The Harper Era in Canadian Foreign Policy: Parliament, Politics, and Canada’s Global Posture
Edited by Adam Chapnick and Christopher J. Kukucha
UBC Press, 2016, 300 pp.
Beyond Afghanistan: An International Security Agenda for Canada
Edited by James G. Fergusson and Francis Furtado
UBC Press, 2016, 326 pp.
The United States is extraordinarily fortunate to have friendly neighbors to both the north and the south. Relations with Mexico can sometimes become fraught, owing in part to the politics of immigration in the United States and to lingering resentment in Mexico over the nineteenth-century U.S. annexation of Mexican territory. In contrast, Canada is a staunch U.S. ally and a committed member of NATO. Indeed, The Harper Era in Canadian Foreign Policy asks whether who is in power in Ottawa even matters much for Canadian foreign policy, given the depth of Canada’s collaboration with its far more powerful partner to the south. Not surprisingly, the contributing authors find more continuity than change in Canadian foreign policy, regardless of who serves as prime minister and whether he or she leads a majority or a minority government. Even so, Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party, who held the office from 2006 to 2015, had an impact on Canadian political culture: he mimicked U.S. neoconservatism by advocating military interventions, de-emphasized North American trilateralism, reduced public funding for his ideological opponents in academia and the nonprofit sector, narrowed the range of Canada’s human rights advocacy, and sought to separate the issue of reproductive rights from the broader issue of gender equality. Despite Harper’s aggressive language, however, defense spending as a percentage of GDP declined during his tenure. Interestingly, in a convergence with long-standing U.S. political practice, Harper more closely aligned Canadian foreign policy with the interests of certain immigrant and ethnic groups.
In Beyond Afghanistan, Canadian security experts review their nation’s participation in nato and in the war in Afghanistan. They take pride in
the performance of Canada’s flexible, mobile, combat-ready forces, which boast particularly strong airlift capacity. Yet they find that the Canadian public—facing no proximate security threats and more inclined to tend to domestic needs than to foreign causes—has grown wary of military adventures. Canada has developed an informed community of security specialists in government, academia, and the nonprofit sector but needs to get better at long-term strategic planning. Canada benefits from the protective umbrella of the United States and has the luxury of a largely discretionary foreign policy. The authors call for an informed public debate to better identify Canada’s national interests, a conversation that would be enriched by realistic assessments of national capabilities and international security challenges.