Trudeau Pivots Away From U.S. in Embracing Multilateralism

  • Foreign minister lays out Canada’s middle-power vision
  • Speech casts nation’s interests in sharp contrast to Trump’s

Trudeau Pivots Away From U.S. in Multilateralism Embrace

Canada is ready to move ahead without its closest global ally if forced to choose between relying on international partners or an increasingly isolationist U.S., a top minister said.

In the most definitive statement of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy since the election of President Donald Trump, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told lawmakers in Ottawa the country will continue to support international alliances -- both commercial and military -- because these ties are in the best interest of a “middle power” like Canada.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” Freeland said Tuesday. “For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order.”

Trump has rattled global capitals since taking office, drawing sharp criticism from Germany and France last week for his withdrawal from the Paris climate-change accord and his attacks on the effectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The situation is more delicate for Canada, which shares the world’s longest international border with the U.S. and is heavily reliant on it for trade and security.

“It has always been essential for Canada to at least be in sync with its neighbor, but that neighbor is making it difficult,” said Elliot Tepper, a professor of international relations at Carleton University in Ottawa. “Canada has drawn the logical conclusion -- as other states are doing -- that if the U.S. doesn’t wish to lead, Canada and others will do so.”

Climate Dismay

Tuesday’s speech cast Canada’s interests in sharp contrast to those of the Trump administration, which Trudeau has to date been reluctant to criticize. Freeland, however, expressed deep disappointment at the U.S. abandonment of the Paris pact and said the existing international order helps constrain powerful nations.

“Whatever their politics, Canadians understand that, as a middle power living next to the world’s only super power, Canada has a huge interest in an international order based on rules,” Freeland said. “One in which might is not always right. One in which more powerful countries are constrained in their treatment of smaller ones by standards that are internationally respected, enforced and upheld.”

Canadian sovereignty also means Canada must avoid being too dependent on the U.S. for security, she said. Here are some of the other highlights of the speech:

  • The government will make a “substantial” investment in the military to be announced Wednesday, seek a seat on the United Nations Security Council, look for progressive trade deals and unveil Canada’s first feminist international assistance policy. That will include supporting abortion rights.
  • Freeland said some American voters appeared to “shrug off the burden of world leadership” that has helped along with global partners to underpin decades of global security.
  • Trudeau’s top diplomat also said the world must find positive ways to bring emerging nations such as China into the global economic system, avoid blaming the struggles of middle-class workers on “fiendish behavior by foreigners,” and seek to protect immigrants, women and minorities such as gays and lesbians.
  • Freeland gave her remarks in a special break from Parliament’s usual schedule, laying out seven decades of global partnerships that Canada helped shape at the end of World War II such as the Bretton Woods agreement that built the global financial system. The country would be “wrong” to embrace a “Canada first” policy now and must build new coalitions to take on security challenges such as terrorism from Islamic State, North Korea’s dictatorship and “Russian military adventurism.” 
  • Canada will still seek to work with the U.S. for a “greater” North American Free Trade Agreement and for other opportunities on environmental protection.
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