yet, many foreign policy analysts inside and outside government are already embracing Manleys no-nonsense approach. “The earlier stuff had sort of run its course,” said one senior foreign affairs offreer. “There’s only so many land-mine treaties you can get.”

Manley makes no pretence of picking up where Axworthy left off. In a recent interview with Macleans in his Parliament Hill office, he said he has not abandoned his predecessor’s “human security agenda,” but quickly added that he views Foreign Affairs as primarily an “economic portfolio.” And the former tax lawyer stresses that keeping Canada’s relationship with its largest trading partner well oiled is his top priority. That doesn’t mean falling in line with everything Washington decides. But it means picking Canada’s fights carefully, he says, and choosing scraps Ottawa stands a chance of winning. “Any time you’re going to take on somebody who’s bigger, richer and more powerful than you are, you’ve got to be pretty careful,” Manley says.

Just seven months into the job, Manley is already methodically refashioning Axworthy’s policies. In April, he pointedly refused to champion Cuba’s participation in the free trade discussions at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. In March, he re-established full diplomatic relations with India, lifting a series of sanctions imposed in 1998 over New Delhi’s continued intransigence over nuclear arms testing. He has steered clear of his predecessor’s call that NATO renounce the use of nuclear weapons except in self-defence against nuclear attack, a controversial cause that drew the ire of Washington and some of Canada’s European allies. And unlike Axworthy, who went out of his way in the last month of his tenure to criticize National Missile Defence, Manley has hinted that, in the final analysis, Canada might support it, and even participate in building a shield against foreign missiles if the concept proved workable. He pointedly notes

that Canada’s defence industry, which employs about 65,000 people, largely exists to supply the United States. “Certainly, we’d have to take into account the benefit we have from a close relationship, both in terms of our own security requirements as well as the quite significant business element to this,” he explains.

The most widely publicized manifestation of Manley’s no-nonsense instinct was his response to the killing of an Ottawa woman by an apparendy drunk Russian diplomat in January. Surprised in the House of Commons by an allegation that

the envoy, Andrei Knyazev, had been previously cited for driving while impaired, Manley made no attempt to hide his displeasure with the bureaucrats who had failed to give him the full picture. Shortly afterward, he instituted new rules to suspend for one year the driver’s licence of any foreign envoy suspected of drinking and driving by police. A second offence, he decreed, would result in swift expulsion. Manley still rankles at the roadblocks he encountered while trying to obtain information from his own department. Insiders say Manley castigated officials afterwards, earning the enmity of some and the respect of many others.

Manley is not without his detractors. NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson believes he has too narrow an understand-

ing of Canadian interests. Robinson says Manley is timidly surrendering Canada’s foreign policy independence in his eagerness to appease Washington. “It’s like we’re back to the days of the Brian and Ronnie show,” he says, referring to the close relationship between former prime minister Brian Mulroney and former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. And where, Robinson asks, is the principled view of the world that Axworthy brought to foreign affairs?

Defenders point out that Manley faces a different environment than the one Axworthy walked into in 1996. Back then, the U.S. president was Bill Clinton, an interventionist Democrat who shared many of Axworthy’s concerns about weapons proliferation, human rights and security. Now, Manley must deal with George W Bush, a Republican who has shown little interest in Canada, and whose foreign-policy priorities—to the extent that he has any—focus on closer relations with Latin America, particularly Mexico. “The relationship with the United States was not a priority under Axworthy,” says Barbara McDougall, who served as external affairs minister under Mulroney. “But given Bush’s orientation towards the south, it’s very important now that we build those bridges.” Manley began that process in Quebec City, where he discussed international economic co-operation I with Bush. Since both have completed a marathon, they also talked running. “They got along well,” boasted a Manley aide.

Even without Bush changing the equation, Canada’s foreign policy would have been in for an overhaul under Manley. “He comes from a completely different background than Axworthy,” says Harald von Riekhoff, who teaches political science at Carleton University in Ottawa. Manley’s task at Industry was to prepare the country for the Information Age and globalization, and his contacts were primarily “industrial and corporate,” says von Riekhoff. Axworthy relied on a network of activists, researchers and left-leaning academics, sometimes referred to as his “Winnipeg schoolchildren.” If that sounds like Axworthy was tapping into a more interesting well, so be it. Manley can at least boast he’s closer to the power centres that can achieve the more earthbound results he seeks. ESI