CANADA

A change of heart

WARREN CARAGATA March 21 1994
CANADA

A change of heart

WARREN CARAGATA March 21 1994

A change of heart

CANADA

Under the Liberals, foreign policy will stress economics over human rights

A valet brings coffee in china cups and juice in tumblers of cut glass. A curtain of tinted windows offers a fine view of Sussex Drive and the riverfront homes of the Prime Minister and the British high commissioner.

The elegant offices of Canada’s minister of foreign affairs seem light-years from the workingclass streets of Papineau/St. Michel, in Montreal’s east end, that André Ouellet has represented in Parliament since 1967. And Ouellet, the pugnacious veteran of backroom Quebec patronage and politics, bristles when asked how he has adapted to the more genteel world of diplomacy. “Maybe you have a bad impression of me,” he says, covering evident irritation with a laugh. “I think I could become a good diplomat.”

But while Ouellet, 54, takes pride in his post as Canada’s chief representative to the world, he has not forsaken his political roots in one of Canada’s poorest ridings. So when he says that Canada’s foreign policy is in for a make-over, with more emphasis on domestic economics, Ouellet is defining the tasks of Canadian diplomacy in terms that his constituents would probably understand. ‘The key priority of this government is to create jobs,” Ouellet told Maclean’s in a recent interview. From conversations with Ouellet and other Liberal policymakers, it appears that Canada under the Liberals will be less outspoken about human rights, less lavish with foreign aid, less ready to sign up for peacekeeping duties—and more aggressive in promoting Canadian exports. “Our interests,” Ouellet explains, “are to promote trade, to promote sales of Canadian goods and services.”

Ouellet and International Trade Minister Roy MacLaren sketched out some of the government’s plans last week in separate appearances before the Commons foreign affairs committee that marked the start of a yearlong review of how Canada interacts with the rest of the world. MacLaren stressed that trade policy and foreign policy are the same thing. “I make no distinction,” he told the committee.

By early next year, the government

will spell out where it believes foreign

policy should be headed. The House of Commons is to debate the issue this week, and the following week Ouellet will bring together 120 foreign-policy experts at a two-day public forum in Ottawa. But it is clear that Ouellet and MacLaren already have a pretty good idea of where they want to go—and it is a direction that contrasts sharply with the traditions of Canadian foreign policy set by a small circle of diplomats and bureaucrats, led by Liberal icon Lester Pearson, in the aftermath of the Second World War.

That was a time when Canada defined its global interests generously. When Canadians looked then at their re-

flection in the eyes of the world, it was easy to like what they saw: a smallish country with a big heart, a loyal member of the NATO alliance—but with the courage to disagree at times with its friends and to search out the middle path of compromise. But the end of the

Cold War shattered that cozy self-image. ‘We’ve lost our compass because the world has changed,” says Keith Krause, acting director of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies at Toronto’s York University.

It was not only the world that changed. So, too, did Canadians, their humanitarian instincts blunted by deficits and recession. Pollster Michael Adams, president of Environics Research in Toronto, says Canadians are no longer stirred by noble motives but by a cold evaluation of Canadian interests. “Having good motives, or humanitarian motives, is not enough,” says Adams, describing the public mood.

To Earl Drake, a senior member of the Canada-China Business Council, some of the changes were apparent even during the first days of the Liberal government last

November. A week after being sworn in as

minister, MacLaren flew to Vancouver to speak to the council’s annual meeting, then returned to Ottawa to welcome Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Wu Yi. Drake, who was Canada’s ambassador to China at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and is now retired, says the two events were a welcome sign that Canada is finally putting Tiananmen aside and emphasizing closer relations with the People’s Republic. ‘We’re back in the loop,” says Drake.

Stronger ties with China and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region are a key element of the Liberals’ plans to redesign foreign policy. Ouellet maintains that for too long after the Tiananmen massacre, Canada continued to publicly lecture Chinese officials about abuses of human rights. “Other countries have been much quicker to forget Tiananmen Square and come back and re-establish diplomatic, friendly, cordial relations,” he says. High-volume criticism, Ouellet adds, is a thing of the past. In fact, following MacLaren’s meeting with Wu, there was no public scolding over human rights— just talk about trade. Ouellet says he shares the view of business leaders like Felix Li, executive director of the Canada-China council, that Canada hurt its economic interests by refusing to turn the page on Tiananmen. We have,” Li contends, “been losing out in the past few years because we have been more vocal.”

No one can point to a particular sale or project that was lost because of Canada’s stand on human rights. But business leaders contend that trade opportunities, and the jobs that go with them, have slipped away. While Canadian exports to China have been increasing over the past several years, Statistics Canada figures show that Canada has actually been falling behind its competitors as surging economic growth in China resulted in a flood of imports. Canadian exports to China climbed by a seemingly impressive 23 per cent from 1990 to 1992. During the same period, though, the Japanese pushed up their exports to China by 82 per cent, the Germans 50 per cent and the Americans 47 per cent.

Government officials say they realize that to recapture market share Canada must do more than just stop hectoring Chinese leaders; in particular, Canadian companies must be more aggressive in China’s competitive new business environment. One early move came with the appointment of Vancouver MP Raymond Chan, who was bom in Hong Kong, to the new post of junior minister for the Asia-Pacific region. Charles Shiu, vice-president for Asia-Pacific strategy at Northern Telecom, says Chan’s appointment was a welcome signal that the Liberals will pay more attention to Asia. Chan, a human-rights activist before his election in October, has no problem with the government’s unabashed emphasis on promoting trade. “I am a salesman for Canada,” he says proudly.

Ouellet insists that Canada will not be silent about rights abuses. Rather, he says, it will look for ways to make its points “without compromising our chance of doing business.” And he believes that public scoldings rarely have the intended effect, that quieter diplomacy is often more effective. That stance contrasts with the position the Liberals took in opposition. After Tiananmen, the Liberals criticized the Conservative government for allowing mercantile considerations to get in the way of Canada’s concern for human rights. They demanded tougher action beyond the measures the Tories had taken: cutting trade promotion programs, some aid projects and high-level contacts with Chinese officials.

If Canada under the Liberals is going to be less vocal about human rights, the signs are that it will also be somewhat less generous on both foreign aid and peacekeeping. ‘We have had probably the luxury to be everywhere,” Ouellet says. “The financial reality of today dictates that we probably have to be more selective.” In peacekeeping, the government broke new ground last month just by raising the question of whether Canada would continue to participate in the United Nations mission in Bosnia when its current commitment there expires. And while the government said last week that the mission would be extended for another six months, Ouellet said no one should take Canadian participation for granted. “We want to give a clear indication that we are not there forever,” he said. Ottawa’s total budget for peacekeeping, including both an assessment from the United Nations and direct costs incurred by the defence department, will drop in the 1994-1995 fiscal year to $339 million from $371.2 million the previous year.

In foreign aid, too, the Liberals are trimming costs. The government’s Feb. 22 budget cut aid spending by two per cent for the next fiscal year and froze spending after that until 1996-1997. The reduction, to $2.6 billion from $2.7 billion, follows substantial cuts by the former Conservative government. About 80 per cent of Canadian aid is channelled through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and even before the budget, Ouellet made it clear that the agency would have to get by with less. But while CIDA may be overhauled, Ouellet pledged that the Liberals will not make the kind of bone-deep cuts demanded by the Reform party. “By and large,” says the minister, “Canadians expect that their government is going to continue to give a very large sum of money to assist the poorer of the world.”

There is little doubt, however, that the Liberals are going to be much more hard-headed about defining Canadian interests abroad. “Canada has been a scout, ready to serve on demand,” Ouellet says. Those days appear to be over—and the minister is betting that the people of Papineau/St. Michel will approve.

WARREN CARAGATA

LUKE FISHER