Can Canada Recover?

The nation’s international image and global leadership were lost during the Harper years, but there is a way forward.

By Constantine E. Passaris.

Countries don’t always live up to their national image on the international stage, but for many decades, Canada earned its global reputation through action. During the recently ended era of Stephen Harper’s leadership, however, Canada lost its traditional navigational compass, creating a chasm between how the nation saw itself and how it acted.

The last ten years have left Canada’s international stature and reputation in dire need of repair. A sequence of missteps and miscalculations resulted in Canada losing its place of prominence on the global podium. The recent election of Justin Trudeau, whose father forged a legacy for Canada during 15 years of leadership in the 70s and 80s, reveals that Canadians want their nation to once again be a global leader, but Canada has its work cut out if the country is going to restore its international image.

An examination of Canada’s international record in the recent past reveals numerous examples of Canada’s missteps into a foreign policy wilderness. At the top of the list is Canada’s failed attempt to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2010—the result of the decline in the potency of Canada’s soft power diplomacy. This was the first time Canada had campaigned for a seat at the Security Council and failed to win one, an embarrassing milestone for the country. The successful candidate was Portugal, a country with less than one-third of Canada’s population and which was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time.

Canada’s relationship with the United States is another case in point. The Harper government fostered a frosty relationship with the Obama White House, in sharp contrast to the cozy relationship that existed between Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Antagonizing a traditional friend and powerful ally is weak foreign policy. The results can be seen in the …

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