2015/03/05 Leave a comment
Former Canadian Ambassador to Beijing, and Foreign Policy Advisor to PM, David Mulroney on the Harper Government. Picks up many of the same themes in my book Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism (disclosure David is a former colleague of mine):
David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, says Canada should boost its economic and diplomatic ties with China and even reinforce its naval presence off the west coast to show its serious about being a player in the region.
But Harper has failed to show adequate leadership and has been wildly inconsistent, with periods of estrangement and hostility followed by flurries of activity to try to woo Beijing, according to the ex-diplomat.
Government policy is too often directed by political partisans with “extreme ideological” agendas, who are motivated only by the goal of winning votes in immigrant communities in Canada.
“We need leadership from the top,” writes Mulroney, who was named Harper’s senior foreign and defence policy adviser when the Conservatives took power in 2006.
His book Middle Power, Middle Kingdom, to be published later this month by Penguin Canada, is likely to be controversial. His concern about Chinese money boosting housing costs in cities like Vancouver, reported in Tuesday’s Vancouver Sun, led to number of readers to contact The Sun sharing those concerns.
Mulroney, now at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, is particularly critical of Canadian prime ministers — and especially Harper — who have used foreign policy to win favour with diaspora groups within Canada.
He said political leaders in countries such as India and China are decidedly unimpressed when a prime minister shows up with Canadian MPs returning to their, or their ancestors’, country of origin.
He said Harper is treating foreign leaders as “mere props” participating in “photo opportunities” aimed at ethnic media back in Canada.
“It would be naive and undemocratic to argue that domestic politics has no place in our foreign policy,” he writes. “But political leaders need to rely on something more than the most recent polling data in navigating international issues.”
Mulroney also challenges the Harper government’s “increasing preference” for rhetoric — “the more extreme the better” — over behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
“The resulting ‘megaphone diplomacy’ is gratifying to some audiences at home, but it erodes and undercuts whatever real influence Canada might have had.”
He says Canada’s approach to China needed an overhaul when the Liberals were ousted in 2006, as the Liberal “Team Canada” trade mission strategy had become outdated. Mulroney also argues that China’s human rights violations were becoming increasingly problematic for Canadians, and that the federal Liberal party under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin was “equally unbalanced on the side of unwarranted optimism and uncritical acceptance” of China.
And he in no way underplays China’s dark side, pointing out that China aggressively spies in Canada.
And Beijing also undermines long-standing work by Canada and other western countries in promoting democratic values in developing countries.
“China does support odious regimes, and it is a challenger of the liberal international order.”
The author, who notes that Harper and many of his ministers and aides have long treated Canadian diplomats as “incompetent and politically unreliable” closet Liberals, also acknowledges that some of his foreign service colleagues aren’t faultless.
“They contributed to this caricature through their own inability to fully respect the concerns that motivated the newly elected government.”
But he says Conservative mistrust of its bureaucratic advisers went to strange lengths, and cites the close relationship between former Foreign Minister John Baird and China’s former ambassador to Canada, Zhang Junsai.
Baird was unusually candid with the diplomat about Canada’s objectives — a frankness which wasn’t reciprocated — and the two consulted closely during and after Baird’s trips to China while senior Canadian diplomats were left out.
My favourite line:
“It was as if it was more damning to be suspected of having liberal sympathies than it was to actually be a Communist, and as if the Canadian government was intent on conducting foreign policy without its public service.”