GUEST COLUMN: Scheer's back to basics sure beats Trudeau's bungling

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photos by The Canadian Press)

Share Adjust Comment Print


To sum up Andrew Scheer’s recent foreign policy speech in a sentence: Advance and protect Canadian interests abroad, stand proudly for the values Canadians we hold dear, strengthen our relationships with traditional allies, and leave Mr. Dress-Up’s tickle trunk at home.

After four years of Justin Trudeau’s “Canada is Back” bungling, a back to basics approach is ironically refreshing — and badly needed.

The old chestnut that the world needs more Canada was nice to hear 16 years ago when Bono first said it but we’ve really got to let it go. If only life were so simple.

The fact is Canada prospered throughout the 20th century because we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our European and American allies fighting against tyranny and then built the international order: rule of law, business and trade, and democratic society. The 21st century is shaping up to be more of the same, and Andrew Scheer is right to tell it like it is.

The threats to our way of life are as pervasive as they’ve ever been. The dreams of idealists hoping for democracy in Russia and China have been dashed. Peace in the Middle East has become a punchline — mostly due to the fact the Israelis don’t yet have a partner in Palestine that genuinely wants it. And state-sponsored terrorism in Iran and elsewhere preoccupies military and intelligence apparatuses around the world.

At the same time, our economic interests need to be defended, even from our closest allies who are now our fiercest economic competitors. We’re learning this lesson painfully in real-time as the U.S. plays hardball with us on a variety of fronts.

The reality is that even though we line up with the Europeans, Americans and other allies around the world in battle, we’re trying to crush each other in the finite pursuit of investment dollars and government procurement contracts, and we’re always trying to one-up each other in trade deals.

The fact is, Canada isn’t back and not just because we never left. The Trudeau government has made many of Canada’s key strategic and economic relationships worse. Whether it’s the U.S., China, India or elsewhere, can anyone name a single bilateral relationship that is better off under the Trudeau government?

Even in Europe, Canadian exports have barely moved an inch — a year-and-a-half into our free trade pact, and many technical barriers have effectively shut out Canadian companies. Suddenly, no one is interested in our Prime Minister’s socks.

So what will Andrew Scheer do?

In short, he’ll do what Canada has always done and “reinvigorate Canada’s role in the alliances we share with our democratic allies.” By this he specifically refers to NORAD, NATO, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, the Five Eyes as well as intensifying relationships with Japan and India.

On trade, Mr. Scheer points out the obvious flaw in how the Trudeau government misread the NAFTA modernization talks by trying to advance nice-to-haves (gender and indigenous chapters, etc.) while our must-haves (protecting farmers, preserving dispute resolution provisions, etc.) were left to the 11th hour end-game trade-offs once months were wasted.

Bringing a progressive trade agenda to the hard-nosed, trade deficit-obsessed Trump team was akin to bringing pennies to a high-stakes poker game. While the new NAFTA wasn’t all bad, no one is calling it NAFTA 2.0. In fact, the Mexicans call it NAFTA 0.8.

It’s easy to criticize the Trudeau government because they’ve provided so much fodder. But to truly march Canada forward, real action needs to be taken to re-attract the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that has dried up, restore the market access we’ve lost for many of our agriculture products and truly advance Canada’s interests.

If the Trump administration has taught us anything, it’s that we must reduce our over reliance on the U.S. market. This will be the challenge any government will face going forward.

If we’ve learned anything over the past four years it’s that selfies, socks and PR-obsessed governments are doomed to fail in today’s chaotic, unpredictable and highly competitive world.

If Andrew Scheer becomes prime minister and gets back to the basics as he promised to last week, it’ll be as good a place to start as any.

— Adam Taylor is President of Export Action Global, an international trade consultancy. Formerly, he was senior advisor to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, and Canadian Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast.