On October 1, Canadian federal party leaders were scheduled to have a Munk Debate on foreign policy, which, along with the Macleans CTV debate, Justin Trudeau declined to attend. Despite the prompt cancellation of the debate, Canada’s presence on the international stage remains pertinent to voters.

Development Aid

The Liberals promise to expand Canada’s efforts at multilateral projects with various multinational organizations including NATO and the UN, echoing Trudeau’s original campaign message in 2015. Trudeau has also prioritized feminist foreign policy as evinced by his adoption of the Feminist International Assistance Policy and claims that Canada “led the charge on advancing the UN Women’s Peace and Security agenda”. Trudeau also aims to allocate 10 per cent of international development assistance on education, prioritizing facilities for children in refugee camps. Thus far, however, Trudeau has contributed less foreign aid than his Conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper. 

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s most noteworthy foreign policy proposal is to reduce Canadian foreign aid spending by 25 per cent, with cuts in aid for “middle- and upper-income countries” and “hostile regimes”, namely North Korea, Iran, and Russia. Most Canadian aid to these countries is channeled through multinational humanitarian groups that direct funds to small businesses, health centres, and education. While members of the OECD agreed to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on foreign aid, under Scheer, the 0.28 per cent Canada currently spends would drop.

Distinguishing themselves from both Trudeau and Scheer, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May both intend to meet the OECD-recommended spending level on foreign aid. To improve global health, Singh calls for Canada to increase its aid to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and support healthcare systems in developing countries. May also intends to meet the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and use international development aid for more than “business interests overseas or strategic geopolitics”.

The Bloc Québécois, under Yves François Blanchet, supports the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine which demands that Quebec maintain an independent position on foreign policy. Blanchet also argues that Canada must consult with Quebec before taking a position within UNESCO. To address what Blanchet argues is the suppression of Quebecois culture on an international level, he also  plans to create national sports teams to compete internationally under Quebec colours.

The People’s Party of Canada leader Maxine Bernier draws significant differences from the other parties by promoting a protectionist Canadian foreign policy, contrasted with Trudeau’s “globalist vision”. Bernier believes that there are no compelling arguments for foreign aid, holding that poor countries are “those where governments are still crushing private initiative”.

Arguing that aid creates a cycle of dependency and curtails democracy abroad, the PPC calls for phasing out all development aid and “exclusively” prioritizing action in health crises, major conflicts and natural disasters. Bernier also plans to leave any multilateral agreement that he perceives is a threat to Canadian sovereignty, including the Global Compact on Migrations and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. While the party promises to keep Canadian presence in the United Nations to a minimum, the PPC will “prioritize relations” with the Trump administration.

Trade and Investment

Trudeau has championed his renegotiation of NAFTA, now USMCA, as a refusal to capitulate to American demands and a disciplined economic retaliation to US tariffs on steel and aluminum. He also highlights his role in finalizing the CPTPP, a free trade agreement with East Asia and Oceania containing many of the same provisions of the TPP, which became defunct after Trump’s withdrawal. Additionally, while CETA, a free trade agreement with the EU, was negotiated in 2014, Trudeau argued that his final changes to the deal protected Canadian jobs and the environment.

Scheer has criticized Trudeau for investing $250 million in the Chinese government-owned Asian Infrastructure Bank, after China arrested two Candian citizens during the Meng Wanzhou affair. Scheer also promises to bar Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, from participating in Canada’s 5G networks after cybersecurity threats from the company emerged. Singh promises to ensure that all negotiations fulfill the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, while allowing trade unions to initiate international trade disputes. He also guarantees that trade agreements will have a renewed focus on labour and human rights, avoid increasing pharmaceutical drug prices, and promote Canadian cultural and privacy rights.

Global Conflict

The Conservatives vow a tougher stance against Iran, with plans to use the Magnitsky Law to sanction suspected Iranian human rights offenders and join the US and Saudi Arabia in designating the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. Scheer also announced his intention to move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a territory disputed by both Israel and Palestine.

The NDP supports nuclear disarmament and a ban on Canadian-made weapons contributing to human rights abuses. In light of recent conflicts in the Middle East and the presence of Canadian tanks in Yemen, both the NDP and Green Party advocates ceasing all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including a $4-billion contract to supply Canadian-built armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. In addition, the NDP supports a renewal in Canada’s peacekeeping program that Trudeau reneged on after a short mission in Mali.

The Greens view the Canadian Armed Forces as particularly important in protecting Canada from rapidly melting Arctic ice, with May calling for a major Coast Guard expansion to defend the Canadian Arctic. In addition, the Greens plan on using the military to protect citizens from the increasing prevalence of forest fires, floods, and storms. Finally, May plans to ban autonomous weapons and ratify the Treaty to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding international agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons.

Edited by Eyitayo Kunle-Oladosu.

This article is part of a week-long series on the parties and their platforms ahead of the 2019 Canadian general election. See here for the rest of our election coverage. For information on how to vote on October 21st, click here. 

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association. 

Cover photo designed by Lauren Hill.